Entries from July 2011
It’s not like I stay up at night wondering how I’m going to get my kids to eat eggplant, but when the situation presents itself — in the form of an enormous garden-fresh farm share delivery — I’d be crazy not to try right? On Wednesday, Andy and I both came home from work later than we wanted to and found ourselves, drink in hand, pondering a mound of misshapen cucumbers, onions, chard, zucchini, parsley, stone fruits (jackpot!), and deep purple little eggplants that our neighbor, who’s traveling, asked us to claim in her absence.
“Should we go veg tonight?” Andy asked.
“Definitely,” I said, examining the loot. “I’ll take the eggplant, you take the chard.”
Andy broke out the smoked paprika, attacked an onion in record speed, and before I knew it the Dutch Oven was filled to the rim with confetti’d chard. I did what I always do when there’s even a question that the girls will approach a new food with skepticism:
1) I set up dredging stations (egg, flour, breadcrumbs) and start frying.
2) I put off the girls’ requests for chips and salsa before dinner — hunger being the best sauce and all.
3) I do whatever I can to transform the new-food-in-question into pizza.
Did it work? Yes. They inhaled the things like wild beasts. Can I check off “eggplant” on my mental checklist of “foods they like.” Hmm. Not yet. As I’m not entirely convinced they knew they were eating it. (more…)
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Tags:eggplant for kids·eggplant parmesan·vegetarian·vegetarian dinners for kids
“Ask me a question.”
Every Saturday afternoon, I go for a long run, and Phoebe bikes alongside me, and this is what she says to me the minute we hit the trail. “Ask me a question.” Which is really her way of saying: Ask me a question about a book I am currently reading, and I will summarize the plot for you while you run, which will distract you from the agony of exercising. Some of these summaries are quick, easily dispatched. Family lives on prairie, endures terrible storms, long winters, and much suffering, but survives. Girl deals with embarrassing dental issues, gets braces, endures much teasing, but survives. Handsome man has superpowers, saves world. The past few weekends, though, things have gotten a little more involved. “Tell me about this Pseudonymous Bosch guy,” I say to Phoebe, as we set out. “What are those books about, exactly?” Phoebe pedals for a bit, thinking. “Hmmmm,” she says. “That’s hard.” “Try,” I say. “Well,” she says, “they’re basically about the five senses: smell, sight, feel, hearing, and taste. There’s a lot of chocolate in the third book. And there’s this group of evil guys called the Midnight Sun, who are trying to figure out The Secret, which I think is about immortality. The main characters are named Cass and Max-Ernest and… it’s hard to explain.” She’s often still explaining when we stop, forty-five minutes later.
I first encountered the Pseudonymous Bosch books two and a half years ago, on one of those gray winter days when the town library is closed and you’re sitting in your house, dying of claustrophobia and getting on each other’s nerves and it’s too cold to do anything outside, so you end up — jail break! — camping out in the kids’ section at Barnes and Noble, trying to avoid spending money on Care Bear sticker books. The kids wandered off, and I did, too. I found a book and picked it up based entirely on the title (The Name of This Book is Secret) and the beauty of its cover. God, was this a nice looking, well thought-out, creative book. I flipped to the back flap, to see who was behind it: based on the author bio alone, I wanted to have it. Then I opened it up, and here’s what I saw on the third page:
Okay, now I REALLY wanted this book. Or, better, I couldn’t wait until our kids were old enough to read a book this weird and fun. Two and half years later, we find ourselves in the summer of Pseudonymous Bosch. Phoebe is obsessed. (Jenny and I wish she’d be a little less obsessed, to be honest, as it feels like we never see her anymore.) She’s knocked off all four since school ended, and is awaiting the fifth, You Have to Stop This. (Memo to P. Bosch fom Phoebe: Hurry the heck up already!) Unfortunately, that next installment is going to be a little bit later than it otherwise might have been, as Pseudonymous himself was kind enough to take precious writing time to contribute the next installment of our Summer Reading Series, a roundup of his favorite mysteries for kids. To be a nine year old again…
As my readers well know, I am a secretive author, desperately afraid not just of the public spotlight but even the smallest penlight. (It’s the batteries—I have trouble replacing them in my remote location.) Nonetheless, I occasionally find myself making appearances at glamorous venues such as elementary school cafeterias and the backs of chain bookstores, most of which seem to close permanently a few days later. Why a phobic character such as myself should choose to expose himself like that is a question best left to my psychiatrist. (I mean, my publicist). I have, however, learned to come armed with certain provisions to protect myself against the prying public. They are, in no particular order: large scratch-proof sunglasses, emergency chocolate rations, a discrete handheld sound-effects machine (sirens, gunfire, broken glass, farts, etc.), and book recommendations.
Why book recommendations? Because What books do you recommend? is almost always the one hundredth question I get (the first ninety-nine being What is your real name?). Because my books are meant to be mysteries, I usually recommend mystery books. And because my audience is meant to be younger, I usually recommend adult mysteries. I figure somebody else has already recommended The Hardy Boys or Harriet the Spy, so instead I mention Edgar Allan Poe or Dashiell Hammet or Dorothy Sayers (the latter author being a particular favorite of mine when I was a kid). But I fear that you—the reader of this blog—are most likely an adult. Thus, out of sheer perversity, and also because it was requested, I am going to recommend a few children’s titles that have lately held my interest. One thing that is wonderful about young readers is that they still retain the power to be mystified. As an adult, I find that children’s books help restore my sense of mystery. Hopefully, these books will do that for you, too. And if you have an actual child by your side, all the better.
The Circus in the Mist by Bruno Munari (only available used)
This almost wordless book was one of my favorites when I was very young and I still love to look at it. Written and illustrated—perhaps the best word is created—by the Italian designer and book-magician Bruno Munari, The Circus in the Mist takes the reader on a journey into a “mist,” which is represented by translucent vellum pages. Spare yet playful, each page teases you into turning to the next. In the middle of the book, you are rewarded with a circus, and all its fun and familiar acts, but at the end you are returned to the mist, as if to say that the mysteriousness of the mist itself—not the circus it hides—is the true wonder. (more…)
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Tags:pseudonymous bosch·secret series·summer book club·summer reading for kids·summer reading series
Hi there. You might have noticed that DALS is now accepting advertisers. If you are interested in reaching a sizeable segment of smart, dinner-making, lunch-packing, book-reading, birthday-party-throwing really really nice readers, please get in touch so I can share rate details with you. Remember, we’re a small business, too, so together, maybe we can help each other: jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com.
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Something rare and wonderful happened about a month ago: both — BOTH — of our daughters were invited to a birthday party, on Saturday night from 6:00-8:00. That’s two hours. On a Saturday night. Which was on Saturday. Which is the day that immediately follows Friday, which is also a good day, but not nearly as good as the one that follows it. Saturday! Can I tell you how much I love whichever kind, compassionate person in the birthday house was responsible for that decision? Because of them, we found ourselves on an early summer night with two full hours to enjoy a grown-up dinner with our friends Todd and Anne. Two hours isn’t enough time to go to a restaurant and be back in time for the kids, maybe, but it’s plenty enough time to cook up something good at home, and eat in peace.
That afternoon, Jenny and I raced around shopping and spent way too much money on two gratuitous steaks, a bunch of fava beans, a baguette, and a big bag of assorted, odd-looking mushrooms. By 5:45, the grill had been lit, and the favas had been peeled, boiled, smashed, and smeared on toasts. Todd and Anne got a babysitter and came over at 6:00 sharp, and we had a drink like adults, without having to shout over The Penguins of Madagascar. We sat outside. We drank good wine. We threw a cast iron skillet on the grill, and cooked the mushrooms with some olive oil, salt, thyme, and garlic. We sliced the baguette and brushed it with olive oil, and grilled it, too. We cooked two beautiful steaks, and drove the dog crazy. We sat down to eat at the kitchen table, and there may have even been candle, napkins (a true rarity in our house), and matching plates involved. I love our kids, I really do, but this? This was nice. The food turned out pretty well, but the entree was the star. Turns out, a couple of thick, marbled steaks, doused with tons of salt and cracked peppercorns, cooked over a hot fire, are absurdly tasty. And easy. And when cooked right, with a slight crunch on the outside — and a juicy, medium rare in the middle — are just about as good as anything you’ll find in a restaurant. So who wants to host the next birthday party? – Andy (more…)
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Tags:easy steak dinner·grilled steak·summer grilling menu
I wish I could say that the inspiration for this meal came from a stroll through my farmer’s market — from those gorgeous bunches of lacinato kale and bushels of Romano beans; from the juicy blackberries and rosy, plump apricots and white nectarines; from the summer spinach that seems to coo: Come hither! Slather me in olive oil and toss me around a little! (more…)
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Tags:chopped salad·creative salads·Healthy dinners for kids·summer chopped salads·summer salads
This is a cheap shot kind of story but I’m going to tell it anyway.
Last summer I was having dinner at a friend’s house. She is about ten years ahead of me in the parenting game and I’ve always looked to her for advice on everything from day camps to birthday cake bakeries to how best survive third grade clique drama without ending up in the headlines. She has three daughters, each one more accomplished than the next. At the time of this dinner, the oldest was about to start her junior year in college, the middle one, a homebody, was getting ready to leave for her freshman year at a big school in the Midwest, and the youngest, a high school sophomore, had just returned from doing volunteer work in South America. None of them were at the dinner table with us. In fact, none of them were in the house — until about half way through our delicious grilled salmon, at which point the middle daughter wandered into the kitchen and opened the fridge. (more…)
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Tags:corn bacon salad·corn recipes·light summer meals·quick summer dinner·scallops·skillet meals
You should have seen the look on Phoebe’s face when I told her that Daniel Handler was going to contribute a Summer Reading List for DALS. It’s how I imagine my own face would have looked if, back in 1981, my dad had walked through the door and said, “Hi everyone, yeah, long day at work. I’m just gonna go upstairs and put my bathrobe on. Oh, and Andy: the Rolling Stones are going to play at your birthday party this year.” Daniel Handler — and how many people, other than close relatives, can you say this about — has had a genuine, rock star-like impact on our oldest daughter’s life. The thirteen mind-blowing books he wrote, under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, are the books Phoebe might well remember most when she’s old and forty. First of all, she read them all in about two weeks, curled up on the corner of our family room couch, and we basically didn’t see or hear from her until she was done. We’re talking serious, deep transportation. Second of all, these books give you faith in the human imagination. They’re so beautifully, joyously done. In some ways, they’re the books that opened her up to the value of darkness in a story, and of the way good and evil, and life and death, can coexist. “Imagine lemonade,” Phoebe said, when I asked her to describe what the books are like. “Only with barely any sugar.” Which is exactly how I would have put it, happy as I was to discover these books, too, after so many years of unrelenting cheeriness and pointless plot-iness and overweening cutesiness and, as Phoebe suggests, way too much sugar. (I’m not naming names.) You can never accuse Daniel Handler of ever using too much sugar. That goes for his adult books as well, and, we presume, for Why We Broke Up, the young adult book he is publishing this fall with the illustrator, Maira Kalman, with whom he has partnered before, to gorgeous results. (This is a go-to gift book for us.) We are huge Daniel Handler fans here at DALS, and we’re honored to have him tell us about his favorite picture books. (Plus one not-so-picture book that he couldn’t resist throwing in. See: Darkness, above.) Without further ado, Daniel Handler on what your kids should be reading this summer…
Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide
This one was written a long time ago, and Edward Gorey was supposed to illustrate it, but he pulled a jerk move and died. It’s really remarkable, the story of a young man with terrible parents who evntually finds ways to deal with them — through monstrous acts of witchraft and menace. It was finally illustrated by the amazing Carson Ellis, who’s probably best known for the album covers she does for her husband’s band, The Decemberists. The art has this kind of abstract, Rothko-y, wet quality to it. It’s old-fashioned Victorian meets the dark unplummable depths of the human soul. For kids!
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (note: this is coming out in September, but you can pre-order now) (more…)
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Tags:daniel handler·daniel handler maira kalman·lemony snicket·summer book club·summer reading series
You know when you go to someone’s house for dinner and they seem to have it all together? One of the hosts is mixing you a drink and asking your children about camp while the other is sipping a glass of Prosecco, tossing some sort of delicious summery salad, listening intently to what you are saying, and showing no outward sign of doing what I often feel myself doing — which is pretend to listen intently to what you are saying while mostly worrying about the fact that — s#@t! – I forgot to make the g@#$*%n salad dressing! I should probably not admit this in a public space that is accessible by public…people, but I very much aspire to be the confident, nonchalant host who, when cooking for a large group of guests, can wing it without stressing. I’ve been aspiring for about fifteen years now.
But in those fifteen years, I’ve discovered something about myself. I am not a wing-it kind of person. I like to have a plan. This diagnosis probably gets to the root of my dinner diary pathology and my contract-drafting habit. And it is (more…)
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Tags:entertaining families·family entertaining ideas·guacamole recipe
Congratulations to Anna Harris from California! She wins the Summer Picnic Pack from The Wine Cellarage, a fine wine company dedicated to getting you great wines at great values. DALS would like to raise a glass to the kind people at The Wine Cellarage for making this delicious giveaway possible. Readers: remember to be eligible to win future DALS giveaways please register for our newsletter or like DALS on facebook. Vendors: If you are interested in a product giveaway, contact me at jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com.
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Let me put your minds at ease, right here at the top: No, our kids do not love clams. They’re kids, first of all, and clams are kind of freaky. The most I can say, while maintaining journalistic integrity, is that our kids and clams are in the process of learning to coexist. They’re getting to know one another. They’ll eat one or two, at most — warily, and with some prodding — before they move on to the safety of chips and guac. But learning to coexist is important, and exposure, as we have argued here before, is half the battle. And, this summer, we’re not having any trouble in the exposure department. This summer, we are all about clams.
At the risk of sounding predictable, Jenny and I are sticking to a script these days when it comes to entertaining – and, more specifically, when it comes to appetizers. There will be no elaborate cheese platters, no overly-produced dips, no bruschetta. (Okay, maybe some bruschetta.) Whenever we have people over, and even when we don’t, we do up a bowl of littlenecks from The Fish Guy at the farmer’s market, slice a fresh, crusty loaf of bread, set out some napkins and forks, and let that be our appetizer plate. We find that even if the kids won’t touch the clams, they’ll gladly take a hunk of that bread and dip it into that deep, salty broth. Which, as my parents always used to say, just means more good stuff for us grown-ups. There are endless variations to this dish — spicy, not spicy; garlicky, not garlicky; wine, no wine; basil, or tarragon — but it’s easy and fast, it only dirties up one pot, and clams are, on the farmer’s market spectrum, a relative bargain. Plus, there’s just something festive (and yes, I just used the word festive) about sitting outside with some friends on a summer night, as dinner sizzles on the grill, burning through a bowl of clams and a loaf of bread and tossing the shells — clank, clank, clank — back into the bowl. That’s living. – Andy
Steamed Little Necks
Maybe the best part: there’s no stress about overcooking or undercooking when it comes to clams; these things literally open their mouths and tell you when they’re done. (more…)
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Tags:easy appetizer·easy starter course·steamed clams·summer appetizer
Why is it that if you put anything into slider form, it tastes better. I put a tray of these BLT sliders on the table for lunch at my sister’s beach house and they disappeared fast. Too fast. The person I actually invited for lunch at the beach only got one.
BLT Sliders (Like you really need a recipe?)
Assemble bacon (the best quality you can find), lettuce, and tomato on slider rolls. If you have a child like Abby in the house, be sure to assemble at least one BBB.) Spread Hellmann’s mayo on one bun. (Make at least two per person.) Serve with potato chips and, if you are feeling ambitious, chilled avocado-cucmber soup.
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Tags:avocado BLT sandiwch·BLT sliders·dinner sandwiches·easy lunch ideas·entertaining for lunch·Fried Fish BLT·lunch at the beach·sandwiches for dinner·summer lunch
In the summer of 1996, I was walking west on East 86th Street holding a baguette that I would eat with dinner that night in my studio apartment one block north. I was wearing a black waffle fitted polo with a khaki wraparound skirt and a pair of black pointy-toed Nine West mules, which may have been the most unattractive pair of shoes any female has ever worn in history. Why do I remember this? Because don’t you always remember every detail about what you’re wearing the first time you meet your crush? In this case it was Derek Jeter. I recognized him because he was the Yankee’s latest wunderkind — that day, in fact, he was named Rookie of the Year. He was walking east with Gerald Williams, who I immediately recognized…because the kid walking with his dad in front of me shouted “Dad! It’s Derek Jeter and Gerald Williams!”
I had a crush on Derek Jeter ever since I read an interview with him in the New York Post where he said his sister was a better athlete than he was. And the crush only grew stronger after meeting him because…I am a girl and because athletes are not like TV stars — they really do look like Gods when you see them on East 86th Street walking east through a sea of mortals wearing terrible shoes. (more…)
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Tags:derek jeter·derek jeter 3000 hits·dinner a love story most popular recipes·favorite recipes
1 It’s summer. 2 It’s summer. 3 It’s summer. 4 It’s summer. 5 It’s summer.
Enjoy the weekend.
Summer Blueberry Galette
If you have extra crust and extra berries, add them to a ramekin to make a mini pie. Warning: If you have more than one child, this may result in an epic eye-scratching battle. Best to avoid altogether or make enough minis to go around.
Preheat oven to 425°F. If you have the time or the inclination to make a pate brisee, by all means go for it. If not, place one piece of a 9-inch storebought frozen pie crust (such as Trader Joe’s or Pilsbury) on a cookie sheet and allow to thaw. In a mixing bowl, gently toss about 2 cups of fresh blueberries with 1/4 cup sugar, a light dusting of corn starch (about 2 teaspoons), a pinch of cinnamon, and the juice of half a lemon. Scoop into the center of your dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Working in a circle, fold the crust in overlapping pieces over the berries as shown. (Once you get going the overlapping of the dough should feel natural but if not, no worries, there is no real art to this — in fact, sometimes, the more artless the better.) Using a pastry brush (or one of your kid’s clean paintbrushes) brush the crust with a beaten egg. (This is an excellent task for kids.) Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is golden and the blueberries are bubbling. If the crust is looking too brown before the blueberries bubble, cover the galette with foil and continue baking. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.
PS: I’m so making this berry dessert next.
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Tags:berry galette recipe·blueberry gallette·blueberry pie·summer dessert
I remember exactly where I was when I read the short story, “Pastoralia,” by George Saunders: I was finishing lunch at my desk, back when I had hair and worked at Esquire magazine on 55th Street. As soon as I finished, I copied it and – this was 2000, remember – faxed it to a couple of the writers I worked with, no cover note attached. I thought it would inspire them. A few hours later, the emails started coming in: “I’m never going to write again.” “Jesus, man.” “Why would you do that to me?” Would I do this again? I would. Because great writing is inspiring and George Saunders is a great and inspired writer. He has the distinction of being the author of some of my all-time favorite grown-up fiction (my favorite is the story collection, Pastoralia, but really: you can’t go wrong), my all-time favorite kid fiction (The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, for ages 6-12, which we have featured before), and some of my favorite non-fiction (collected, thank you god, here). He’s also a genius. (True story. He’s way too modest to tell you this, but he’s a winner of the crazy-prestigious MacArthur “genius” grant.) What I’m saying is, we love George Saunders, love his beautiful, generous view of the world, and love the fact that he is a friend of DALS. We asked him for a Summer Reading List for Kids, and here’s what he sent us. I don’t know about you, but I’m buying all of them. Take it away, George…
Well, to start with, an apology/disclaimer. Our kids are grown and I’ve been away from kids’ books for awhile, although I well remember the thrill, on a cold autumn night, of snuggling in with both our girls and feeling like: ah, day is done, all is well. Some of what follows may be old news, but hopefully one or two will be new to you.
Okay. Let’s start with Kashtanka, by Anton Chekhov and Gennady Spirin (Ages 9-12). I’ve written about this at length at Lane Smith’s excellent website, but suffice to say it’s a beautiful, simple, kind-hearted story with illustrations that are beautiful and realistic with just the right touch of oddness.
Speaking of Lane Smith, who is, to my mind, the greatest kids’ book illustrator of our time, I’d recommend all his books but maybe particularly an early one, The Happy Hocky Family (Ages 4-8). It’s funny and arch but at its core is a feeling of real familial love. With Lane, every book has its own feeling, and this one is sort of minimal and yet emotive – right up my alley.
Back when we were doing our book together, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Lane turned me on to The Shrinking of Treehorn, by Florence Parrry Heide (Ages 6-8). This is one of those books that stakes out its claim to greatness by showing something that, though harsh, is also deeply true: Grownups often don’t see kids and don’t listen to them. The illustrations are masterpieces of 1970s cool, by the great Edward Gorey.
I love The Hundred Dresses (by Eleanor Estes, illustrated Louis Slobodkin, ages 7-9) for a similar reason. On this ostensibly small palette of a kid’s book, Estes has told a deep unsettling truth, one that we seem to be forgetting; as Terry Eagleton put it: “Capitalism plunders the sensuality of the body.” Here, poverty equals petty humiliation, which drives a child, Wanda Petronski, to lie, and be teased for the lie, and then to create something beautiful – but the great heart-dropping trick of this book is that the other characters in the book discover Wanda’s inner beauty late, too late, and she is already far away, and never gets to learn she has devastated them with her work of art, and changed her vision of the world. This is a book that, I think, has the potential to rearrange a child’s moral universe in an enduring way. (more…)
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Tags:books for kids·george saunders·george saunders recommended reading·kids summer book club·summer book club·summer reading series
My friend Sara is a genius for a lot of reasons (the iPad birthday cake she baked for her eight-year-old comes to mind immediately), but I think her idea to repurpose pizza dough as naan has got to be my favorite. You just roll out a ball of storebought dough, then fry it in about a tablespoon of oil over medium heat for roughly three minutes a side. I split the ball of dough into two pieces so they cook more thoroughly and aren’t as doughy inside. Last week we served them alongside curried chicken with apples and the girls couldn’t believe their luck.
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Tags:easy naan recipe·naan
In some ways, I feel like my mother’s philosophy of raising children can be distilled into two of her favorite expressions. The first one is this:
Only boring people get bored.
This was not so much an expression as it was a response to the “I’m booorrred” cries from my brother, sister, or me when we’d be driving somewhere or if, God forbid, there was no formal activity scheduled for a stretch of hours when Rocky III was not playing on HBO. The idea was that we should be resourceful enough to entertain ourselves at all times. You can only imagine how annoying this phrase was to a 10- year-old who had an entire shelf of lock-and-key diaries, the contents of which proved she was anything but boring. But apparently, the line was not annoying enough to have stopped me from using it at least once a week in my own house with my own kids 25 years later. Not only do I love this expression — I have embraced it as my worldview.
The other expression from Mom is: (more…)
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Tags:best comic books for kids·books for kids·summer reading list for kids·summer reading lists·summer reading series·summer rituals for kids
Here at DALS we believe the only thing that screams “summer” louder than a tomato sandwich is an afternoon on a hammock curled up with a good paperback. (Or a nice icy cold iPad.) That’s why this July, in addition to getting recipes for grilled steaks and fresh summer salads, you’ll be getting what we think are some pretty cool book recommendations for the kids — not only from Andy and me, but from our daughters’ favorite authors. As always, you should feel free to weigh in with your own picks and opinions. Remember, this is the dinner table — everyone is welcome.
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Last week, when my Mom and I were dreaming up red-white-and-blue treats for our Fourth of July celebration, I talked a big game. There would be a flag cake, of course. But not just your garden-variety flag sheet cake. I was imagining cross-sectioned flag cakes, maybe even horizontally slicing a pound cake and re-assembling using red frosting or jam. Maybe I’d bake different sections in different colors and then re-assemble? But would the yellow cake be white enough for a flag cake? Was that unpatriotic? I know! I would bake a white, fluffy angel food cake. And maybe I would use a fresh strawberry sauce to paint stripes on each serving and then top with blueberries? The kids would love that. (more…)
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Tags:berry galette·raspberry and blueberry gallette·red white and blue dessert