Saturday, May 7, 2022

Book Talk: Classic Elementary Fiction Part 2

It's no surprise that this is the largest category of books I'm recommending. It's what I like to read. I'm a classic sort of person, I suppose, for better or worse. 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame--I have never read this one, but we got a copy from the MiL's friend (thanks, Mary!) and one of my boys has already read it twice. It's about as classic as it gets, and a very gentle sort of story with lots of friendships. It is, however, an old children's book, originally published in 1908, and is a perfect example of the ways in which children's fiction has changed. The sentences are long, with lots of punctuation, so only a quite proficient reader won't get lost in them. Also, the vocabulary is extraordinary, and I would venture to guess that modern adult readers wouldn't know what some of the words mean. So, it is a wonderful book to read aloud with a child who is not yet a very good reader, or a good book for a good young reader who is not yet brainwashed by Captain Underpants.

Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight--Another animal book. This one has been read a few times by the other boy, who is a big fan of dog stories. There are other Lassie books, I think inspired by the popular television series, but this is the original, and the only one written by this author. If you have children sensitive to animals' distress, this one might have some disturbing parts to it, because of course attitudes to animals were very different when this book was written in 1940. Also, it has some vernacular speech in it, so it's probably best for stronger readers.

Jasper says collies are overrated, and why hasn't anyone written a book about a border collie/cur cross? 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl--What kid wouldn't want to visit Willy Wonka's chocolate factory? I'm not a huge fan of all of Roald Dahl's stories, but this is a great one. And, of course, there's also the fun of getting to watch the movie after reading the book. But ONLY the one with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. I cannot countenance Johnny Depp as the creepiest Willy Wonka ever. (I've never actually seen that one--I couldn't get past how strange Willy Wonka looked in the ads for it when it came out.)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor--This is a hard book for kids, I will not lie. It doesn't shy away from describing how difficult life in the segregated deep south was for black people for generations. But there is no denying the truth of it, and this book is very powerfully written. It also has great female characters in it: Cassie, Mama, and Big Ma are all what would now be termed "strong women." And in the tradition of "strong women" of the past, their strength is all directed to keeping their families and communities safe and thriving. 

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan--I recently re-read this book, which I remembered liking as a child. It's written in such simple language that I think it would qualify as a beginning reader's chapter book, but the simple language (and happy ending) does not mean it's a shallow story with shallow characters. It's told from a child's point of view, and I think does a good job representing how children grapple with some pretty heavy things (death, resentment, fear). 

Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright--I found this book in our school library when I was cataloging everything. I had never heard of this author before, but I loved the book. Remember when I said that I think fantasy is such a popular genre now because it allows for safe children's stories with adventure? Well, this book (published in 1942) has very real children who had adventures simply because children at that time were still given the unsupervised time to have adventures of their own. The adventures in this book start when the family moves from New York City to the country. This is the second of what is referred to as "The Melendy Quartet," (the family's name is Melendy), and there were new editions of all four of the books published in 2008.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit--Another book about children who move to the country, but this one has a bit of a darker side, as the children have to move because their father is taken away. The children have all sorts of adventures in their new home, but there is the sadness and mystery of what happened to their father. It does have a happy ending, though.

Okay, I'll stop here. Do you have any more to add to this additional list of classic elementary fiction?

Friday, May 6, 2022

Friday Food: It's Lovely Rice Pudding for Dinner Again*


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: I used leftover taco meat/beans to make quesadillas for the kids. I don't usually do this, because frying anything individually is a huge pain with four children, but Cubby was gone at a track meet, so I only had three children. Slightly less of a pain. But only slightly.

A. and I had leftover steak, and the last of a giant container of green beans and potatoes the school cook had sent home with me. They were surprisingly good.


Short version: Pot roast, bread and butter, asparagus, watermelon radish, rice pudding

Long version: The extra commodities stuff is really getting out of control. We got a big box dropped off at our house by the lady who delivers it; a big box from Miss Amelia of the stuff she didn't want; and TWO boxes from Rafael of his extra things. Which is how I ended up with four pounds of cheap white rice and eight more pounds of raisins (in addition to the literal case I already had). So I decided to make rice pudding, since I had the oven on anyway for the pot roast, and it takes four hours to cook a double recipe.

I used the MiL's recipe, which was the one her father used to make on the farm for her and her five siblings. It calls for half a gallon of milk, which unfortunately doesn't come with commodities. Well, except for fat-free dried milk, and there's no way I'm making rice pudding from that.

I didn't have quite enough sugar, so I added some maple syrup, but that made it too sweet. I fixed this by cooking some rhubarb plain in the microwave so anyone who wanted to could stir that in to their rice pudding to cut the sweetness. Only A. tried it, and he really liked it.

The children didn't seem to think it was too sweet. But then, their tastebuds are significantly less sensitive to that particular taste.

I have one child who hates cooked raisins, so I leave one side raisin-less for him.


Short version: Chicken and split pea curry, rice, green beans, rhubarb custard pie with whipped cream

Long version: I had two more rooster carcasses in the freezer, so I put those in the pressure cooker to make stock and have some cooked chicken. The problem I always have with pressure-cooking chickens, though, is that it definitely makes the best stock, but the meat gets sort of stringy.

In any case, I used that meat plus a container of curried split peas from the freezer, plus some sour cream, to make curried chicken. I should have used the other container of split peas in the freezer, though, because the chicken wasn't seasoned enough.

Well, I didn't think so, but everyone else still had two servings, so I guess it was okay.

Cubby chose the dessert. He wanted to make a pie with the rhubarb I had harvested the day before, so he made the crust using the MiL's recipe and I made the filling using this recipe (except with a teaspoon of cornstarch instead of flour). 

I was sort of ambivalent about the pie in the end. But then, I'm not a pie person, and the three pie people in our house really liked it. Particularly A., who said it was one of the best pies he's ever had.

Given the number of pies he's eaten over his life, most of them prepared by the MiL and her family, who are very accomplished pie bakers, that's a great compliment.

The two children who do not like pie had a graham cracker with whipped cream on it for dessert.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: The children all chose leftover curried chicken and rice for their dinners, which they ate along with watermelon radish on the side.

A. and I ate leftover pot roast, his with rice, mine in a salad.

Yup, it was a workday. You can always tell.

Completely unrelated sunrise photo of the steers across the road.


Short version: Male stew, garlic bread, rice pudding

Long version: When A. went to the store the day before, he got the four gallons of milk I requested, but the only ones he could find had a use-by date of Thursday. I knew we would not use four gallons of milk in six days (if they're not opened, they're usually fine for a few days after the use-by date), so I decided to make more rice pudding. This was a good day for it, as it was 35 degrees and windy when we got up, so the house could use the heat from the oven.

This time I used my big 15"x10" Pyrex and made a quadruple batch. That used almost a full gallon of milk. The Pyrex was completely full, and therefore sort of tricky to put in the oven and stir without spilling it. I used quite a bit less sugar this time, and it was better. And the boys were VERY EXCITED by the great quantity of rice pudding they found when they got home from school.

Because I needed the oven to be on for four hours to bake the rice pudding, I took out a bag of ram stew meat and cooked that along with the pudding. Lamb, onion, green garlic puree, rooster stock, a can of spaghetti sauce (we get a lot of this from the excess commodities, so I often use it in place of plain tomatoes), carrots, and potatoes.

It was male stew because it was made from ram meat and rooster stock. The children thought this was funny.


Short version: Leftovers, bacon and eggs

Long version: There was some chicken curry, some rice, and some lasagna left from the cafeteria on Monday. I added bacon and eggs, bread and butter, and leftover rice pudding to fill it out for those who needed more food.

And that's how we eat on work days.


Short version: Fried pork, spaghetti with pesto, fried potatoes, cucumber slices

Long version: Two cans of commodities pork fried with spices, spaghetti for the kids, a nuked potato fried with the pork for A., a salad for me, cucumber slices for everyone.

I had to work again, but I actually cooked. Three pans going on the stove and no leftovers in sight. Look at me go, like a real cook instead of a microwaver.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* Remember the books of poetry by A.A. Milne I recommended last week? Well, they include a poem entitled "Rice Pudding," and I took every opportunity to recite the last stanza whenever we were eating said pudding. It goes "What is the matter with Mary Jane? She's perfectly well and she hasn't a pain, and it's lovely rice pudding for dinner again! What is the matter with Mary Jane?" English nursery rice puddings must not have been as good as mine.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

T.T.: Streamlined Snack Cookies

I freely admit that I spend more time in the kitchen than is probably reasonable. But all that time in the kitchen inevitably leads to certain efficiencies. I know my style of scratch cooking is time-intensive, but I see no need to slavishly follow recipes if it leads to unnecessary steps and more time.

Such was the case with this cookie recipe.

I developed it several months ago while searching for a cookie recipe that used more oats than flour. I am absolutely buried in oats thanks to the government commodities program and our generous neighbors. I think I have at least twenty pounds of oats on hand at all times. 

In addition to an oat-heavy recipe, I wanted one that would be acceptable for school snacks. I have Many Opinions on school snacks, all of which I will spare you. All I'll say is that I've completely sworn off any pre-packaged snacks for my kids at school.

But they still need to eat. And they need relatively healthy snacks that will last at least a week without refrigeration. 

Those snacks also need to be portable, not too messy to eat, and not annoying and time-consuming for me to make.

I've found cookies to be the best option for portability and longevity. So I needed a snack cookie that used lots of oats, was relatively healthy, lasted a long time in a classroom, could be transported easily, wouldn't fall apart, and wouldn't take too much of my time.

That's a lot to ask.

But I figured it out. These cookies have a bit of protein from peanut butter and walnuts, are sweetened minimally (but still acceptably--no need to be penitential about it) only with honey, and are mostly oats. They're as close to a "healthy" cookie as I could get while still being recognizably a cookie, and therefore fun to eat.

I actually started with this recipe I found online, but I've eliminated most of the steps and dirty dishes. It's just one big bowl, one measuring cup, one spoon, and one pan. It takes me exactly 15 minutes to mix the dough and get the cookies in the oven. With only 12 minutes of baking time (the entire batch fits on one pan, so it really is only 12 minutes), that's less than 30 minutes for a week's worth of school snacks for three kids (plus some extras for the kid at home).

Wait, I lied. There is one other small bowl for melting butter and so on. Still fewer dishes than the original recipe, and FAR fewer steps.

I also changed some of the ingredient amounts, so it's not really that recipe anymore. It's mine. And now it can be yours.

Snack Cookies (makes about 30 small cookies)


1 cup flour (can be all-purpose, white whole wheat, or a combination--the more white flour, the more it will have a dessert cookie texture)

2 cups oats (old-fashioned or quick, but NOT instant)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt (use a bit more if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup nut pieces (I use walnuts)

3/4 cup raisins or chocolate chips (or a combination)

8 tablespoons butter (I use salted because that's all I buy)

1/3-1/2 cup honey (more honey means more like a dessert cookie)

1/2 cup peanut butter 

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla


1) Combine oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nuts (I break the pieces up smaller in my hands as I'm adding them, because I can't be bothered to dirty a knife and cutting board to chop them), and raisins/chocolate chips in a big bowl and mix all together.

2) Melt butter, honey, and peanut butter all together in a small bowl in microwave (or a pot on the stove) and add to the dry ingredients. 

3) Slightly beat the egg in that same bowl the butter, etc. was in (always reduce dishes!) and add it to the big bowl, along with the vanilla.

4) Mix all together thoroughly with a sturdy spoon. It will be quite dense and sticky. You can put it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so if you want to get it a little less goopy. I usually don't bother, though.

5) For each cookie, scoop out about a tablespoon with a spoon and drop it onto an ungreased, unlined pan.  These don't spread, so you can put them very close together, which is why you can bake the whole batch on only one pan. If you've chilled the dough, you can roll it into balls and smoosh them slightly flat on top to make neater cookies with a more uniform shape. 

6) Bake at 325 degrees for about 12 minutes in the top half of your oven (if they're in the bottom half, they'll brown too much on the bottom before they're done). These will not brown much on top, so check the bottom of one to see if they're done. When the bottoms are a medium brown, take them out. They will be a bit crumbly right out the oven, so either leave them on the pan to cool for a few minutes, or just be careful when transferring to a cooling rack.

Although I give specific ingredients and amounts, I must admit to playing fast and loose with measurements when I make them. I do measure the oats and flour, but the rest of it I usually just eyeball. You can also use different nuts, or different chopped dried fruit or M&Ms . . . it's extremely forgiving. 

When I'm feeling indulgent, I'll use 1/2 cup raisins and 1/4 chocolate chips, rather than all raisins.

Unlike most cookies, these are actually better after they have been stored for a day or so, rather than freshly baked. They soften up a little bit and are less crumbly after being in a jar for awhile. 

Incredibly, they will last at least three whole weeks in a jar in a classroom snack box with very little deterioration in texture or flavor. I only know that because I have one kid who has a tendency to forget about snacks from previous weeks that didn't get eaten. So when I've found, say, a few cookies in a jar in his snack box that contain chocolate chips, and I know I last made the cookies with chocolate chips almost a month ago . . .

Well, they just last a really long time. I would never have kept them that long on purpose, but I did try those particular aged cookies myself, and they were fine. You can also freeze them with no problems.

My boys will eat two a day for the four days of school, and eight of these cookies fit just right in a wide-mouth pint jar.

In case you were wondering, I've never had a jar break in a backpack or at school. Canning jars are very sturdy.

So there you go. Zero-waste, relatively healthy cookies that don't take hours to make. My small but important contribution to parents everywhere.

Bonus school snack tip: The best savory snack I've found so far is popcorn. Just don't overdo the butter, or it'll get soggy in the jar.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Snapshots: This and That

Cubby turned The Predatory Princess into a pick-up truck, which he then conveniently left smack in the middle of the hallway.

Bill the Pony has been getting a lot of attention lately as the older boys have been working on training him, but I still appreciate good old Samson and his steadiness. So does Jack.

Pony training in the paddock.

It's rhubarb and asparagus season, hooray!

The children's latest game is setting up their dinosaur toys in various tableaus of carnage. This one was my favorite.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.