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Easter Sweet Bread

3 Apr

This recipe makes three “small” loaves of sweet bread for Easter. It’s wonderful when you grill it!

Originally posted April 4, 2012

This recipe is one that takes a while from start to finish- nine hours to be exact- but if you’re game, it’s SO worth it! It is, of course, from my mom. She received it from a woman she worked with. It’s dated April 1992.

My mom makes it every year and I have made it once or twice myself. Don’t let the number of steps scare you off. If you go step-by-step it’s not hard.

Colleen DeMoranville’s Sweet Bread

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 and 1/4 cups hot milk

1 pkg. dry yeast (Fleishman’s Active Dry or Rapid Rise or Red Star)

1 egg- well beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract (can also use almond if desired)

7 cups flour (start with between five and six and add more if needed)

one 15 ounce can sliced peaches, drained and sliced thinner

DIRECTIONS

1) Mix butter, sugar, salt an d hot milk in a large bowl.

2) Let cool to lukewarm.

3) Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 5 minutes. (If using a thermometer it’s 110-115 degrees. Add 1/4 tsp sugar or whatever the package of yeast says to add.

4) Add dissolved yeast, egg, the extract and three cups of flour to the butter, sugar, salt and milk. Mix vigorously with flat wooden spoon.

5) Add three more cups of flour and then mix well.

6) If too sticky, add more flour. It almost always needs more, but not more than 7 cups. Too much flour will make the bread tough.

7) Turn out onto floured surface and knead it for one or two minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes. Add remaining flour only if sticky.

8) Knead more until elastic.

9) Put into large buttered bowl . Turn over once so it doesn’t dry out. Cover with a dishtowel or two and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. (Takes a few hours.)

10) Punch down and knead for another minute or two. Cut in half for two long loaves or in thirds for smaller loaves and divide each of those portions into three pieces (for a total of six or nine pieces.)

11) Stretch and roll each piece until long and uniform, about 12-18 inches if divided into two portions. Shorter if divided into three.

12) Use the three pieces to make a braid with each portion.

13) Pinch ends together.

14) Insert peach slices between braids.

15) Place each loaf on a buttered cookie sheet and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk. (Takes about 2 hours.)

16) Brush each with one egg yolk that is mixed with 1 tsp. cold water.

17) Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (check at about 20 minutes) if making 2 large loaves or less if making three smaller loaves (usually between 17 and 18 minutes)

18) Remove loaves to cooling racks.

19) Cool and then glaze with mixture of:

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla

5-6 tablespoons milk

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles or non-pareils.

This photo was taken a couple of years back when Elizabeth helped me make the bread. She was probably in first grade at the time. My point is: there’s lots of opportunity for kids to help out here. There’s measuring, kneading, braiding and more, that they can help out with.

NOTE: The whole process takes about nine hours. Start in the morning, end in the evening. Mixing and kneading takes about one hour. First rising takes about two hours. Braiding takes about a half hour. Second rising takes about two hours. Baking takes about a half for each loaf, then cool and glaze.

My mom stores hers in gift boxes (like from a department store) on waxed paper.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

Are you ready for some Zeppole?

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MARCH 19, 2012

Are you wearing your red today? I am!

It’s March 19 and that means it’s one of my most favorite dessert holidays ever!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day to you!!

I’d personally skip right over St. Patrick’s Day and go right to St. Joseph’s Day because if it’s St. Joseph’s Day then it means……zeppole!!!

You might ask: What on earth is a zeppole??

My answer is: It’s the most wonderful cream filled, fried dough dessert in the world; kind of a cross between a donut and a cream puff I guess, although from what I understand, they have changed in nature over the years. However, the way you see them here is the way I’ve always known them to be and the way that I love, love, love them.

More than a decade ago, when we were first married, we lived in another state for a few years. That first year we were there,  St. Joseph’s Day rolled around. We went out that day, searching for a zeppole, and had the hardest time finding them. When we did, they weren’t even all that great. I was so disappointed. We’d only been there three months and I already knew we were going to have to come back. There was no way I was going to live in a place where there weren’t any good zeppole to be had.

Near us you can get a zeppole almost any time of the year, but we never, ever do, except on St. Joseph’s Day. It just wouldn’t be the same. It probably wouldn’t even TASTE the same!

I’m sure it’s no coincidence either, that my daughter Alex was due to be born on St. Joseph’s Day. She wasn’t, but still, there’s something significant in that, I just know it.

Being in city where there are just zillions of Italians, it means that there are also zillions of fantastic Italian bakeries in the area, so you can take your pick as to where you want to get your zeppole from. Everyone seems to have their favorite spot where they go each year.

Our family has gotten their St. Joseph’s Day zeppole at Solitro’s for decades and it thrills me to share this tradition with my kids.

To me it’s a really big deal to go and get them. I go to the same bakery where my family has gone forever and ever to get them. The first time I took my children there with me, I almost cried, I was so overwhelmed with the emotion I felt. I remember waiting with them in a line that stretched from the bakery counter to the door. I remember lifting them up so they could see into the back where the zeppole were being made; it looked like what I’d imagine Italy itself to look like. I remember pointing to the shelves that held trays upon trays upon trays of zeppole, all lined up in rows. It’s even magical to me how they put them into the white bakery box and tie it with string. There’s nothing like it. The zeppole taste wonderful, but the tradition and memories that go with it are such a big part of the day for me as well.

The case was full, both baked and fried zeppole, and this was only the day *before* St. Joseph’s Day.

And so, today I will again have my zeppole. My family doesn’t love them as much as I do, and I have to say, I’m glad. It means all the more for me.

I hope you’re able to get a zeppole today too! If not, I’ll be thinking of you all as I indulge.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

I hope you get your zeppole fix today too!

Monday Musings: What’s the objective?

9 Mar
Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it's just me?

Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it’s just me?

I had lunch with a friend a month or so ago, and we were talking about things in life, big and little, that we wanted to be sure we taught our kids while we had them here with us, life skills to impart on them before they venture out into the world as independent citizens.

The conversation reminded me of a blog post I’d read somewhere along the way where a mother was writing to her daughter at the “halfway point” of being about 10 years old. The writer talked about how so far, many of the things on her list of things to teach her daughter had been developmental, like how to tie her shoes, how to ride a bike, things like that, and how now that she was turning ten and beginning a new phase in her life, it was time to shift the list and be sure to teach her other important things.

It got me thinking of how I’m semi-obsessed with that concept myself. And, I say “semi,” but I might actually mean “totally and completely,” but take it as you will.

As a student teacher, we learned to write our lesson plans so that they always had an objective. As time went on, it became common practice to even post the student learning objectives in the classroom for each lesson, so that the students (and anyone visiting the room) knew what they should have learned by the end of the lesson: at the end of the lesson, all students will…..be able to write their first and last name…..be able to identify and sort the odd and even numbers…be able to understand and analyze the reasons for the American Revolution….. and so on and so forth. The student learning objectives change and get more difficult as the students move through their education. What they need to know gets harder and what they need to do with that learning in terms of studying and applying what they’ve learned to real life, gets harder too. Sometimes lessons are on-going and build on skills previously learned. They don’t learn it and leave it behind, they take what they’ve learned with them and use it for the next thing.

I think that life as a parent is just like that. Having objectives for your lessons gave you clarity in why you were doing what you were doing in the classroom, and I think that raising kids is the same way. I just naturally assume that everyone drives around and walks around thinking constantly about their objectives and whether or not they’ve been met, just as I do: at the end of 18 years, my children will know how to and understand the importance of:   choosing a healthy snack, utilizing appropriate portion sizes, making pancakes from scratch, creating a meal plan and grocery list, looking at unit prices to get the best deal, using coupons to extend their savings even further, sorting their own laundry and having a good system for how to put it away, doing dishes, budgeting their spending, having financial goals, making a hard decision (and having to say no to things they really want, at times, but feeling extra good when they’ve worked hard for something and can say yes), sacrificing something for the good of someone else, choosing a good fit for their spiritual community, volunteering their time for the good of the whole community…..and so on and so forth.

Sometimes our objectives are something minor and physical, like tying shoes, or making pancakes, and other times they’re really big, like some of the deep dinner table discussions we’ve had to have with our kids, the examples we try to set for them as role models, emphasizing for them our morals and values, but at the end, I always make a check mark on my mental list, as if to say, “Okay, she’s got that down. I’ve done my job, as parents we’ve done what we’re supposed to do by teaching this really hard lesson, by modeling this life skill. She’ll be okay when she’s on her own.”

And then I move on to the next thing. My list is ever-growing as life is ever-changing.

I’m constantly retrieving memories from the back of my brain as to things I had to know when I was on my own. I remember being the only one who knew how to make a ham and cheese omelet (thank you Grandpa Grello) and I remember not knowing that I had a flat tire, and driving all the way from home to work and getting that really angry phone call when I arrived there (sorry Dad), and I think in my head of all the wisdom both literal, practical, and the more big-picture, that we need to impart on our kids: Don’t be afraid to try something new, have good manners, love and respect the elderly, it’s okay to lose, always try again, you can do anything…and can they tell time on an analog clock, can they count back change, do they know to use different measuring cups for liquids and solids??

See what I mean? I’m constantly, constantly thinking and checking.

(And I still recently drove on a flat tire, having no idea it was flat, so I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing in teaching that skill to my kids.)

Recently our first-ever female governor announced an essay contest she was running, and only my middle daughter is eligible to enter it. She’s someone who’s always willing to put herself out there and take a risk. She enters things, tries for things, but doesn’t always see the success at the end that her other sisters who’ve entered and won various big deal things, have seen. At bedtime one night she said to me, “In the contest rules the governor wrote that she often tells her daughters that they can do anything, and that’s just like you always tell us.”

As I leaned over and kissed my middle girl goodnight, I made a mental check mark on my list.

Objective met.

 

 

Fun Friday: A surprising teachable moment

16 Jan
Freaky, yes. Educational? Who knew?

Freaky, yes. Educational? Who knew?

Have you seen them? Have you seen the Monster High dolls yet?

They are bizarre-looking, zombie-like dolls, about the size and shape of a Barbie doll, but clearly *not* a Barbie.

My younger kids love them. They have lots of them. The Monster High dolls room with their Ever After High dolls downstairs in the Barbie Dreamhouse, lounging by the pool together. The Monster High dolls have grey, green or blue skin colors (there might even be other skin colors, but these are the ones we have) and some really monster-ish features to them. They’re unique for sure, and we don’t discriminate on skin color at our house, no matter what color it is. That in itself is a good lesson.

But whatever, not everything can be a stellar STEM/STEAM learning toy, right?

Or can it?

Surprisingly, it can, and no one was more shocked by this fact than I was, believe me.

Now clearly, we don’t have any kind of toy rule or anything, where every toy we buy has to be educational in nature, or STEM/STEAM related. A toy can just be a toy, too, so I was shocked when it turned out that my daughter’s recent purchase of a Freaky Fusion Monster High doll, the newest in the Monster High collection, was found at Barnes and Noble Bookstore. Usually the bookstore sells, well…books. And devices, and learning toys. But a Monster High Freaky Fusion doll? That must’ve been a mistake.

We do have a toy rule with our kids that leading up to the holidays they are not to use their own money to make any frivolous purchases. They need to wait until after the holidays, see what they’ve received, see what old toys need to be given to someone who will make good use of them, and only then can they take their money they’ve saved as well as any money they received as a gift for Christmas and then they can make some spending choices.

Oh my goodness....

Oh my goodness….

The day after Christmas, my youngest wanted to purchase one of the things that was not brought by Santa, and not given to her from anyone else: a Freaky Fusion doll and a Recharge Chamber. This is when we say, “It’s your money, you saved it and if this is how you want to spend it, that’s up to you.” Sometimes we hope they’ll reconsider and think that it’s a silly way to blow twenty bucks, or in this case almost $50, but it doesn’t always happen that way. To me though, the true-er lesson is a week or two later when they have nothing left in their spending money and they see something they like, but now can’t buy because they own whatever it was they so desperately “needed” two weeks prior.  Financial responsibility…it’s a work in progress. They earn their money, they save it, they spend it, sometimes they’re happy they did, sometimes they wish they didn’t. It’s an on-going thing.

Anyway, I digress….

On December 27 we happened to be in Barnes and Noble looking for a different toy that was supposed to be educational for another daughter who desperately wanted it (and you’ll see that one on here next week). They didn’t have it, but lo and behold, there on the shelf was Frankie Stein and her Recharge Chamber. I just happened to have daughter #3’s money envelope in my pocketbook. We counted, we checked the price, and she had enough money. She didn’t want to shop around for a cheaper price or a better deal. She had the money, she wanted the doll, wanted the chamber and she got it.

Well now....wait a minute, what's that say?

Well now….wait a minute, what’s that say?

Imagine my surprise when I see the note on the box that talks about the fact that this toy employs the use of static electricity and then gives a spot on their website where the kids can go and watch some videos to learn more about static electricity! Well now…that’s kind of cool.

Did I make her go home and immediately find the link, watch it and learn about static?

No. By the time we got to the car, I was already on to the next thing, and I really didn’t care if this was a learning toy or not. That wasn’t my objective this time.

Did she do it on her own, unbeknownst to me?

Got Static?

Got Static?

Yes, and she actually learned something.

I know this because later on, on a different day when she was playing with the toy at the dining room table, holding her hand up to the doll’s hair as it flew out all over the place from the static, she told me about the Recharge Chamber, and how it worked and what static was, and why.

I must say, I was impressed, and surprised.

Shocked, you might say.

Get it? It’s a static electricity pun!

So…although this was not our goal, to buy a STEM doll of the Monster High Freaky Fusion sort, it turns out that we did. I say “we,” but really it was my daughter. She saved her money, chose what she wanted to buy, and chose an educational, unique toy and she was pretty happy with her choice.

Who knew?!

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and the importance of eating together

14 Jan
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Now that we’re back into our regular routines, we’re back to meal planning for the weeks ahead.

Over the holiday and vacation weeks we were eating out of the house so often, either at other people’s houses or at restaurants, that we had absolutely no meal plan at all, and practically nothing to even make a meal with. Once we got back into the routine, we had to sit down and start our preparations again.

One thing I had done over the vacation weeks however, was to keep a running list of the things the kids were asking for during the two weeks. When someone said, “Can we have Shepherd’s Pie for dinner tonight?” during those two weeks, for example, even though I’d have to say no because we were scheduled to eat wherever for whatever event, I’d go and write it down. Making our meal plan is tough because we have to come up with two full weeks of meals. Having a list of favorite requests made it that much easier the next week when we sat down. And, it was kind of nice that first week back to school (which felt as long as five weeks in a row, rather than just one), to announce at dinnertime whose special request produced that night’s dinner.

It’s also been nice to see the kids checking out the menu we post in the kitchen each week, looking forward to the dinner of choice for that night or a future night, especially when it’s something they requested. It makes me feel good to know that they like the routine of knowing what’s for dinner, and that even better, they look forward to certain nights of the week, just because it’s their favorite meal of the week. Our menus are nothing fancy, our meals are straightforward and our lists are posted on whatever piece of paper we have handy, and we cross off as we go, but it’s a routine we’ve established and it makes us all feel good….less stress, somewhat excited for dinner, and looking forward to eating together each night. That’s all good, and I’m glad we’re continuing to stay true to this routine of ours. I hope that in doing so, we ‘re creating good, healthy eating habits and family foundations for our family as we go so that once our kids are on their own, raising their own families,they’ve got a great foundation so that they can eat well and eat together.

I recently saw an article in the Washington Post about the importance of eating together as a family, and its many benefits. It definitely confirmed for us all that we already knew and believed about eating together as a family. If you’d like to read it, click here. We work incredibly hard to keep our schedules and meals consistent so that we can eat together as often as humanly possible, and although we’ve always seen the benefits, which far outweigh the effort it takes to pull it off, it’s nice to have our efforts validated every once in a while too! The article is well worth the read.

In the meantime, here’s two weeks of meals for you to get you started. I’ve even linked to a few of the recipes for you so that you don’t have to search the blog for them:

Sunday: Roasted Chicken Dinner

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie

Tuesday: Pulled pork sandwiches (crock pot meal)

Wednesday: Spaghetti tacos with meat sauce (could be eaten without taco shells or with)

Thursday: Paninis (we used the bbq pork leftovers in the paninis, SO delicious)

Friday: Homemade pizzas (we made three different kinds but here’s just one kind we’ve made before)

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday: Chili

Monday: Ravioli (some of us had butternut squash ravioli given to us by a friend, others of us had cheese ravioli)

Tuesday: Garlic chicken and wine

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday: Fish Tacos

Friday: Breakfast for dinner

Saturday: Hamburgers and hot dogs

Sunday: Lasagna

 

 

Christmas Dessert: Mocha Roll and Christmas Cookies

29 Dec
Christmas cookie tray

All together now: all of the cookies made by my mom, me and both grandmas, all on one tray.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 29, 2011

This week I’ve been posting in retrospect about our Christmas Dinner. To me, the best part of any dinner is always the dessert. And like our Christmas Dinner, which is much the same every year, our dessert selection is as well.

First off, there’s the tray of Christmas Cookies. Together with my mom and two grandmothers, we put together a tray of cookies that has about 13 different varieties to choose from. We all have our favorites.

But…we’ve been eating cookies on and off now for two weeks. Well, at least I have. So we have to have another choice also. Enter…the Mocha Roll.

My mom makes the most fabulous frozen dessert called a Mocha Roll.

The Mocha Roll, before the first piece has been cut.

The Mocha Roll before the first piece has been cut.

This picture looks nice enough, but you truly can’t get a good enough idea of what this dessert really is unless you see it cut into a serving, which you will in a minute, when I post the recipe. However, I first must give tons of thanks to my mom here, because I decided to ask her for the recipe *just* as she was getting ready to leave for a cross-country, day-after-Christmas trip and I’m sure she had better things to be doing than emailing me recipes, but sure enough, there it was in my inbox this afternoon. So 1) She made it for yesterday’s dessert, 2) she typed up the recipe for me already so I don’t have to do it and 3) she took the time to send it to me. Thank you Mom!!

Single serving mocha roll

Here’s my dish, whipped cream on the side because I don’t actually like whipped cream. I did that just for you!

Here’s the recipe for her Mocha Roll for you!

FROZEN MOCHA ROLL

(Good Housekeeping Magazine – 1974 or earlier)

Note:  Can be made and frozen one month ahead.

INGREDIENTS

5 eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, divided

Cocoa

Dash salt

Mocha cream (recipe follows)

DIRECTIONS

Day before or early in day:

Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease 15½ X 10½ jelly roll pan with shortening.  Line plan with waxed paper, then grease again and flour.

Separate eggs while they are cold, taking care not to get any yolk mixed in with the whites because if any egg yolk is present in whites, the whites will not beat to their highest volume.  Also, for greatest volume, cover bowl and let egg whites warm to room temperature before beating.

In large bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Beating at high sped, sprinkle in 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar.  Beat until sugar is completely dissolved.  Do not scrape sides of bowl.  (Egg whites should be stiff with glossy peaks.)  Set aside.

In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored.  At low speed, beat in 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, 3 Tablespoons cocoa, and dash of salt, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.  Gently fold yolk mixture into whites until blended.  (To do this, with a gentle downward motion and using a spatula, cut through the center of the whites, across the bottom and up the side of the bowl.  Then, give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the cutting motion until egg-white mixture is broken to the size of small peas.  Fold just until all ingredients are combined, using spatula or whisk.  Over-folding breaks air bubbles, causing a flat jelly roll.)

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake 12-13 minutes.  Cake is done when top springs back when lightly touched with finger.  Do not overbake.

Meanwhile, sprinkle a clean cloth towel with cocoa.  (A flat weave towel, rather than a terry towel, works best.)

When cake is done, use a small spatula to immediately loosen edges from sides of pan.  Invert cake onto prepared towel.  Gently peel waxed paper from cake.  Roll towel together with cake from one of the narrow edges (jelly-roll fashion).  Roll as tightly as possible, but do not press down on cake.   Cool completely, seam-side down, on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, prepare mocha cream.

When cake is cool, unroll from towel.  Evenly spread Mocha Cream on cake almost to edges.  Starting at same narrow end, roll up cake without towel.  Place cake seam-side down on top of plastic wrap.  Wrap cake and then place on heavy duty foil; wrap and freeze cake for several hours or overnight.

About 15 minutes before serving, remove cake from freezer; unwrap; let stand for easier slicing.

MOCHA CREAM:

In medium bowl, whip together, until soft peaks form:

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup light brown sugar

3 teaspoons instant coffee (prefer decaf, but not required)

(You can buy 16 oz. container and use remaining 1 cup to whip and serve with cake; add a little confectioner’s sugar to cream before whipping.)

Serves 8 to 10. This can be refrozen if there are leftovers!

Family Movie Night and Two Books: The Snowman, Some Snowflakes and a Craft

12 Dec
The Snowman movie based on the book

This movie is quick, 23 minutes long and is based on the book by Raymond Briggs

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 16, 2011

Today is Friday, our wind-down night and often-times we have a Family Movie Night, as I said in last Friday’s post. Yesterday’s recipe was for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which I said make me think of snowflakes, even though they are chocolate based cookies. That thought of snowflakes leads me to today’s movie, book and craft for kids.

When I was an elementary teacher, the book, “The Snowman” by Raymond Briggs was one of my favorites to use as a wintertime activity with the kids. A wordless book, it had gorgeous illustrations, depicting a boy’s journey with a snowman. I used to love having the kids make their own version of the words to go along with the pictures.

That book is now a movie, and although I have not seen it, I wish I had it! According to the description on Amazon, it is based on live action flying footage. It sounds fantastic!

This is the same book that our family had for years until just last week.

The book that I used to have is now gone, donated just a couple of weeks ago, by my generous kids who each year have to make a big pile of books and toys for children who don’t have much, just before Christmas.

Clearly they couldn’t read my mind and know that I was going to use that very book in my blog post this week. When I heard it was gone, I almost went after it but my husband assured me they were putting the boxes on a truck as he was dropping them off, it was gone. So, instead, I am including the picture from Amazon. Sigh…I loved that book.

Speaking of books and snowflakes, when my daughter Caroline was in first grade, she checked out this very cool book about William Bently, a man who studied snowflakes. It includes really amazing photos of snowflakes and my kids were thoroughly intrigued by it. It truly shows that every snowflake is unique.

To me, nothing says winter crafts like paper snowflakes. One year I had my kids make snowflakes for all of the windows in the house (this was not an overwhelming task, we don’t have a ton of windows!) Each of their snowflakes was different and unique, just like real snowflakes. I loved the ones they put up on my bedroom windows so much that I never take them down. My side of the bed is the window side and I happen to sleep on my left side so I look out the window all the time when I’m laying there in the mornings just waking up. I love seeing those snowflakes.

Therefore, my craft for the day is just that: simple.paper.snowflakes.

Enjoy!

Paper snowflakes made by the kids

Every snowflake is different and unique, just like the children who make them!

Paper snowflakes made by our girls

I keep my paper snowflakes on my window all year long!

Fun Friday: Book Review and Giveaway!

5 Dec
I was so excited to go and get my copy of Anika and Chris's new book! You're going to want your own copy too!

I was so excited to go and get my copy of Anika and Chris’s new book! You’re going to want your own copy too!

What’s more fun on a Friday than a giveaway?!

You might be thinking, maybe a giveaway that includes something yummy to eat?

You’ve got it!!

I do lots of book reviews and lots of giveaways, but it’s always more special to me when I know the author of the book personally.

Therefore, today’s review and giveaway is an extra-special one.

Last spring, I participated in the 2014 Providence Listen To Your Mother show, and I had the honor and privilege of sharing the stage with so many wonderful, talented women.

Anika Denise was one of those women. Anika told a wonderful, funny and yet emotional story about her children and their experience with their pet fish. You can hear her story here.

Today’s book review is another story by Anika Denise, a children’s book author, and it holds special meaning for me personally as well. The story behind this sweet children’s book, “Baking Day at Grandma’s” is from Anika’s own childhood as she grew up spending time with her Grandma Rose. Her story reminds me of my own two grandmothers and my mother, and the rich tradition of baking together that has been instilled in me as well as the rich tradition of giving. It’s a tradition I’ve written about each December on my blog as I share my own Grandma Rose’s recipe for her Italian Wine Biscuits and as I’ve shared my Grandma Grello’s recipe for her Christmas Prune Cookies. I’ve written about the years I spent growing up, baking with my mom so that my brother and I could go off delivering trays of cookies each Christmas Eve day. It’s a memory that I hold dear to me, and I’ll continue to share them again this holiday season, beginning next week.

In the book trailer (link below), Anika talks about the fact that growing up she spent a great many summers and winter vacations with her Grandma Rose. I too, spent summers and school vacations with my grandparents, making special memories with them and learning their cooking skills. My kids now spend time baking with my mother as well and carrying on that special bond and tradition.

As I flipped through my book, I found each illustration to be more beautiful than the last.

As I flipped through my book, I found each illustration to be more beautiful than the last.

Christopher Denise is the amazingly talented illustrator of “Baking Day at Grandma’s” and in the trailer below he explains where much of his stunning scenery is derived. Each illustration in the book is more beautiful than the last, and the Denise team does a wonderful job of both showing and telling such a sweet story, one can’t help but love it.

One of the best parts of the book, is the recipe Anika shares in the back of the book. It’s her Grandma Rose’s recipe for chocolate cake, and it provides a perfect opportunity for families to bake together, to spend special time together and even (here goes the teacher in me again) to throw in a little hands-on kitchen math and science. I won’t share the recipe here, of course, but when you get your own copy of the book, you’re going to love that extra-special touch.

Given that the holidays are coming up, I think that “Baking Day at Grandma’s” makes a perfect gift! Being a person who loves themed gifts, I can just imagine a kid-sized apron, maybe a matching adult-sized apron, and some cute baking supplies added in. It’d be a wonderful treat for anyone–child or adult, and a great tradition starter or an add-on to an already existing tradition of baking and sharing!

Listen in this trailer for the book, as Anika and her husband Chris, speak about how this story came to be, and then enter my giveaway for your own copy of the book!

HERE’S HOW YOU WIN:

Leave me a comment below telling me who you’d like to have this book for, and why!

Entries will be accepted until Sunday, December 14, and one lucky winner of their very own copy of “Baking Day at Grandma’s” by Anika Denise and Christopher Denise will be announced on Monday December 15.

**This contest is open only to those in the continental United States!**

Monday Musings: Where’s the page in the books for *that*??

13 Oct
Don't bother looking it up, it's not going to be in there. Skip the Google search.

Don’t bother looking it up, it’s not going to be in there. Skip the Google search.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1:  How to decide whether or not to send your children to school during a targeted terror threat to their school……….. Page ????

Chapter 2: How to handle the fear and anxiety that has now consumed your household……Page ?????

*******************************************************************************************************

Did you ever just have one of those really bad days? The kind of day where nothing seems to go right, the kind of day that’s taking place in an already bad week?

I think we all have.

Last Tuesday was that day for me. I’ve been sick, we’ve all been fighting something as the season changes. I was tired, and it just seemed like it was one little thing after the next, all little inconveniences and annoyances all day long on my deadline day, exhausting me. I had a long night ahead too, as it was going to be a late night for my husband as well, due to a night time event at school.

It was our anniversary to boot, 19 years.

Earlier that week, I’d turned down an invitation to a home party at a friend’s for that night, stating at the time that I couldn’t attend because we have a rule here, given the fact that we both have night time obligations for our jobs: whenever one of us is out for work at night, the other of us is in, unless there’s an unusual exception, like a wake. One of us is always here to be “the one” running homework, dinner, showers, drop off and pick up at after school activities, sports and events. So since he’d be out on this night, I’d be in.

I’m incredibly glad we have that rule.

3:00 pm

That afternoon, I picked up my younger kids at school, and just before they exited the building, I received some very sad news. Another parent, the parent of one of my kids’ classmates, had passed away unexpectedly and tragically in an accident, just the day before. I was stunned, and I had a pit in my stomach knowing I’d have to tell my middle daughter, to tell all of them, when we got home before it got out on social media and she heard it from someone other than me.

I cried as I told her, but I was thankful that it was me telling her, thankful I was there after school to be “the one.”

“That was awful,” I thought to myself, as I drove her to her after school activity later on. My mind was overrun with thoughts of her friend’s mom, a mother of three boys, similar in ages to my three girls, and what she must be going through right then, reeling from the unexpected death of her husband. I was devastated for her.

I dropped my daughter off and ran to the store to pick up a couple of quick things: yogurt, some rice pudding cups (my guilty ‘processed food treat’ for those late nights of typing on a deadline) and juice. I’d only be gone from home about 30 minutes total and my oldest was there doing homework with my youngest at the dining room table, more than capable of holding down the fort while I ran out.

In line at the register, my phone rang. “Home” it said, as I was swiping my card. I picked up. “Let me call you right back, I’m paying,” I said quickly. “Um….okay,” I heard her say.

I wondered what was up. Homework issue, I figured.

I walked out of the store, my bag under my arm as I dialed again, calling her back.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Something’s going on,” she said. “We got a call. I didn’t pick up but it played out loud on the machine. The superintendent of schools was on the line. I tried to cover Alex’s ears once I realized what they were saying, but it was too late.”

I was confused. This wasn’t what I’d been expecting her to say and I wasn’t processing all of of it. I heard her say things like threat, and danger and elementary schools, and name our city and the other two cities nearby, which are coincidentally two out of three cities in which I cover all of the school news for the city newspapers. I was trying not to panic as I tried to figure out what was going on.

For a split second, I felt that same fear I’d felt on 9/11 when I was far away from my daughter while at work, as the towers were hit, and I couldn’t get to her. I had that moment of panic come right back to me, a feeling I’d never wanted to feel again, and yet here it was, bubbling up inside of me. Luckily I was minutes away. I could be there almost instantly to see what was going on.

I quickly used my phone to get on the internet to see if I could make heads or tails of what had happened. Everyone was posting on social media that they’d gotten the same robo call. Panic was setting in everywhere, everyone was reacting to the news.

Essentially the news was this:

Someone had sent a letter to the police department of one of our neighboring cities threatening danger and harm at the elementary schools in that city, our city, and our other neighboring city sometime over the next three days. (That’s more than 25 elementary schools. There’s 17 in our city alone.) The police department had shared the letter with the authorities in the other two cities and the authorities had let the schools know, the school department was letting us know. We weren’t told exactly what the threat of harm was specifically, but it was enough of a “physical threat” that they were reacting big time and taking the threat quite seriously. Police would be dispatched to all of our schools in all three cities for the next three days. School would remain in session. You can click here to see the news.

4:30 pm

This was turning into a really, incredibly, very bad day.

I got home, my rice pudding had now exploded in my bag. Seeing that, I truly wanted to cry. I listened to the message on our answering machine myself, hearing all the things my daughter had told me, all the things I’d read online. Threat, physical harm, danger, police, security. Three days. The words all jumped out at me.

Social media was on over-drive. My oldest daughter, brand new this year to her open campus, five building high school, was getting messages, as was I.
“What do we do? Do we go to school tomorrow?” she asked me, panicked. “If something happens there, I don’t know what to do, where to go. We’ve only had one lock down drill in one class. I’d be all alone, while they would be together,” she said. By “they,” she meant her two sisters, together on the same hallway at their school.

“I don’t know,” I said.

There are no rules for situations like this. You're making them up as you go along.

There are no rules for situations like this. You’re making them up as you go along.

I messaged my husband, an elementary principal at a nearby school district not one of the three on the target list. “Please call me,” I said.

I gave him the low-down when he called. He had no idea yet that this was going on, but soon it’d be affecting his job in his school district as well, as fear began to set in across the state.

We spoke briefly, agreeing to wait to see how things transpired through the evening before deciding what to do about school the next day. By the time he was due home later on, we might know more.

I ran to get my daughter where I’d dropped her two hours earlier, shortly after giving her the terrible news about her classmate’s dad at 3pm. I knew I’d now have to tell her this news as well. Her sisters knew, it was all over social media, she’d get a message or text, I was sure of it.

And then it hit me, “WHERE in the parenting books is THIS page? Where does it tell you how to deal with THIS situation?”

I called my mother on the way to get my daughter.

“I’m having a really bad day,” I said, near tears.

6:00 pm

My daughter and I exited the building and got into the car. I thought of the best way to give her this news. At school that same day, she’d been stressed over the recent changes to the lunch and recess schedules which were new, due to incorporating hand washing and the dispensing of Purell before and after because of the recent deaths in our state and a nearby state due to the Enterovirus D68. They’d been hearing all about the Ebola outbreaks in the news. I’d just delivered some other tough news at 3:00 about her friend’s dad, I knew this could potentially put her over the edge.

When I told her, she gasped.

“Why? Why would someone do that? What kind of harm? What did they say they’re going to do? Where?” she said, grappling with the news.

“I don’t know,” was really all I could say.

For the next three hours, my head hurt as I tried to go about the normalcy of our day, making and serving dinner, answering homework questions, and cleaning up after dinner. I fielded questions to which I had no answers and tried to keep their panic at bay, all the while trying to think in my head what the best thing was to do for the next day as I waited for my husband to walk through the door so we could finally talk things through together.

Our phone rang. Had I heard the news? What was our family going to do? What did I think others should do?
“I don’t know,” I just kept saying, over and over.

I watched the hundreds of responses posting on Facebook as moms and dads were at their own houses struggling with the same issues: to tell their kids or not. How much to tell? Send them to school or not? If not, for how many days? This threat was spread over three days’ time. Do we keep them home for three days? How do you transition a kid back to school after an event like this has transpired? We heard from a mom in Newtown, CT., from Sandy Hook Elementary School, who passed along her compassion and empathy as a parent who knew exactly what we were going through, and then some.

And again I wondered, where is the instruction manual for things like this? What page in the dozens of parenting books I’d had as a new mom does this topic appear on?

It doesn’t.

We have a sign in our house over the front door. It’s the last thing you see as you step out, and it says, “Home is where your story begins.”  It’s a sign I’ve always loved because in my head, I picture all of the wonderful things we do as a family, the story we write as a family and all of the memories we make together before stepping out the door each day to write our own stories as individuals.

But today…today I think it has even more meaning than that. I think it’s more than just the happy, wonderful family memories that we create. I think our family’s story includes the pages we write together in our own rule book, our own parenting guide. It’s the things we encounter, conquer and the previously unwritten rules that we write as a family unit.

Last week, every family had to make their own decisions as to what was best for their kids, how to have these tough conversations and make these tough decisions. There was no right or wrong answer and no rule book or parenting manual to help us. We had to rely on what we knew for information and what we knew about our own children, in order to make the best decisions for them. We were told by our elementary principal that every decision made was the right one, and he was right.

We just had to come up with our decision.

9:00 pm

Finally, finally, finally, my husband arrived home. My middle daughter almost jumped out of her skin when our front door opened. I reassured her that it was okay, it was just her dad coming home. We talked it out and made our decision together.

Ultimately, we opted to keep them home for the day. Although statistically and logically we knew the chances of anything happening were probably slim, we didn’t have a ton of information or really any reassurances that all was safe and well, and at the time, we didn’t know what specifically had been threatened, although we do now. But, more than that, we looked at our kids and into their eyes. We saw the fear, the panic and the stress. We saw how they looked at us, begging and pleading not to make them go. We weighed out whether throwing them out there into an uncertain situation was worth the risk of traumatizing them further. It wasn’t. To have them be one of three kids in class that next day, or the only kids on the empty bus that next day, to make them struggle through a day of fear and anxiety while they watched movies and played games all day at school, just to prove a point (what point?) was not worth any added trauma and anxiety for them or for us. Instead, we opted to give them a day to take the edge off, to relax, to breathe a little easier knowing they were safe and secure at home with me.

I felt my middle daughter’s body shake as she cried herself to sleep that night as I lay next to her at her request, something I rarely have to do anymore, and I knew we’d made the right decision. On Friday, when I picked up my younger two girls at school, I saw the complete and utter exhaustion on the faces of the teachers, as the emotional strain of the week showed through, and even then, as I saw the effect of the past four  days on the adults, I again knew we had made the right decision for our children. My heart swelled with gratitude for those teachers who came to school for our kids every day last week, putting aside their own safety and the well-being of their own families in order to be there for our children because that’s what was best for our kids.

With no rule book to guide any of us, our family has written a new page in our family story. It wasn’t a page I ever wanted to write or a page I ever want to write again, but there it is.

I’ll be glad to be able to close the book on this chapter. I know our book will be full of good pages and bad, happy chapters and sad. This isn’t over, I know that, and these awful things are part of the world we live in, whether it’s a school, movie theater, mall, airport or restaurant. I get that too. I guess ultimately, as long as we’re all here writing our story together, I think that’s all that matters.

Our story, every page and every chapter, is written by us together.

Our story, every page and every chapter, is written by us as a family, together. It’s our own rule book and parenting guide.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Watching it all fall into place

29 Sep
Our goal is always a simple one: to put our family first and have no regrets.

Our goal is always a simple one: to put our family first and have no regrets.

Someone posted this picture on Facebook a few weeks back, and I loved it then, so I saved it. It spoke to me in that it seemed to describe how we as parents try to live our lives. Like most parents, we put our children first and the decisions we make focus strictly on what’s best for them and for the way that we wish to mold them and the foundations we wish to give them.

We know that this time is limited and that it’s important. They’re only “ours” for a short time before we must set them free, off into the world to make their way, making life’s choices using all the tools we’ve given them in their tool-kits. As parents, we’ve taught them the importance of eating together around the table and talking things out. We’ve taught them how to solve problems and come out stronger in the end, how to do more on less, how to be frugal, how to appreciate the little things in life as well as what we believe the big things in life should be. We’ve passed on our strong morals and values and we’ve taught them to think of others before themselves.

And now, as our oldest has transitioned into the next phase of her life: high school, we’re watching it all fall into place. We’re watching all of our hard work, time and effort pay off.  As parents of a high school student, it’s our time now to step back a bit and watch our daughter use the tools in her tool-kit that we’ve helped her to stock over the years while we continue to help her fill it for the future.

It’s an amazing time, and yet it emphasizes the above quote to us even more. Our time with her in this capacity is short and we not only see the “light at the end of the tunnel,” but we actually see the end of the tunnel, we see our window of time together in this way, closing. As much as it saddens us to see her growing up, it thrills us to see her growing, maturing and becoming a confident, kind adult, the type of person we hoped we were raising and setting forth into the world.

It’s fulfilling to watch her make good choices (so far), to appreciate the things we’ve taught her to appreciate, to remember the talks around the dinner table and in the early after school hours as she makes some hard decisions, and to see her make good, solid, split decisions that put the needs of others before her own.

It’s nice to see it all coming together, to see the person we’ve molded, the foundation we’ve built coming into her own. We’re far from finished teaching her and our other children, that we know; our job’s not done, but it’s so nice to see the fruits of our labor coming to be and to see that it’s been worth all of the sacrifice, the time, effort and hard work that we’ve put into being parents, into raising and teaching our kids over anything else.

As the quote above says so well, we’ve found that time to be precious and to be a privilege, and we’re pleased to see that during this time of their lives, it’s precious and a privilege to our children as well, that they still look to us for the consistent advice and encouragement they’ve always relied on us for, and they still want to do the things together that we’ve always done as a family. They need us more now, as they’re getting older, than ever before.

It’ll be over in a blink and our nest will then be empty, but we’ll be able to be proud as we watch the adults we’ve raised from birth go into the world.