I’m still here!

September 29, 2009 by

Welcome back to another week of HotMama Book Club.  Sorry I’m late but we had a tremendous wind storm up here in the north woods and we lost power. To be honest, I was trying very hard to worry about this blog, but the dark possibility of having to go to work without a shower was overshadowing most of my sleepless night.

If you are just tuning in, we’ve been reading My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.  And despite the fact that they continue to use French words and phrases with no translation, I am still enjoying the book.  (ok, I finished it).  Reading this memoir has also prompted me to start perusing Child’s cookbooks but with most of her recipes calling for several pounds of butter and four hours of prep work, I am ashamed to say – I took my kids to McDonald’s for dinner.  No matter.  That’s what FoodieMama is for – fabulous, homemade meals for the family (caramelized onion potato pizza here I come……).

So where were we?  Ah yes.  Julia is cooking French food.  I must stop here for a moment to admit something terribly embarrassing.  I lost the book.  There it is.  I think I actually (accidently) donated the book to the Lupis truck.  One moment it was here in the house, the next moment it is nowhere to be found.

No worries.  Your assignment is to finish the book anyway, and I can still offer you some chatter about the amazing Julia Child.

How would you like to learn how to make the classic omelette?


Book Club: Week 4

September 21, 2009 by
“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook” – Julia Child
Welcome back to another week of My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.  Is anyone else annoyed that there are no translations for the French words and expressions?  I am. And there is just one more teeny annoying thing.  She talks about living off of their meager government wages, yet has the money to rent fabulous apartments and dine out with famous French chefs.  Trust fund?  She had the money and connections to be able to live out her passion, but for some reason, downplays this fact.

“Noncooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.” – Julia Child

Oh, who cares.  She’s still an amazing woman.  And she is a woman obsessed.  Did you know that she tried her strawberry soufflé 28 times before she got it right?  That is determination and passion. She’s also an incredibly adventurous gastronome. Did you like this merry description? – “The Patron beautifully and swiftly carved off legs, wings and breast, and served each person an entire bird, including the back, feet, head and neck (when eating game, you nibble everything).” I suppose when it’s served with chopped bacon, butter and wine I might take a nibble myself.  Maybe.

gas·tro·nome // (gstr-nm) also gas·tron·o·mer (g-strn-mr)

n. A connoisseur of good food and drink; a gourmet. Also called gastronomist.*

Her passion continues as Paul and Julia move to Marseilles and she searches for the ultimate French bouillabaisse.  Her description of the hard-headed women giving her their own version of the true bouillabaisse had me thinking of my aunts and their wild rice hot dishes (that’s casserole to you non-Minnesotans).   The idea confirms our freedom to throw out the recipe card and use what we have.  Each version will have its own special flair – different seafood for bouillabaisse, ham or chicken for the hot dish.  Don’t you think Julia is rolling in her grave to hear me compare wild rice hot dish with a French bouillabaisse?

Keep reading – let’s find out if she gets that manuscript published.  That’s kind of like waiting to see what happens at the end of Miracle (on ice). Will they will the game?  It doesn’t help that I have a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking sitting next to my computer.

If you’re feeling like a fabulous home-cooked French meal but don’t want to spend two hours in your kitchen, you must check out FoodieMama‘s recipes.  They are divine (trust me, I’ve tried them).  And the true test . . . my three little eaters loved the food, too!  Thanks, Kelly.!!

Next Assignment: Chapters 5, 6 and 7

Book Club: Week 3

September 14, 2009 by

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’hommejulia2

We have just completed chapter 2 in the book in which Julia begins her lessons at Le Cordon Bleu.

To be honest with you, I thought Le Cordon Bleu was a chef school here in Minneapolis.  Whenever I would stay home sick from school, watching daytime television, there were always commercials about getting an education.  Vo-tech schools, mechanic schools and yes, Le Cordon Bleu.  I did know the words were French.

Le Cordon Bleu is French for the blue ribbon.  According to wikipedia, there was a group of knights who had all been awarded a badge of honor – the Cross of the Holy Spirit – which was attached to a blue ribbon.  These knights were known for their elaborate feasts.  Later, a French culinary magazine named itself after the group – La Cuisinière Cordon Bleu.  The magazine would sometimes offer cooking classes and this eventually evolved into the idea of establishing a cooking school to promote and preserve the art of French cooking.

I searched the ENTIRE web for a good photo of the school.  Apparently the building is not that interesting because I found only a handful.  I did find this little ditty that you can purchase HERE:whisk_keyring_m

And these were the only pictures of Le Cordon Bleu I could find but I don’t have permission to use them so you’ll have to visit the blog to see them.  By the way, I accidently stumbled upon this blog and it happens to be a great account of one American’s experience taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.  Loads of stories and pictures – be sure to check it out.

I had to stop reading her posts – it’s 6:30 am and I have to finish my own post!  Did anyone read the bit about making scrambled eggs?  When I read it, I thought to myself – these French take their cooking far too seriously.  How hard can it be to make a good scrambled egg?  So I posed an experiment to prove how right I am – I made scrambled eggs just as Julia describes in the book.  It took forever – cooking them on low – I added only a bit of butter to the pan and a tiny bit of cream toward the end.  I slopped the eggs onto my kids plates and stood back and waited.  I had told them nothing of my secret plan.

They loved them.  In fact, my picky eater exclaimed, “Mom, these are the best eggs you’ve ever made.  What kind of cheese did you use?”  Wow.  No cheese.  Really?  Hmmmmmm.  Damn it.  Now I am slow cooking all of our scrambled eggs and going through a carton of 18 faster than I care to admit.

I also had an adventure cooking up FoodieMama’s Coq au Vin.  First of all, let me tell you, it was divine.  Absolutely mouth-watering.  Even Picky-Eater raved about it.  Kelly omitted the cognac for those of us with a limited pantry – you know – salt, pepper, season salt.  But I made up for the flaming cognac by lighting a roll of paper towels on fire instead, almost losing my whole plate of carefully boiled and sauted bacon.

I am the daughter of the assistant fire chief but instead of grabbing my mini-fire extinguisher (which is next to my stove), I started screaming at my husband and fanning the flames with a kitchen towel.  Thank god for forgiving husbands who also know how to put out paper towel fires. (mom – don’t tell dad)

Her next Julia-inspired recipe is Beef Wellington – but with a fabulous twist.  I will be trying this recipe out this week.  Thanks, Kelly, for the fantastic blog!

Next Assignment: We’re going to push through the next two chapters.  Chapter 3 – Three Hearty Eaters and Chapter 4 – Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise.

My apologies for dropping Kid Lit. on Friday.  I underestimated how busy our first week back to school/work would be.

ps.  I made a batch of pumpkin muffins late last night for the kids’ breakfast because our dog ate the entire new loaf of bread that I bought.  I forgot to put the muffins out of reach.  He ate two dozen pumpkin muffins and I’m about to tear him into small brown pieces.  He looks like a boa constrictor that’s just eaten a small deer.

Book Club Week 2

September 8, 2009 by

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

“Oh, la belle France – without knowing it, I was already falling in love!” -Julia Child

I hope you’re enjoying the book as much as I am.  If you’re reading with us, we’ve just finished chapter 1, La Belle France. We are also cooking along, thanks to FoodieMama.  Be sure to check out her weeknight-friendly (and family friendly) meals – a la Julia Child.  Kelly’s version of Coq au Vin is devine!

Julia and her husband Paul have just moved to France.  They’ve crossed the Atlantic ocean and entered France through the French port of Le Harvre.

from Student Britannica

from Student Britannica

Julia’s immediate enthusiasm for the country is so inspiring.  To be honest, I’ve never had much interest in France.  However, as she travels and talks passionately about what she is seeing and tasting, I find myself wishing to be there with her.

In 1948 (the year Julia and Paul landed in France) the country was still recovering from WWII.  Rations were still a part of every day life and it was still common to find bombed out buildings and evidence of destruction.

image found at Wikimedia Commons

image found at Wikimedia Commons

Not only do we enjoy Julia’s enthusiasm for her new country, but we also experience a re-awakening of the French culture and society.  Paul and Julia work their way through the Guide Michelin, a guide book for drivers which pointed out good places to stay and eat.  (Although originally compiled for France, the Michelin Guide is now available for about a dozen countries).

The Hotel Pont Royal, where they first stayed, is still a landmark in France.

From the hotels web-site - I am so there......

From the hotel's web-site - I am so there......

I checked their rates ($260 p/night at the ‘super-saver’ rate) and decided that a B&B might be more my style.

At one point in the first chapter, Julia and friends travel south to Côte d’Azur (the French Riviera).  Along the way they picked mimosas.  And here I thought this was only a drink we consumed at bridal showers and Easter brunch.  It turns out that they are yellow flowers that grow in the French countryside.

One more thing – how cool would it be to be able to walk to your market every day and and ask the veggie lady what to buy and how to cook it?  Or to be able to choose from several types of butter.   Mmmmmm.  Butter.  Or to have an actual olive oilery!

Next assignment: Chapter 2, Le Cordon Bleu

Friday: Kid Lit

Monday: Book Club, week 3

Kid Lit Friday

September 4, 2009 by

I have an awesome tool for those of you with children ages 4-14.   There is a book called Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. y3150wYou may find this book at your local library but your best bet is to ask your teacher if he/she has a copy.

This book helped me through many sleepless nights.  The author, Chip Wood, gives you a full outline of the traits and characteristics of a specific age.  For example:

(5 year old) “Like children at 2½ , children at 5½ can be oppositional. But this is more a sign of cognitive and social growth than anything else.” –from the Yardstick blog by Chip Wood.

Wood will explain dominating characteristics for each age from 4 through 14.

I can’t tell you how many times I turned up for a conference with tears in my eyes, certain that I had ruined my child’s life and that they were turning into little hoodlums and freaks.  The teacher would hand me a “Yardstick” card that would explain the typical characteristics and development of my child’s age group and a wave of relief would wash over me.

The blog is also a wonderful tool – full of information.  The link I am giving you HERE starts on the page explaining 4 year olds.  At the top of his post, you’ll see titles for the next post explaining 4’s, then 5’s and 6’s, etc.

Keep in mind that the book is much more complex and includes development within the structure of education as well as social and emotional characteristics.

If you’re school does not have a copy of this book, read it and donate a copy to your teacher. It would make a great gift.

And if you ever find yourself looking at your normally calm 8 year old having a temper tantrum and wondering what you’ve done wrong, pick up your Yardstick book, flip to 8 year old section and you’ll have a much better understanding of what is going on in your child’s head.   Or maybe you have a young second grade child who still struggles with reading – achem – this sounds familiar to me.   It’s all in there.

Monday: Week 2 of our book club – My Life In France by Julia Child

Book Club: Week One

August 31, 2009 by

My Life in France by Julia Child


Welcome to the first week of our book club.  This month we’ll focus on all things Julia.  The movie Julia & Julia has been out now for just under a month so it will be a timely book for us to read and share.  (I have not seen the movie . . . yet.)

Julia Child is best know for her book (which she co-authored with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle), The Art of French Cooking (1961) and subsequently, her show “The French Chef” (first airing in 1963).

If you’re not a cook, I encourage you to read along with us anyway.  Child’s passion for food is contagious.  I found myself making scrambled eggs ‘the French way’ with surprising results.  Anyone can make a scrambled egg, right?  (Yes. You can.)

At the introduction of  The Art of French Cooking, American housewives were presented with haute cuisine (in French – high cooking) in a way that was approachable and with ingredients that were usually available at the local supermarkets.

The book we are reading is not the story Julia & Julia.  My Life in France is a memoir of Julia Child’s years in France where she ‘found herself’ and her passion for cooking.  We will take five weeks to read the book.  Go ahead and read faster if you love the story!  It’s a busy time of year for mom’s, so I thought we’d take it easy.

The book begins when Julia and her husband Paul move from their home in Washington D. C. to Paris in 1948.  Her husband Paul had been offered a job with the United States Information Service in France.  Her enthusiasm is perceptible from the start.  I really think you’ll enjoy this book.  And so, without further ado,

bon appétit!

Your first reading assignment: Part 1, Chapter 1 The Belle France

Be sure to check FoodieMama‘s blog on Thursday.  She will have a Julia-inspired post for your eating pleasure!!

Next Friday: Kit Lit.

Next Monday: Book Club: Week 2

Kid Lit Friday

August 28, 2009 by

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?  For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows:  he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.  ~Vita Sackville-West

Reading and writing go hand and hand.  From a more sterile – educational point of view, writing encourages readers to reinforce sound recognition and vocabulary, trains our eyes to work left to right, and ‘exercises’ our language and communication centers of our brains.

Writing for school can be fun, but it usually requires guided writing tasks with specific outcomes . . . work.  Leave that for the teachers.  In the meantime, writing can be extended at home at an easy pace that fits each child’s abilities and interests.

– a diary or journal-

In our house, each child has a journal or diary under their pillow.  Tucked into a corner of each bed is a can with a few pencils, pens, markers or crayons (depending on the desires of the child).  These journals are private and for their eyes only.  The only time I look at them is when my child wants to share their writing with me.

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.  ~Norbet Platt

I don’t give them writing assignments or journal prompts unless they ask.  My 7 year old fills her pages with mostly pictures and short descriptions of stories she creates.  My middle child fills his pages with stick figure cartoons and narrates the adventures in a comic book style.  The oldest jots down funny jokes or stories he’s heard and wants to remember.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.  Writing is a kind of double living.  The writer experiences everything twice.  Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.  ~Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, December 1957

CreativeMama has a great writing prompt on her blog.  She has fantastic ideas for keeping your kids busy with creative projects.  This one is a perfect FUN writing exercise that doesn’t actually have to be written down.   You can write it for your child, but the point is to get the creative juices flowing.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  ~Sylvia Plath

Best of Summer Reading by My Pals

August 24, 2009 by

Happy Monday.  Have you had your coffee yet?

Next week, we’ll be starting our next book club with Julia Child’s My Life In France.

Last week, I told you I’d give you a list of what my girlfriends had read this summer.  These titles are their top picks – favorite titles from their summer reading.  So without further ado, here it is:

Sean and David’s Long Drive by Sean Condon

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and Elizabeth and John Sherrill

The Guernsey, Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl’s Unlikely Adventures by Jancee Dunn

Sell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Next Friday: Kid Lit

Next Monday: We will start our next book club!  Get your cookin’ game on!!!!!!

August 21, 2009 by

Good morning, me hearties.

Today is August 21st and it’s 54 degrees outside my window.  IMG_4431In years past, the heat and humidity would be so high that early morning weeding sessions in our garden would end as soon as the sun hit our skin.  But today is drizzling and gray and I won’t be out in my garden.  In fact, I didn’t want to get out of bed.  And yes – we stayed up too late watching three episodes of the Lost from the first season.  Bad decision.  Bags under my eyes.  Grouchy demeanor.

The good news – the kids aren’t up yet, so I have a moment to write this post.

School has started (or will be starting) for our kids and this means busy family schedules have also begun.  In a few weeks the older students (middle school – high school) will be given their reading assignments.  The load is often a heavy one.  Even though they are busy, our mission should be to continue to encourage them to read for pleasure.  This might mean they put down the 737 page novel they were reading this summer and pick up something lighter instead.

Having to read a book your teacher chooses for you is a completely different experience than finding something yourself.  I’m not saying one is better than the other.  Guided reading will provide a deeper experience of literature.  But reading just for the heck of it should continue to be important.  This includes YOU!  Monkey see, monkey do.

Let your standards down and let them read those comic books, graphic novels, on-line adventures, outdoor magazines – wherever their interests lie.  If your child loves football, get him/her a sports magazine.  Do you have a crafty kid – there are dozens of craft magazines.

The point is, try to keep up the idea that reading is fun.  Reading is pleasurable.  Make some hot chocolate or tea and have the whole family sit in the living room and read for one hour.

And don’t forget that your local library is a great resource.  If you still haven’t been to your library, get your booty moving and get a card.  It’s free.  You can even get cards for your very small children – it’s fun and they’ll feel more motivated to use it.

Next Monday: Girlfriend Picks (aka what my pals read and enjoyed this summer)

Thanks for Visiting

August 18, 2009 by

IMG_4031I’m back from my little trip down south.  I apologize for my tardy posting – there was a small incident with a tree and a phone line when we returned home.  But all is well and as promised, I have some photos to show you.

For anyone just visiting this blog for the first time, we’ve just finished a casual book club discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  I had the opportunity to travel down to Hannibal, Missouri this weekend to visit Twain’s boyhood town.

IMG_4041We arrived late in the afternoon and most of the town was closed for the day.  We did manage to find an ice-cream “Emporium” which was full of Tom and Becky souvenirs and T-shirts with Twain’s quotes on them.

IMG_4011The bottom of the sign says, “Things You Didn’t Know You Could Get Anymore!” They weren’t kidding – I found candy cigarettes which I bought for my boys – they were not impressed.

I was a little surprised to see so many things named after either Becky or Tom.  There were not many references to Huck.  Interesting. . .

IMG_4021Well.  Hannibal is a quaint, clean little town – very much like Stilllwater, MN for those of you from my neighborhood.  Mainstreet was a bit touristy, but that’s to be expected.

IMG_4053IMG_4055The sun was setting and a local rock band was putting on an outdoor concert.  It was a beautiful setting.  There were crowds in front of Twain’s boyhood home, so I didn’t take a picture.  I found a few using “the internets”.

An old postcard of Twain's Home

An old postcard of Twain's Home

A more recent picture of Mark Twain's boyhood home/museum

A more recent picture of Mark Twain's boyhood home/museum- photo by Andrew Balet

I would really love to go back and spend more time here.  There was a one-hour paddle-boat trip that would have been fantastic – and the brochure was very proud of it’s air-conditioned interior.  Why anyone would sit inside on a Mark Twain sightseeing boat cruising down the beautiful Mississippi is beyond me.

There was also a lighthouse on top of Cardiff Hill.  This was a place that Huck and his friends would climb to in the stories (before the lighthouse had been built).  Mark Twain himself writes about his boyhood jaunts up the hill where he would get a sweeping view of his little town and the big sleepy river.

View from Cardiff Hill by Andrew Balet

View from Cardiff Hill by Andrew Balet

There are also cave tours nearby and, coincidentally, tours of the home of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown“.  Who knew.

PIcket Fence

Pickett Fence

Thank you all so much for joining me on our Huck Finn adventure.  I really enjoyed it and I hope you did too.  Be sure to grab your copies of My Life In France – by Julia Child for our next book club which will start in September.

This is my last picture – my family.  See you on Friday for Kid Lit!

De Menil with my family

De Menil with my family