Yearly Archives: 2014

Bedtime Stories: We Are In a Book!

Post by Mark T. Locker.

We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems

Mo Willems is really the best. If you have a child, you have likely encountered at least one of his wonderful series. There’s the Knuffle Bunny books, and the Pigeon books and for kids FINALLY reading on their own, there are the Elephant and Piggie books, of which there are approximately a zillion. My favorite (and my son’s favorite; he has impeccable taste) is We are in a book! which is a fantastic little piece of meta fiction for children. The story revolves around the casual mention by Piggie that he and the elephant (whose name is Gerald, naturally) are in a book. This simply blows Gerald’s mind.

What happens after this revelation is a lot of fun with the reader. The best bit being when they realize they can make the reader say “banana”, which results in much hilarity, both for the reader and the characters. But when Gerald realizes the book is going to end on page 57, panic ensues. What will happen at the end? Will they cease to be? Read it and find out!

There are a bunch of books in this series. I like them better than most readers because they are not only very simple and easy to read, they are also clever and funny. None of this “the dog is dirty. Let us give the dog a bath” nonsense. I don’t think boring stories are going to get reluctant readers to pick up a book. These hilarious Elephant and Piggie books have gotten my son over the “reading is a chore” hump and he is now diving into a whole world of books.

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Movies in Bed: Resident Evil: Retribution

Post by Mark T. Locker.

Amazingly, this is the fifth installment in the Resident Evil movie empire, amazing in part because they are all based off of a series of video games. And a sixth one is in production! I cannot recommend this movie enough. Wait, let me rephrase that. I cannot recommend this movie. Through inexplicable circumstances, my friend and I have become bound by tradition to watching each and every one of these movies together. The first one was an enjoyable, if bloody, piece of fluff. The second was okay, if a bit weird. The third was so terrible that I forgot the entire plot immediately. Or perhaps I never quite got it to begin with. The fourth I also forgot the plot to within a couple months.

Well, I just got around to number five, “Retribution”, a couple weeks ago. Here is what these movies seem to be about: Alice (Mila Jovovich) worked for the Umbrella Corporation, which was some kind of genetic research company. When something called the T-virus is accidentally released, it turns everyone into zombie-like monsters and the animals into ravaging mutant beasts. There is your basic premise. Alice is about the only one out there to stop them. I couldn’t quite tell you what the object of the fifth movie is. I think they are trying to get out of a secret subterranean compound before getting destroyed.

Really, it’s so bad. And chaotic. And confusing. And I can never remember from one movie to the next who is who and why anything is happening. It’s pretty incredible. If you really want to watch, I recommend sticking with the first one and leaving it at that. Happy watching!

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Things We Like: Managing Coffee Intake For Better Sleep

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

It’s no secret that I look forward to my morning cup of coffee. The caffeine certainly helps fuel my desire to indulge, but I also enjoy the ritual and flavor. Having been away from home the past couple months, I have deeply missed my fresh-ground café latte in the mornings. And while coffee shops abound, unfortunately, Starbucks just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Last week I found hope: a new coffee shop nearby with an appeal to the coffee connoisseur (at least I thought so). Excited for the prospect of some good Joe, I turned this place into my office for the day and drank a variety of coffee creations with reckless disregard of getting to sleep that night. While I did get all my work done for the day, I also found myself wide-awake at 2:00 that morning. Wow! That’s some good stuff.

I’m not usually this sensitive to caffeine, and definitely have a new appreciation for this powerful stimulant. What I’m even worse at is self-control, which is why I was happy to discover a new app, called Up Coffee, that helps you manage your coffee intake throughout the day. It’s free to download, and all you have to do is enter information about your gender, weight, height, caffeine sensitivity and regular bedtime. Then, when you have a caffeinated beverage make note of it on the app, which will then tell you approximately how long it will be before you can get to sleep.

In addition to the time to your target bedtime, Up Coffee will also show you charts of how caffeinated you are throughout the day (may be helpful for planning time for prime productivity), compare your consumption to other users (which may be a bit skewed due to the fact that the only people using the app are the ones drinking lots of caffeine), and other fun little tidbits.

Is a coffee management app right for you?

I don’t usually drink coffee in the late afternoon or evenings, save the occasional affogato (espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream), so there really isn’t much of a need for me to adjust my caffeine intake to get a better sleep every day. Plus, I don’t usually go to bed until after midnight anyway. However, if you’re drinking coffee well into the early evening on a regular basis and need to get to bed at a decent hour, then a little app like this may be just what you need.

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Breakfast in Bed: Flowerpot Bread

Post by Alison Hein.

Some of you may recall Flowerpot Bread as a 70s fad, and right you would be. Baking with terra cotta, however, is an ancient process. The Greeks prized this method for its even heat and durability. Once you go through the fuss of seasoning your flowerpots, you can pull out this fun party trick anytime.

In this version, I’ve brushed the simple white bread loaves with a light egg wash and dotted them with poppy seeds. Any bread dough will work – just remember to fill up the pots only halfway at the first rise, and don’t let them get too tall at the second rise or they may topple over in the oven. The terra cotta holds a steady temperature, which helps keep even heat during baking, and also gives the rising a little boost.

Try it out on a lazy weekend – for a breakfast in bed packed full of surprise and delight.


Equipment

3 new 4-inch terra cotta flowerpots
Vegetable oil for treating pots

Preparation

A few days before baking bread, rub flowerpots all over with oil. Heat oven to 300°. Place oiled flowerpots on a baking tray, and bake in the oven for a few hours to seal and season. Let cool before using. Repeat process after use as needed to retain smooth oiled surface.

Ingredients

½ cup tepid water
1 tablespoon (2 packets) dry yeast
1½ cups milk
¼ cup sunflower oil
¼ cup honey
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 egg, separated
5½ cups white flour
Oil for rising
Flour for kneading and shaping loaves
1 tablespoon poppy seeds


Preparation

Add water to large food processor, or large bowl. Gently sprinkle yeast on top to cover surface. Set aside until yeast begins to activate, about 10 minutes.

Pour milk into small heavy pot over medium heat. Cook without stirring until the milk is scalded (tiny ripples begin to form across the top of the milk), about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then add oil, honey, salt and egg yolk to scalded milk. Retain egg white. When tepid, pour milk mixture into food processor or bowl. Gently pulse on food processor dough setting or stir until mixed in. Add white flour, about a cup at a time, until mixed in. If using food processor, gently pulse until dough is compressed and begins to pull away from side of bowl. Be careful not to over mix or dough will become tough. If making bread by hand, turn out onto floured board and knead gently for about five minutes. Add about ½ teaspoon oil to large bowl. Place dough in bowl. Turn and flip so oiled side faces up. Cover with light tea towel and set in warm, non-drafty place to rise. Let dough rise for about one hour, until doubled in size.

Punch down dough. Turn onto floured board and shape into 3 equal-sized balls. Oil flowerpots, and place one ball inside each pot. Dough should fill pot about halfway. Cover loaves with light tea towel and set in warm, non-drafty place to rise. Let loaves rise for about one hour, until dough is one to two inches over the top of the flowerpot.

Preheat oven to 350° about 15 minutes before dough is finished rising. Using a fork, beat egg white with about a teaspoon of water. Gently brush egg wash on top of loaves, then sprinkle each with a teaspoon of poppy seeds.

Place loaves in oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes until browned. Cool for at least 1 hour before removing from pots and slicing.

Makes 3 loaves.

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Bedtime Stories: The Magicians

Post by Mark T. Locker.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

I came across this novel when I read a Buzzfeed list a friend had posted which recommended adult novels based on which young adult novels you liked. If you liked Harry Potter, then you might like The Magicians. One might also say that if you liked the Chronicles of Narnia then you might like this. Mind you, this is NOT a book for children. This story is about magic college, not middle school. It’s full of all the drinking, drama, and poor choices that twenty-something-year-olds, magically gifted or otherwise, would make.

The story begins with a seventeen-year-old named Quentin who is bright and studious and who has never quite fit in. Secretly he still dreams of the magical world of Fillory, a series of children’s fantasy novels very much like Narnia. One day, after receiving a mysterious package, he finds himself transported to the campus of Brakebills, which is a school for magicians. He passes the entry exams and becomes a full-fledged student at a school of magic, draped in glamours that keep it hidden in the middle of  upstate New York.  Although there are little bits reminiscent of Harry Potter, this is not Harry Potter. Lev Grossman creates a unique magical world all its own. And although Fillory is like Narnia, you never see Edmund and Lucy behaving the way these magicians do. It’s a very intriguing and absorbing book even if, like me, you read so slowly it takes forever to get through. Well worth it in the end.

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