Month: October 2014

Book Fridays – The Mists of Avalon

I recently read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and loved it. It was an amazing book with wonderful characters and story lines. While I was reading it I knew nothing about its author and now that I do I feel that it’s only right that I preface my review of this book with some unsavory facts about Ms. Bradley. When I googled Marion Zimmer Bradley I came upon this Entertainment Weekly article and my jaw dropped. She has been accused by her daughter of abusing her sexually and physically. To make matters worse, her father was convicted on child molestation charges 20 years ago and Zimmer Bradley knew him to be a pedophile and did nothing. So, her daughter was molested and abused by both parents. This information casts such a dark shadow over this book for me and grappling with this is difficult.

Of course, there are fans of Ms. Bradley that want to dismiss the daughter’s accusations because why come forward now after her mother has been dead a while? Well, precisely because she is dead! When people dismiss an abuse victim’s accusations they become the very reason many abuse victims stay silent. They fear retribution and dismissal. For victims of abuse talking about it can bring healing and it is our responsibility to listen. It is statistically extremely rare for accusations of abuse to be false.

If this information puts you off this book (first in a trilogy I believe) I completely understand. Had I known about it beforehand it would have definitely affected my reading experience, and who knows maybe I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did. My issue right now is accepting that this wonderful book was written by a despicable human being. She did unspeakable things to her own child as well as others. Should I throw the baby out with the bathwater? I’m having a lot of mixed feelings about it.

Madison Vain wrote, “I didn’t realize how much comfort I take as a reader in assuming that  I share a similar moral compass with an author. That doesn’t exist here, and adds a perpetual unease to the experience.” She wrote this in reference to discovering this sex abuse accusation and it really reflects my feelings.

Okay, so about the book. The feminist message is very compelling and the portrayal of young womanhood is elaborate and very well done. The Arthurian legend told from the point of view of the women of Avalon is a fascinating take.  The book is an epic tale complete with love, betrayal, magic and war. The men rule on the surface but it’s the women who plot and manipulate behind the scenes, setting things in motion that raise and topple kings. The book is over 900 pages long and so it is no easy read but it kept my interest throughout.

My favorite character was Morgaine (Morgan La Fay) she went through horrible things, did horrible things but you couldn’t help root for her. Even though the Goddess was a symbol of female empowerment she herself subjugated women and placed them in horrible situations that served her purpose.

I don’t want to say much more as I don’t want to give away any plot points. If you can get past the provenance of this amazing work you are in for a treat.

For in-depth analysis and summaries you should visit this site. It is basically a study guide.

Are picky eaters a myth?

I see this debate every now and then and often wonder if picky eaters are born or made. I am specifically referring to healthy, neurotypical children and adults. I was often cautioned that my son would eventually hate all food except for chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. That day has not yet come. He eats what I eat and turns up his nose at nothing. Am I just lucky? I hear about parents who really struggle to get their kids to eat and who resort to giving them whatever the kid will actually put in his mouth.

Often, picky eaters will only eat a handful of things and they’re sometimes not the healthiest options: frozen nuggets, boxed mac ‘n cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pizza, grilled cheese, etc. I’ve seen kids who will only eat pizza or some sort of frozen chicken product dipped in sauce. All of those things are ok every once in a while but I wonder how do we get to that point? Obviously, convenience plays a role. Who wants their child to go hungry?

The next time you go out to dinner take a look at the kids menu. Most restaurants offer the same tired things for kids: macaroni, nuggets, pizza, mashed potatoes. It’s all so uninteresting. Why do we limit our children to these options? Even the food that’s marketed to kids is made up of the same bland stuff. Sure, there are better options available but the companies that spend the big bucks to advertise and thus have the most prominent placement in stores are often the same companies that produce all sorts of junky food products.

I believe that there is a very tiny amount of kids who are truly picky about what they eat. Some children may not even like to eat. It’s a struggle that I am sure many parents face with a lot of anguish. Being constantly worried that your child gets adequate nutrition when they refuse to eat most things is a headache I can’t even imagine. I also believe there are things we can do to encourage healthy eating habits in our children and avoid the stereotypical picky eater behavior. A lot of the habits they form now will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I am, of course, not an expert but here are a few things I have learned and applied to my own son with successful results:

  1. Don’t give up too soon.  Sometimes kids reject foods several times before they decide they like them. If your child tries carrots once and spits them out don’t decide that she hates carrots! Offer them again at a later time prepared in a different way. For example, Diego will eat cooked carrots but has not yet accepted raw ones.
  2. Don’t force a child to eat anything. Some nights Diego will eat his way around his plate and eat some things but not others. Making a clean plate a requirement causes a negative association with food and mealtimes. Allow your child to make choices by offering options on their plate.
  3. Make mealtimes family time. When kids see us do something they are likely to follow suit. We try to eat all of our meals at the table as a family and we all eat the same thing.
  4. Involve them in meal prep. How much they can be involved in will depend on their age but even a two year old can get a kick out of watching or even dumping ingredients in a bowl.
  5. Don’t be too quick to assign a label. All kids will refuse something or other at some point, but don’t slap the “picky eater” label on them. It will cause you to give up.
  6. Before you offer your child an alternative meal ask yourself if what you’re giving them is out of convenience. The very few times Diego refused to eat something I instead offered him some cottage cheese, yogurt and fruit. I never cook a separate meal for him but I am flexible enough to have healthy alternatives for when something just doesn’t jive with him.
  7. Kids develop bad habits because we allow it. Whenever I hear people say that their child eats ONLY pizza, or nuggets, or peanut butter I wonder how the child developed this taste for the food. The answer is always because the parents provide it. It’s so tempting to reach for something you KNOW they will eat. Resist that urge whenever possible!
  8. Variety is key. I have started cooking a lot more veggies. Even ones I had never tried before. The more things they try the more opportunities they have to discover things they like.

Food preferences will arise but to me, a preference is different to “doesn’t eat ANY vegetables” and “doesn’t eat ANY fruit” or “she ONLY eats xyz”.  I guess I am a bit on the fence about the whole picky eater debate. While I think that sometimes parents do play a role I also think that some people are just picky. My husband is one such example. I have no idea how he was fed as an infant but I find his palate to be very different to mine. He rarely tries a new food and so I am often at odds with his preferences and my desire to try new things and introduce Diego  to as many foods as possible. What I resort to doing is simply sneaking stuff in. Most of the time he is none the wiser although I always come clean once he’s finished eating. He’s not a fan of my method but I think he’s slowly realizing that more veggies in his food is not a bad thing at all.

I know that my experience is different to that of a parent who struggles each day to get their child to eat anything at all. Coming home tired, cooking dinner only to have it rejected by your child would wear me down as well. So, why not give them the boxed macaroni with nuggets?!  It’s food, it won’t kill them and it will get them fed. Sometimes whatever works is all we have left. I don’t like it when parents get judged for doing the best they can. I know that I wouldn’t feel good feeding my son PBJ sandwiches everyday which is why I don’t, but how other people cope with the curveballs of parenthood is something I don’t feel is my place to judge.

Lastly, I am well aware that I am privileged to have the time and financial resources to cook from scratch, and be choosy about what I serve my family. It’s not cheap or easy to be picky about what we feed our picky eaters 😉

How about you? Do you have a picky eater? How do you avoid a food rut with your kids?

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I’m writing a novel!

This year I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which means that I will be trying to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I really have no idea how successful I will be but there’s only way to find out. These days everybody fancies themselves a writer and the desire to write a novel feels almost cliche and that is the silly reason I have put off doing this. I have always loved reading and writing and have even had poetry published. A couple of years ago I wrote fanfiction which was fun but I never took it very seriously. These days, I write my blog but every now and then I will write out some ideas for stories I want to write. Participating in NaNoWriMo is a way to challenge myself to start this daunting task and stick to it until it’s done.

So, I created a profile over on nanowrimo.org and slapped together a faux book cover for my not-yet-written novel. I’ve started doing some research, thinking about characters and locations, and trying to set myself a schedule that will ensure I meet my writing goal.  This blog post is a way to hold myself accountable. I’ve made my intention public and that will hopefully motivate me.

Wish me luck!

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Book Fridays- ABC de Puerto Rico

Welcome to the first instalment of book Fridays where I will share and review some of my recent reads as well as some books I’ve been reading to Diego. Today I want to share with you a wonderful ABC book that I stumbled upon completely by accident. ABC de Puerto Rico (written by Ruben del Rosario, Isabel Freire de Matos and illustrated by Antonio Martorell) was published in 1968 and was written for Puerto Rican children specifically. It is clear that Puerto Rican culture and language is celebrated in its pages. The woodcut illustrations are beautiful and the way the grain of the wood shows up in some of them is nothing short of amazing. I cannot find the source but I read that Mr. Martorell was given an award by the American Institute of Graphic Arts for his work on this book.

The short poems that accompany each letter are wonderful to read out loud and I have enjoyed reading them to Diego. They were written by Isabel Freire de Matos. She was was a writer, educator, journalist, and activist for Puerto Rican independence. It is no wonder that ABC de Puerto Rico was banned on the Island for its alleged anti USA sentiment. Personally, I do not find any evidence of this within its pages. All I see is a book that celebrates Puerto Rico, it’s culture, and its people. I suppose, for some that is all that is necessary to consider this book incendiary.

Raising a bilingual child is not easy and so I am always on the lookout for material in Spanish that will aid me in developing his language. Most of the bilingual material readily available treats Spanish as a language the child needs to overcome. Having a small piece of Puerto Rican history that Diego can grow up with feels invaluable. He does not have the benefit of growing up in a country where Spanish is the dominant language. Unlike my husband and I he will not grow up immersed in Puerto Rican or Nicaraguan culture. It is for this reason that we need to put in the effort to expose him to the things that we took for granted. I am grateful to be bilingual and bicultural and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want the same for my son. This book is part of the journey.

Below are some photos I took of some of my favorite illustrations. These photographs do not do them any justice.

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Read-a-thon wrap-up!

This past Saturday I took part in Dewey’s 24hr read-a-thon. It is a fun event where you basically read as much as you can in 24 hrs. You don’t have to read the entire time (though many do!) but you spend as much as time as you can spare reading. I had heard about the read-a-thon a few months ago but didn’t think I would be able to participate. On the morning of the read-a-thon I woke up unusually early and while on YouTube watched this video by the lovely Danika Leigh Ellis. Upon realizing I was on time to start reading decided to sign up.

I had started The Mists of Avalon a couple of days earlier and was not very far into it. I figured I would try to finish it that day and then move on to some shorter reads. I did NOT finish Mists but I did make great progress. I am currently only 30 pages away from finishing the book. Even tough I did not reach my goal I had fun. First of all, trying to read while looking after a toddler is an obstacle course in distractions. It’s why I generally only read at nap time and late at night. Still, following the read-a-thon Twitter and Instagram feed was fun. What better than to know you and hundreds of others are reading, too!?

I can’t wait for the next one! If you would like to find out more about the read-a-thon check them out here.

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Delicious butternut squash soup

I find myself cooking a lot of the same things over and over again. It can get pretty boring. My husband doesn’t have an adventurous palate and in this way he is the toddler our table. Diego will eat pretty much anything and although some new textures receive a less than warm reception from him at first, he usually comes round.

When we went grocery shopping last week I picked up some butternut squash. I love butternut squash soup but rarely make it. The first time I had it was at Whole Foods and I loved it so much I made my own that same week. Now, I probably mention this in every recipe I share but it’s worth noting that I don’t really cook from a recipe most of the time. I use recipes as guides, not rules. I am comfortable enough in the kitchen where precise measurements aren’t my thing. Baking is VERY different in that regard, but for savory meals a little common sense and knowledge is all you need.

This is my take on butternut squash soup.  I hope you try it and love it as much as I did!

You will need:

1.5- 2 lbs butternut squash

2 medium carrots

1 small/medium onion

1 large garlic clove (or a couple of small ones)

2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)

3 basil leaves

1 tblsp cream cheese

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp paprika

salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Peel and roughly chop your vegetables. You will need to remove the seeds from your squash. Don’t worry about being neat, just try to make the pieces somewhat uniform so they cook evenly. You can either mince the garlic or throw it in whole. If you throw it in whole you can remove it before pureeing it (something to think about if you don’t want/like too much garlic).
  2. In a pot heat some olive oil on medium-high heat (you can also use coconut oil, or really, any oil of your choice) and add vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you are not using salt-free stock go easy on the salt at this point. Add the cumin and paprika. Sauté until the vegetables have developed a little color and have begun to soften.
  3. Take your basil leaves and roll them up as best you can. Cut at an angle down the length of your basil cigar 😉 add to your vegetables and stir to combine.
  4. Add two cups of stock. (I used chicken stock that I had made the night before). To make this a vegetarian meal just use the vegetable stock.
  5. With a clean spoon taste the soup. If you feel it needs some more salt and pepper add it now. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. By this point your vegetable will be soft and fully cooked. Remove the pot from the heat and leave to cool for a bit. This is a good time to remove the garlic clove if you left it whole and want to do so.
  7. This next step can be done in a countertop blender, immersion blender, or food mill. I used a blender and all I did was pour the soup into the jar along with the cream cheese and blend until smooth. You can use heavy cream instead of cream cheese and how much you use is up to you. I would say about 1/4 cup should be plenty. Also, if you use heavy cream make sure not to add it when the soup is boiling as that will cause it to split. And that wouldn’t be, as Alton Brown says,”good eats”.
  8. Pour the soup back into the pot and gently heat up again if needed. Your soup is now ready to serve and enjoy.
  9. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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Bonus recipe!

Did you know that your delicious butternut squash soup can double as pasta sauce? It is delicious and a perfect way to use up leftovers. All you need is the pasta of your choice and an additional spoonful of cream cheese. Here’s what I did: I cooked my pasta according to package directions. While my pasta cooked I poured some of the soup into a pan and gently heated it through. Once the pasta was cooked and drained I added it to the soup along with a spoonful of cream cheese. I stirred until the cream cheese had melted into the sauce and pasta. I garnished with basil (I grow it in my garden and find any excuse to use it!). If I’d had some parmesan cheese on hand I would have added some…next time!

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Dewey’s 24hr Read-a-thon!

I’m taking part in the Dewey’s 24hr read-a-thon today and I am very excited about it. I was not planning on participating but I woke up early and figured, why not!? When I first heard about it I figured I was out of my element. How can I read for an entire day? Well, it turns out that you don’t have to. You just read as much as you can, when you can.

Here is my e-book stack:
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – I hope to finish this book today before moving to any others. I don’t have high hopes that I will read anything other than this.
  • How the Garcia Girls  Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Opening Meme

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I am reading from Florida, United States.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I had no preparation so I have no snacks but I do have some butternut squash soup I’m quite excited about.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I have a pumpkin pie addiction that crops up this time of year. (actual pumpkin pie not fake flavoring!)

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? This is my first read-a-thon! I really want to finish Mists as it’s been a slow read for me. Taking a book off my TBR pile will be satisfying.