Friday, May 27, 2011

Rosie Backstage: neglected Shakespeare gem?

Some things are just hard to figure out.

Kids Can Press is a very popular Canadian children's publisher.  Non-fiction books they've published have become standard resources in many classrooms.  Their craft books are particularly well done.

Tim Wynne-Jones and Amanda Lewis are decent writers.  Bill Slavin has illustrated over sixty children's books. (Although I think he could have made Rosie look a bit more appealing.)

And, especially in southern Ontario, you would think that a book designed to open up Shakespeare and the Stratford festival would be an instant classic, especially with classroom teachers and homeschoolers.  (Think field trips.)  Lois Burdett's "Shakespeare Can Be Fun" series is one example of something that has been very popular for the past decade. So why is it that Rosie Backstage came out in 1994 and immediately went out of print?  Wouldn't any resource that makes Shakespeare more accessible be enthusiastically snapped up?  It seems like the sort of book that teachers would have designed unit studies and stuff around.  Maybe they did, but online searches for the title+unit study and +lesson plan didn't uncover anything.

Rosie is set up much like the Barbara Greenwood Pioneer Story books (in the U.S., the first book is A Pioneer Sampler).  A story chapter, some facts, another story chapter, and so on.  The book is packed with information about all aspects of theater production:  a page on what a costumer does, a props person, a stage manager, a lighting person, and so on; there's also basic information about Shakespeare's life and the Globe Theater.  The Rosie story itself is okay--not thrilling, but it works as a vehicle for the rest.  Stuck backstage while her mother works on props for the Stratford Festival, Rosie meets a "mysterious man" who--wow, who'd have thought--turns out to be Shakespeare.  This particular Shakespeare seems to be at the theater in order to cause mischief (more like Puck or Ariel?), but in the end it all turns out okay.  (Some parents may not like the section about theater superstitions, particularly regarding The Scottish Play.)

So--a well-designed book with some useful information about the theater, in a format designed to attract kids' attention, seemingly lost in book oblivion.  Like the missing jewels on the duke's costume--it's a mystery.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What we bought at the flea market

Rhubarb Crisp, in a flash (and some use-it-up ideas)

Well, more or less of a flash.

Mr. Fixit had the afternoon off, and we picked up Grandpa Squirrel and went to a flea market.  So I had about half an hour when we got home to get supper on the table.

This was helped out by the fact that we had Reuben Chicken going in the slow cooker (chicken breasts, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing), to which I quickly added a bit of cornstarch and water (you knew I was going to say that).  If I'd had some dinner rolls, we could have just eaten it as hot sandwiches, but we didn't have any, and we'd had a lot of on-a-bun meals lately anyway.

What else was in the fridge and freezer, on the day before grocery day?

A few frozen perogies, a bag of Asian-style frozen vegetables, a package of whole mushrooms.  I started the perogies going in a pot of hot water, and added the mushrooms plus about half the bag of vegetables.  (Mushrooms rinsed but not cut up.) I drained the whole thing before the veggies got mushy, added some margarine to the pot, and let it stay warm while I set the table, put out a bowlful of Triscuits, a jar of applesauce, and a few other things.

In the meantime, I was thinking about the fresh rhubarb that Ponytails had brought in the day before, and the cupful or so of homemade strawberry sauce that was sitting at the back of the fridge.  I didn't want to turn on the big oven, but the toaster oven would do fine to bake a dessert, if I could get it in quickly enough.

So in a small casserole I put a good layer of applesauce, the remains of the strawberries, and the quickly-chopped rhubarb (cut it fairly small if you want it to bake quickly).  I gave it all a good sprinkle (I mean a GOOD sprinkle) of cinnamon-sugar mixture.  I mixed a cupful of rolled oats, half a cup each of flour and wheat germ, a bit more cinnamon-sugar, and a bit of brown sugar (end of the bag), and added what should have been half a cup of oil but turned out to be a lot less since that was the very last of a jug, and I couldn't be bothered to go to the basement and get a new one.  I made it up by dabbing some margarine over the top before the dessert went in the oven.  It was done after about 40 minutes in the toaster oven (check and make sure the rhubarb is soft).  Good with yogurt or vanilla ice cream.

Punctuation Rant

I opened the weekly "shopper" paper yesterday, looking for yard sale ads.  Our "shopper" has gone to a mostly-articles format, since few people want to pay for print ads these days.  The headline that caught my attention said something like this:

"Prom and Grad, call for true elegance."

Did we learn this in school?

Were we ever told to write, "Pugsley and Wednesday, are playing with their octopus?"

Were we ever told that it was correct to say, "You and I, could make beautiful music together?"

Of course not.  So when did people start doing it?

The composer of such titles should write on the blackboard one hundred times:

I will not separate the subject of a sentence from its verb with a comma.  Even a plural subject (two nouns joined with "and").

That's it.  I'm done.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What's for supper? Beef-sausage tortilla filling

It was a busy day and Mr. Crockpot did the supper again. This "recipe" is proof that it's really okay to try out your own slow cooker ideas.

Improvised Beef-Sausage Tortilla Stuffing

1 lb. ground beef
Leftover sausages, chopped or sliced
The end of a jar of mild salsa (maybe half a cup?)
1 cup beef broth or water (use to rinse out the jar of salsa)
1 can no-salt-added kidney or other beans, rinsed and drained
Tortillas and toppings (cheese, sour cream, shredded lettuce)

Brown the ground beef. Add to the other ingredients in the crockpot. Start on High to get things going well, then cook on Low all afternoon (you are just heating things through, so Low is okay). I added just a bit of thickening at the end because I didn't want it to be too sloppy in the tortillas.

You could also serve this mixture over rice, or combine with cooked pasta. Or just leave it a bit liquid, eat it in bowls, and call it sort-of chili.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What's for supper? Back to our veggie roots

When we were first married, we had more vegetarian meals than meat ones; especially quick things we could make after work. Green Spaghetti and Chickpea Patties were two of our standbys. We found the Chickpea Patties recipe in a 1991 Vegetarian Times article; there's a recipe for Green Spaghetti in the same article, but we make ours differently--more cheese.

So that's what we had tonight:

Green Pasta (we used fusilli)
Chickpea Patties
Carrot sticks.

Green Pasta

I measured out the ingredients tonight as I went, so that I could write it down; but the amounts are really variable. I happened to have a whole block of cream cheese (bought on sale), but it's not necessary to use quite that much. We had enough leftovers to fill a casserole dish.

1 8-oz. block cream cheese
1/3 cup cottage cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
5 oz. mozzarella, cut up
1 tbsp. margarine (probably not necessary with all that cream cheese)
1/4 tsp. or more black pepper (or grind some on at the table)
bit of garlic powder
leftover cooked broccoli (entirely optional)
1 6-oz. package fresh spinach (but frozen would work too)
Approximately 1 lb. hot pasta

What you want to do is have hot drained pasta, hot just-cooked spinach, and the blended mixture of cheeses all ready to mix at the same time. You don't have to cook the finished mixture; the heat of the pasta and spinach warms up the sauce ingredients.

I started the pasta cooking, had the spinach rinsed, and then put everything else into the food processor and got it pretty much blended. When the pasta was done, I let it drain in a colander and cooked the spinach in the same pot for a few minutes, steaming in its own rinse water. When it was wilted, I ran it through the food processor with the rest of the sauce mixture. Then, in a BIG bowl (or you could use the pasta/spinach pot again), I mixed everything together. If you think you might have cooked too much pasta, mix it into the sauce mixture gradually until you have the proportions you want. Serve as soon as possible.

Linked from 4 Moms Share Vegetarian Recipes.

What's for supper? Vietnamese Baked Chicken Thighs

Last night's dinner menu:

Vietnamese Chicken Thighs, adapted from this recipe on A Year of Slow Cooking,which was adapted from a post on Sunday Nite Dinner
Baked potatoes, broccoli, carrot sticks, chow mein noodles
Watermelon slices, brownies, and pie (thanks, Grandpa Squirrel).

I was hesitant about making this chicken dish, because I've never cooked with fish sauce before.  I had a Vietnamese housemate during university who pretty much lived on the stuff (fish sauce, not chicken), but I wasn't sure how it would go over here.  Also, Mr. Fixit is not crazy about bone-in thighs, because they do tend to be greasy. But I bought some fish sauce, and we tried it (in the oven, not the slow cooker), and it was very good--the skin browned nicely (probably the sugar?), and the thighs stayed together enough after baking that they could be lifted out of the grease, so that was a plus. We'll probably make this again.

Steph's recipe calls for 4 to 6 thighs, and our package had 8, so I doubled all the sauce ingredients except the pepper and the garlic. 

Here's our version.

Vietnamese-style Baked Chicken Thighs

8 bone-in chicken thighs (ours were still partly frozen)
3 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp. fish sauce (we used Taste of Thai brand)
1 tbsp. white sugar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 cloves chopped garlic
2 tbsp. canola oil

Place the thighs, skin side up, in a large casserole dish.  Mix the seasonings, garlic and oil together and pour over the chicken.  Cover and bake until done; the temperature and time can vary depending on the size of the chicken thighs, how frozen they are, and how much time you have.  I started it at 350 degrees and then turned it down to 325 degrees for awhile.  It was Sunday afternoon and we had lots of time.

Allow at least one thigh per adult eater and more likely two.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Church sale morning

It was too rainy for much yard saling today, but there were some rummage sales. Crayons brought home some additions to her horse collection (not in the photo). Mama Squirrel found science kits, books, a roll of knit fabric, a new pack of notecards, and a useful tin for putting things in.

"Explore the science of magic with Bob Friedhoffer, the mad scientist of magic!"
I'm impressed with that Magnetism kit--I didn't expect all the parts to be there, but it's pretty close to being intact. The only thing really missing is one large magnet that's used in a couple of the experiments.

Is anyone else out there familiar with picture books by Bettina Ehrlich? The covers usually just say "by Bettina." I've come across a couple of them lately, including The Goat Boy today; they remind me a bit of Edward Ardizzone's style.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lentil soup isn't so bad

I don't have anything against lentils.  But some of the Squirrelings, in spite of my cajoling that Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, have remained unconvinced, especially when it comes to soup. (Sprouts are okay.)

If you have reluctant lentil eaters, here are a couple of tips for improving your soup score:

Reduce the overall lentil content.  Aim for more of a vegetable soup than a straight lentils-with-liquid thing.  It helps if you cut the vegetables big enough so that they don't disappear into the lentils; the idea here is variety.

Work out a lentil-compatible flavour that your family already likes.  Might be Italian, pizza-flavoured; might be Middle Eastern; might be Tex-Mex.  Even a hot-dog, wieners-and-beaners kind of thing.

Here's a sample recipe that went over pretty well today.  The amounts are vague since I was just throwing things in the pot.

Lentil-Vegetable Soup with Salsa

3 cups chicken broth plus an equal amount water
Some green lentils--maybe half to two-thirds of a cup dry;
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 bunch celery, including some leaves, sliced

Rinse the lentils and check for pebbles. Bring the broth and water to a boil, and add the lentils and vegetables. Turn down the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft enough to eat and the vegetables are cooked. I poured in some mild salsa partway through--maybe half a cup, just enough to season it up and add a bit of onion and tomato.  Add more water if it needs it as it's cooking.

Serve with bologna sandwiches and Coffeemamma's Rhubarb Muffins.  Or whatever else you have.

What's for supper? Diner-style spaghetti sauce

Last night's dinner menu:

Diner-Style Spaghetti Sauce, with wholegrain spaghettini
Green salad with apples and sunflower seeds
Canned green beans

Peanut-butter-cereal squares

I know there are lots and lots and lots of recipes for spaghetti sauce, so who needs another one?. But this is something I adapted from the Hillbilly Housewife's Easy Seasoned Italian Sauce, and the way it came out reminded me of the way one of our favourite diner-style restaurants makes their spaghetti. More American-style than authentic Italian; but still good. It tastes like spaghetti and meatballs, only with broken-up meatballs, if that makes sense.

Mama Squirrel's Diner-Style Spaghetti Sauce
 1 lb. ground beef
About a cupful of sliced mushrooms (optional)
1 28-oz. can diced no-salt tomatoes, undrained (you can substitute two cups of homemade tomato puree)
1 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp. dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
One or two slices slightly dried (or toasted) bread, diced (optional--my kids didn't like this addition as much as I did, so I have been leaving it out)
Fresh parsley, chopped and added near the end (optional but pretty)
Hot pasta, Parmesan cheese, etc. for serving

Brown the ground beef, breaking up the meat as it cooks; add the mushrooms just before it's finished browning, and let them cook a few minutes. Drain the fat if necessary. Add all remaining ingredients except for the bread, and simmer until slightly thickened and it smells good. I added the diced bread near the end because I thought the sauce was still a bit liquid; it turned out to be a good addition (don't overdo it, though). Parsley too, if you have some (I just grabbed a bit from the garden).  Serve over hot spaghetti.

We had quite a bit left over (I never know where to stop with spaghetti), so tonight we're having Spaghetti Pie.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

And what's for dessert? Raisin squares, with one frugal addition

Tonight I made a pan of the Raisin Bars from the More-with-Less Cookbook.  These are not the same as the Hillbilly Housewife's Raisin Bars, which are also very good but which are more like flat muffins.  The MWL version is just date squares but made with raisins.  You make a filling on top of the stove by simmering raisins, water, cornstarch, a bit of sugar, and lemon juice until thickened and soft; then sandwich between two layers of oatmeal-based dough, as for date squares.  Bake for half an hour at 375 degrees, or until the top dough is the right shade of brown (the recipe says 400 degrees, but that's too hot in our oven).

The frugal twist?  I had a bit of cranberry jelly in the fridge, left from Easter, so I mixed that into the raisins at the end.  I also sprinkled the mixture with a spoonful of cinnamon-sugar before adding the top layer of dough.  It made the bars taste a bit like mince pie, but I kind of like it that way.

If you cut them and eat them while they're still warm, you'll probably have to use a fork.  If you let them sit longer, they'll cut better.

Hollering down from the treehouse...and what's for supper?

We have been busy up here--just haven't been blogging about it.  All the extra-curricular stuff has been winding up (with year-end recitals, festivals and such), plus we've been dealing with some on-again-off-again viruses (the germ kind, not the computer kind) that have thrown a wrench into schoolwork.

And today Mama Squirrel volunteered to be a styling head, to help The Apprentice finish up the few things she has left to do before she becomes a  licensed stylist.  That was fun.

So Mr. Crockpot is handling the bulk of the dinner preparations.  Mama Squirrel adapted a cookbook recipe and came up with this:

Beef and Pork Chili Mac

1 pound ground beef, browned in a skillet with a chopped onion and two cloves garlic
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup no-salt tomato sauce
1 tbsp. chili powder (the recipe called for two tbsp., but some of us here are wussy about hot stuff)
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 can baked beans, since we didn't have any cooked or canned plain kidney beans or chickpeas
1 cupful cut-up cooked pork from last Sunday's dinner
Hot cooked pasta
Cheese, optional

Combine hot ground beef plus onions and garlic with the other ingredients (not the pasta and cheese) in a slow cooker (we used a 3 1/2 quart size).  Cook on low for the afternoon while you sit reading recipes under the hair dryer.  Serve with hot cooked macaroni or other pasta.  Top with cheese if desired.