Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Magic Thief: A Book and Recipe Review

Have any of you read The Magic Thief?  I just did and I loved it!  And what's better--it's part one of a trilogy, so there's more for me to read!  And just to make it better, it has two biscuit recipes at the end, one of which I had to try with the above result.

The magic thief is the story of a pickpocket named Conn who attempts to steal a powerful wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus the wizard's magic.  Although he should be killed instantly in the attempt, for some reason Conn survives.  Intrigued by his survival, the wizard takes him on as a servant and later as an apprentice.  As the magic in the city in which they live dries up, they work together to find the source and stop it in time to save the city.

Conn was one of the most likeable protagonists I've met in a while.  He is humble and honest, and his liking for biscuits made my own mouth water (thank goodness for the recipes at the end).  The pacing was good and the other characters were vivid and interesting.  This is a quick, easy read and would be a good one to get boys reading.

The recipes for the biscuits I won't post here--you'll have to check out the book to get them, but the one I tried was buttery and very tasty.  I've been wanting to find a good biscuit recipe for a while and I think I'll be using this one until I can find one that's just a touch softer and fluffier.  Skip to the back and use the recipe to bake some before you start reading.  Believe me, you'll get a hankering for them halfway through and be glad you did.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Popcorn Popping

According to my calendar of random holidays, Wednesday, January 19th is Popcorn Day.  What a great holiday.  Aside from eating lots and lots of popcorn on Wednesday, I didn't really have many plans to celebrate the holiday.  And then I started thinking about a cute children's song that kids in our church sing, called "Popcorn Popping":

I looked out the window, and what did I see?
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree!
Spring had brought me such a nice surprise,
Blossoms popping right before my eyes.
I could take an armful and make a treat,
A popcorn ball that would smell so sweet.
It wasn't really so, but it seemed to be
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.

(Georgia W. Bello, 1957, LDS.)

And then I thought how easy it would be to hot glue some popcorn to a few branches from our yard, stick them in a vase, and call it a Popcorn Day decoration.  My three year old loved helping me with it, especially snacking on the popcorn.  I may even hang on to this for a while and use it as a reminder that spring isn't too far away, and we should see some real blossoms popping on our trees before long.  In the meantime, Happy Popcorn Day!

To make your own, you will need:
A few small, leafless branches (I used three, and the tallest was about 18".)
Popped popcorn (without butter would be best, but we just picked out the whitest ones and ate the rest.)
Hot glue
Small stones or marbles

Fill the vase with stones or marbles and stick branches in.  Hot glue popcorn (adult's job) onto the branches in random places to simulate blossoms.  Tie a ribbon around the vase to finish, if desired.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The End: A Book Review with Food Involved

I have a weakness.  Well, o.k., I have many weaknesses.  But the one I'm going to talk about in this post is this:  I have a weakness for children's and young adult books.  I'm pretty sure I could spend more money on books than I do on food any given month if I would let myself.  One of my favorite things about teaching junior high was the excuse to devour books from the school library (which was conveniently located right across the hall) and to buy and read new ones for my classroom.  So last week when I was having a craving for books, I payed a visit to my city library and found some winners.  Among them was this:

The End, by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Richard Egielski.  This backwards book begins with "the happily ever after" part and then traces the story back through a big bowl of lemonade, one hundred bunny rabbits, and a cheesecake-loving giant, until it ends with "once upon a time."  I liked it for the creativity of its structure and for the fun of seeing all the unlikely events that contributed to the happily ever after.  The illustrations are fun and brightly colored, and full of clever little details that you won't want to miss--like two lemons running away from the lemonade-making princess.  My three-year-old liked this one and requested it multiple times, though I think older children who can follow the story more easily would enjoy it even more.

Now in the title of this post I mentioned that food was involved, and there is.  I love books that make me crave a certain food.  This one made my mouth water for lemon cheesecake, so I put together a recipe and made one on Sunday night.  Not to toot my own horn about it, but it was pretty darn good.  My husband liked it so much he ate three slices that night.  In a row.  I will include the recipe below so you can have your own lemon cheesecake experience.  So go ahead and whip up a cheesecake, sit back, and dig in while you read this very enjoyable book.

Lemon Cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, melted
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks cream cheese, 3 oz. each, room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Begin to boil water for a water bath.  Mix crust ingredients together and press firmly into a 9- or 10- inch pan (I use a springform pan).  Set crust aside.
In a large mixer bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each and scraping the bowl before adding the next.  Add heavy cream, lemon juice, and vanilla, and blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour filling into crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring air bubbles to the surface.  If using a non-springform pan, place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into large pan until about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan.  If using a springform pan, move your bottom oven rack just below the top rack and place a pan on it (I use a regular Pyrex casserole type pan).  Pour boiling water into this pan and place cheesecake pan directly over it on the top rack.
Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done.  The middle should still be pretty jiggly when you gently shake the pan.  Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let it rest in the cooling oven for one hour.  After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and allow to cool completely on the counter.  Cool before removing sides of springform pan.  Once it is cool, cover and place in the fridge to chill.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Makes 10 to 12 servings.

*Slicing tip:  I lightly spray both sides of a knife with cooking spray before cutting the cheesecake.  As cheesecake gets stuck to it, I wipe it off with a paper towl and re-apply spray as needed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Best, Hardest Thing

My wonderfully talented sister-in-law, Lindsay, took our family pictures last month, and I've been meaning to post some of them for a while.  Also, I've been meaning to post some of my thoughts on motherhood, so I figure I might as well combine them into one.

See that face?  That is my challenging, delightful, exasperating, wonderful three-year-old.  I feel frustrated and blessed every day because of him.

This is my youngest, a true "angel baby" in everything but sleep habits.  When I look into those sweet eyes I feel humbled by my responsibility to be his mother and teach him all he needs to know to navigate this wonderful and sometimes frightening world of ours.

Motherhood is hard.  It is also the best thing I have ever done.  I like what Boyd K. Packer, an apostle in our church, has to say about it:  "[A mother] understands that no service equals the exalting refinement which comes through unselfish motherhood" (From an address given at a BYU Education Week devotional on 17 August 1999).

I like that phrase, "exalting refinement."  I'm only three years into the process and already I can say that motherhood tries and refines you in ways you didn't even know you needed refinement.  After managing a classroom of 40 seventh graders, I thought I had learned patience.  (Yeah, you read that right.  40 in one class period.  Yikes.)  But nothing has tried my patience and shown me how much I still need to work on it like spending all day every day with two children.  And nothing has shown me how much I still have to learn about love and forgiveness as when I lose my temper at J and then feel bad and start to cry, only to have him come up, wrap his arms around me and say, "It's otay, Mommy.  It's otay."

I love these children so much.  I pray every day that I'll know how to teach and guide them and won't do too much damage along the way with my imperfections.  Thank heaven I don't have to do it alone.

Boy, I love that man.  But that's a post for another day.  In parting, here's one last shot of C.  I like it because I think he looks a little like me as a baby in it.