Saturday, May 21, 2022

Book Talk: Modern Elementary Fiction Part 2

Part 2 because I forgot some. And honestly, after every one of these I publish, I remember some I should have put on the list and didn't. So I'll just round up a few books I forgot on the last list, and then move on out of elementary.

May I Please Have a Cookie? by Jennifer E. Morris--This is a Level 1 reader, so for beginning readers. These types of books necessarily have very simple text, and they rely heavily on the illustrations. The illustrations serve a dual purpose: context clues for early readers, and entertainment. This was one that came home from school with my first grader, and I thought it was really well done.

Alfie the alligator schemes to get a cookie.

Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erickson--I had never heard of these before moving to ranching country, but we have multiple copies of these in our school library. I don't know how widely available they are elsewhere, but they are worth seeking out for kids if you can find them. They are written by a guy who was a working cowboy for most of his adult life, and they're told from the point of view of a cowdog named Hank, who is Head of Security on a ranch (at least, he thinks he is). They're modeled on those old-fashioned private eye novels like Sam Spade, but they're very funny and totally appropriate for all kids. There are like 60+ of them in the series, and I would say they're for something like second or third graders.

Hank would definitely keep a wary eye on these bulls.

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff--The first of these is an abridged version of The Iliad, written in prose instead of verse. The second is the same, but obviously for The Odyssey. Both are beautifully illustrated and bound, and are a good introduction to some great stories for kids that are much more accessible in this format. They're for older elementary, probably fifth grade and up, but they would also be good for middle school or even high school, for kids who aren't ready to read the more-difficult translations of these stories.

Do you have anything else to add to this list of more modern elementary fiction?

Friday, May 20, 2022

Friday Food: A Porky Week

Today is our first day of summer vacation. We're all ready for the break. 


Short version: Pizza, raw fennel

Long version: One cheese pizza, one with leftover taco meat on it (better than it sounds), and no mess on the stove, hooray!

I may not be the quickest problem-solver, but I get there in the end.


Short version: Pork and gravy, mashed potatoes, baked sauerkraut, green peas

Long version: I had actually cooked the pork shoulder roast the day before, when it was cooler. I had poured the liquid and fat off into a jar and pulled the meat off the bone that day. So to reheat the pork, I sauteed minced green garlic in the pork fat, then added the juices and chunks of pork with salt and pepper, and when it was all hot, some cornstarch in milk to thicken it all. It came out very well.

I had also baked the sauerkraut with the pork the day before. One bag from the freezer, and one jar that had been canned last summer. I just baked it in a covered casserole dish with some butter. I like it better cooked right with the pork, but not everyone likes it as much as I do, so I kept it separate.


Short version: Fried chicken, sorta-cornbread, cucumbers, roasted sweet potatoes, leftovers, chocolate banana fake ice cream

Long version: I had just six rooster drumsticks still in the freezer that I had separated from the carcasses before I froze them. So I marinated those in yogurt, then rolled them in corn flour and fried them in corn oil and olive oil. 

The cornbread was actually the batter left from the buttermilk pancakes I had made after church. I used yogurt, and it made very soft, almost custardy pancakes. Some of the children were not fans, and I didn't think the texture was quite right, either. The ingredients were very like those used in cornbread, however, so I added another cup of cornmeal to the pancake mixture and baked that. It came out very well, actually. Better than the pancakes, anyway. 

It didn't really rise, but no one minded flat cornbread.

The kids had the chicken and cornbread. A. had leftovers from the night before. I had a salad with my lettuce, yay! Plus some of the roasted sweet potatoes and tomatoes and cucumber and leftover taco meat.

I hadn't made that fake banana ice cream in awhile--you know the kind that's just frozen bananas and milk or cream--and I'm always amazed at how well it works. It really is almost indistinguishable in texture to soft serve. I always add cocoa powder to it. And I discovered this time that it doesn't work in my blender. I have to use the food processor. Boo.


Short version: Quickie pork stir-fry, rice

Long version: Two bags of frozen stir-fry vegetables, the rest of the pork roast diced up, soy sauce, garlic powder, ginger powder, vinegar, peanut butter, and there's a workday dinner.


Short version: Sirloin steaks, garlic bread and rolls, leftover mashed potatoes, sauteed and raw green beans

Long version: I had made the rolls with some of the bread dough while I was baking, thinking I could use them the next day for pulled pork sandwiches. But then they all got eaten after dinner. Of course.

The leftover mashed potatoes were for A., who didn't eat the bread, and Cubby, who ate the bread and wanted more food. 

A. and I ate the sauteed green beans (mine in yet another salad--still my lettuce yay!), and the kids ate the raw green beans.  Pretty typical.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: Last work day of the school year! These leftovers were actually from the cafeteria, where they had pulled pork on Monday and the cook sent the rest of it home with me. Bread and butter or rice, frozen green peas, and there's a work day dinner.


Short version: More leftovers. Plus celebratory spaghetti with pesto.

Long version: Last day of school. Spaghetti with pesto for the kids, leftover steak, and raw tomatoes.

I ate the last of the cafeteria pork and leftover sauerkraut. Cold, because it was 90 degrees and I had no interest in hot food.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

T.T.: Pizza and a Clean Stove

One of the items we get a LOT of in the excess commodities boxes given to us by our neighbors is low-sodium spaghetti sauce. It's not the best food item. It has sugar in it, which I don't really think is necessary, and it's kind of bland, so I add more salt and spices to it.

It does, however, work pretty well as a pizza sauce after those adjustments, but only when it's reduced a little. It's too watery in its original form.

I had not figured out a way to do that reduction, however, without making a HUGE mess of my stove. Spluttering tomato sauce is one of the worst things to simmer on a stove. Even with a sieve over it, the sauce would get through the tiny holes and get all over the place. 

I won't tell you how many times I just resigned myself to that and cleaned it all up afterwards before I figured out a better way. Which I did just last week.

So the sauce needs to have some water evaporated out of it, right? And the oven is on at a high temperature to bake pizza crusts, right? And what does the high heat of an oven do?


When I make pizza, I actually coat the entire surface of the dough with olive oil to keep it from drying out when it's doing the last rise in the pan. So what I did was bake the crusts most of the way at high heat, then spread the sauce on and bake it another five minutes or so before putting the toppings on. Because there is already oil on the crust, the sauce doesn't make the crust soggy before it dries out a bit.

Post-baking, pre-topping.

So many stove cleanings that could have been avoided if only I had worked smarter instead of harder, as they say.

Oh well. Better late than never, I suppose.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Snapshots: An Idiosyncratic Mother's Day

Want to see what I got for Mother's Day?


Our very first iris bloomed on Mother's Day from the bulbs A. brought from Blackrock and planted two years ago. I thanked him for getting me flowers for Mother's Day.

And a trip to a movie theater!

Blurry photo of the movie theater. (The feature film was Adventures in Babysitting, which is still entertaining forty years later.)

I know. It doesn't look like a movie theater. Lemme 'splain.

What I always really want for Mother's Day is some time by myself. That was a particularly difficult request this year because of the hot, windy weather. A. would normally take the kids out somewhere for a few hours so I could be by myself, but no one wanted to be out in that weather. 

However, since all I wanted to do was watch a movie on my laptop, and that can be done indoors, I decided to take myself out for a few hours. So I went to school.

Specifically, I went to my classroom at school, which isn't a regular classroom with desks and everything. It's more like an enrichment room, with different areas that have tables or carpets or even bean bags on the floor. It's air conditioned. There's wi-fi. There's a bathroom. There's an ice machine in the concessions kitchen so I could ice down the seltzer I brought with me. 

And there was no one there. Perfect.

Moving on . . .

Quite a few more irises have bloomed in front of the house.

All purple.

I've stopped harvesting the rhubarb, so it, too, is flowering.

This plant is particularly exuberant.

Cubby's teacher called us on Thursday afternoon asking if it was okay if he was given a Tylenol. He injured himself jumping for a football when he came down on the edge of a three-foot stump at the edge of the playground. He was wearing shorts, and in addition to a massive bruise, a inch-long piece of wood went into his thigh.

It was really nasty.

Miraculously, the mother of another student happened to be at school for an event and actually on the playground when it happened, and she is a practicing nurse. There was just enough of the wood sticking out for her to remove it with tweezers. Very luckily, it went in laterally rather than straight in and deep, so she could see that she got it all. Then she wrapped him up and they gave him the Tylenol.

Of course, Cubby brought home the piece of wood as a souvenir. He remarked that the blood stained it a very nice red color.

Match for scale. Yikes.

He's been gimping around a bit--mostly because of the giant bruise on his thigh--but there's no sign of infection, so he should be fine.

And last, let's end with something a bit less gruesome, shall we?

Sunrise on the range. (Still somewhat dimmed thanks to the smoke from the massive fires burning to the east of us. We're still in no danger, though.)

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.