12.16.2014

Picture Book Review: Extra Yarn

 Meet Annabelle: happy young girl, knitter of fabulous sweaters, owner of magically never-ending box of yarn. At the beginning of the story, Annabelle discovers the box of yarn and knits herself a sweater. Then knits a sweater for her dog, Mars. Then a friend and his dog. Then her whole class at school. Then even more people. Then she starts knitting sweaters for all kinds of things (that don't normally wear sweaters). An offer is made to buy her magical yarn box, but she declines. The box is subsequently stolen from her, but for the thief, contains no yarn at all. It makes its way back to her, and she continues to knit happily away forever.

Verity and I met her first after last week's trip to the library. We like it a lot.
 I chose it for its illustrations. Because that's what a background in art will do.
 That and, it uses a nice looking typeface. I'm always game for that.
I love the look of it all.
My formal analysis is as follows.. with a chart of ratings in different areas for an at-a-glance review, and a more detailed review below.

TITLE: Extra Yarn
AUTHOR: Mac Bennett
ILLUSTRATOR: Jon Klassen


CONTENT:
The storyline is simple and enjoyable. It has a lot of nice things about it, but I wouldn't say my mind was blown. It's just a great book to read.

VALUES:
Annabelle is kind and generous with her talent. She includes everyone around her, and is not negatively impacted by criticism from her peers. She refused to sell something that was of value to her, no matter how much money was offered. She continued to be happy doing what she loved even when others wanted her to be miserable. She's the kind of literary character I want my girls to get to know better.

PACING:
This book is well paced and relatively short. You're never wondering when its going to end, cause it's enjoyable all throughout.

ILLUSTRATION:
This was the reason I chose it, and the reason I love it. I love the minimalist feel to the illustrations, and how Annabelle's sweaters change the monochromatic world she lives in to something bright and cheerful. The textures are wonderful. From what I can see of Annabelle's wardrobe, I would totally copy her style. 

TYPOGRAPHY:
Also kind of a big deal for me- I love that they didn't feel the need to use some wild font (because really, nobody needs to). Simplicity is best.

VOCABULARY:
I overheard Verity talking to herself the other day about an archduke, and using the phrase, "take it or leave it," which was just a little bit hilarious. It's been a vocabulary booster for sure.

QUALMS:
The archduke who steals the box of yarn tries to curse Annabelle, and that's not something I want to try explaining to my child or have her thinking about. Thankfully, she hasn't asked me what it means yet. Or stealing, either, for that matter.

ENCHANTMENT:
Verity enjoys reading it, but it's not always the first book she reaches for at story time. It's not a silly book so that may be why. But in any case, she does enjoy it, even if it hasn't sucked her into its world and become her latest obsession.

OVERALL RECOMMENDATION:
I'd certainly recommend it! We've enjoyed it. I really love filling my children's lives with beautiful things, and so the art and design in this book really makes it a winner for me. Best for ages 2-6, I'm gonna say..? It's going on the list of books to add to our personal library.

What about you? Have you read this book with your little ones before? What were your thoughts?

12.08.2014

you don't even wanna know how we spent last week

Well, it had been a few months since the last wave of illness rendered the whole family useless and in the midst of all of our giving of thanks the previous week, the littlest of all had some kinda nasty virus. So, naturally... yeah. It spread. 

I wasn't thankful for that.

I was thankful that we had it relatively easy (compared to some of the kiddos' cousins).

We emerged triumphant from our house- all four of us- to attend church together yesterday. In light of the recent week of pukedom, a little extra cuteness was in order. It was a celebration! (Although I may have contemplated returning home halfway through when my body reminded me that I'm only back to about 90%).
A while back when Liberty was brand new and I was struggling, Husband used to remind me often to change my perspective. To look at my role as their mother and everything that entails as acts of loving service. To love them as Christ loves them. To find joy in caring for their every need.

And while I sometimes wanted to whack him upside the head for saying that, roll my eyes and scoff, or snap back at him "I'd like to see you make it one day in this job without wanting to scream," I had a feeling he was right.

And he was right, even if I didn't feel it right away.

I'm not the kind of mom who feels sorry for their kid every time they cry because frankly, they cry a lot, and lots of times, it's about stuff that's really really stupid. Unless you're a saint or so full of compassion that you see literally everything through their little eyes. In which case, I applaud you. I should probably be more like you.

But I am the kind of mom who says, "Yes, life is full of hard things, and I'm going to allow you to struggle and work hard at something on your own before I jump in and help you." Because sometimes what seems like helping isn't helpful at all.

When tiny people are sick and miserable and have no idea how to cope with their feelings and have no idea what's happening to their little bodies, I do feel sorry for them.
And this past week, I really loved caring for their sweet, sick little selves. Like, I actually smiled while spreading diaper rash cream all over my baby's diarrhea-burnt little tush and thought, What a privilege it is to take care of this beautiful little person, and to be the one person she wants to cling to when life gets hard. How many babies never get loved like this? It's such a privilege.

These little humans are my life, and it's a life that I love and would choose over and over again.

And did I mention how thankful I am that the worst of the vomit duty fell to Husband? Because for that I am also, truly, very thankful.

11.26.2014

little black book: the apple blossom tart

So a week or two ago, some apples, cream cheese, butter, and sugared spices were hit unapologetically by my creative energy bolts and the result was fantastic. 
It all began over a year ago with this image I discovered in my Pinterest feed. It had no link. Which is really stupid. Because why do people do this, anyway? I searched frantically for quite some time, but to no avail. There was no recipe to be found anywhere.

It resurfaced the day of a Christmas charity auction, and I was super duper psyched to figure out how to make that epic apple dessert that looked like a soft, juicy bed of roses in a tart shell.

With the little girls miraculously playing happily together all afternoon, the Apple Blossom Tart was born. I owe it all to them, really.
The iconic "I did it!" photo which followed received several inquiries, and so I decided to blog it, together with the recipe I concocted for it. Take that, you empty pin from the past! This one will be pinned. This one will be loved.

On to the recipe!

APPLE BLOSSOM TART

For the pastry:
-1 1/4 cups flour
-3T sugar
-1/4 tsp salt
-10T cold butter
-1 1/2 T cold water
-1 egg yolk

For the filling:
-1 8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 tsp vanilla
-1 egg

For the apple rose blossoms:
-4 medium, firm apples
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/2 cup light brown sugar
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp nutmeg
-1/4 tsp each allspice & ground cloves

-vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce for serving
To give credit where it is due, the recipe for the pastry was discovered in my Williams-Sonoma Cooking At Home cookbook (Rich Tart Pastry, pg 449). And it really is better for this than your typical pie crust... I think it might be the flakiest bunch of loveliness I've ever created. And it wasn't at all hard to work with! The recipe for the salted caramel sauce was discovered here. The filling is my creation, and those roses... were a surprisingly quick development based on that beautiful photo that was lingering in the back of my mind for so long.

SO. Let's begin.

To prepare the pastry, begin by mixing all dry ingredients into a medium sized mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using two knives or a pastry blender, and continue cutting until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. If you need to use your hands toward the end you may do so, but do your best not to let the butter get too warm. (Cold butter contributes to that oh-so-desirable flaky crust you're aiming for.) Add the egg yolk and cold water, and mix with your hand just until the dough comes together in a ball; do not knead or overmix it. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it chill in the fridge about 30-60 minutes.
To prepare the filling, place all ingredients in an electric mixer and mix until smooth and beautiful looking. Unless you're like me, and it's naptime at your house. Then you can mix it by hand. But only if the cream cheese is as soft as can be, or you will be left with lumps. (Which may or may not be worse than waking sleepy babes- the jury is still out on that one.) Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl a couple of times to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Taste it. You won't get salmonella. I promise. Mmmmmmm! It's already delicious.
Okay, so now that those first two parts are ready, you'll want to roll out your pastry on a lightly floured surface, and gently lay it across the top of your favorite tart pan. Gently press the pastry down so that it touches the bottom and lines the walls of the pan. Using your rolling pin, roll across the top rim of the pan to neatly cut off the excess dough.
Pour filling onto tart pastry and spread evenly with a spatula.

Alright. Now sit back and enjoy a refreshing beverage and a moment of peace and quiet before you get started on those flowers. Cause it can take a little while, my friends.

K, are we rested now? Good. Let's get to it!

Mix sugars and spices in a small mixing bowl. Keep it handy.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off one of the apples. Then keep peeling. And peeling. And peeling. Try to peel the apples into long, continuous strips (think Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle. Maybe try it in the middle of the night when you can't sleep and instead end up staying awake listening to hopeless romantic single men on the radio.) I haven't personally tried out that last part, but if you find it aids in successful extra-long apple peeling performance, then let me know. 
Run the apple strips through the cinnamon sugar mixture so they are lightly coated. Carefully roll from one end to the next to form the center- or bud, as we'll call them- of each flower. I found that they were easier to peel in long strips at the beginning of the apple; once I got down closer to the core I got shorter pieces (I have many theories behind this, but I'll spare you). So you'll want to create the buds first, and push them into the filling so that they stand vertically.

Use the photos below to plan the placement of your blossoms. And don't worry too much about perfect spacing. It'll be beautiful and delicious no matter what!

After you have the bud of each flower created and placed, continue to build them up by adding more cinnamon-sugar coated apple strips around the sides to create additional petals. When the flowers begin to touch, fill in the triangle-shaped gaps between them with smaller flower buds.

Yay! You've finished the hard part! If you've stuck with me through all those flowers, then well done.

Photograph your creation, cause dang it! You worked hard for this beauty!

Place your incredible edible work of art tart in an oven preheated to 375 degrees, and bake 30-35 minutes.
 Remove sides of tart pan, slice, and serve.

We like it best with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with homemade salted caramel sauce.
Mmmmm... so delicious!