Conversion Complete – I now read books made without paper

I feel like a traitor.

Books have been my longest and most stable friendship.  I remember reading stories before bed and then staying up late, paging through picture books.  When I was still very young, Mom read novels and chapter books out loud to us.  My early childhood is marked with weekly visits to story time at the library. One year, during my homeschooled middle school time when we kept track of such things, I read over 100 books.   In one year.  I can still read in the car without getting sick.  The year we unpacked my parents’ collection of sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks was the year I stopped hoping to have been adopted or switched at birth – clearly these people are related to me if they can invest in bookshelves of Anne McCaffrey novels.

My early sense of self was appropriated from Ramona Quimby and Laura Ingalls.  I yearned for a visit to Narnia and the Wump World and to have a special place like Terabithia.  But the most important memory I have of books is muscle memory – the coordination needed to hold a book in one hand, turning the dry, cheap pages of a paperback without tearing them.

Which is why I loved to hate on e-readers and tablets.

That was in the past.

What happened?

I got a smart phone.

It was time to update my phone.  My plan still did not include text messaging and my phone was an ancient model without a Qwerty keyboard.  I took the plunge and downloaded the appropriate apps and adjusted for a few months.

Then my husband foolishly bought me a Roku, and the next step was taken.

See, I already have a Netflix account, but my Roku came with a free trial of Amazon Prime.   I realized I was a perfect candidate for a cloud movie collection since I hate wires and don’t have a DVD player hooked up.  I no longer even have to connect my laptop to the TV to play a movie.  Another step was taken.

The first movie I bought came with a free sample of the novel on which it was based.

Then I realized that I suddenly and desperately needed to read Divergent.

And I didn’t want to drive to the bookstore or wait for the book to be shipped.

And I’m cheap and the Kindle version was heavily discounted.

And now I have a Kindle app on my phone and I have read more in the past 3 months than in the last year.

Now when I look at “real” books I feel guilty.  I hate to love my e-books.

My guilt was made worse the other night when I took my niece on her first trip to the library.  I told her all about the library in advance, describing the mountains of books that they have.  She reads a lot at home but for some reason she just has not made it to Mecca in the past two and a half years that she has been on this earth.

There are toys in the children’s section at LPL so she was understandably distracted by those, but once we focused on the board books she delved right in.  While she browsed and picked I made certain to pick out a few “big kid” books too.  Older picture books can have sturdier paper; safer for her rough movements.

I have not tried to buy any kids e-books for my niece to read, but I have downloaded a few freebies.  Her favorite is a simplistic story with cartoon illustrations and a hide-and-seek theme.  This underlines the problem with the e-reader.  Cheap, free “books” are overflowing the marketplace making selection of quality material challenging and time consuming.  This book is great for what I use it for – an easy distraction and a vehicle to prompt verbal skills and the concept of prediction.  It’s not the best example of predictive text.  It does no more to promote the use of prepositions than There’s a Wocket in my Pocket and it’s not has fun as the real life games and songs that we know can do the same thing.  The illustrations are uninspiring.  The kid just likes shat she can swipe the page with her finger.  Since I’m pretty sure she won’t be attending a Waldorf school, I’m not really worried about her ability to use technology.  I don’t think a digital book is an essential part of her personal library.

Am I missing something when I read books on my phone instead of buying the paper version?  Since I’m mostly reading dystopian YA trilogies, probably not.  It’s brain candy.  I don’t count it as “screen time” for myself because hey, I’m READING, and I know that people who read are smarter.  I like the convenience of always having my book and never having to hunt down a bookmark or (gasp) damage a book’s spine because no bookmarks are handy.  I can read at lunch and I can turn pages with one hand.  As an avid bibliophile and speed-reader, I don’t need to drink in the paper or cover; there are no illustrations in the books I read and I probably imagine them better than some underpaid artist who didn’t really read the book could come up with anyhow.  The thing I am missing is my desire to beat everyone I know over the head with my latest favorite book lend graciously with threat of death if unreturned  a cute “this book belongs to” sticker on the inside.  I wish I could lend my e-books to my friends and family they way I do with my “real” books.

I guess that’s not really my loss, is it?

Custom Pottery Bridal Shower

One of my issues with weddings is that they are expensive for everyone involved.  The last time I was a bridesmaid it cost me well over a thousand dollars.  Once you do the bridal shower, a gift for said shower, the bachelorette party, dress, shoes, hair and makeup, gift for the wedding, and possibly take a day off of work thanks to trendy wedding dates, you probably don’t want to look at the statistics on the success rate of marriages in the US.  You have a 50% chance that this was just a wasted effort and cost.  And you’re lucky to get a thank you note and possibly a crappy piece of jewelry to commemorate the whole fiasco.

Knowing I am in the “elope now or never get a sympathetic ear from me ever ever EVER about what stupid flowers/colors/shoes/food your future mother in law wants you to get” camp when it comes to weddings makes most people tread lightly around me when mentioning nuptials.  Look, you can invite me to your wedding but I won’t be happy about it, okay?

Still, it seems to fall on me to take care of things for my middle little sister as she prepares for her small wedding next month.  So I threw her a shower.

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I guess because I have to be different, or because it is such a small wedding that there aren’t even any attendants, or maybe because Emmi dislikes being the center of attention, we didn’t do the traditional shower with gifts.

Have you ever been to one of these paint-your-own pottery places?  The greenware (pottery that is already fired once) is layered on shelves and you pick a plate or figurine or whatever and paint it with special ceramics paint. (A quick lesson in ceramics: the paint is not paint but a glaze – liquid containing tiny bits of colorant and minerals that will actually melt into a smooth glass coating once the item is toasted in a kiln for several hours. ) There is more technique than skill involved in painting, but it is a fun and creative way to spend an afternoon.  I may or may not have a slight addiction to painting pottery.

My baby little sister Lea and I made invitations with a cute poem and invited the 20-odd guests to just come and make something for Emmi instead of bringing a gift along.  This solved my ethical hangup with showers: I’m already getting something for this greedy bride for the wedding so I have to get her a second gift for the shower, too?

We went to our favorite outfit, a great independent store called Star Glazers.  Hey had tables ready for us, balloons, and extra staff.  You can always bring your own food and drink.

So there is always a risk that people are terrible at following directions/using a paintbrush.  I made a Pinterest board to collect ideas and bounce them off of the bride.  CLICKY!

Was I successful in orchestrating a pottery class/party in which 20 women made coordinating ceramic dishes for a mutual friend?

You be the judge!

 

 

Pink Lemonade Cake Balls

I dislike weddings on principle.  They are expensive and selfish and wasteful.  When people say they are getting married, I think it’s good.  Monogamy has social, economic, and emotional benefits.  I’m married; I like it.  But when people say they are having a wedding, I’m like “why would you DO that?”

Okay, so my middle little sister Emmi is getting married.  Yay!  And she is having a wedding.  Blech!  But I love my sister so I said I’d help.  Plus she is sort of the anti-bridezilla because a. she loves that show and b. she hates being the center of attention.  I think she’s mostly doing the wedding thing because eloping is too exciting for her.  She’s not boring or anything; she’s just very low-key and anti-drama so anything that might step on people’s toes or whatever.  I’m not sure I know what that feeling is like, but I respect and admire her for it.

So Emmi declared that we were making all of the deserts for the wedding.  This was not surprising because anyone who is used to homemade desserts is likely to be picky about them.  My freezer has started to fill with delicious desserts.  I think I’ll share those with you!

The first delicious thing that is sitting in my freezer until the big day is PINK LEMONADE CAKE BALLS.

2014 Emmi's Wedding Baked goods

 

This cake is sweet and heavy.  I always mess with recipes like this one because I hate using processed food in my baking.  The original recipe calls for frozen lemonade concentrate, but I have real lemons and sugar on hand, so why would I go out of my way to thaw a tube of lemon juice and high fructose corn syrup?  I just estimated the amount of sugar and juice.

Me making this cake was like if Rachel Ray was using one of Sandra Lee’s recipes.  If you don’t know who Rachel Ray is, she’s controversial sometimes but mostly she cooks awesome food.  Not much of baker but she is a natural in the kitchen, instinctively substituting ingredients and mixing up flavors and finding inspiration everywhere.  If you don’t know who Sandra Lee is, good.  You are better off not knowing.

For the purpose of context: Sandra Lee is to Martha Stewart as Celine Dion is to Barbara Streisand.  A Canadian trollope who is too skinny to actually have eaten any of her own baking or cooking, Sandra Lee creates culinary abortions in her adorably coordinated kitchen.  Touting the phrase “semi-homemade” like that is even a thing, she cuts corners and creates sad semblances of food out of prepackaged mixes and processed foodstuffs.  Hey, I get it! You work forty hours a week, you have kids, you have Netflix, and you don’t want/have time to make it from scratch.  Just don’t expect me to be impressed.  Or to eat your Kwanzaa cake covered in corn nuts.  Ew.

Okay so I made a delicious cake using logical substitutions from this recipe.  I crumbled it up and added buttercream icing, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pink food coloring.  The resulting mixture is then rolled into balls and coated in yellow coating candy.

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Because this is for a wedding/I am a nut about food I make looking aesthetically pleasing, I added adorable straws!   I cut up the straws into thirds and dipped each one into the candy, then I stabbed the cake and used the straw as a handle for dipping. The trick with this candy coating is to add some Crisco to the chocolate, thinning it out to a smooth enrobing solution.

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Because the chocolate is thin, the bottom of the cake will peek through, so I settle each bon bon on an unmelted candy wafer.

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Some pink sanding sugar finishes each ball.

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It’s a small wedding and you are probably not invited.  Ha ha.

Best Play Kitchen EVER (if I do say so myself!)

 

Okay so I’m not always known for my modesty.  There are some things I am really good at, like standardized test taking and pretending to be sweet as pie so my customers love me and baking most things (but not macarons because those are my nemesis).  But even with that in mind, I have to say that I am REALLY good at making a play kitchen for my niece.

I had the Fisher Price sink and stove and such as a kid.

I played in the housekeeping station in kindergarten.

I received a china tea set one year for Christmas.

My dolls were well fed.

It took a long time for me to give up tea parties and playing house.  It felt like the right kind of play.

In college I learned that my instincts were correct – this kind of play, which was always my favorite, is an important part of how young children develop an understanding of the world around them.  They learn to socialize and to work out problems by mimicking the actions and words of adults they observe.  It’s not just adorable when a tiny tot offers you an invisible cup of hot cocoa; it’s an important social transaction and practice making appropriate interactions with others.

I love being an auntie and I love to make stuff, so this project was a no-brainer.  I took my niece on a trip downtown and in the consignment store she fell in love with the plastic toy kitchen the store owner keeps out to accommodate the kiddies while their  spending-savvy mommies shop.  My niece refused to leave the store.  She threw a tantrum because she wanted so badly to microwave another pretend french fry.  Obviously I had to figure out how to get a play kitchen for her!

The plastic kitchens can be fairly affordable, but they don’t have efficient storage and they are garish.  I looked and priced, but I also scoured DIY websites and Pinterest.  As I usually do, I came to the conclusion that “I can make this.”

With Chuck’s help, of course.

My first stop was the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.  This place is a gold mine for DIY-ers!  Any leftover and still functioning building materials are accepted as donations and then sold at low cost to raise money for Habitat.  In the past I have purchase shingles for our new shed, paint, tiles, and even unused tools.

The cabinet section was slightly bare but as luck would have it, they had exactly what I needed in stock.  Two cheap, plain wall cabinets for $10 and $15 each.  SCORE.  Some quick measurements and I was ready to go

You can clearly see the fridge, oven, and sink, right?

You can clearly see the fridge, oven, and sink, right?

I picked up some MDF meant to be shelving  at Lowes and Chuck found some unused paneling in his workshop.  While he sanded the cabinets and jigged out a hole for the dog dish –turned –sink, I painted a mural for the backsplash using my acrylics and sealed the image with clear spray paint.

 

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sink made from a dog dish.

I think she has a nicer backsplash than I do!

I think she has a nicer backsplash than I do!

Once the whole piece was together, Chuck painted the kitchen while I painted the “fridge” with homemade chalkboard paint and I freehanded the “microwave.”  I found baskets at a thrift shop and spray painted them in various shades of green.

The fridge is painted with chalkboard paint!

The fridge is painted with chalkboard paint!

 

Ha ha I am hilarious, I know.

Ha ha I am hilarious, I know.

The finishing touch was telling everyone what we made so they could help fill it out.  Auntie Alice and Uncle “Ded” bought some adorable Melissa and Doug play food, Auntie Emmi found perfect miniature baking supplies, while Mommy bought a princess tea set, providing props for play time.

A friend recently posted this article on the importance of play in a child’s life.  It sort of boggles my mind that someone would question the healthiness of a child’s imagination, but the article sort of take a tone of defense, doesn’t it?  I always assumed that most adults are just too busy/lazy to encourage imaginative play, but I guess some people discourage it, too.  So sad!

The niece-let is happy to play with her kitchen and it has been encouraged to bring her toys to the real kitchen to “bake” with flour, dried beans, play dough, etc.  She also uses her tiny whisks to stir eggs whenever we crack them into a bowl.  Baby dolls under her care are sated and I’m pretty sure those pretend cookies have calories because I think I’ve gained weight.

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Bacon Apple Pie

I went to a friend’s party last night while Chuck was at the BU game.  The potluck was themed as such:

  • Any savory dish with meat in it must have bacon as a component.
  • Any savory dish without meat must have red peppers as a component.
  • Any sweet desert must have apple as a component.
  • Dishes with alcohol involved get one automatic extra point.
  • Cheating is encouraged and will be rewarded.

I have a penchant for baking, but what if I combine some of these categories?  Obviously my apple dessert contained bacon.

OBVIOUSLY.

Here’s my pie crust recipe.    Well, Actually, my SIL found it in an old pie cookbook.  Still, it’s a fab recipe.

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I know it seems like adding water to the fat wouldn’t work, but if you truly add boiling water and whisk it quickly, you get a beautful lard slurry that becomes a light, tasty, flaky pie crust.

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Lard already has a hearty meaty scent to it.  It seems natural to add bacon.

I cooked up a half pound of thick-cut bacon and crumbled it up.  Half of that went into my pie crust.

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I used Cortland apples.  These are firm, white, tart apples.  I use very small, fine pieces of apple in my pie.

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The crumble is the magical part of this pie.  I don’t mix any flour or seasoning into the apples themselves.  Instead, I use my pastry cutter to blend flour, butter, and sugar (and in this case I used brown sugar and added the remaining bacon crumbles!) and douse the pie.  As the pie bakes, the crumble crisps on the top and some melts into the pie, thickening the juices as the apples bake.

 The pie is done when it’s  bubbling.

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I won a bottle of Kraken.

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Evolution in my Kitchen

This is the story of how I keep it real in the kitchen.  I started with a craving for a local restaurant’s classic southern barbecue and ended up with tiny apple pies.

Chuck and I love going out for southern barbecue.  Our local restaurant, JoBoy’s, serves amazing smoked meats and delicious homemade sides and desserts.  The slow cooking results in a tender pulled meat that they pair with a homemade barbecue sauce.  Basically, it is to die for.

Though I can’t reproduce the unique smoky flavor, I can make a similar meal at home fairly easily.  I threw a pack of chicken thigh/leg quarters into the crock pot and made a sauce with the contents of the door of my refrigerator.  some mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, cola, Worcestershire,  fresh minced garlic, salt, and pepper, simmered on the stove and served in a gravy boat.

Emmi came over and we made these cauliflower latke thingies, but all dairy free.  I have a ton of fake cheese right now.  It helps me a lot.  I loooove cheese.  I might add another egg next time, but they turned out delicious and would be very good with eggs.

Once dinner was over, I loaded the bones and skins right back into the slow cooker, added come carrots, celery, and onion, and coated the contents with water.  I cooked the broth overnight on low.  The whole house smelled amazing!  In the morning, I strained the bones and such out of the broth and shoved it into the fridge.  The fat rose to the top and solidified, making it easy to spoon off.

Here is my cooled broth with the fat scooped off

This morning, I made a double pie crust and popped it into the fridge.

I wasted the rest of my day doing whatever unemployed people do, and then I made a PIE pot pie.  I emphasize the pie because I don’t want you to confuse it with POT pot pie, which is a delicious Pennsylvania Dutch stew that is made with homemade noodles.  Here are the steps I took to make my PIE pot pie:

This is a lard crust. Non-dairy never means vegan in my house!

I cooked a bag of frozen peas and carrots in the fat I culled from my broth. Once the veggies were warmed, I added flour, salt and pepper, and broth to make a gravy-like sauce. I layered leftover chicken with the veggie gravy in the pie crust.

I topped the pie with a crust and put slits in the crust to help air and steam escape.

This deep dish is Polish pottery. So pretty!

I baked the pie for about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, or until it was bubbly.

I think it turned out perfect. Chuck thought it should have been creamier, so next time I will add some milk (soy or almond) to the gravy.

Whoops, guess what?  I had extra pie dough.

I cut the extra dough with a cookie cutter, but you could use a drinking glass, too.

I pushed each round of dough into a mini muffin tin and filled it with apples. I used Fiji apples, which are very sweet and crispy. I diced the apples so they would fit into the pie cups and then mixed them with sugar, cinnamon, and flour. I used 4 apples, 2/3 c. sugar, 2 T. flour, and 1 t. cinnamon. I added the apple mix to each pie crust and baked them in my still-warm oven.

These only baked for about 20 minutes, until they were bubbly.  They came out a bit messy, so next time I may use cake liners. A quick jab around the edges with a table knife loosened the pies

Voila!

They are super sweet!  I think they would be pretty with an icing drizzle on them.

And that is how the ADD mind works in the kitchen.

Charmed

Here is a review/endorsement of a TV show that you can watch in its entirety on Netflix.  You’re welcome.

Charmed is an ooey-gooey bundle of campy fantasy fun in a boob shirt.  It is available on Streaming and of course is in syndication on umpteen cable networks including WeTV and TNT, so even if you don’t have Netflix, you can nurture the hunger!   When I first started watching this show on TNT, I became obsessed (shocking!) and actually taped episodes I would miss so I could watch the entire series in order.

The premise of this show is terrible, unoriginal and romantic.  Three sisters inherit amazing magical powers and must fight evil and darkness so that good and light can prevail.  The girls were mostly raised by their grandmother who hid their amazing family history of witchcraft from them.  All of the women in the Haliwell family have first names that begin with “P” and each has a special power.  Together, Prudence, Piper, and Phoebe are able to call upon the prophetic and aptly named “Power of Three” and fight more evil than any other woman in their family.  As the sisters learn about their powers and discover the dark forces at work in the world, they also try to find lovers who will accept their wacky, magic-fighting schedules.  Most dudes apparently hate when their girlfriends can predict the future, freeze time, or move objects with their minds.  The ancestral Haliwell home in San Francisco sits on a magical force called the Nexus.  Between the Nexus and the general threat to evil that the sisters present, warlocks, demons, and all other forms of nasties turn historic San Francisco into a hub of magical warfare, much like the Hellmouth in Buffy, which also features an unlucky-in-love heroine who lives/fights evil in California.

The show originally starred Shannen Doherty (from the original 90210) as the oldest sister, Prue.  Shannen took her cues from Denise Crosby (TNG) and left the show so the writers killed her.  Obviously this created a huge plot hole: how can the Charmed Ones invoke the Power of Three if there are only two of them?  The solution?  A fourth (half) sister who was given up for adoption because her father was her mother’s “whitelighter” (guardian angel for witches).  Classy family, right?  The surprise sister even has a “P” name:  Paige!  In the end it is all for the best because Rose McGowan, the actress who played Paige, is way cooler than Shannen Doherty.

There are 7 glorious seasons filled with Alyssa Milano’s boobies and terrible CGI.  If you make it to Season 7, you will be graced with the beautiful Kaley Cuoco as a new regular.  Adorable!  She got her nerd on waaay before the Big Bang Theory.  The camp level is high, but the sisters will grow on you and you have plenty of time to waste, right?  I highly recommend any of the time travel episodes.  Enjoy!