Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A special delivery

This past weekend some friends of ours were returning home from a trip to Chicago and since we live on their way home, they were nice enough to special deliver dinner for us (keep in mind that we live in Southeastern Michigan, about 4 hours from Chicago):

Xoco and Sprinkles Cupcakes
Xoco and Sprinkles
The sandwich drowning in a spicy tomato broth is called "Torta Ahogada" but I prefer to call it "Torta Oh-My-God-A." It has pork carnitas, pickled onions, and black beans, but the magic of the sandwich is dunking it that spicy tomato broth.

Now those are great friends -- not only ones who are willing to deliver you dinner and dessert from four hours away, but who understand the mantra "Will travel for food."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ARC review: The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

Julia and Taylor are best friends who live on the same street and do everything together. Until one summer day, a new girl their age named Alyssa moves in and everything changes. Alyssa introduces the girls to a game called Russia and suddenly a fierce rivalry and battle for loyalties ensue, and Julia's left to contemplate who her friends really are.

In Tara Altebrando's middle grade debut, she manages to nail middle school Mean Girls behavior to the point where reading The Battle of Darcy Lane made me feel like I was back in middle school again, much to my chagrin. Because despite being a lover of middle schoolers and of teaching that age group, it reminded me just how much I don't want to go back there. But it is for that reason that books like The Battle of Darcy Lane are important. They show kids and remind adults just how hard it is to survive this time in your life -- and that it does get better. Thankfully, Julia has the support and love of her wonderful parents, which to me is what makes this book stand out among others. There are so many books written for kids and teens where the parents are either absent or completely clueless. Instead, Altebrando gives our main character Julia the loving support of a fully competent mom and dad. And yet, despite that support, Julia's struggle is still difficult and painful. Altebrando shows that no matter how great your parents are, growing up is still hard. 

Readers will find the ending of The Battle of Darcy Lane both satisfying and open-ended. There are places where our young protagonist is vindicated, and there are also places where we see that things didn't change for her. Despite that, she goes on living and growing up. Just like in real life.

I started this book Saturday night and finished it Sunday morning. I rarely finish a book in less than 24 hours, but this one just completely captured me.

While this is middle grade, it is definitely older middle grade -- something I'd give to a student who is on the verge of being ready for YA since there are more mature situations than the average middle grade novel, such as first-time bra shopping, first crushes, and implied expletives (though not actually spelled out). 

I would hand sell this book to any middle schooler who is feeling down about a lost friendship or perhaps a girl or group of girls who might need to see their own Mean Girl behavior played out in novel form. I could see this being quite a strategic literature circle pick or read aloud in the classroom.

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando
Expected Publication: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Running Press Kids

Pages: 208
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-14-14

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

I had another fantastic reading week last week, punctuated by a very special trip to Ohio where I met A Snicker of Magic author Natalie Lloyd and was able to give her some of my very own homemade Blackberry Sunrise ice cream.

Last week I reviewed:

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier

I also finished reading:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

I finished reading with my ears:

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of the sequel, Chasing Before, so I figured now would be a good time to get back up to speed before I read book two.

Picture books I read last week that I really enjoyed:

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Can you believe I've never read this book before? What's wrong with me? ;) I found a hardcover copy at my library's used bookstore and decided it was time to read it.

Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett 
Emily Gravett is becoming one of my favorite picture book author/illustrators. Her work is so witty and fun. While I hugely favor dogs over cats, this book made me smile as Matilda's cat reminded me a great deal of my skittish pug Guenter. :)

Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
So wonderfully musical. I love the syncopated rhymes in this book. It would be a fantastic book to do a dramatic reading replete with percussion instruments. A must-share with students.

Currently Reading:

The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown

Currently reading with my ears:

Enders by Lissa Price 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Spindiddly Blackberry Sunrise Evening

Yesterday afternoon I gassed up the Mustang and headed for Ohio to attend an event for author Natalie Lloyd at the Delaware County Library, sponsored by Fundamentals Parent-Teacher Store. But even better than meeting Natalie for the first time and hearing her speak, was unexpectedly getting a chance to attend a dinner with her and some of my Nerdy Book Club friends thanks to the wonderful owner of Fundamentals. And better still, I even got to sit next to Natalie at dinner and gush about what a beautiful book A Snicker of Magic is. So needless to say, yesterday's events will rate high on the list of Awesome Things That Happened in 2014.

Natalie and beth

Hearing Natalie talk last night made my heart happy. She was clearly meant to be an author. And when she said to the crowd, "Sometimes I have to stop myself and remember I'm in the middle of a dream come true," it just made us love her even more.


One of the best parts of finally getting the opportunity to meet Natalie yesterday was that I have been tinkering with a very special flavor of ice cream since I read the book back in January. That flavor would be Blackberry Sunrise of course. Well I couldn't meet her for the first time and NOT bring her my manifestation of the flavor she imagined. If you've read the book you know what a very special flavor Blackberry Sunrise is to the story: it's a flavor that conjures up memories. Sometimes they're happy memories and sometimes they're sad, depending on the sweetness of the blackberries in the batch you happen to be eating. It's also a flavor the protagonist, Felicity Pickle, has a difficult time mustering up the courage to try.

When I came to the part of the story that talks about how Blackberry Sunrise came to be, I immediately had a vision for how to make it.

"[Abigail] was kin to the Smiths -- so she knew all sorts of wild recipes -- cookies that gave people laughing fits, and punch that turned shy people feisty. Her most famous recipe had to do with memory; she baked homemade biscuits with blackberries and sugar stirred into the dough. Her blackberry biscuits helped people remember things; sometimes the memory was good and sometimes it was bad. but it needed to be remembered."

"Like the Blackberry Sunrise," I said, staring down at that infernal carton in Jonah's hands. The carton I refused to touch.

"Exactly," said Oliver. "That's where the idea for the ice cream came from."

Oliver continued, "The Honeycutts were older than most folks are when they had their baby, so they doted extra special on little Burl. He had a real creative soul, helped them name all the ice-cream flavors. Every year on Burl's birthday, his parents took him on a trail walk down by Snapdragon Pond. They'd sit on the banks beside the tall reeds and watch the sun creep higher and higher above these sleepy old mountains. One day, the sun turned the sky lavender and gray and then silver metallic. The morning glories fanned their petals. The wind blew ripples across the water. And Burl told his parents he'd never been happier. He said he wished every day could be a blackberry sunrise." (230)

Because the ice cream flavor was inspired by blackberry biscuits, I immediately knew I would try to stir some crumbled up biscuits into the ice cream base. And since the memory that inspired Blackberry Sunrise involved a lavender sky, I thought about the perfect ice cream base: Honey Lavender.

So this is a rough approximation of my version of Blackberry Sunrise (I'm very bad about measuring what can I say). Keep in mind, I make very small batches because it's only me and my husband in our house, and ice cream ends up going bad before we eat it all. I feel as if I haven't perfected this recipe yet, but it's my hope that someone else out there will also be inspired and make it better -- and if you do, please share it with me! 

Beth's Vision of a Blackberry Sunrise

Special equipment needed: ice cream maker

  • 2 cups half and half 
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried, edible lavender flowers
  • 1 carton fresh blackberries
  • 1 biscuit or scone (I shamefully admit I bought a berry scone at Whole Foods for this because I am a terrible baker)

In a medium saucepan, heat the half and half, lavender, honey, and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl until light yellow. Ladle some of the heated half and half mixture into the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to temper. Then add the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan. Whisk constantly (if you don't it will surely curdle -- it's happened to me on more than one occasion) on medium heat until thickened. Allow mixture to cool a few hours in fridge before churning in the ice cream maker.

Before putting the base into the ice cream maker, strain out the lavender flowers (unless you want the added floral flavor, but enough has seeped into the mixture without the actual flowers in the base). Churn the ice cream for 15 minutes and come back and check on the consistency. When the ice cream is mostly set up, this is where you add in the crumbled up biscuit and blackberries.

The first time I made this, I used whole blackberries and it was a little too overly textural for me, especially with the biscuits, so the second time I made it, I put the blackberries in a saucepan with a little bit of water and simmered them down to sort of a compote so I wasn't biting into giant pieces of blackberry. Depending on your preference, you could do either. The compote adds an extra step but makes for a smoother bite. The picture below is of my first attempt at Blackberry Sunrise where I just mixed whole blackberries into the ice cream.
Blackberry sunrise ice cream

Natalie tweeted a picture of the empty container this morning. I hope that means she liked it. :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Langston Hughes

Wrote poems
Like jazz

Sang like love
Cried like the blues

In this picture book, a little girl puts on her favorite pink blouse and visits Langston Hughes's house with her daddy. But that's where the story ends. I want to know what happens once she gets to Langston's house.

My only criticism is that the text isn't long enough. Just when I started getting into the rhythm and story, it ended. But then again, I can't get enough of anything related to Langston Hughes. He is my all-time favorite poet.
Bryan Collier's illustrations are lovely, thought-provoking, and as always, add another layer of meaning to the story. 

This would be a great book to pair with Ntozake Shange's Ellington Was Not A Street which also examines a child's reflection at the history-making African American men who have made this country great. Lots of background knowledge is needed to help students understand both books.

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Published: February 1, 2002
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Library Copy

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? 4-7-14

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

I had a great reading week, starting with finishing this little-known gem:
Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins
I can't recommend this book highly enough. I hope Mitali Perkins tries to make this a series of books. I wanted to read more. What a great idea to tell humorous, lighthearted stories to talk about race and culture. It doesn't have to be so serious all the time.

I finished reading with my ears:

Panic by Lauren Oliver  
While the plot didn't bowl me over, what ultimately kept listening was Oliver's spellbinding prose. Her way with words is both simple and elaborate at the same time. She is definitely one of my go-to YA authors.

Some picture books I particularly enjoyed reading last week:

The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems
Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Me and Mr. Mah by Andrea Spalding, illustrated by Janet Wilson
Beautiful story about a young boy who moves to the city after his parents' divorce and befriends his elderly Chinese neighbor.  

Poetry collections I read and loved last week:

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by  Pamela Zagarenski

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Both of these books a very special and would be wonderful classroom library additions. I love it when books of poetry are created for children that have a serious side. Poems for kids don't have to all be silly and nonsensical, as both of these lovely collections prove.

Currently reading and listening to:

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
I never reread books. But I'm rereading this book because I get to meet Natalie tomorrow!! I haven't loved a book like this since I read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. This is hands down the book I will be rooting for to win the 2015 Newbery.

 Current giveaways:

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis 
Elephant Run by Roland Smith (ends today) 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Vegan Chocolate Pudding

I have mentioned on this blog many times before that I like the idea of being vegan better than the practicality of it. Due to some major digestive issues I've been trying to sort out, I've recently toyed with the idea of doing a 21-day detox that includes a 3 day juice cleanse followed by a completely plant-based, gluten-free diet for the remainder of the time. I haven't mustered the courage to put this plan into action as of yet, but I have tried some of the recipes in the detox, which come from the book The Detox Prescription by Dr. Woodson Merrell.

One of the recipes I recently tried that was absolutely delicious was a vegan chocolate pudding (Merrell calls it a mousse in the book but it has more the texture of a pudding than a mousse).

One thing I have to point out here is that technically the original recipe isn't vegan since it includes honey, but if you want to follow the letter of vegan law, I suppose you could use agave nectar or maple syrup instead.

The main reason this is classified as vegan in the book though is because the recipe calls for using coconut milk and avocado to create its creamy texture instead of milk and eggs. As someone who can spot a substitute a mile away and is very finicky about texture, I am here to say that this recipe is perfectly creamy and satisfies your chocolate craving.The best part about this pudding is that it's actually easier to make than a traditional mousse or pudding because it involves absolutely no cooking. Just throw the ingredients in the food processor, refrigerate for a few hours and you're done. I have to say though, I'm going to assume the reason my version turned out more like a pudding than a mousse is because I just threw all the ingredients in at the same time, rather than just starting with the avocado and gradually adding ingredients. So if you prefer a mousse-like consistency, be more patient. If you don't care, just throw everything in at once.

What's also great about this recipe is once you have the base down, you could get creative with it, using almond extract instead of vanilla and sprinkling some slivered almonds on top, or making a spicy Mexican version with cinnamon and chile pepper.

Moo-less Avocado-Chocolate Mousse (or pudding in my case)

2 ripe large avocados, pitted and scooped
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 teaspoons orange zest, divided
2/3 - 1 cup coconut milk

Optional toppings:
1/2 cup sliced strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries
1/2 cup unsweetened toasted coconut flakes or chopped nuts

In a food processor, blend the avocado for about 30 seconds, or until smooth.

Add the honey, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon of the orange zest (reserve the remainder of the zest) and process until mixed through.

Add 2/3 cup coconut milk and process until smooth. If the mousse is too thick, add the remainder of the coconut milk to desired consistency.

Spoon into three small ramekins, top each serving with 1 teaspoon of orange zest, and chill for 2 hours. Serve alone or with optional toppings.
Vegan chocolate pudding