Sunday, March 28, 2010

Favorite Cookies, EVER!

Sorry all, but there are no pictures of these delicious cookies on this post.  By the time I thought of taking pictures, they had all been eaten by a mob of hungry children.  (Not to mention the dozen a few that were sneaked by the cook herself!) 

Anyway, the credit for the recipe should go to Emily Hendrix, author of Sophie-Safe Cooking whose recipe I stole and modified.

Ginger Apricot Cookies

1/2 cup of butter or shortening
1 cup sucanat or sugar of your choice (I am addicted to the molasses taste of sucanat!)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 cups oat flour (just grind oatmeal in the blender or food processor for a minute or two)
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh ginger (or substitute 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
1 cup finely chopped dried apricots

Beat shortening and sucanat until fluffy.  Add lemon juice and mix well.  Mix in oat flour, baking soda, salt, and ginger.  Add apricots and mix well.  Drop by tablespoons onto cookie sheet.  Bake at 350F for 12 minutes.

This recipe made about 3 dozen cookies for me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Beginnings Friday: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

"Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo..."

I really like this opening sentence because it is classic stream of consciousness.  It puts me in mind of the opening to The Sound and The Fury which is one of my all-time favorite opening paragraphs of all time.  Just the idea of narration from the perspective of an undeveloped mind excites me!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

1. The right word escapes me right now.

2. Please turn out the lights and shut the door quietly, please.

3. Up until today, I wasn't sure I could make the decision before me.

4. In front of my sewing machine is where you'll find me.

5. Ooh! What is that beautiful sugar cane yarn going to knit up like?

6. Making some new placemats is a good idea.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Fine Arts Friday, tomorrow my plans include playing outside with the children and Sunday, I want to go to church!

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Book Details:
Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Scribner; ZZZ edition (September 30, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743273567


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the classics of modern American literature for good reason.  Narrated by Nick Carraway, it details one summer in the lives of Tom and Daisy Buchannan and Jay Gatsby.  This short, quick read whose plot spans just one summer, encapsulates the modern American life.

The plot starts out slowly, detailing life as usual at the Buchannan and Gatsby residences.  Tom Buchannan keeps a mistress in the city, and Daisy, and everyone else, are well aware of this fact.  He does not seem too embarrassed about it, but Daisy is obviously unhappy with the arrangement.  Jay Gatsby, meanwhile, is Nick's wealthy and mysterious neighbor, fond of throwing large, bacchanalian parties every weekend.  Rumors as to his origin abound, but nothing is initially explained.

Through the course of the novel, it becomes apparent that Gatsby came from nowhere, acquired at least the appearance of wealth, and had a romance with Daisy prior to her marriage.  While he went off to World War I, she stayed home and eventually married Tom.  Gatsby has come to Long Island for the purpose of rekindling his relationship with Daisy, a goal which does not take him long to achieve.

Subsequently, Tom confronts Gatsby and Daisy, and the mysterious, possibly criminal, origins of Jay Gatsby are revealed in full.  In the aftermath, Daisy accidentally hits Tom's mistress with Gatsby's car, and the mistress' husband avenges his loss by murdering Gatsby.  Meanwhile, Tom and Daisy make amends and leave town for a while.  In the end, none of the avid party-goers attends Gatsby's funeral, not even Daisy.

After hundreds of pages of Joyce, The Great Gatsby was a breath of fresh air.  The precise language and well-developed plot were such a change that I managed to read Gatsby in one afternoon.  The novel was plot driven and thought-provoking, which made it difficult to notice the absence of puns and word play.  While Fitzgerald lacked the linguistic genius of Joyce, this was definitely a more enjoyable read.

The primary reason that this text endures, though, seems to be its take on the American Dream.  While innately depressing, I am sure that most of us suspect the novel holds a grain of truth.  Jay Gatsby worked his whole life to attain wealth so that he could have a relationship with Daisy.  He feted large groups of people, was generous to a fault, but he still did not quite fit into the elite social life of the Buchannans.  In fact, at his death, not even the woman whom he spent his life wooing came to mourn.  After years of hard, and possibly criminal, work, Jay Gatsby was left with nothing, "borne back ceaselessly into the past."

In addition, the following quote about Tom and Daisy seemed very poignant to me in this day and age:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..."

These are the people that we have slowly morphed into over the past century.  Gradually, people have been less and less willing to take responsibility for their actions, and our culture certainly encourages, if not commends, retreating into money and commercialism to avoid dealing with real life.  This novel is certainly a critique of modern American life, and a farsighted one at that.


Was this a good read?
Absolutely!  An easy to follow, entertaining, thought-provoking read.  The plot was well developed, and the prose was crisp.  I loved it.

Would I recommend it?
Yes.  To anyone and everyone.

Would I read it again?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where did I go?

Sorry for my abrupt disappearance from the blogosphere.  I spent the last week celebrating birthdays, spending time with my mother-in-law, and visiting the doctor.  Everything, aside from the visits to the doctor, was fantastic.

Now I just have a ton of blogging to do.

Here is a sample of what we did this week:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Beginnings Friday: The Great Gatsby

Book Beginnings on Friday is  a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

In my opinion, this is not a particularly good opening sentence.  It does make me curious as to what the advice is, and why it is pertinent; however, the rest of the first chapter is much more intruiging to me.

Friday Fill-ins

This post is part of

1. I am so looking forward to celebrating a third birthday this weekend!

2. I will worry about cleaning the house later.

3. When you get here, let me know.

4. Spending time with my family is a big part of my life.

5. If you need anything you know where to get it.

6. I desperately need to take a trip.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to sewing a couple of dresses and a summer scarf, tomorrow my plans include a cooking class for Adrienne and Sunday, I want to have a good time at the lambing barn!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Yummiest Chocolate Cupcakes, Ever!

This recipe is part of the whole grains recipe swap at Life as Mom

When I first started gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free baking... phew, that's a mouthful... I never thought I'd make cupcakes that I would actually crave.  You know, the spongey, yet fluffy, texture that is near impossible to get in a flour that doesn't have gluten?  I have tried all-purpose baking mixes.  I have tried making my own mixes.  I have tried recipe after recipe.  And, still, the choices were between dusty, crumbly cupcakes, and an oily, moist mess.

Well, I finally did it.  Thanks to a lot of reading, research, and plain old experimentation, I got it right!

Allergy-Friendly Choclate Cupcakes

2 cups oat flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
dash of vanilla
1 cup cold water
1/3 cup chickpea paste

Mix oat flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix vinegar, vanilla, and water.  Pour wet ingredients into dry mixture, and stir thoroughly.  Then fold in chickpea paste.

Pour into lined muffin tins.

Bake at 350F for 20, and try to let them cool on the rack before devouring!

Chickpea Paste

As I mentioned in my review of Bean Appetit, it is apparently an option to use a chickpea paste instead of butter in baking.  All you need to do is blend chickpeas into a paste in your blender or food processor.   Add some water to help the paste mix if necessary.  I have then had success using it in recipes in equal proportion to the butter requirement. 

Using the chickpea paste, I find that I do not get the oily texture that results from substituting oil or shortening.  Instead, I get a delicious, buttery texture. 

Of course, you will want to make sure that the mixture is well-blended so that an errant chickpea doesn't make it into the cake!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Review: Ulysses

"It has been an unusually fatiguing day, a chapter of accidents"
                                                                                            --Leopold Bloom

Book Details:
Paperback: 1040 pages

Publisher: Penguin Classics (March 30, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0141182806


I have actually been dreading writing this review.  Trying to review a book that provokes such extreme and diverse opinions in thousands, if not millions, of people is a daunting task at best.  Especially since my opinion is a casual one at best.  That said, I'll give it my best shot.

The basic plot of Ulysses is exactly that: basic.  It primarily follows Leopold Bloom throughout the course of his waking hours on June 16, 1904.  We first see him before breakfast, and we last see him as he crawls into bed in the wee hours of the next morning.  While he runs errands, attends a funeral, attempts to work, frequents a few bars and a brothel, and walks home, we are subject to his thoughts, imaginings, and hallucinations.  If that seems like a fairly boring plot, I can attest to the fact that it is.

In addition to Bloom's travels, we encounter Stephen Dedalus several times.  In fact, Bloom's day is bookended by Stephen's own wandering.  I recall him fondly from high school literature class, but I will reserve most of my discussion of Stephen Dedalus for my review of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

To my mind, Bloom is a fairly average man.  He spends a lot of time seemingly unaware of what is going on around him, and he is not particularly popular or successful at work.  His wife seems unfaithful at best, an unattractive hypochondriac at worst.  Bloom also appears to imagine or hallucinate when conversation is lacking or unstimulating.  Rather than actually participating in dialogue with friends, he appears to assume their response.  He is also lecherous from the first, trying to catch glimpses of stocking in the opening chapters and experiencing a hallucinatory visit to a brothel toward the end. 

What really struck me about Ulysses, though, was the sheer wordplay and brilliance of construction.  Each chapter, or section, is written in a different style, ranging from newspaper headlines to archaic Anglo-Saxon language to Socratic dialogue.  I am simply in awe that one man could execute the diverse structure of the novel so well.

And as I said, the wordplay is phenomenal.  True to form, Joyce uses neologisms throughout Ulysses with great success.  For instance, in the "Wandering Rocks" section, he mentions a gentleman struggling with a "stickumbrelladustcoat."   Reading that word instantly conjured a vivid picture of the man in question and how he was carrying his accessories.  There are passages such as the following that I just found amusing:

            What suddenly arrested his ingress?
The right temporal lobe of the hollow sphere of his cranium came into contact with a solid timber angle where, an infintesimal but sensible fraction of a second later, a painful sensation was located in consequence of antecendent sensations transmitted and registered.

Obviously, it would be tiring to read hundreds of pages in that raw, scientific style, but I thought it was a fantastic way to say that he bumped his head.  There are hundreds of other examples of Joyce's linguistic play, but since that was my primary joy in reading the novel, I won't spoil them all here.  (Not to mention the fact that I have better things to do!)

As far as the charges of indecency go, there are certainly sections of the novel that are downright pornographic.  In fact, there were parts that were very difficult for me to read, given their graphic nature.  The sections, as in "The Oxen and the Sun," where the men are sitting around being lewd did not particularly disturb me.  Neither did a lot of the graphic descriptions of bodily functions.  However, "Circe" was a tough chapter as I could not discern which sexual acts were actually happening, which were Bloom's fantasies, and which were his nightmares.  It was all jumbled together, and, as I say, downright pornographic.  Also, there is a section where a young girl exposes herself to Bloom as he masturbates that I found disturbing.  I suppose, though, I'll have to get over that issue soon since Nabokov's Lolita is just a few books away.

Was this a good read?
That depends on what is important to you.  As a novel, it was not particularly great.  Average, but not great.  As a work of art, as a manuscript, it was phenomenal.  While the story was primarily boring, the linguistic talent used to write it is, to me, mindblowing.

Would I recommend it?
Certainly, with reservations.  If someone is a lover of literature and wordplay, particularly modernism, this is an amazing must-read.  If someone is looking for a quick, entertaining read, look elsewhere.  I do think that everyone who considers themselves a language lover should read this one, but I definitely do not think all of those people will love it.  There is simply not enough plot.

Would I read it again?
Absolutely!  I am going to be working on a side project, researching some of the issues and criticism surrounding Ulysses in the spare time I have between reading, blogging, crafting, and raising children.  Well, a girl can dream, right?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Chunkster Challenge 2010

Since setting my reading goal this year, I have been reading lots of book blogs.  It is almost better than a book club because I get tons of recommendations and reviews each day in addition to general book banter.  Most of the blogs I've been reading, though, are participating in the Chunkster Challenge this year. 

To qualify for the challenge, each book has to be 450 pages, and given my reading list, I'd say I would be stupid not to participate.  It is just one month into the time frame, and I have almost completed a 690 page chunkster.  On the list are several others that are weighing down my bookshelf as we speak!

In order to participate, I have to choose a participation level for the year.  As of today... eek... I am committing to read... wait for it... six large tomes this year.  I'm not sure that I'll necessarily complete it, but I'm a fan of setting big goals.  At least that way I will be motivated to read through the Modern Library List at a reasonable pace!

Gratituesday: It makes me grateful!

I love Gratituesday.  I love that it happens on Tuesday.  Which is usually the day my life starts to spiral out of control. 

By which I mean that I spend Monday enjoying the memories of the weekend and slowly starting to stress out about all of the work that needs to be done around the house.  Sometime Monday evening, I remember that we have two birthdays this week, and I still need to bake, wrap, and make cards.  I remember that I am hosting a playdate on Wednesday and my mother-in-law is arriving on the weekend, and I can't remember the last time the floor was mopped.  I remember that we have two outings this weekend due to the birthdays, and I have to prepare a lunch out for Noah so that I don't cause his allergies to flare.  I also find out that somehow I forgot to buy new vacuum cleaner bags, and this one refuses to fit any additional dust.  Not to mention Ulysses that I said I'd finish by Wednesday.  And the review I need to write.

As you can see, the stress starts to spiral faster and faster, and by the time I hit bed on Monday night, I am a wreck.

Then I wake up on Tuesday morning and get to blog about something that inspires gratitude.  This simple excercise is enjoyable most weeks.  But this week, reflecting on the beautiful time I had with my husband on our date, the warm weather walks I took with my daughter, and the extra cuddle time I had with my son has saved my sanity. 

I think I'll take some time this morning to involve the kids in the housework and make it fun.  No sense stressing out now, right?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Date!

As I wrote in my Friday Fill-in, the hubby and I had planned our first date in approximately three years.  We were going to do a lot of walking, window-shopping, and sight-seeing, but, alas, our plans were thwarted by massive contractions and a night without much sleep. 

So, it was a cafe breakfast--ham and Swiss market bun and pain au chocolat--and latte, instead.  We did a little bit of walking, but the highlight was definitely a lingering breakfast at an upscale Cafe Soleil in downtown Madison.  All the ingredients are local, so that was a win, also.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Because one post a day is apparently not enough, I figured I would contribute to this meme.

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

My selection comes from Ulysses by James Joyce, of course!

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."

Friday Fill-Ins

This post is part of

After reading a few of JDaniel4's Mom's Friday Fill-in's, I thought I'd jump on board.  To participate, go here.

1. Why are you making yet another fort in the living room?  We have had one every day this week.
2. I want you to take the time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

3. If I wake up and start the morning before the rest of the family, then it will be on my terms.

4. I need to send an email to the English professor and see what happens.

5. I could use a big cup of coffee this morning.

6. I am going to take a nice, long shower and then make some oatmeal pancakes.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to finally getting some scrapbooking done, tomorrow my plans include our first date in almost three years and Sunday, I want to finish making Adrienne's dollhouse!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Book Review: Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food

There is a cafe in town that caters specifically to children.  From the kid-friendly decor to the unique food options and cooking classes, everything about Bean Sprouts Cafe screams children.  And the owners of the cafe, Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen have put together a new book, Bean Appetit, which is my new favorite recipe book.  Keep an eye out for it in American Baby and FamilyFun magazines.

The book is full of yummy looking recipes, kitchen activities, and random trivia, and my husband, who loves typography, was enthralled simply by the graphic design.  Once you get past the shiny, attractive covers and pictures, there is some helpful information, too.  For starters, I picked up a tip for a butter substitute, particularly in baking.  Bean Appetit recommends using a chickpea puree, which doesn't sound particularly delicious, but my picky eaters noticed only an improved texture to their cupcakes.  For those looking for allergy friendly substitutes, this one is a winner!  In fact, I will soon be posting my newly designed cake recipe utilizing this fantastic alternative to butter.

There are also some funky food ideas, my favorite of which is the Very Hungry Catepillar from the Eric Carle book.  It looks relatively easy to make, so I am sure we will be eating one of these in the near future! 

There is also this yummy looking taco.  While the picture looks normal enough, the taco itself is made from pastry, chocolate dough, fruit leather, and strawberries.  Sounds like April Fool's Day lunch to me! 

Another excellent chapter centers around making music with food.  There are directions for making vegetable instruments, alternate uses for kitchen utensils, and silly song ideas.  In fact, there is mention of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which is, apparently, a real organization.  How fun!

My only criticism of the book is that there is perhaps not enough substance.  Unlike Sophie-Safe Cooking, which was jam-packed full of useful, practical information, Bean Appetit is a more whimsical approach to cooking and kitchen fun.  It would be perfect for aspiring cooks in the 8-14 age range, but it has enough ideas to bring some fun into the pre-school age kitchen as well.  I expect that it will be one of Adrienne's favorite books in the coming years.

Overall Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ulysses: Who is Leopold Bloom?

At long last I have found a way to make it through Ulysses without feeling too incredibly lost.  Also, this method manages to keep me from unintentionally dozing during the slow, dull parts.  So what is my new magic trick?  Well, I grabbed a pen and a journal, and I have started taking notes as I read.  When I have a question, read one of the many good puns, or something just strikes my fancy, I'm jotting it down.  Hopefully, this new method (which I should have thought about during my college days) will enable me to finish Ulysses in the next week.  I'm ready to move on.

That said, one question that is fascinating me is the identity of Leopold Bloom.  He is ridiculed by so many characters.  He is always lurking unobtrusively in the background somewhere.  Apparently, one of those people you don't really notice, unless they have a moment of epic awkwardness. 

There are, however, indications that he might be a little more complex than my initial impression.  In the  Wandering Rocks several of the characters discuss him, saying that there is "a bit of the artist about old Bloom" and, "I'll say there is much kindness in the Jew." 

The last quotation is, in fact, a quote from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice , and I have been wondering about comparing Shylock to Bloom.  Seems like that would make for interesting reading, so I suppose I can find an article somewhere online along those lines.

Anyway, my goal is to finish this book up this week so that I can move on to Fitzgerald next week!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Today was not a good day for a variety of reasons.  I ended up sitting in my room getting angrier and angrier, when I decided to do something about the situation.  What we needed, I decided, was a celebration.  So kuddos to Dr. Seuss for providing such a timely birthday for us!

After naptime, I had Adrienne help me bake some cupcakes.  We decided to do chocolate, as that is her favorite flavor, and, hey, Mom's pregnant and could always use some chocolate.  Besides, I do need to be testing allergy friendly cake batter recipes in preparation for our multitude of birthdays this month.  Here she is mixing the batter:

While they baked and cooled, we read some Dr. Seuss books for decorating inspiration.  Since it was a bad day, I wasn't wanting anything that would be remotely complicated.  After tossing around the idea of just frosting half of them red and the other half white, Adrienne and I decided that Green Egg Cupcakes were in order.  Easy enough for Mom to frost and exciting enough for the kids to eat.  Here's the finished product.

As you can see, they were a major hit!

Gratituesday: The Kids

These kids of mine.  Some days they drive me bonkers, but I have to admit that on my list of blessings, they rate pretty highly.

Lately, they have been playing together a lot.  Instead of individual games iwth separate toys, Adrienne is trying to work Noah into her games.  They like to draw together, read together, and hide in their tents together.  My absolute favorite, though, is when they play "Sleeping Beauty" together.

Adrienne builds a "bed" of couch cushions and pillows in the middle of the living room floor.  She then climbs to the top and promptly "falls asleep."  It is not long before the call comes, "Noah, come here.  You have to be the Handsome Prince and wake me up!"  Sometimes he comes of his own volition, other times mother has to intervene and escort the prince to kiss "Sleeping Beauty." 

This game, pictured above, has brought me hours of joy in the past few weeks.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Muffin Tin Mondays: Dinner

This post is part of Muffin Tin Monday at Her Cup Overfloweth

I apologize for posting so late today, but we weren't able to do Muffin Tin Mondays for lunch today.  I had planned on doing an afternoon snack, but everyone napped for a long time.  A snack that late in the afternoon would have spelled disaster for dinner.  So, much to Nathan's chagrin, we had our dinner in muffin tins.

It was so easy to size everyone's portions this way, and it made coming up with a variety of vegetable options a snap!  We may, in fact, have to have Muffin Tin Monday dinner again when I get bored with traditional serving options.

Cornbread Muffins
Carrot Sticks
Roast Beef and Gravy
Mixed Greens