Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I Think Maybe I'm Writing Again

I'll be blunt: I have a lot of issues with the online courses I'm taking. I complain about them a lot. I am working on being more positive about it, but I run into challenges pretty frequently.

On the plus side, I'm taking a course in YA Lit which is good and a little annoying. Good because I care a lot about the topic. Annoying because I have my MA in Children's Lit and I just want to enjoy summer vacation!! (Children's Lit includes YA Lit).

Here's proof:

So anyway, I have to take this class and I have to read two books a week. I planned ahead, thankfully, and have much of the reading done already. I have to write about them, though! So I'm going to write again. I'll take what I've done for class and share it here because that's what this blog is for. (Books and baking. Baking and books).

Here goes:

One of my classmates brought up the topic of resiliency and it really resonated with me. Here's some of what I've got to say about resiliency: Resiliency is one of my favorite characteristics of a protagonist and I think maybe that's why I love YA lit so much. It is generally quite a bit more hopeful than adult literature, and I think the characters tend to be more resilient, more likely to shift, change and grow over the course of the story. Of course, this is a very broad generalization, but I think there is a lot of truth to it. 

I recently finished reading, (actually listening to), Ishmael Beah's memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and was overwhelmed by the amount of resiliency he cultivated at such a young age. If you're not familiar with his story, check out this brief video: Why I Wrote My Book. In perhaps one of the most moving passages of the book, he notes, "I believe children have the resilience to outlive their suffering if given the chance."

Resilience is an important part of this memoir. Ishmael's story is an incredibly inspiring one that leaves the reader full of hope and eager to create positive changes. His writing truly allows the reader to vicariously live these struggles with him; there were times I had to stop listening for a while just to give myself a break from the heartache. My stomach physically hurt at times. Those moments are part of what helped me to fully appreciate how drastically and positively his life has changed and I feel changed having read his memoir.

I'll just add one more thing: this was only the second time I listened to an audiobook narrated by the author. It was incredibly powerful to hear the story not only from his own words, but from his own lips. I can't encourage you enough: listen to this book. 

Happy reading, happy snacking, happy summer!

Perfect boy. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 14th and All That Jazz

Here in Northeastern CT we've been getting slammed with snow storm after snow storm.  I'm a pro at whining about how cold I am, but I love the snow.  If it has to be cold, I want it to look beautiful.  I don't care that we'll have to make these snow days up at the end of the year.  I'm cozy and snuggled up with a stack of vegan paleo cookies and hot cocoa.  There's nowhere else I'd rather be.

We've had so many snow days at school this week - I'm thrilled about it, but it means that my Valentine's Day display missed its big day. Blind Date with a Book - I didn't come up with this idea, I don't even really remember where I heard it, but I covered books with plain brown paper and then taped hearts to them.  Each heart has a word or two describing the type of book.  I had help with this project-I never could have done it without assistance.  I'm not sure yet how successful it will be, but I'm hopeful!

We don't have a genuine February vacation, but we do have two days off-thankfully the snow days gave us a six day weekend!  I'm listening to Matched by Ally Condie this break.  As far as reading goes, I'm working on Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. 

Get ready for a paleo chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Stay safe.  Stay warm.  Enjoy the love around you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Featured January Reads...

The January portion of the What I'm Reading bulletin board is in place and here's how it looks:

Once I fill in the space with February, I think it'll really start to look nice.  A student cut out all of the stars for me which was so sweet-I never would have been able to do it.  I'm only going to share reviews that I give 4+ stars to, so scope out these books!  I hope you like them as much as I did:

Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal
I listened to this book instead of reading a hard copy of the book and I think it made the story very exciting.  The narrator, W. Morgan Shepard, has an incredible voice and I didn’t want the book to end.  Jeremy, the main character, can hear the voice of Jacob Grimm’s ghost and is a bit of an outcast in town because of it.  He’s very likeable and his friend Ginger is hilarious, clever and fun-loving. This story is a modern fairy tell-it reminds me of “Hansel and Gretel” and definitely gave me the creeps!   

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Since I liked Shiver so much, I decided to give the first book of this trilogy a try.  I was pulled into the story relatively quickly.  I like the dynamic in Blue’s home and am interested to see how the other two books unfold.  Gansey’s fascination with Welsh mythology is mysterious and exciting.  The boys Blue meets are really complicated characters and I enjoyed getting to know them.  I hope we’ll get to learn more about them in the following books.

 Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I listened to this book and I loved it.  The alternating perspective in the novel makes for an interesting listen because there are two readers.  The story moves very quickly and both characters are complex and fascinating. This book is sad, hilarious, stress-inducing, and possibly, possibly a tear-jerker.  Enjoy! 

I know they're not sophisticated, but I don't want them to be. I'm just hoping to grab the interest of high school students.

As far as baking is concerned, we have a snow storm heading our way and I think I'll spend it with text books, lesson planning, St. Vincent's newest song, "Prince Johnny," and vegan/paleo chocolate chip cookies.  Hopefully they'll turn out as successfully as the ones I made in August.  I'll need to pick up some coconut milk ice cream first!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A New Journey

Since I last wrote, basically everything has changed.  I moved, started a new job, stopped baking for fun, started baking for fun again, fell in love, presented two papers, dressed up as Padme, sailed on the ocean, finished my MA, found out that babies aren't scary, got hooked on Sherlock (okay, that's happened in the last week), and found out that being vegan isn't necessarily the best thing for my body.  It's been an adventure. 

The easiest to write about is my new job.  I'm a library media specialist, but I kind of hate that term, so I'll stick to the one I like-I'm a high school librarian.  This January I decided that I have to read a book a week.  I'm writing very tiny excerpts for each book I read and posting them to a bulletin board. 

I started listening to audiobooks when I started my new job and they continually surprise me.  It's remarkable how quickly I can get sucked into an audiobook and how much the reader influences my experience of the story.  For instance, W. Morgan Shepard reads Tom McNeal's Far Far Away and it is phenomenal.  I don't use that word lightly.  I could. not. get. enough.  On the other hand, the audiobook of The Mermaid Chair was so terrible, I can't believe I got through it. Books with multiple readers blow me away.  Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl is a great example of two voices working well together.

So here's to a new adventure

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brownies Make October Better

I recently received an email from a friend requesting a recipe for gluten free vegan brownies with a caramel sea salt topping.  Food requests are perhaps my favorite requests.  I had a ton of fun the past few days trying different recipes out!  I didn't write the recipes myself, but I've got info on where they came from.  I tried out a few different caramel ones and the one below was my favorite.  I suspect that if I had a gas stove, I would have liked the others, but I burned one batch, sadly, and the one I've shared is really simple-no chance (I hope!) of burning.
The recipe for the Gluten Free Baking Mix and Brownies comes from Cybele Pascal’s book, The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook.  It’s pretty magnificent.  It contains a ton of vegan recipes - only a few call for gelatin and I just don't use them.  I use the book quite a bit as a basis for recipes or sometimes I just use the recipe the way it’s written.  I wrote my own notes in italics.  The caramel sauce recipe is from  I’ve only used her recipes this one time, actually, but I’m pretty stoked on the caramel, so I’m guessing she’s got a lot to offer.  I wish I created the recipes myself-I have made regular caramel sauce a few times before, back when I ate normal foods, so I knew how to get started, but this caramel journey was exciting!
Gluten Free/Vegan Brownies with Caramel & Sea Salt Topping

First things first, you'll need to make the Gluten Free Baking Mix:
4 cups superfine brown rice flour - I use Bob's Red Mill brand
1 1/3 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
2/3 cup tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch)

1. To measure flour, use a large spoon to scoop flour into the measuring cup, then level it off with the back of a knife or straightedge.  Do not use the measuring cup itself to scoop your flour when measuring!  It will compact the flour and you'll wind up with too much for the recipe.

2. Combine all ingredients in a gallon-size sipper-top bag.  Shake until well blended.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.  (I keep mine in the freezer and have never had any difficulties)

 Dark Chocolate Brownies
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup dairy free, soy free vegetable shortening - I use Soy Free Earth Balance
2 cups granulated vegan sugar (ugh, the sugar debate-I now only buy vegan cane sugar, but it's really up to your discretion)
8 ounces of unsweetened apple sauce - the recipe calls for prune or apple/plum baby food.  I'm pretty opposed to going in a baby food aisle, and I love homemade applesauce, so it wins.
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. Gluten Free Baking Mix
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 Tbs. double acting baking powder (make sure it's gluten free)
1 1/2 cups dairy-free, soy-free chocolate chips - (there are brands that specifically state that they're vegan - also, by the time I finished snacking on chocolate chips, I really only added about 1 1/4 cups)

1. Preheat the oven to 325.  Grease a 9 by 9-inch baking pan, then sprinkle with a little gluten free flour mix, tapping out any extra.  (I personally think that pan size is much too small.  I used a 12 by 8-inch pan-or something super close to that size) 

2. Combine the unsweetened chocolate and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave, stopping to check and stir every 30 seconds.  (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate and shortening in a double boiler.)  Once melted, stir in the sugar and apple sauce.  Mix well, add the vanilla, and beat until smooth.

3. Whisk together the flour mix, xanthan gum, and baking powder.  Add to the chocolate mixture in three batches, stirring well after each addition.  Beat until smooth.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  (Variation: I’ve made these brownies as rocky road brownies so instead of 1 ½ cups of chocolate chips, I do about ½ cup chocolate chips, ½ cup vegan marshmallows and ½ cup chopped pecans) 

4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, smoothing down the top with the back of a rubber spatula or large spoon.  Bake in the center of the oven for 55 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.  Bake until the top looks glossy and the brownie is just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.

5. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.  Remove and enjoy.  OR COVER IN CARAMEL TOPPING!

Vegan Caramel Sauce
½ cup vegan shortening –(soy free Earth Balance)
2 cups brown sugar (this part gets tougher to buy vegan, but Woodstock Farms makes some)
¾ plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk, divided (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage)
2 Tbs. arrowroot powder

1. Melt vegan margarine in a saucepan over medium heat (it melts quickly!) 
2. Add brown sugar and ½ cup of non-dairy milk.  Whisk and bring to a boil for 4 minutes
3. In a small bowl mix the remaining ¼ cup of non-dairy milk with arrowroot
4. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in the milk/arrowroot mixture
5. The mixture will seem runny at first, but it thickens as it cools

Pour cooled caramel sauce over the brownies.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Enjoy!
(The caramel sauce isn’t super thick-I think an additional tsp. of arrowroot might solve that problem, but it really depends on how thick you want it.  It’s really flavorful and with the salt it’s quite awesome!)

Bake these brownies for some loved ones you've got.  Share them while you watch Hocus Pocus or listen to Brotherhood of Thieves.
So, send me recipe requests/homework assignments, bake with care, enjoy the leaves, work on your Halloween costume, eat fewer potatoes than I do and cheer for the Patriots!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This Must Be the Place: Magic in Yoga, Recipes and Heart

Sometimes magic happens.  Sometimes it's music.  Sometimes it's yoga.  Sometimes it's gluten free Pumpkin Cider.  Sometimes it's rainy festivals.  Sometimes it's an email from a friend. Sometimes it's a hug.  Sometimes (most of the time), it's breakfast potatoes heavily salted and covered in maple syrup and hot sauce.  Whatever the magic is, I've decided to make more of an effort to embrace it.  

I like this advice.
I went to Pennsylvania again for ten more days of yoga teacher training.  I'm all trained up to become an RYT200 (registered yoga teacher with 200hrs).  My favorite part of training was this philosophy homework assignment we had.  The Yoga Teacher Alliance dictates that 20% of an instructor's training is to be yoga philosophy, so over the course of the ten days, I listened to maybe four or five philosophy lectures.  I generally find them quite interesting - knowing the history of the yoga really matters, I think.  I don't agree with everything, but I like that with yoga, you're able to sort of embrace what applies to you, and consider those things that may not.  

My set up-3 zeds and a roll.  Woo!
My favorite of Patanjali's sutras: Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam - once stillness enters your mind, the bliss within you will release.
I know it doesn't look especially impressive, but the Warrior Poses are challenging to properly align and maintain!

So anyway, one night we learned about the five yamas of yoga.  I think of them as principles to live by.  They don't all apply to me, but they are all quite interesting to think about, at least to me.  So one night we had the task of choosing a yama and keeping it in mind for the next 48 hours until we had another philosophy discussion.  I chose ahimsa, which means non-harming.  It can mean non-harming in a variety of ways-to yourself, to others, to animals, to the environment, etc.  Well, I just tried to function with this notion of non-harming in mind towards a difficult situation.  I knew that I was feeling really negative about it and it wasn't helping me, or anyone else involved; I decided to make an effort to think about it positively, to realize that dwelling on the complications would just make it more complicated.  Once I applied this mindset to this one situation, I realized that my demeanor shifted.  Something sort of magical happened.  I stopped compulsively checking my phone, facebook, my inbox and instagram and felt a weight lift off my shoulders.  I was kinder to myself, and as a result, kinder to others.  I can't stress enough how meaningful this one tiny assignment was to me. 

Well, I'm home now and trying to maintain that approach to every day.  I'm back to reality, and making soup...

one pound of carrots
Collard Greens - I did the prep work ahead of time
Root Vegetable Chowder (from Vegetarian Times)

3 Tbs orange juice
1 Tbs pure maple syrup
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 oz. collard greens (1/2 small bunch)
5 tbs. olive oil, divided
3 cups (14 oz) medium-diced onions
1 1/2 Tbs minced fresh ginger
3/4 tsp salt
2 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and diced (I used more like six because I omitted the Rutabaga-I forgot to buy it, I also don't care for it and I LOVE potatoes) 
1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice
1/2 large rutabaga (or not!)

1. Combine orange juice, maple syrup, and vinegar in glass measuring cup.  Set aside.
2. Remove stems from collard leaves.  Stack 5 or 6 leaves at a time, roll up lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch-wide ribbons.  Chop ribbons into 2- to 3-inch lengths.  Set aside.

3. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onions, and season with salt, if desired.  (I desired).  Cover, and cook 6 to 7 minutes.  Uncover, and cook 15 minutes more, or until onions are lightly golden.  Add ginger, and cook 30 seconds.  Add 7 cups water and the salt, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.

4. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add potatoes, and season with salt, if desired.  (I always desire salt).  Cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until potatoes are well-browned on at least 2 sides, stirring occasionally.  Transfer to bowl. 

5. Add 1 Tbs oil to same skillet.  Add carrots and cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until well browned on at least 2 sides.  Transfer to bowl with potatoes.

6.  Repeat step 5 with rutabaga, if desired.

7. Add vegetables to onion broth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 9 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.  Add collard greens, and cook 5 minutes.  Stir in 1-2 Tbs of orange juice mixture.

8. Enjoy!

Okay, side note, the potatoes I browned were the VERY BEST BREAKFAST once I added 1/2 can of rinsed black beans and a tablespoon of salsa.  Heaven.  

Minus the Bear at the Royale in Boston=So, so, so good
Third Eye Blind in Brooklyn, CT
Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band in Brooklyn, CT
Oh, the real magic of the last month was seeing David Byrne and St. Vincent.  The most amazing concert I've ever been to, and the greatest night.  <3 <3 <3  
"it's true, i am a shaky ladder"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer Swallowed Us Whole: Where did July go?

Those of you who know me personally know that I'm ambitious, but I procrastinate.  I recently wondered what my life would be like if I wasn't a procrastinator.  I put off imagining what I'd be like, and I made Black Raspberry and Peach Cobbler instead.
Picked the black raspberries myself and the peaches are from a farm in RI.
Gooey, peachy, messy joy
I also went on vacation.  Here's the thing, I will turn 26 in late March.  I haven't yet had a full time job-I currently have five part time ones.  I'll need to get a full time job once I'm 26, but until then, I've decided to 1) finish my thesis and 2) have as much fun as humanly possible and that involves vacations when I can manage them, music always, baking every chance I get and yoga after yoga after yoga.  It also involves run-on sentences.
Magic in the Morning

Grandma's 80th birthday celebration meant matching tee shirts!
See how nicely they matched?
I made some really ambitious new year's resolutions in January.  One of them was to try a new recipe each week, and I have come really close! How many have I written about?'s gotta be close to zero, I think.  I also decided to make an effort to see more live that's one I can check off my list.  The Lumineers, The Milk Carton Kids, Old Crow Medicine Show, Feist, The Brotherhood of Thieves, Newsies on Broadway-all amazing performances.  St. Vincent and David Byrne September 23rd, Minus the Bear September 27th, Third Eye Blind/Kevin Devine September 29th, Ben Folds Five! October 13th all add up to a really efron amazing musical year.
13 musicians on stage at once: the milk carton kids, the lumineers and old crow medicine show
I also intended to read a book a week.  I went on a Janet Evanovich binge right around the beginning of December that brought me through to March.  Dangerous addiction.  It meant 18 books, though, so I'm not doing too poorly-plus all the other books I read!  John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite so far but I read some great historical fiction, Winnie-the-Pooh (again) and what feels like one thousand scholarly articles about Francelia Butler, fairy tales and science fiction.
Unreal brunch.  I need to make this, right?
Everything is Illuminated at the beach

Felt patriotic on a ferry
Summer's not ending in my book
What happens next?  I think I'll make some gluten free rolls, pack for my next yoga teacher training, and think it over...