Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life by Kyran Pittman {52 Books in a Year}

My goal is to read 52 books in 2012.  Good or bad, as I read, I will be reviewing the books here.  Be sure to leave a comment and tell me about your favorite books!

Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life by Kyran Pittman
(Book overview found on Goodreads.com)

In the family of Jen Lancaster and Elizabeth Gilbert, Kyran Pittman is the laid-back middle sister: warm and witty and confiding, with an addictively smart and genuine voice-but married with three kids and living in the heartland. Relatable and real, she writes about family in a way that highlights all its humor, while at the same time honoring its depth.

A regular contributor to Good Housekeeping, Pittman is well loved because she is funny and honest and self-deprecating, because her own household is in chaos (“semi-domesticated”), and because she inspires readers in their own domestic lives. In these eighteen linked, chronological essays, Pittman covers the first twelve years of becoming a family, writing candidly and hilariously about things like learning to maintain a marriage over time; dealing with the challenges of sex after childbirth; saying good-bye to her younger self and embracing the still attractive, forty-year-old version; and trying to “recession- proof” her family (i.e., downsize to avoid foreclosure).

From a fresh new talent, celebrating the joys and trials of a new generation of parents, Planting Dandelions is an entertaining tribute to choosing the white-picket fence over the other options available, even if you don’t manage to live up to its ideals every day.

My Thoughts…

 

Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated LifePlanting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life by Kyran Pittman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am one of the founding members of Arkansas Women Bloggers of which Kyran Pittman is a member. I first met Kyran in December of 2010 when she was the keynote speaker at one of our blogger meet-ups. I was first introduced to this book when she spoke omit during her time with us.

I had Planting Danelions on my wish list for just over a year before I finally got around to reading it..

From what I understand the book is made up of blog posts and magazine articles she wrote about motherhood and her family over the course of several years.

The book is very well written and funny. The book just didn’t relate to me at all. I have not been divorced, I haven’t had an affair, I don’t have kids. There was no part of the book where I thought I could relate to Mrs. Pittman.

I have read other similar books in this genre such as The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristen Kimball and Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale. I loved both of these books and found that the touched on the essence of a professional vs. domestic career, motherhood, marriage and relationships in a way that related to all readers.

My biggest regret about this book is that it’s reach was so narrow and specific.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.com or click the button below to find more on Eggs and Herbs.

Post-Run Smoothie and Smoothie Cubes {In the Kitchen}

I love smoothies.  They are one of my favorite breakfast treats and are a great way to get fruits and vegetables into your body.  I make my smoothies different all the time.  I usually use whatever fruit we have in the house although strawberries and blueberries are my favorites.  Sometimes I add peanutbutter, greek yogurt, or even spinich to my smoothies.  There is usually no rhyme or reason to my method.

This morning, after my run,  I made a really delicious and SIMPLE smoothie that turned out great.  I will definitly revisit this recipe.

Post-run Smoothie

1 Cup Blueberries (fresh)
10-12 Strawberries (fresh)
1/2 Mango
5.5 oz. Coconut Water
1 Tbs. Flax Seeds
1 Tbs. Chia Seeds
Agave Nectar
Ice (Fill to the top of the blender)

Place all of the fruit, seeds, coconut water and ice into a blender.  Run the “crush ice” mode until all the ingredients are pureed and smooth and no more ice chunks remain.  Taste your smoothie and add Agave Nectar for added sweetness if desired.  There are a lot of times that I do not need to add any so please taste it first.  If your smoothie is too thick you can add additional coconut water or sparkling water to thin it out. Makes enough for 2 good sized smoothies. (Or make Smoothie Cubes with the other half.  See below.

 

Smoothie Cubes

Richie has tried a smoothie on a few occasions but they are just not his thing.  So when I make a smoothie I do one of two things. A) I only make enough smoothie for myself or B) I make a full batch and use the rest for smoothie cubes.  What are smoothie cubes?  Smoothie cubes are ice cubes made from the left over smoothie.  If you have a morning where you are pressed for time all you have to do is throw a few of these cubes and a little water in a blender and you have instant smoothie! No peeling or slicing fruit needed!  You can add yogurt, fresh spinich or any other fresh fruits if you desire but they are great as is!

To make smoothie cubes simply pour your leftover smoothie mix into an ice cube tray and freeze until solid. Pop them out and store them in a plastic bag.  These store great for a month or two, if they last that long!

Coconut Water

Have you tried coconut water yet?  I recently picked up some Coco Libre Organic Coconut Water that was on sale at the Fresh Market.

There are a lot of rumors of health benefits of coconut water, most of which are likely unfounded. It is however high in postassium, minerals, and antioxidants while also fat free and low in carbohydrates.  Coconut water is expensive, even when on sale, so it is not something I buy often.  I like to add it to my smoothies when I will not be adding yogurt.

Do you have a favorite way to use coconut water or a favorite smoothie recipe? Leave a comment and share a recipe or a link if you like!

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The Rook by Daniel O’Malley {52 Books in a Year}

My goal is to read 52 books in 2012.  Good or bad, as I read, I will be reviewing the books here.  Be sure to leave a comment and tell me about your favorite books!

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
(Book overview found on Goodreads.com)

The body you are wearing used to be mine.

So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.

My thoughts…

The RookThe Rook by Daniel O’Malley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me and toted as part Harry Potter, part Ghost Busters, part Men in Black and part Bourne Identity. It sounded like just the type of book I would love. I was wrong. I wanted to love it, I really did, but in the end I just couldn’t.

The story started strong and then just went downhill from there. There were countless characters with strange names and nothing about them that was memorable. I found myself constantly having to search back through the book thinking, “now who was this person?”

It felt as if the author started with a great story and then rushed to make some publishers deadline. I lost interest at page 50. I held on though. I kept HOPING it would get better and I really wanted to know how it all turned out.

When I finally finished I was disappointed. There are SO many ways it could have ended that would have been exciting but O’Malley chose the one way that really wasn’t.

Perhaps you will like this book. I just didn’t.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.com or click the button below to find more on Eggs and Herbs.

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison {52 Books in a Year}

My goal is to read 52 books in 2012.  Good or bad, as I read, I will be reviewing the books here.  Be sure to leave a comment and tell me about your favorite books!

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy (ARC) as part of Goodreads First Reads program on goodreads.com. My opinions are my own.

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison
(Book overview found on goodreads.com)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Always Something There to Remind Me comes a delicious new novel about the search for true love and all the ingredients that go into it. As far as Gemma is concerned, her days of dating are over. In fact, it’s her job to cater other peoples’ dates, and that’s just fine by her. At thirty-seven, she has her own business, working as a private chef, and her life feels full and secure. She’s got six steady clients that keep her hands full. There’s Lex, the fussy but fabulous department store owner who loves Oysters Rockefeller and 1950s comfort food; Willa, who needs to lose weight under doctor’s orders but still believes butter makes everything better; a colorful family who may or may not be part of the Russian mob; an überwealthy Georgetown family; the picture-perfect Van Houghtens, whose matriarch is “allergic to everything”; and finally, a man she calls “Mr. Tuesday,” whom she has never met but who she is strangely drawn to. For Gemma, cooking is predictable. Recipes are certain. Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success. Life, on the other hand, is full of variables. So when Gemma’s takes an unexpected turn on a road she always thought was straight and narrow, she must face her past and move on in ways she never would have imagined. Because sometimes in life, all you need is a little hope, a lot of courage, and—oh yes—butter.

My Thoughts…

When in Doubt, Add ButterWhen in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison Expected publication date is July 17, 2012.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy (ARC) as part of Goodreads First Reads program. My opinions are my own.

I tend to be more of a fan of “intellectual” literature. I like books that really make you think. This book was certainly not one of those books.

That being said, I also occasionally enjoy what I like to call “beach-reads”. To me beach-reads are the type of books you can read through quickly without much intellectual involvement or processing. They are the type of books that are catchy, cute and enjoyable. This book would make the perfect beach read.

The story was ridiculously predictable. I knew who Mr. Tuesday was the moment he was introduced and I knew exactly where the story was going. There really were no “surprises” to the story. No unexpected twists or turns.

Several characters were introduced that really had nothing to do with the overall story. Sometimes they feeled forced and almost as if they were just there to. Fill space so the book could be long enough to be marketable as a novel rather than a short story.

The author took a REALLY long time to progress the story. In the end everything was wrapped up in less than three pages and was really anti-climactic. Several side stories were vaguely finalized if at all. In many ways it felt as if the author was setting the book up for a sequel.

I gave this book three stars because while it was easy and “enjoyable” to read there wasn’t really much to it.

View all my reviews on Goodreads or click the button below to find more books on Egg and Herbs.

Bottle Cap Murals

Bottle Cap Murals

 

I’ve mentioned a few times in the past that I am an art teacher.  Teaching art is such a great job! Since I teach 5th – 12th grade I get to play with a BIG variety of materials each day.  I love seeing what the kids can create and am constantly impressed by the level of work the students create.

This year I was really interested in attempting some collaborative projects with my students and after reading these posts on Art with Mr. E, one of my favorite art teacher blogs, I too was inspired to create a bottle cap mural.

Did you know that most recycling plants will not accept plastic bottle caps?  In fact, if you are sending plastic bottles to the recycling center with the caps on, someone has to manually remove all of the caps before the bottles can be recycled!  Why?  Bottle caps are often made from different types of plastic than the bottles and many bottle caps themselves are made from different types of plastic.  While the individual plastics can likely be recycled, mixing them can contaminate the plastic and lower the value of the product.  Therefore, most recycling centers make it their policy not to accept bottle caps.

Collecting Bottle Caps

The first week of school last fall I put out a plea to all the students and faculty to start collecting bottle caps.  Almost immediately bottle caps started to arrive! Students were bringing them in almost weekly.  Several teachers even asked students to bring them in as part of their community service requirements.  I was amazed!

I had TRIED to keep a running tally of the caps we received but when the number soared into the TENS OF THOUSANDS I gave up counting!

Sorting Bottle Caps

The biggest issue with collecting bottle caps is sorting them.  Sorting the caps takes a long time especially when people send you big bags full of mixed caps.  I collected some copy paper boxes that were destined for the dumpster and labeled them for the different colors.  Bottle caps come in an amazing variety of colors! Blue, white, green and red are the most common but we also had yellow, orange, gold, silver, black, pink and purple.

We sorted what we could when we had some free time but in the end we had a big “Sorting Party”!  There were 27 of us all sorting bottle caps.  It took us almost an hour to separate them!  It was pure chaos in the room but it was fun and we felt accomplished when we were done!

Designing the Bottle Cap Murals

Since I am in a temporary location while our new middle school and fine arts building are being constructed it wasn’t really practical to do a large, permanent mural.  I opted to do 5 smaller murals that could later be hung in our new fine arts building.

In class we discussed how the mural would be created and that, due to the size of the bottle caps, large areas of solid color would work the best.  I asked my students to submit sketches of designs they would like to do and then each class voted on their favorite. We selected a blue and white paw print (we are the Bulldogs), a large red flower, a rainbow fish, a butterfly and the word ART in primary colors.

Several of my high school students sketched out the designs and painted the background colors.  We used some old boards that had fallen out of the bottom of the drawers in the old wooden drafting desks that are in my class room.  Again we were recycling!

Putting a Lid (cap) On It

Mr. E had used DAP Dynaflex 230 to attach his bottle caps.  I had considered this possibility but at $3-$4 a bottle it didn’t really fit our budget.  The murals will eventually be hanging inside my classroom and will not be exposed to the elements so I opted to go with good ol’ hot glue.

Obviously working with hot glue with students can be dangerous.  We took very careful precautions to prevent anyone from getting burned.

Students took turns putting on 2 bottle caps at a time while they finished up other projects.  Most classes finished in two class periods.  There were two classes that were unable to complete their murals due to field day and semester awards so my high school classes will be putting the finishing touches on those murals.

From collecting bottle caps, to painting backgrounds, to gluing down caps over 200 students had a hand in the finished products.  The project was very successful and I look forward to doing this again next year on and even grander scale!

 

Finished Bottle Cap Murals

 

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman {52 Books in a Year}

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman {52 Books in a Year}

About 6 months ago I did a little survey to find out which features people liked the most on my blog.  Even though at the time it had already been a while since I had done one, many people mentioned that they missed my book reviews.  I love to read and I try to always have a book in hand.  My goal for 2012 is to read 52 books.  1 per week!

I have ready 17 book so far so I am right on track to meet my goal and I have decided to bring back my book review feature.  I will be catching you up with the 17 books I have completed so far and will be adding new ones as I go.  I have also added the Goodreads widget to the sidebar so you can keep up with my progress.  If you are a Goodreads member I would love for you to send me a friend request!  You can find my Goodreads profile here.

Happy Reading!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(
Book Overview found on Goodreads.com)

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

My Thoughts…
The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book begins with the brutal murder of a toddlers entire family. Somehow spared from the tragedy he manages to wander through the dark streets to a nearby graveyard where he is taken in and ultimately raised by ghosts. YES, ghosts.

The story has elements of fantasy and suprise and truely sounds like a fantastical tale that only a small boy could invent. There are parts of the story that are endearingly sweet and parts of the story that are utterly non-sensical.

I enjoyed the childish yet macabre nature of the story but found myself struggling to get beyond parts that were undeveloped and confusing.

View all my reviews

 

Tropical Salmon {In the Kitchen}

 

Tropical Salmon {In the Kitchen}

I have loved most types of seafood since I was a kid.  Clams, shrimp, lobster, fish, squid…I loved it all.  But for years I believed that I hated Salmon.  I never even tasted salmon until some point during the early years of my marriage.  I had always heard that salmon was good for you an finally decided to order a Cedar Plank Salmon in a restaurant we were visiting.

Having grown up near the coast of Maine I was used to seafood and fish being relatively fresh.  Many times what we ate had most likely been pulled from the Atlantic that morning.  We had an amazing fish market in our town and while seafood was a treat we didn’t have often when we did it was always excellent quality.

I took for granted the availability of great seafood and when I moved to Arkansas I quickly realized that this wasn’t always the case.  Arkansans make great catfish and can boil crawdads and fry frog legs like nobody else but when it comes to  Atlantic and Pacific coast staples they are lacking.

So when I ordered the salmon in that restaurant many years ago I took a gamble and I didn’t win.  The flavor was OVERLY fishy and it was overcooked until it was dry and crumbly.  It was plain old GROSS.  I avoided salmon like the plague for years and curled my nose at it when I saw it on a menu.  Even a trip to Alaska couldn’t convince me to try it again.

As silly as it sounds, Richie and I love to go to Sam’s Club.  It’s a big date night activity for us.   We like to look at the books and the clothes and occasionally pick up meat, cheese or fruit that is an especially good buy.  But what we LOVE most is the food samples!  We have had the opportunity to taste so many different products through their sample program.  The samples combined with a $2.00 hot dog and drink combo makes for a really CHEAP dinner!  And don’t forget the .89 cent ice cream cups for dessert!

So…one night we were wandering around Sam’s Club and a women offered us a sample of the salmon she had just baked.  I politely declined but Richie tasted it.  He finally convinced me to try it and I was amazed to discover that I loved it.  It was delicious and flavorful and not at all fishy! I couldn’t believe it.

We didn’t buy any salmon that day but I kept thinking about it and when we returned to Sam’s Club several weeks later the salmon was the first thing I put in my cart.  I cooked it the same way the sample lady had.  A little olive oil, some light seasoning, bake it in the oven.  Add some wild rice and a green vegetable and dinner is done.  Simple, healthy and tasty.

I love to experiment with food so I began thinking about what we could do to make a simple fish dinner a little more exotic.  My mom sent me a link to this recipe by Paula Deen.  It sounded great but Teriyaki sauce has gluten in it and I wasn’t sure about all the sweetness of the maple syrup and the added sugar.  I found links to this Pioneer Women recipe and this Epicurious recipe on Pinterest.  I was intrigued by P-dub’s cooking method and the lime-flavor imparted in the Epicurious recipe.  So I did what I do best and I took elements of each, made a few tweaks and changes and came up with my own Tropical Salmon recipe.  It turned out great!

Tropical Salmon (with Lime Butter and Pineapple Salsa)

1 whole side of salmon (2-3 pounds)
1 stick of butter, melted
2 whole limes (small)
2 Cloves of Garlic
1/4 of a FRESH pineapple (please avoid canned if possible!)
1 jalapeno
2 pieces of jarred roasted red peppers
1/4 of a red(purple) onion
Salt and Pepper

Lime Butter Sauce
(Note: This recipe makes 8 tablespoons.  You will only be using 1 tablespoon so please freeze the rest for use the next time you enjoy this delicious dish!)

In a blender zest and juice 1 1/2 small limes.  Add one clove of garlic and blend.  While the blender is running slowly pour in the butter until the sauce is combined.  Set aside.

Pineapple Salsa

Cut the pineapple, red onion, and roasted red peppers into tiny, bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl.  Remove the seeds and the veins from one jalapeno, chop finely and add to the bowl.  Add the zest and juice of half a lime, stir and set in the fridge until ready to use.

Salmon

Place your salmon in a large baking dish.  Pour 1 tablespoon of melted lime butter over the top of the salmon.  Use a pastry brush to spread it around and cover the fish if needed.  Then add salt and pepper to taste.  Place the salmon into a COLD oven.  Turn the oven to 400 degrees and set the timer for 25 minutes and walk away!  When the timer goes off the fish should be opaque, moist and flaky. Squeeze a little fresh lime juice over the top of your salmon after you remove it from the oven.

That’s it!  Serve the salmon topped with some of the pineapple salsa.  A baked potato or wild rice and a green vegetable or small salad makes an excellent addition.  Enjoy!

 
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” I want the chocolatiest, chocolatiest, chocolate, chocolate cake you can make!” {Find it, Make it}

Hi. I love to search out new recipes and try new things. As I find them in magazines, on blogs, and various other places, I will make them and let you know how they turn out. I will also give you any tips to make it easier or offer suggestions on how I changed the recipe to better suit me and my family. Check back frequently for new recipe ideas.  Take a look at the other recipes in the {Find it, Make it} series or enjoy the other posts on Julie’s blog. – Amanda

” I want the chocolatiest, chocolatiest, chocolate, chocolate cake you can make!”

That was a quote from my soon to be 5 yr old, Silas, when asked what he wanted for a birthday cake. So my mission was to create this ultimate chocolate cake and fit it into a Ghostbuster’s themed party. I had recently seen a recipe on one of my favorite food blogs kevinandamanda.com

Their recipe for Brownie Batter Fudge Cupcakes with Outrageously Rich Chocolate Indulgence Frosting seemed perfect and the photos are to die for.

Warning: This recipe is NOT for the health conscious!!!! But who cares, its a party!!!!

Here is the recipe but you should definitely check out the site for some nice step by step photos and to see some of their other creations.

BROWNIE BATTER

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup milk
1 (18.25 oz) box devil’s food cake mix

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 mins until well combined. Using a small scoop (about 1.5 tbsp) drop batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and freeze overnight.

CUPCAKES

1 (18.25 oz) box devil’s food cake mix
1 (3.9 oz) pkg Jello instant chocolate fudge pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray and line with cupcake liners. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips into a very large bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 mins until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Using a large scoop (about 3 tbsp) drop batter into the cupcake liners, filling about 2/3rds full. Remove brownie batter from freezer and press into the cupcake batter. Bake for 22-28 mins. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

FROSTING

5 sticks butter, softened
8 oz powdered sugar
1.5 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa)
a pinch of table salt
1.5 cups light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
16 oz milk chocolate chips

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring well every 30 seconds. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a food processor and process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl as needed. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, about 5-10 seconds. Scrape the bowl again, then add the melted chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, about 10-15 seconds. You can use a mixer for this too, if you don’t have a food processor, just don’t whip the butter too much! :) Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.

Makes & frosts 36 cupcakes.

 

I added some green slime colored gel icing and a ghostbuster’s logo made from fondant and it was a huge hit!

From my searches to your dishes, Enjoy!

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