What I’ve Been Reading

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Hey book loving’ friends–  It seems like in the last few weeks, there’s been a surprising amount of good reading time around here.  And thankfully, I’ve been able to enjoy a great little stack of library books rotating on my nightstand.  Here’s three that I especially enjoyed– and thought you might like them too…

THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY –by Gabrielle Zevin
The title character A. J. Fikry, is a cranky, rude, sometimes snobbish bookseller who runs Island Books on Alice Island.  He’s gone through a lot.  His wife died, his book sales are down and then someone steals at valuable set of Poe poems from his home. It’s bad.

Then one day he astonishingly finds someone has left a precocious toddler with a note in his book store.  Her name is Maya and she changes everything.

I loved the sassy and quite literary dialogue with Amelia– the publishers agent, the tentative book club of the local police officer and the hilarious mishaps at the author event.  If you love books, I think you’d be hard pressed to dislike this little volume. There’s a bit of romance, mystery and growing friendship, all centered around books.   A. J. Fikry filters his life through his books– and the winsome story is a testament to the power of books in a life.

 

WHAT ALICE FORGOT  –by Liane Moraiarty
It’s true, this book looks suspiciously like chick lit on first inspection– but the trail this character takes, goes deeper into questions of who we are and how we got there…

The story starts when Alice awakes from an amnesia producing accident in the gym– believing that she is 29, expecting her first child and very happily married to Nick.  But she soon realizes that she is actually 39, has 3 children, is on the verge of a messy divorce, is estranged from her sister and has changed into the skinny, stylish and controlling women she never thought she’d be.

There’s a good measure of humor here, as when Alice is can’t bring herself to look in a mirror to see her 39 year old face– but the story goes beyond that…

Bit by bit she puts together the details of her last ten years, reconstructing her life.  The questions come and you can’t help but think of your own life– How did I get where I am today?  Have I changed in ways I wanted to over the last ten years?  Is is possible to start over?  How to go about managing acceptance and forgiveness…

It’s one of those can’t-put-it-down-until-you-know-what-happens sort of books.  I think you might enjoy it as much as I did.

 

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT  –by Daniel James Brown
I don’t know that I would have picked up this book, but that it was our Lit Group choice this month– and I’m so glad it was!!  It’s an actual story of a team of 9 who rowed from the crew meets of the University of Washington and on to the gold medal in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics.

The author focuses on the difficult life of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, who lost his mother young and was abandoned as a teenager by his father and stepmother.  Left on his own, he provided for himself with a series of demanding jobs, through the days of the Great Depression.  And finally, worked his way to the University of Washington and on to the rowing team, formed my 9 young men, mostly dirt poor sons of loggers or farmers,  that would improbably win the Olympic gold medal.

The other star of the book is the history surrounding it– the sufferings of the families through the depression, the rise of Hitler and the mechanics behind his staging the Olympics in Berlin, the daily life of college athletes– their struggles and their camaraderie in the 1930’s.  The sense of time and place is strong.

The book is based on the rower’s personal journals, and interviews with them and their families.  It is written with precision and detail.  The balance and rhythm of the rowers, the perseverance through beating weather and the tensions of the races are traced brilliantly.  Brown takes you back to a place and time filled with people you admire and follows their intrepid rise to win the rower’s greatest contest at the Olympic Games.

 

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Chicken Enchilada Soup

IMG_2573Hello all–  This week our young mom’s group* got together after our summer hiatus.  I made a major pot of soup (did I really think we’d eat that much?!) and set the table, but I didn’t know it would be a celebration dinner– Esther and her Brian finally signed the adoptions papers this week for their little guy– it’s been 3 years of unbelievable ups and downs.  We all couldn’t have been more thrilled!!

So this simple chunky soup became a special occasion supper– I think it was yummy enough to measure up– along with a bright fruity green salad and some orange poppy seed cornbread.  So happy for Esther and her sweet family!

CHICKEN ENCHILADA SOUP
splash olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup yellow corn meal
3 cups chicken broth
14 0z. can green enchilada sauce**
14 oz. black beans
14 oz. can corn
14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1 tsp. cumin
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped to nice little bites***
1 cup cheddar shredded
salt to taste
toppings:  avocado, cheddar, cilantro, red onion, chopped tomatoes, chips…

Heat the oil in the bottom of a soup pot.  Throw in the onions and cook for 4 or 5 minutes until they are completely wilted, then drop in the garlic and cook a minute more.

Stir in the cornmeal.  Then stir in the chicken broth until it’s all blended and bubbling.  then add in the enchiladas sauce, black beans, corn, tomatoes and cumin.

I’m averse to big chunks of tomato floating in my soup, so I smoothed it all out with a stick blender at this point– but you can totally skip that if you’re found of tomatoes.

Then stir in the chicken and finally the cheddar.  Bring it to a simmer and taste to see if you want to add salt– I added just a 1/4 tsp.

It’s ready!!  So easy.  You can serve it with any or all of the garnishes– and with a fruity salad and a slab of cornbread on the side it’s a happy meal.

*It’s a young moms group– but I’m an old mentor mom in this group.

**I love Herdrez brand enchilada sauce (and their green salsa)
***Used a rotisserie chicken from the market, plus several cans of all those ingredients– makes the recipe so fast and easy.

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Honey Pecan Oatmeal Cake

IMG_2343Hello there–  What’s more warming and wholesome than a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast?  My Larry has Olympian size bowls of oats most mornings for to start off this day.  And I occasionally brew up a bowl of my own.

But when Glenda asked me to bring along something for breakfast with friends at her house one Saturday morning I knew I couldn’t just be oatmeal in a bowl. So I did they only thing that made sense– Oatmeal in a cake!  Not too sweet and oatmeal hearty.  Just about right for a sunny fall breakfast with friends around the table.

HONEY PECAN OATMEAL CAKE
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tab. light corn syrup
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup old fashioned oats
1  1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shopped pecans (again)
1  1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk*
1/4 cup butter, melted
1  1/2 tsp. vanilla
extra honey to drizzle on the cake

IMG_2371In a small bowl combine the 1/2 cup honey, the 1/3 cup melted butter, corn syrup and 1/2 cup of the pecans.  Pour this mixture into a 9″ or 10″ cake pan sprayed with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.  Then mix in the eggs, buttermilk, 1/4 cup melted butter and vanilla.  The batter will be a little lumpy (in the nicest sort of way).

Carefully spoon the batter over the top of the of the pecan mixture in the cake pan, spreading it evenly.

Bake up the cake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the cake is cooked through and firm to the touch.

Then immediately invert the cake pan on to a pretty plate.  Scoop any pecan mixture that sticks to the pan and add it to the cake.  Drizzle a little extra honey on the cake if you want it to be extra good.  Best eaten with friends!

*If you don’t have that a carton of buttermilk in your fridge, just pour 2 tab. of cider vinegar into your measuring cup and fill with milk to the 2/3 mark.  Let is sit a couple minutes to thicken.

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Falling into Fall

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“Fall has always been my favorite season,the time when everything bursts with it’s last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for it’s grand finale.” –Lauren DeStefano

Hi friends– It’s here.  My favorite season.  Fall.  Or call it Autumn if you’re feeling fancy.  Cooler days, cozy sweaters, fires burning in the hearth, mugs of tea and all that apple-y baking!  I’m happily anticipating the next few months.

So I’m making plans.  Or hopes or even happy dreams.  And writing them down to step into all the fall days that lie ahead…

Here’s thea list:

#1.  Carve some silly pumpkin faces with the grand-girls
#2.  Spend an evening over mulled wine with old friends
#3.  Take long walks through the leaves at Craig Park
#4.  Mail off Halloween treats and pumpkin notes to our kids far from home.
#5.  Bake a Dutch apple pie
#6.  Go to a Cal football game against UCLA with Ani & Brian (Go Bears!!)
#7.  Have friends in for soup by the fire place
#8.  Pick that Laurel up at the airport and bring her home to celebrate her BIG birthday!!
(the pumpkin dessert will be ready in the kitchen when you get here girl!)
#9.  Go for a Big Bear weekend of reading under pine trees rustling in the wind
#10. Make a cake to celebrate with Micah for his birthday!!
#11.  Bake a loaf of that crusty Dutch oven bread
#12.  Make a visit to play & read with baby Mae in SF
#13. Eat corn candy
#14. Decorate the house with leaves from the maples in the yard
#15.  Find an occasion to make that Pumpkin Tiramisu
#16.  Sit with a book on the sofa the first time it rains
#17. Send notes to dear friends to say how thankful I am for them
#18. Make Thanksgiving dinner place cards with the grand-girls
#19.Make a November Thankful Heart Chart– filled with blessings
#20. Gather as many family and friends as I can manage around our Thanksgiving table

So enormously thankful for this fresh new season and the particular joys it brings… God is good.

P.S.  The photo is thanks to Fox archives and looks nothing like fall here in southern California!  (But I’d like to be wherever it is!)

Posted in Food, Friends, Holidays, Just thinking | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Oven Baked Pork & Apples

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Hi there cooking friends–  I’m happy to say the oven is back on around our house after a summer of intermittent  oven use.  There are a whole lot of reasons whey fall is my favorite season (your birthday, right Laurel?!!) — and football games with our kids, the order of back to school, sweaters again for Pete’s sake!  And the oven is back– baking cakes and dinners and hearty all kinds of hearty warm things.  So glad to be back in oven season and glad for this new savory pork dinner.  We’ll be seeing it again around here…

OVEN BAKED PORK & APPLES
1 tab. butter
1″ thick pork chops or loin chops
2 crisp apples, cored & cut in wedges
1/2 red onion, cut in wedges
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 tab. cider vinegar
2 tab. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a hot skillet.  Then cook the pork for 3 minutes on each side until it’s beautifully browned.  Remove it to a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Nestle the apples and onion around the pork and sprinkle it with the thyme.

Mix together the broth, cider vinegar and olive oil.  Pour it over the pork and apples.
Season it all with the salt and pepper.

Pop it into a 425 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes until the pork is tender and the apples cooked through.

P.S.  Just cooking for Larry and me around here– so my picture is just half of this recipe.

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Easy Banana Chocolate Cake

IMG_2062Hi all–  After a summer of fruity desserts, my taste buds have turned to chocolate– Plus recently  Ani & Brian were coming down from SF and I have a policy to always have a chocolate cake for that girl waiting on the counter when they roll in.

So this friendly little cake is perfect.  If you’re a baker, you probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now.  So when you want a quick cake– say ready in 45 minutes– you can pop this in the oven and all your chocolate longings will be satisfied.  I promise.

EASY BANANA CHOCOLATE CAKE
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup water
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1  1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (love Hershey’s dark!)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, divided
1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans), chopped (or more if you love nuts like I do)

IMG_2134In a large mixing bowl, smash the bananas with a fork until there are no banana lumps left.  Then stir in the 2 sugars, oil, water and vinegar.

Next stir in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Then fold in 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips and the walnuts .

Spoon the batter into a 9″ or 10″ cake pan* that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips over the uncooked cake.

Pop it into a 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes until it’s firm to the touch.

If you live in SF, serve this happy little cake with a scoop of Be-Rite roasted banana ice cream (the best!).  Or if your elsewhere (like us)– vanilla ice cream would be just grand…

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The Sense of the Beautiful

images“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832 German writer, poet  and statesman)

It is one of God’s magnificent gifts– the sense of the beautiful that he has given us, the appreciation for all that is sweet and true and beautiful in this world.  Beauty in the brightness of the zinnias in the side yard, the smooth dark skin of the plums on the kitchen counter, beauty in the long jumping-dancing legs of the grand-girls, beauty in the 83 year old face on my mom…

I’m hoping to search for the beauty in my days, and to trust the maker of beauty with my worldly cares as they come.  God help me…

Posted in Faith, Just thinking | Tagged , , | 6 Comments