Review: AFTER THE FALL by Dan Santat

This one punched and then karate chopped and then maybe pile drove me right in the feels. AFTER THE FALL by Dan Santat is incredible. The beautiful arc for Humpty Dumpty plays out with ease, as he battles his fear of heights from the infamous “Great Fall.” I don’t even want to go too much into the book, because I don’t want to ruin the ending accidentally. And, let me tell you, I’ve ruined an ending or two. (My husband won’t let me live down my blurting out the results of the Mayweather vs. McGregor match, although, of course, Mayweather won. But this isn’t a boxing blog.) What I love most about this book is the ending and its message. The message is clear and apparent, but not didactic. No preachy preachy here. No smacking you with “a message” across the face. It’s powerful and inspirational, and one kids need to hear, again and again. Heck, adults, too!

You may have seen the video of Dan Santat explaining the reason behind creating this book and dedicating it to his wife, Leah. If not, please watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8K1ZvNlEeg. You might need a tissue.

Like his wife and like many others, I, too, have suffered from a debilitating depression riddled with anxiety. It came to a point where I had a full-blown doom-and-gloom panic attack in my car (one of many to come). A panic attack so extreme, I called EMS. I thought, this was the end, and I didn’t know why. It took me about two years to figure out what was going on to finally get back to a state of normal. (PSA: don’t take Zyrtec over long periods of time.) During those two years, the car was my nemesis. It had grown into a trigger. It was my wall. I had to climb back into my car and face my fear over and over again, until the panic dissolved into minor flutters and then nothing. I had to reset myself. It was a long, long road (oh, that was a bad pun), but I made it. And that is why I am so passionate about this book. Because what is the option? A smaller and smaller world that loses its color and zest. A world where you can’t sleep in the top bunk (Read AFTER THE FALL!) or drive to your parents’ home in Dallas. That was not OK to me. I don’t think it should be OK for anyone. All in all, we’ve all had falls. It’s what you do afterward that determines your course. And it’s your course to take, so keep fighting. You have to Get. Back. Up.

Now on to: IF THIS BOOK WERE A PIE! Drum roll, please! My son was adamant that this book deserved to be a cinnamon, honey, and mascarpone pie with a lemon curd glaze. He felt those pie flavors were bold and brave and just right. I also happen to think those flavors are very healing. So, without further ado, here’s the recipe:

THERAPEUTIC PIE

Mascarpone Filling

1/2 heavy cream

1 container mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon zest

In a mixing bowl, beat all the ingredients together until soft peaks form.

Lemon Curd

4 lemons

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), at room temperature

4 large eggs

Pinch nutmeg

Pinch salt

Zest the lemons and then squeeze the lemons to make 1/2 cup of juice. Set the juice aside. Beat the zest and sugar for one minute. Add the butter and cream until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the lemon juice, salt and nutmeg. Mixed until combined.

Pour the mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. The lemon curd will thicken and become clear at just below a simmer. Remove from the heat.

Fill a cooled, pre-baked crust with the mascarpone filling. (Use the crust recipe in my previous blog post.) Top the mascarpone filling with the lemon curd. Chill. Then enjoy.

 

Review: WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE by Jason Gallaher

Who, who is ready for a who, who-dun-it? Mystery solved–you are! Go grab a copy of WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE (Margaret K. McElderry Books) by Jason Gallaher and illustrated flawlessly by Jess Pauwels. Whobert Whover is a charming and slightly oblivious (OK, a lot oblivious) owl detective on the lookout for his next case. And that is when he spots Perry the possum. The subtle humor from the play on words and whimsical visuals will keep the kids giggling and trying to help Whobert who, who seeks to solve the mystery of what happened to poor ol’ Perry. I mean seriously, poor Perry.

WHOBERT WHOVER is super funny, endearing, and clever, and so is its author. Can we talk about the name Whobert Whover? I mean, come on! Just the best name ever for this owl, who, who is more like Inspector Gadget than Sherlock. And could Whobert look any more perfect? Nope. Just nope. Enjoy this read with your kiddos or find a class to read to. It’s a joy! Speaking of class, Jason is offering a school visit give-away. For more info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3h-nHIeb3c

Now, if this book were a pie, what would it be? Hmmmm. I’m inspired by the illustrations to go more fall-like, more earthy with this pie. Also, I think I need some complex flavors to keep the palate guessing. See what I did there? It’s a pie mystery, folks! OK, it can’t really be a mystery, because I have to tell you what’s in it. So, the grand unveiling…(DRUM ROLL!)…I’m making a spicy apple fig pie with a nutty crumble topping. YUM YUM! Go bake it and bring yer forks!


Pardon the photo, folks. I’m a writer and a baker, not a photographer. 🙂

SPICY APPLE FIG PIE

Ingredients

Fig Compote

8 oz dried figs, stemmed and sliced

1/4 cup cinnamon imperials (yep, the little candies)

Juice from 1 orange

1 1/2 cups of water

Apple Filling

4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced thin

3 large Fuji apples, peeled and sliced thin

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp clove

1/2 tsp orange zest

pinch of salt

1 tbsp flour

Crumble

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup almond slices

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

For fig compote, combine figs, cinnamon imperials, orange juice and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir frequently. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until figs are softened and the consistency is syrupy. Set aside.

For the apple filling, combine apples, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, orange zest, and salt in a saute pan. Cook down the apples until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the liquid into a clean saucepan and set aside apples. On medium-low heat, whisk in one tablespoon of flour into the reserved liquid to make a roux. Stir until thickened. Remove from heat.

Combine the fig mixture with the apple filling in the saute pan. Pour the roux on the fig/apple mixture and combine. Pour the combined mixture into a pre-made crust. (Click here for my crust recipe.)

For the crumble, combine the butter, brown sugar, flour and almond slices into a food processor. Mix on high until combined. Sprinkle on top of filling.

Put the pie in the oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes (to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom). Then turn down the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Feel free to serve warm with some vanilla ice cream…droooool.

Review: THE YOUNGEST MARCHER by Cynthia Levinson

My sons and I had the pleasure of going to the book launch for author Cynthia Levinson’s newest non-fiction picture book THE YOUNGEST MARCHER (for ages 5-10). We sat as Cynthia read the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, who at age nine marched to protest Birmingham’s unfair segregation laws and was sent to jail. During the reading, I kept looking at my sons, wondering what was sinking into their minds and hearts. My oldest is nine. Could he imagine marching and going to jail in a fight for his rights?

What I did see in my boys’ eyes were questions: “How could this be? How could we let this happen? Why?” And a great dialogue continued in our household.

There is power in Audrey’s story and Cynthia brings that to the page — from the adults’ refusals to protest because of concerns about protecting their families to the innocent and bold volunteering of Audrey and other children to protest and go to jail where reality is harsh. But because the children were brave, used their voices, and filled up each cell, their message was heard and could not be ignored.

I adore this book. I adore the beautiful, hopeful, and lively illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton. I’ve reread THE YOUNGEST MARCHER to my kids several times. And, I’ll reread it several more.

In the beginning scene of the book, Audrey’s family shares a meal with Dr. Martin Luther King. At the table, they shared barbecued ribs, stewed greens, sweet potato souffle and hot rolls baptized in butter. If this book were a pie, it would be my take on a sweet potato pie, which is quite souffle-like. It’s a savory pie at that, with jalapeños added for a kick. (I’m a Texan…gotta have spice.) I used my regular crust recipe, but this time I’ve added a tablespoon of fresh rosemary. Do join me for a slice.

SAVORY SWEET POTATO JALAPEÑO PIE 

Ingredients

Crust (You’ll find the recipe here. Just add 1 tbsp of fresh rosemary, chopped, when mixing together the flour, butter, shortening, sugar, and salt.)

Filling

 2 large sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup milk

3 eggs

1 jalapeño, chopped and seeded (or not seeded, if you like it spicy)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese

Directions

Boil the sweet potatoes for 40 minutes. Rinse with cold water then remove the skins. In a mixing bowl, add the sweet potatoes and butter; mix until smooth. Add the milk, eggs, jalapeño, salt, and pepper; mix. Fold the cheese into the mixture. Pour the mixture into an unbaked pie crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes to firm up crust. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to cook for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife can be inserted and removed clean.

Review: HERE TO THERE AND ME TO YOU by Cheryl Keely

First, I must apologize for the long pause between posts. I was sick all last month and am just getting back on my feet. I’m more than ready to read great picture books, offer a review, and bake. Onward, folks, onward!

So, let’s talk bridges. They’re connectors, and they’re fascinating. Bridges can be beautiful, simplistic, majestic, rickety, and/or powerful! Throw a train on one of those bridges and my boys are captivated. That is why I am reviewing HERE TO THERE AND ME TO YOU by Cheryl Keely and illustrated by Celia Karmpien (Sleeping Bear Press).

This book takes us through a lyrical journey about all types of bridges — literal bridges, such as wooden covered, moveable, those joining neighborhoods, and others connecting countries. Then there are figurative bridges, such as backbends, rainbows, and the bridges we make holding hands. The simple flowing text warms the heart and takes us on a journey from one page to the next. On many of the book’s pages, there are notes about the various illustrated bridges, so your little fact junky can get immersed in details about where the most famous suspension bridge is and why it’s painted orange, for example.

I loved the factual concept of this book tied in with the underlying message about building bridges between me and you and you over there and you way over there. Let’s stay connected.

If this book were a pie, it would be a blueberry blackberry pie. But not just any blueberry blackberry pie. My youngest (currently a 7-year-old) said, “Mom, you need to make a dough bridge over the blueberry blackberry ocean. You’ve got to.” And to that I said with my best Barney Stinson impersonation, “Challenge accepted!”

——————–

Blueberry Blackberry Pie

(Use the crust recipe in my previous blog post.)

4 cups blueberries

2 cups blackberries

1 cup white sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

This one is easy! Preheat oven to 450 degrees. For this pie, I dumped all the above ingredients into a saucepan; stir often while it simmers on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then pour it into an unbaked crust. Top the crust with a lattice or fully cover (make sure to add vent holes). Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn down the oven to 350 and bake for 40 more minutes. Let cool and serve.

Review: ARCHIE SNUFFLEKINS OLIVER VALENTINE CUPCAKE TIBERIUS CAT by Katie Harnett

My eldest son, foodie, pie connoisseur, and blog helper

The name of this book seals it for me. I was laughing before I even opened it. Is that an homage to Star Trek I spy? Spock on.

I had three picture books staring at me. I read all of them in one go and debated as to which one would be my first review of the grand ol’ 2017. I kept coming back to ARCHIE by author/illustrator Katie Harnett (Flying Eye Books). (For the love of all things, I’m not going to type out the entire title again). So, it won the race. It won the coveted (I’m absolutely joking) position of being my first review of 2017.

This book, for ages 3-5 although my 7- and 9-year-old kids loved it, is about a cat. The cat. A cat with many names. (Again, I will not be typing them all out.) The cat lives on Blossom Street — a busy street — and visits many, many neighbors who give the cat various names and offers the cat various things — a fish, a dance, snuggles, you name it. But the cat never seems fulfilled. He is always searching, searching. His busy life visiting all his busy neighbors should be enough, until he comes upon the elderly neighbor he has never visited before. She is not busy. No one ever visits her. She lives a calm life, alone, with plenty of time to put her feet up by the fire and knit. She invites the cat in. Well, the other neighbors are up-in-arms. Where has their Archie gone? Where has Cupcake disappeared to? Snufflekins, Tiberius, where are you? Realizing they are all looking for the same cat, they come upon #11 Blossom Street and find the cat, who doesn’t want to leave the little old lady. Instead, the cat brings everyone to her.

I’m a fan of books about community, particularly when the communities are diverse — different ages, ethnicities, genders, etc. I also enjoyed the idea of exploring and branching out. Seeking out that neighbor who rarely leaves the house but may have a lot to offer. The little old lady certainly had a lot to offer the cat, as its well-drawn X-of-a-mouth turns into a smile by the end. It had found its home.

One other thing about this book: the colored-pencil illustrations and the quirky vignette style brought me right to Blossom Street. (I kinda want to live there.)

On to the tasty portion of the review…if this book were a pie. My kids have been obsessed with pies recently. Maybe it’s genetic? So, they’ve decided this book is an old-fashioned tart cherry pie. Ohhhhh yeeeeaaaaah. One of my favorites. The recipe follows. Do indulge in this one. I dare you.

Tart Cherry Pie

(Use the crust recipe in my previous blog post.)

2 14.5 oz cans of Oregon Fruit Pitted Red Tart Cherries in Water

3/4 cup white sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon red food coloring (optional, but makes the pie really pretty)

Drain cherries, reserving one cup of liquid. In a saucepan, combine sugar, flour, and salt. Stir in cherry liquid and bring to a boil over low heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes; mixture will thicken.

When mixture thickens, add butter, almond extract, food coloring, and cherries. Pour into previously rolled out pie shell. Cover with a lattice of your choice, and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees for the bottom crust to bake. No one wants a soggy bottom. Lower the oven temp to 375 degrees, cover the pie with foil to protect the lattice from burning, and bake for approximately 40 minutes more or until crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Viola!

Review: STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS by Donna Janell Bowman

img_1961Kindness. It’s a word at the top of many of our minds the past few weeks. No better time than the right now to do a review about a book that embodies a lot of what kindness means in the heart and soul of one individual named William “Doc” Key. In STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS by Donna Janell Bowman and illustrated by Daniel Minter, we meet Doc Key, a formerly enslaved man and self-taught veterinarian who had a penchant with animals. He had a belief — to treat animals with kindness and patience. He took that belief and applied it to a weak colt named Jim Key, and over time the results were mind-blowing. Not only did Beautiful Jim Key thrive and become a strong, healthy stallion, he also had quite the knack for learning. In fact, with Doc’s persistence and patient teaching, Jim learned how to spell, write, do math (in his head! I can’t do that!), identify state flags, tell time, and do I need to go on? The horse is obviously smarter than us all! The kids and I were blown away as the story continued to unfold. The time it took and the love it took Doc Key to train…no…to teach this horse was immeasurable and inspiring. I adored reading this to my boys. The message was loud and clear. And the art work! It’s a perfect match to the book. I will be reading this to them again and again. Patience, boys. Kindness, boys. And education.

So, there is hoxmas-card2pe for my bulldog? Kindness, Lindsay. (Of course I’m kind!) Patience, Lindsay. (Eh, patience? Maybe I need to work on the patience.)

Now for a recipe! I’m going off the pie grid here, so hang in there with me. Did I tell you sometimes I break the rules? Yep, I do. I know this blog says “A Book and A Pie.” I take that as a suggestion. Yeah, that’s it. So today, it’s A Book and A Sweat Bread. Not sure that sounds as good, but we’re going with it. My son was asked to dig into his heritage, just like we dug into the book STEP RIGHT UP. I thought it was a good tie-in. We got to discover Doc and Jim Key and learn something we never knew. My son got to discover his Slovakian heritage, something he never knew (and neither did I until a few years ago.) So, in honor of discovery, I present a recipe for Slovak Sweet Bread with an apple compote filling. Dobrú chuť!

SLOVAK SWEET BREAD WITH APPLE COMPOTE FILLING

Ingredients

Slovak Sweet Bread

1 package dry yeast

1 cup warm milk, divided

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 to 4 cups of flour, divided

Apple Compote

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped into small pieces

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle yeast over 1/2 cup of warm milk, stir until dissolved. Add 1/2 tspn sugar and 1/2 cup of flour, stirring until blended. Set aside.

Cream butter and rest of sugar, then add eggs. Beat well with mixer or by hand. Add flour and salt alternately with remaining 1/2 cup of milk and the yeast mixture.

Knead until smooth and elastic on a floured board. Put in large greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place to rise until doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, melt down the butter for the apple compote. Add the rest of the apple compote ingredients into the pan and cook on medium heat until the apple pieces are soft. Let cool.

On floured board, divide dough into 3 equal parts. Roll each part out and spread with apple compote filling. Put on greased cookie sheet. Let rise again until doubled and bake at 350 degree for 30 minutes. Should yield three loaves.

Review: GO TO SLEEP, MONSTER! by Kevin Cornell

img_1944 Well, there went Halloween! But I am still going to review a Halloweenish book. More specifically, the boys and I read GO TO SLEEP, MONSTER! by author/illustrator Kevin Cornell.

A young boy named George won’t turn off his light and go to sleep. His sister Anna tells him it’s time. But George can’t go to sleep. He’s afraid of the monster under the you-know-where. Anna tells the monster to stop scaring her brother as it’s time to go to sleep. But the monster under the bed can’t sleep either, because there is a monster under the floor. And, the adventure starts for George and Anna.

First, the illustrations put you in the mood for a spooky story. The protagonists’ eyes are big and round. The setting is dark with dashes of light from a small lamp, a chandelier, and lava. Yes, lava. The house, the furniture, the doors are all drawn slightly curved and crooked. You get the feel that you should be scared.

Then you start giggling, because the story is anything but, really. The layers of Sesame-Street-like monsters underneath the bed and then under the floor and then under the room, etc., had my 6 y/o captivated and laughing. Page after page, there is monster after monster after monster, until the final scaly monster the kids find at the center of the Earth who has its own fear. When I think of a monster-under-the-bed story, I used to not even go there with my kiddos. I didn’t even want to plant that seed, because they wouldn’t go to bed…ever. (Or at least it felt like ever.) But that was then. Now it’s time to scare them. Seriously, though, this book takes the monster-under-the-bed concept and flips it on its head. Monsters under the bed are now silly!

img_1948Because of the layers of monsters, my boys and I decided the book was a lot like a pie with a bunch of layers. So, we’ve made a . . . I don’t even know what to call this, so I will make up a name. We’ve made a Is There a Monster at the Center of the Earth? Pie. Yeah, that’s it.

Enjoy this tasty recipe…

IS THERE A MONSTER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH? PIE

Ingredients

Crust (I told you I’d give you my recipe. It’s the bomb and easy as, well, pie. Which isn’t that easy, but this crust recipe makes it easier.)

3 cups King Arthur

1 stick of frozen butter (cut into small slices)

1/2 cup shortening

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tspn of salt

9 tablespoons of ice water

Red Velvet Cake

Big cheat here! I used cake out of a box. Doh! You will need:

Vegetable oil

Eggs

Caramel

I cheated again and bought jarred caramel. (Do you see a pattern here?)

Chocolate Pudding (I didn’t cheat here. Shocker! This is my mom’s recipe. Yummmm.)

1/2 plus 1/8 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups milk

2 slightly beaten eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 oz squares unsweetened chocolate (add to milk)

Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tbsp sugar

1 oz block of semi-sweet chocolate (shavings)

 

Preparation

Crust

Using a food processor, combine the flour, butter, shortening, sugar and salt. Pulse 10 times. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water, mix on high for a count of 10. Add 3 more tablespoons of ice water. Mix on high for a count of 10. Add the last 3 tablespoons and mix on high until the dough clumps together. Remove the dough, pat into a loose ball, and wrap in aluminum foil or cling wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (I sometimes skip this step, but for novices, the colder the dough, the easier it is to work with.)

For one pie crust, take half of the dough (Save the rest for another pie! It freezes well.) and pat into a disk. Place on a lightly floured, smooth surface and add a little flour to the top of the dough, so the rolling pin won’t stick. Roll out the dough evenly into a large circle. Roll out the dough so it is larger than the circumference of the pie pan by about an inch. To get the dough in a pie pan, I roll the dough around a floured rolling pin and then unroll it onto the pie pan. Press the dough firmly into the pie pan. I like to tuck the extra inch of dough hanging over the edge of the pie pan under, so I can make a fluted edge.

Parbake the crust. Be sure to prick the crust thoroughly on the bottom and the inside edges with a fork, so the crust doesn’t bubble up. Cook at 475 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Red Velvet Cake

Follow the instructions on the box. Pour about an inch of batter into the parbaked crust. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Make sure the cake is thoroughly baked and the crust is flaky. Remove.

Caramel

Pour 1/4 cup of caramel over the hot red velvet cake. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate Pudding

Mix sugar, flour, salt; slowly stir in milk with chocolate. Cook and continue to stir over medium-low heat until mixture boils and thickens; cook 2 minutes longer. Stir 1/2 cup of hot mixture into eggs; stir into remaining hot mixture. Stirring continuously, bring just to boiling. Add vanilla. Pour on top of caramel layer. Let cool.

Whipped Cream

Once the pudding is cooled and shortly before serving, combine cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl. With an electric mixer, beat the cream and sugar on medium speed until soft peaks form, 3-4 minutes. Spoon over pie. Garnish with semi-sweet chocolate shavings.

Review: THE DARKEST DARK by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion

img_1937I’m a bit of a science geek. Maybe more of a space nerd. I just adore anything I read about space, the universe, the possibilities. So, I was drawn to the recently published THE DARKEST DARK by astronaut Chris Hadfield with Kate Fillion and illustrated so perfectly by The Fan Brothers. (THOSE DRAWINGS!!!)

The theme is fear . . . better yet, fear of the dark, which will always get a visceral response from children. They will sit at the edge of the bed connecting with the protagonist, a young Chris Hadfield, wondering what is going to happen to him in the dark, especially since he dreams of being a brave astronaut who throttles through the vastness of space. So, young Chris needs to find his brave and battle his feelings about the dark.

He does this in many ways — pulling up his covers, finding solace with his parents, making his parents search his room for the things that go bump in the night. This tension is coupled with artwork of shadowy “aliens” lurking around in Chris’s bedroom. Nothing seems to work besides being so overtired he can’t help but fall asleep and slip into his favorite dream about space exploration with his sidekick Albert the pug (OH MY GOSH, I LOVE PUGS!).

His sleepless nights dovetail into the evening of July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 lands on the moon. And what stands out to Chris as he watches (huddled around a TV with all his neighbors and family) is the thorough darkness of space — the space of his dreams. Because of his passion, Chris decides that night to face his fear and see if what he believes about the dark is true or all in his head.

The take-away from this inspiring picture book is your dreams are the ultimate companion and security blanket to face your fears, although having a pug doesn’t hurt. 😉 The discussion I had with my son after reading this book was one I will not forget. He shared his passions and what he dreams of becoming, and in that moment he felt nothing could hold him back. Don’t we need more of those moments in life?

If this book were a pie? Well, this one was a no-brainer. I’ve made a Moon Pie Pie. Yep! With all its marshmallowy, chocolately, graham cracker crumby goodness. This one is for all those I’m-an-astronauts-in-my-dreams kind of kiddos. Have your mom or dad make this for you! Unfortunately, moms and dads, there is absolutely nothing healthy about this pie. Nada. Zilch.

 

MOON PIE PIE

Graham Cracker Crust

3 cups finely crushed graham crackers

2/3 cup butter, melted

Marshmallow Fluff (or you can cheat and use the premade kind…no judgment here, folks)

1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light corn syrup

4 egg whites from 4 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache

6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream

Crust: Heat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, stir in graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until well mixed. Reserve half of the mixture for later. Press half of the mixture firmly and evenly against the bottom and side of a pie plate. Save the other half. Bake for 10 minutes or until light brown. Cool on cooling rack.

Fluff: Place the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium to high heat until the mixture reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer, typically 10 to 15 minutes.

While the sugar is heating, place the egg whites in a bowl and use an electric mixer with the whisk attachment to beat the eggs on high until foamy. Add the cream tartar and salt. Continue beating eggs on high until soft peaks form.

Once the sugar mixture reaches 240°F, remove from heat and let rest for 20 seconds. With the mixer on high, slowly stream the sugar mixture into the egg whites. Add in the vanilla. Continue to mix for 8 minutes or until the outside of the bowl returns to room temperature. Mix until medium to stiff peaks form. Put aside the marshmallow fluff.

Chocolate ganache: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate with the heavy cream and microwave at high power in 20-second intervals (stirring each time) until the chocolate is melted, the cream is hot, and the ganache has a dark brown/glossy look. Let cool to barely warm.

Spread a third of the chocolate into the graham cracker crust to just cover the bottom. Place in the refrigerator to cool for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, take out the crust and spoon the marshmallow fluff on top. Smooth the top of the fluff with a spatula. Take the remainder of the graham cracker mixture and sprinkle it on top of the fluff. Finally, pour the rest of the chocolate ganache on top of the graham cracker mixture, smoothing it with a spatula. Place in the refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes to an hour or until chocolate ganache hardens.

Blast off!

2 hours (45 minutes active); serves 8 (depending on how big your slices are)

Review: 88 INSTRUMENTS by Chris Barton and illustrated by Louis Thomas

img_1924This book struck a chord with me. Obviously, that pun was intended. Chris Barton’s 88 INSTRUMENTS follows a young boy at a music store who is told by his parents he can pick only one instrument. In most situations when a child needs to pick something . . . anything, really . . . the choices can be overwhelming. I wanna try this one. That one’s cool. What about this? Can I have more than one? Can I have them all? More often than not, that is the experience for kids on up through adulthood. (Recently, I’ve wanted to have all the different flavors of ice cream. Yes, I have. Choices are hard people. Feel free to judge me.)

What I love about this beautifully illustrated book is, well, many things. I love that it’s about music and to see the love and curiosity of the main character as he plunks, thomps, toots his way through each instrument in the music store. The word-play is fun — honkiest, twangiest, bashiest — and delighted my kids’ ears. And, I appreciated the tie-in with the 88 instruments — it seems there are that many to try — and the 88 keys on the piano. Can the main character learn them all? Yes . . . slow and steady, one at a time.

My 8 y/o son plays the violin, and he didn’t go through this experience of choosing an instrument. He knew he wanted to play the violin, but playing it was a different story. He wanted to be a virtuoso straight away. Instead, just like everyone else, he needed to learn one string at a time, one bow at a time, take your time, which is the message I get and hope my kiddos get when reading 88 INSTRUMENTS.

This book is certainly read-againiest.

img_1890Now, if this book were a pie, which one would it be? I thought coming up with a pie for this book would be difficult. What pie tastes like an instrument? Kidding. Anyway, my 8 y/o came up with a flavor that made sense to me, and it is based on the brassy illustrations. He said, “Make a mango pie, Mom.” Why, yes, indeed. And I did. It’s delightful and different, if you like mango. (Full disclosure: I don’t like mango. Sorry, mango, it’s me, not you.) But if you like mango, this pie is right for you. A summery pie, so not the best to offer as we start the dive into the fall, but I live in Austin, so it truly feels like summer here until always.

Here’s the link to the recipe I used:  Mango Pudding Recipe. All you need to do is bake off a pre-made pie shell and let it cool. Then pour the pudding batter into the cooled shell and let the pudding set in the refrigerator for two hours. Bon Apetoot! (I had to sneak in one more instrument pun.)

Review: THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY By Varsha Bajaj

IMG_1881 Our first review. Here we go! First book up is THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY by Varsha Bajaj and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Many of the Austin members of SCBWI were anticipating the born-day of this picture book, and I can see why. I read this to my two littles, who are 6 and 9 years old, and our collective feedback is, “what a sweet story!” This Is Our Baby, Born Today, celebrates the first day of an elephant’s life with a cast of loving characters — from mama to aunts to cousins to the moon. My six-year-old (and, no, I did not prompt him to say this) enjoyed the repetition, which gave the book a rise-and-fall rhythm, kind of like riding an elephant as it sways from side to side. My nine-year-old thought the book was beautiful, especially the warm illustrations, but he felt it was too young for him. Fair enough. It is, but he appreciated it none-the-less. For parents, a heartfelt message comes through. A message about what inspires and carries you through your own childhood to adulthood and the honoring of the great creatures — BIG and small — that ride along on this earth with us. We must take care.

I certainly look forward to reading this sun-shiny book of an elephant’s born day to my son’s first grade class.

OK, now on to the other portion of the review. I asked the boys, “If this book were a pie, what kind of pie would it be?” Such an odd question, but good things come from odd questions. My youngest said, “a chocolate pie with elephant cut-outs to make it look like they are playing in the mud.” My oldest said, “star anise and cinnamon pumpkin pie.” (He is my foodie, mind you.) And I made the pie recommended by the kiddo who would actually participate with me in the kitchen; therefore, the foodie won out. Here’s his take (with my help) on a pumpkin pie…

STAR ANISE AND CINNAMON PUMPKIN PIE

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground star anise
1/4 tsp ground clove
2 large eggs
1 can pureed pumpkin
12 fl. oz. heavy cream
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie shell (I will provide my dough recipe soon. It is without fail and delicious!)


Mix brown sugar, honey, salt, cinnamon, star anise and clove in small bowl. In a separate larger bowl, beat the eggs. Add the honey, pumpkin and dry ingredients mixture and stir. Slowly stir in the heavy cream. Pour the mixture in a pie shell. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 40-50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 2 hours and serve or refrigerate.


UPDATE: The pie was DELICIOUS! Even my picky eater honked down a slice and begged for another.