Thursday, November 19, 2015

Rosemary Roasted Butternut Squash with Sour Cream

There's a famous pub in Cambridge, UK called The Eagle. Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA there and I discovered Rosemary Roasted Butternut Wedges with Sour Cream there on the menu (they called them wedges, but they're really more like cubes. Poetic license I suppose). Both discoveries were life changing. 

There is something about the tang of the sour cream with the sweetness of the squash and the sharp woodsy flavor of the rosemary that just works together beautifully. During cooking, the squash becomes creamy on the inside  and if you're lucky you get these little glazed bits of caramelization on the outside (only a couple of pieces got caramelized in this batch. I was a little heavy-handed with the olive oil, unfortunately). The rosemary adds freshness and the sour cream kicks up the decadence factor.

In addition to being the site of Watson and Crick's announcement, the Eagle is famous for the signatures of members of the RAF on the ceiling that have been there since WWII. The butternut squash wedges are less famous, but I'm hoping to fix that.

I've thought dreamed about this squash many times since eating it. I bought a butternut squash a few weeks ago thinking I would try to replicate the recipe, but the squash has been sitting on my counter untouched because frankly, I was a little intimidated by it. I think I have only ever cooked butternut squash one or two other time in my life and I didn't know what I was doing. Don't judge.

Enter Google. I read that preparing hard winter squashes is actually quite simple; it wasn't rocket science (or molecular biology either, for that matter) and I managed fairly easily.  I halved the squash lengthwise (by far the most difficult part of the whole process), scooped out the seeds and pulp and then peeled it with my regular old vegetable peeler. I cut it into one inch cubes and stuck it in the fridge for a couple of hours until I was ready to make dinner. Was it going to turn brown like potatoes or apples? I didn't know, but I took the gamble and it worked wonderfully. When I was ready to start dinner, it took me two minutes to get it in the oven and then I could focus on other things like making the main course and reminding my kids to do their homework four billion times.

This recipe is not an exact clone of The Eagle's tasty dish, but it is pretty darn close:

1 butternut squash (approximately 2 pounds), cleaned, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
kosher salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or to taste (use less if you are using fresh. Don't overdo it. Rosemary has a strong flavor)
Sour cream for serving

On the sheet, ready to go in the oven.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cubed squash with the olive oil, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle evenly with kosher salt and rosemary. Bake for 30 minutes or just until done. I kind of shook the baking sheet a couple of times during cooking to make sure things weren't sticking (but due to the little bit of extra olive oil I spilled on the squash during prepping it, this wasn't an issue). The squash should be tender but not mushy. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Wonder why you've never tried this before.

I know that looks like a lot of sour cream, but the bowl is actually quite deep. Don't go overboard with the sour cream. You can always add a little more if you like.

I went back for seconds for a bedtime snack. When is the last time you chose squash over ice cream for a bed time snack?

That's what I thought. Life. Changing.

Today I'm Thankful For:
--The opportunity I had to travel to Ireland, England and Scotland with my mom and sister this past summer. What an amazing experience!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mountains and Molehills

I didn't blog yesterday, so I guess my goal to blog every weekday is a bust. I thought about it. I thought about lots of things that I could blog about, but they all seemed so trivial and insignificant. I almost didn't blog today. I'm feeling uninspired lately. What do I really have to say that's worthwhile? Don't misunderstand. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. Just really wondering. How can I make the world a better place through writing this silly blog? Can I make a difference? Is that even possible? I'd love to inspire others and change the world with my wisdom and wit but I don't know how. And to be honest, my life is just not very exciting at the moment. I'm not complaining. I kind of like boring. Boring means no drama. I don't do drama. At least I don't do it well. Sometimes it is forced upon me and then I have to face it, but I'm never very happy when that happens.

Sunday, on the drive home from church I was expounding on my love of mountains and how I don't have enough mountains in my life. My husband suggested that there are plenty of molehills around here. I should just make mountains out of them. But, like I mentioned I'm not good at drama (besides which, I was talking about the literal variety of mountains--not figurative. I don't need more figurative mountains. No thank you.). I guess for now I'm left to share my molehills with you here on the blog. Molehills don't always make for the most riveting reading, but they are the terrain of my life right now. It's kind of peaceful actually, all this mole-hilly boringness. The world is a chaotic place. Maybe what I can offer in this whole forbidding range of stark and brutal mountains that the world is dealing with is a little molehill of calm.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Five Things I'm Loving This Friday

You need these things in your life.

1. The Great British Baking Show--After my brother Rob told me about this show I decided it sounded too delightful to miss and searched it out (we have to go up to the attic to get any TV channels here so I watched it on Netflix to start with and I can't get enough). Everything about it--the inviting baking tent with it's pastel baking stations and its union jack buntings, the polite and likable participants, the pleasant British accents and the amazing confections make for uplifting, enlightening and entertaining telly.

 The contestants encourage each other and help each other and it is so refreshing. This is far and away my favorite show at the moment. With so many unsavory program options these days, more people need to know about a show this sweet. This article that my friend Danielle shared yesterday nicely sums up just what's so great about The Great British Baking Show.

2. All things koselig (a Norwegian word roughly equivalent to coziness)--My sister-in-law, Maurianne posted an article on facebook about this philosophy. Laura Vanderkam, author of the article, "The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter" writes, "It's like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress. People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets." 

Yesterday was so gray that I decided to try out the candle burning part of hygge. It definitely cozied things up.

The article reminded me of this article that I read on NPRs website a couple of years ago about hygge (the Danish word for a similar concept). I have a hard time with winter here in the frozen north (especially when the skies are gray day after day) so I'm going to try to cozy up and make loving winter my new philosophy. I feel like this could be life changing. If it works for people living in these countries that are some of the darkest places in the world during the winter months, maybe it can help me get through the lake effect snow and the long dark days of winter in upstate New York. Let's see what winter can bring to the table.

3. Pumpkin Nog--I feel it's too early for regular egg nog, but Pumpkin Nog tastes just like pumpkin pie in liquid form (minus any soggy crust which would be an inevitable result of liquidation) which is perfect for Thanksgiving season. I actually cut mine with some 2% because it is a little thick and that makes it stretch farther without really compromising the flavor too much.

4. Gordon Lightfoot--I've been listening to Gordon Lightfoot Radio on Pandora. This station features great, mellow, folksy music by artists like John Denver, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and of course, Gordon himself. I owe my brother, Carter a debt of gratitude for introducing me to Gordon. 
Photo credit: Peter Simon
Plus Mr. Lightfoot was quite handsome back in the day. I think he looked a little bit like Chris Pratt, don't you? 
Image via.
5. Homemade Thin Crust Pizza--I love this recipe that my friend Amy shared. For quick and easy homemade thin crust pizza it can't be beat. We're having it for dinner tonight. Some of our favorite toppings are garlic sauce (I just use olive oil and a little garlic salt) with spinach and bacon, good old pepperoni with traditional tomato pizza sauce, and olive oil instead of sauce with pears, Gorgonzola, toasted nuts and  arugula (you put the arugala on after it comes out of the oven). I know it sounds a little weird but it is so good. 

Other things I'm loving:
--Warm socks
--A cozy house on a blustery day
--Being able to sleep in this morning. I think I may be coming down with something. I needed the extra rest.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

50+ Fun Children's Books (That Won't Make You Cringe When Your Kids Ask You to Read Them)

I am an ardent proponent of good picture books. There are way too many children's books out there that I just don't want to read--inane, mediocre, boring or just dumb. There have been times when I have dreaded reading to my kids at bed time because I knew they were going to pick that one book again. You know what I'm talking about: picture books about TV or movie characters (Backyardigans, Power Rangers, Disney Princesses. et al.) or popular toys (my grandma had a book about the Care Bears at her house. I'm not hating on Care Bears--heck, I had at least two of them when I was in elementary school--just little pointless story books about them). Writing is hard. I get it. I was an English major and I've never even written a Care Bears book, so I mean no disrespect to the authors. I'm sure it helps put food on the table, but because I was an English major I'm also a little snobbish when it comes to children's books (and for the sake of clarity, in this post I'm talking about picture books when I say "children's books"). There are so many excellent books out there, why not give your children quality? Reading bedtime stories with your kids might even become your favorite part of the day.

  1. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  2. CDC? by William Steig
  3. A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Maurice Sendak
  4. The Carrot Seed story by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Crockett Johnson
  5. Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola 
  6. Four Scary Stories by Tony Johnston, pictures by Tomie DePaola
  7. Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell, pictures by Helen Oxenbury
  8. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, pictures by Helen Oxenbury
  9. The Napping House by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
  10. Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
  11. Freight Train by Donald Crews
  12. Drummer Hoff adapted by Barbara Emberley, illustrated by Ed Emberley
  13. Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley
  14. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Bill Martin Jr./Eric Carle
  15. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  16. Time for Bed by Mem Fox illustrated by Jane Dyer
  17. Fabels by Arnold Lobel
  18. Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel
  19. Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
  20. The Snowy Day Ezra Jack Keats
  21. Corduroy Don Freeman
  22. The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer
  23. Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch
  24. Rain by Peter Spier
  25. Noah's Ark by Peter Spier
  26. Owen by Kevin Henkes
  27. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  28. Pierre by Maurice Sendak
  29. Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak
  30. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  31. The Funny Little Woman retold by Arlene Mosel, pictures by Blair Lent
  32. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
  33. Each Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  34. Bye Bye Baby by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  35. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
  36. Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky
  37. Little Bear by Elsa Holmlund Minarik, pictures by Maurice Sendak
  38. Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall
  39. St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
  40. Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, Pictures by Lillian Hoban
  41. A Was Once an Apple Pie by Edward Lear and Suse Macdonald
  42. Zin, Zin, Zin, A Violin by Lloyd Moss and Marjorie Priceman
  43. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham
  44. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Clement Hurd
  45. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Clement Hurd
  46. Three Little Kittens Paul Galdone
  47. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  48. Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas, illustrated by Nonny Horigan
  49. The Lady with the Alligator Purse by Nadine Bernard Westcott
  50. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  51. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
  52. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
  53. Won't Somebody Play with Me? by Steven Kellogg
  54. No, David! by David Shannon
  55. How I Became a Pirate by David Shannon
  56. Ashanti to Zulu by Leo and Diane Dillon
  57. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, pictures by Beth Krommes
  58. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Once I got going it was hard to stop. There are tons of quality picture books out there. Don't settle. You'll notice some authors make my list multiple times. In the past when we have found an author we loved, we read everything by them that we could get our hands on. If you like a book, see what else is available by that author. You're sure to find some new favorites.

 I'm not going to include reviews of all these books. It's just a list. They are mostly short. Read them yourselves and find out why my kids and I love them.

What books would you add to the list?

Things I'm Thankful for:
--Books! Books! Books!
--Did I mention books?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mining for Joy

 I have struggled with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) for a few years now, so when I saw an article  about some happiness hacks at the eye doctor's office while I was there with Joel today it caught my eye (see what I did there?).

One of the methods the article (that I wish I had written down the name of) suggested was "mining pleasant moments for their joy" or in other words, the art of savoring (Health Magazine, October 2014)--you know, burning some nice smelling candles, making yourself a cup of your favorite tea (chamomile, Sweet and Spicy herbal, and mint are a few of my favorites), really tasting that steak, listening to some good music--that sort of thing. This is an idea I can get behind. The article also said that people who saw the good in small things and shared their "delight" with others were more consistently happy than people who didn't appreciate the little things. Being grateful for little things begets happiness and I think sharing that gratitude reinforces the good feelings. Makes perfect sense, right?

This evening I was feeling kind of frazzled. After the eye appointment I didn't have time to make dinner since I hadn't planned well. I got home from the appointment with Joel and none of the other boys were ready to go. We needed to pick Dave up from work for a Boy Scout Court of Honor that we were attending tonight. Driving was stressing me out because I really dislike driving at night, especially in the rain, but we managed to make it to the church for the Court of Honor a few minutes early despite everything.

Looking at these handsome faces every day makes me very happy.

We had been listening to CDs in the car and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" came on just as we were pulling into the parking lot, so Dave said, "Let's just sit here and listen to this for a few minutes." We turned off the car and for eight minutes we sat in the warm car and just listened to Zeppelin. It was fantastic. I felt much more mellow after that and we went in and enjoyed the evening. Afterwards I had fun playing a little basketball with my older boys--that is something I don't think I've done in years, but I can still dribble a ball between my legs. Kind of.

Small moments I am grateful for today:
--Finding a full-sized Snickers Almond bar (my favorite) when I was cleaning the attic. It was in a tote bag and little smooshed but it still tasted delicious.
--Seeing all the pictures of veterans on Facebook today. I'm so grateful for all the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.
--Laughing during Gilmore Girls (watched while I was cleaning the attic). I love to laugh.
--Seeing all four of my boys in their scout uniforms. We have had our challenges with scouting, but I'm so proud of my boys for working hard and living those values espoused by the Scout Law ("A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent").

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Christmas Card Conundrum

To card or not to card? That is the question I've been asking myself these last few days. Despite what your initial reaction might be, no, it's really not too early to be thinking about this. I am all about celebrating Thanksgiving to the fullest before decking the halls, unlike my next-door neighbors who have their trees--yes, trees with an s--lit up in their front window. No offense if that's your thing, but that ain't me, bruhhh (as my 14 year old might say). I've got to start thinking about it now because these things take planning if I don't want to be sending out New Years, or for that matter Valentine's cards.

Christmas card on their way to the post office a few years ago.
On the one hand I love the tradition of Christmas cards. It makes me all kinds of happy to find cards from friends and family in my mailbox throughout December. On the other hand, I am trying really hard to cut anything unnecessary out of the budget this year. Having a senior is ex-pen-sive. Postage for 50+ cards is ex-pen-sive. Heck, the cards themselves are expensive.

A few of our Christmas cards adorning our refrigerator a couple of years ago. 
Also, it seems we Christmas card senders are a dying breed. I remember my parents' mailbox being jammed full of cards all throughout December growing up. I was always quick to volunteer if Mom asked someone to go get the mail, because who knew what exciting tidings would be waiting at the end of the driveway? Now we maybe get a dozen cards in the mail on a good year with a few more handed to us at church. I've been sending out 50+ cards a year and feeling guilty about all the people we love that didn't make the cut (hint: if you didn't make the cut, it's probably because we didn't get one from you. We love you, but we have had to keep things under control somehow).

Maybe with the advent of social media people are seeing enough of each other already. Maybe tweets and Instagram posts and Facebook updates have usurped the once mighty Christmas card. Chances are if I like you enough to send a Christmas card, I already know that you had a baby this year or that you went on vacation to Cancun. I've probably seen fairly recent photos of your darling family and know that your kids have grown a ton. Still, I think there is just something about getting an actual card in the mail. It doesn't matter to me that I have already seen those updates and pictures--I want to hold them in my hands and tape them to my fridge with polka dot washi tape. I just do. And a little part of me thinks that if I do, maybe you do too.

Care to weigh in? Do you send cards? How do you feel about digital or emailed Christmas greetings? Cheap and practical or too impersonal? What are you doing this year, and more to the point, what should I do this year?

P.S. Here is a ghost of Christmas cards past:

This gem from 2011 remains one of my all-time favorites. It's non-traditional, but it captures my kids' personalities at that time so well.

Edited to add my thankful list for the day. Can't believe I forgot that!
Snail mail--it really does make me happy to get something in the mailbox besides bills and junk mail
A day off--my kids don't have school today or tomorrow. It's kind of blissfull--like a second weekend without all the crazy running around
Hot chocolate. I'm going to go have me a mugful right now.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Weekend Recap

I had a pretty fantastic weekend. Saturday I got to spend a couple of hours with one of my dearest friends at a church youth activity that my older boys were attending. We enjoyed the band banquet Saturday night. Seth sat with his friends. Apparently that's the custom around here. The parents aren't cool enough to sit with, I guess. We sat with some of the other parents that we are friends with and enjoyed visiting with them.
Here is Seth with the much stressed over poster I made for the banquet. Per tradition, the parents of the seniors all make posters of their kids. I don't know why this stressed me out so much, but the end result was fine.

Seth's high school marching band career is finally over. It was a great experience but I won't miss the time commitment. I'm so thankful for the friends he has made through the band program and for the opportunity it has given him to develop a talent.

A few of the other marching band seniors last weekend at Senior Saturday.
I'm glad Seth has this great group of kids as friends.
Yesterday church was inspiring--great talks, good lessons, an outstanding musical arrangement of Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy (one of the sisters that sang has a singing voice that reminded me of Zooey Deschanel), opportunities to lift others and reflect on the grace and goodness of God.

View of my backyard (and beyond) when we arrived home from church on Sunday.
The skies were blue. The air was crisp. I had a great nap and awoke feeling refreshed (instead of with a headache like I sometimes do after Sunday naps). We had sweet and sour meatballs for dinner. Some friends stopped by to drop off some delicious homemade bread and my house was a complete disaster so after they left, my boys helped tidy the house for the coming week. After everyone was in bed I made a pound cake for tonight's FHE (Family Home Evening) treat.

I also worked on a design project this weekend. I really love doing that kind of work, so if anyone you know needs custom wedding announcements, shower invitations, birthday party invitations, birth announcements, Christmas cards or whatever, point them my way.

Today I'm going in to work to finish up training, but I already have dinner in the crock pot. I'm working hard at staying on top of things but I can already tell that it's going to take a little balancing to learn how to do everything on the days when I work.

Things I'm thankful for:
Blue skies
Warm Coats
Homemade bread
My ward family