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Monday Musings: Childhood inspiration, revisited

14 May

I have never forgotten this childhood book.

I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always been someone who loves to cook, especially when it comes to baking. To me, there is nothing more exciting than reading a new cookbook and dreaming about all the new things I want to make. There is also nothing as relaxing for me as being in my kitchen with no place to be in a hurry, baking the day away. Additionally, I love the challenge of a good cooking contest, having entered my first ones back in the days when I was a young Girl Scout, entering and sometimes winning their annual “Girl Scout Bake Off.” I’ve also married someone who loves to cook, and together we turn some amazing meals out of our kitchen, and we enjoy creating great meals together. These are all passions that we have passed along to our children, who all love to cook and to bake, starting off when they were very young. They too have entered cooking contests over the past years, and have often won, which have given them some amazing opportunities, attending special events, such as luncheons with the First Lady or with our state’s governor.

When I was young, I remember reading a book called “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” It was written by Catherine Woolley, and I have remembered this book forever, since the time I read it, until now. I have never, ever forgotten it, and I have remembered very specific parts of it very clearly. It was a book I really loved, and it definitely inspired me in many ways. The book was published in 1966, and if I had to guess, I might have read it in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. As my kids have grown up, I have always talked about this book and referred to it, and I often think of it when I’m baking in my kitchen or thumbing dreamily through a delicious new cookbook.

This book was just as I remembered it.

A while back, I tried searching the internet for this book, but I didn’t find it. Then later on when I talked about it yet again, my daughter found it for me on Amazon. I mulled it over in my head for quite a while before deciding to purchase it. Once I hit the “order” button, I was instantly excited, and I couldn’t wait for the book to arrive.

Last week, it finally came. I was so excited to open it up, it looked exactly like I had remembered, and this authentic vintage copy that I’d ordered had crisp yellow pages. My only disappointment was that the company I’d ordered it from through Amazon had put a UPC code sticker right across the front of the book, which I thought was just a terrible thing to do to a vintage book. I was able to peel it off carefully, and only a little stickiness remained. I could deal with that.

I decided to read it again, knowing that I was between books and that this one would not take me very long to read.

I settled in to start reading one night, and I was so happy. The story was exactly as I remembered it to be. I read along all over again as Ginnie decides to take a risk and enter a cooking contest, needing to create a menu and choosing one item from it to prepare for the contest. I got excited myself, as she poured through cookbook after cookbook, trying to choose a contest-worthy recipe. My mouth watered as she considered her choices, and I was surprised by some of the more vintage recipes that were being made then, that aren’t made now, such as a chicken loaf, for example. I followed step-by-step as she made a homemade bread for the first time ever, and I could almost smell the aroma that she described as it filled her kitchen. I smiled as she read aloud recipe after recipe from a cookbook to her little babysitter charge, knowing I’d read cookbooks aloud to my own kids as well.

I knew that this book had inspired me, I knew that I had read it and never forgotten it, but I truly had no idea just how much it had influenced my life, even to this day. I was so glad that I’d ordered it to read it again.

I’ve been inspired to read even more.

That said, I was inspired again, when I recently covered a story for work where middle school students were given the opportunity to hear a picture book read aloud every single day of the school year so far, and on Thursdays, had the opportunity for a “Throwback Thursday” book choice, a chance to request a favorite from their own childhoods. I thought the whole concept of revisiting childhood books we love was a great idea, and the teacher I spoke with said her students loved hearing the picture books read aloud.

In somewhat of a twist on that idea, I decided that there were some books that I’d never gotten to read, like “The Phantom Tollbooth,” for example. Published in 1961, this book was given to my daughter by my mom in 2010 as it was about to turn 50 years old in 2011. I decided that I would like to read that book too. Another book I’ve decided to read is “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” by Kate DiCamillo. It is not a book from my childhood, but it is a book that one of my daughters read and loved so much, I was sorry I never got to read it. Kate DiCamillo is a favorite author in our family and I follow her on social media. The number of people that she posts about who stop her to talk about this book have really inspired me to read it. It was one that we saved as a “we can never give this book away,” book, and my daughter found it for me right away.

I’m excited to read these books, even though I am a grown adult, and I look forward to being inspired by them, as much as I was by “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” I am amazed by how much that book influenced me and helped to fuel my passion of cooking and baking over the past decades. I am looking forward to seeing how these “new” books will influence me in the days and maybe even for decades to come.

It makes me wonder, do you have a childhood book that has stayed with you forever? If so, share it in the comments. I’d love to know what some of my readers’ favorites are.


Your Tray or Mine Recipe of the Day: Brown Eyed Susans, a Family Favorite

12 Dec


When I posted my first recipe last week for Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, I mentioned that it was one of my top two favorite cookies on our trays each year (I’ll let you know what my other favorite is when I post it.) However, the thing about cookie trays is that everyone has their own favorites. Mine tend to be all the ones that are heavily chocolate chip based, but not everyone’s are.

Brown Eyed Susans for Christmas Cookie Trays

I had a near meltdown when I realized we were totally out of any sprinkles for the tops of the cookies. I recovered when I found red and green stars instead.

Today’s recipe is for Brown Eyed Susans, which are my brother’s favorites. I might have one each year, but he *loves* them. They’re good and easy to make. I hope you’ll try them!



Cream together the following:

1 cup butter

3 TBL. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt


Rolled and flattened cookie dough

Here’s what the cookies look like as they are rolled and then as they are flattened.


Roll into about 1 level tablespoon ball and place on greased cookie sheet.

Flatten slightly using your fingers. (This is a good place to have your kids help out.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Frost while warm. (You can make these ahead, freeze cookies and then frost them when thawed.)

I find that if you fill all your baking sheets with the rolled and flattened cookies first, you can use the baking time to make up the frosting so that it’s ready for you to frost them while they’re warm.

Brown Eyed Susans

These look pretty with any sort of decorations on top, but we normally use sprinkes as shown here.


1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

2 TBL Baking Cocoa

2 TBL hot water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Use about 1/2 tsp on top of each cookie (yes the frosting does drip off the cookies, so put wax paper underneath.)
**I found that the 1/2 tsp measure on top of each cookie is important. If you use just any spoon to frost them you run out of frosting because too much goes onto the cookies and then drips off the cookies onto the wax paper and then you have to make another batch of frosting.

Sprinkle colored sprinkles or chocolate sprinkles (or place an almond, or whatever you’d like,) on top. This is also a good “job” for kids to do, decorating the tops of the frosted cookies, that and running their fingers all over the waxed paper where the chocolate has dripped once the cookies are safely removed!

**In Rhode Island, the sprinkles are called Jimmies. My dad is Jimmy and my mom is Pat so we call our colored ones Patsies. Just a random fact for you…

A single recipe makes about 36 cookies.

Congratulations to Karen!

7 Oct
Congratulations to Karen on her new book!

Congratulations to Karen on her new book!

A couple of years ago I participated in the monologue show, “Listen to Your Mother” here in Providence. As a cast, we came together not knowing each other, and left as a close-knit group of friends. In the years since, we have stayed connected online and sometimes we’ve been lucky to connect again in person as well. We’ve been able to share in each other’s ups and downs, which is the great thing about friendships.

Today I’m excited to congratulate our friend and castmate, Karen Haskell. Karen recently let us all know that she has a new chapbook coming out, “Sixty Years.” A chapbook is a small collection of poetry, and Karen is a poet. Her performance at our show was a collection of poems.

When I asked Karen about her book, she described it to me in this way:

“Sixty Years” is a short story in verse. It tells the story of a married couple against the backdrop of World War II.  The poems alternate point of view between husband and wife who struggle with missed opportunities, loss, and what exactly love means in the aftermath of loss.

It looks and sounds amazing to me and I’m so proud of Karen and excited for her!

If you’re interested in Karen’s new chapbook, you can find it here. The publisher is now taking pre-orders of the book, and you can purchase yours today!

One Gorilla: Giveaway winner!!

27 Apr
A beautifully written and illustrated story, with an excellent message for children

A beautifully written and illustrated story, with an excellent message for children.

Happy Monday everyone!

We only have two months of school left and we’re counting down!
Since Mondays are a rough for most of us, and extra rough if like us, you’re starting back after a week long spring break, this is a nicer way to start off the week than usual: with a book giveaway announcement!

The winner of their very own copy of the One Gorilla book is…..



CONGRATULATIONS KERRY!!!  The book will be sent to you directly from author Joy Dey!

Enjoy your week!

Book Giveaway: One Gorilla

20 Apr
A beautifully written and illustrated story, with an excellent message for children

A beautifully written and illustrated story, with an excellent message for children.

Exciting news on this Monday afternoon!

Joy Dey, author of “One Gorilla,” which I reviewed on my blog just last week, has offered a book to give away to one lucky Whole Bag of Chips reader!!

How great is that? So great!

Thanks to Joy, one lucky reader’s name will be drawn from all of those who post a comment here on this post telling me why they’d like to win their very own copy of the book.

I will run this giveaway from today until Sunday, April 26 and announce the winner next Monday, April 27.

Be sure to leave your comment in the comments section below in order to be eligible for the giveaway!

Book Review: One Gorilla

14 Apr
A beautifully written and illustrated story, with an excellent message for children

A beautifully written and illustrated story, with an excellent message for children.

As a blogger and someone who loves to read, I am lucky to have many opportunities to review books. This week I am focusing on several of the books that have been sent to me over the past few months for review.

The first book I’ve chosen to review is “One Gorilla,” written by Joy Dey and illustrated by artist Nikki Johnson.

This is a beautiful story with amazing artwork to accompany it. When my daughters first saw the artwork on the cover, they commented that it reminded them of author and artist Eric Carle’s work, and I agreed with them. It’s stunning.

Each page inside is just as beautifully done as the cover with the art spanning across two pages at times, and it is evident by the flow and design of the book, that the Dey/Johnson team have a close-working relationship. This is their third collaboration. Their other books are, “Nightlight,” and “Agate.” Both are award-winning publications. Dey and Johnson are notable individually as well, having received awards for their past works, and their talents shine through in “One Gorilla.”

However, it’s not just the artwork that makes this book. It is the storyline and the message for children that is embedded throughout.

My kids were intrigued by the fact that the colorful letters on each page spelled out a word each time.

My kids were intrigued by the fact that the colorful letters on each page spelled out a word each time.

I know as a parent, that oftentimes the drama of social interactions at school and in other similar arenas can be stressful as kids try to work things out and get along, and mediate the interactions of their peers as well. There are many times when our kids need to make good choices, and they need to know what those choices should be. This book provides a perfect jump start for kicking off some of those conversations.

We often try to encourage our children to be that one person who can make the difference, and “One Gorilla” drives that message home as the gorilla has an opportunity to make a better choice and make a big difference for the jungle.

You can find out more about “One Gorilla” and SWAK (Sit With A Kid) Publishing at, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and the blog. SWAK Publishing can be reached at 877-370-6102.

The book is available for purchase for $17.95. To purchase the book, contact Partners Book Distributing, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. For more information contact Partners Publishers Group 800-336-3137.


It’s Reading Week!

13 Apr
A great book for adults and kids alike, about the love of reading.

A great book for adults and kids alike, about the love of reading.

Hooray! It’s Reading Week!
Actually, it’s Reading Month!! There are so many schools here that spread their Reading Weeks over the month of April, that we celebrate reading all month long.

As an education reporter, I am blessed because I get to hear authors speak, storytellers perform, guest readers read, and my favorite of all: I get to BE a guest reader and read to classrooms all around our city and neighboring cities.

I have the best job ever.

Last I saw Katie Latimer, one of my all-time favorite storytellers, and today, I get to see Len Cabral, a storyteller that Latimer has said inspired her as well. I remember hearing him perform even when I was a child. Additionally, I also got to hear one of my daughter’s favorite authors speak to students last Thursday, Marc Tyler Nobleman, about two non-fiction children’s books he wrote about the true stories behind the creators of Batman and Superman, “The Creators of Superman” and “Bill the Boy Wonder.” Amazing, amazing stuff.

Today I share with you a great book for readers young and old that was given to me last year at a Scholastic celebration of reading by one of the northeast reps for Scholastic, Jacqueline Dodge. The book is called “Open a World of Possible” and it’s essays written by people who are well-known, or not so well-known and they all tell their stories of reading: why they love it, how they learned to read, who inspired their love of reading, and more. It’s a book you can open to almost any page, read a bit, and close it, returning later on to open up to a different page and read some more.

It’s fascinating to read accounts that are similar to your own story, or vastly different. And yet, we all share one thing in common: a love of reading.

As a parent who loves reading, I’ve encouraged the habit in my children as well, taking them to story time at our library from when they were just toddlers. We could get lost in a library or a bookstore. We participate in summer reading challenges, reading week challenges and we have tracked our summer reading just within our own family in the past. It’s a wonderful passion to have and to foster in our kids. As the book above says, reading does in fact open up a whole world of possibilities for our children.

This week I will be sharing with you some books that I’ve been reading for review. I love to read and I don’t post book reviews often enough, but it’s something I’m working hard at this year. This week is the perfect opportunity to share some great books with you, starting right now.

Enjoy your day and pick up a book, even if you only read a page or two!