Yearly Archives: 2014

Bedtime Stories: Eleanor & Park

Post by Mark T. Locker.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Happy Monday! Some people are all a-twitter about the upcoming Superbowl game; others are talking about the Grammys. And then there are those who have been awaiting the REAL big news. I’m talking (as if you don’t know) about the ALA Midwinter Conference, at which all the literary awards are announced: Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King, Caldecott, and many others. Nothing quite as vindicating as having read a book just before it is awarded a medal. That proves real youth librarian stuff. Well, I’m not really a youth librarian and the book I just read didn’t win, HOWEVER I have just learned that Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell just won a Printz Honor! Yayyyy!

The place: Omaha, Nebraska. The time: 1986. Eleanor is the new kids. She’s fat, poor, has vibrant red hair and pale skin. She would love to be invisible but instead she is highly visible. Park is the only Asian kid in school, half Korean. He’s just cool enough to be left alone. And despite whatever damage may be done to his standing, he is the only one who makes space for Eleanor to sit down on the bus. So it begins.

Told in alternating voices of the two main characters, we watch the awkward, emotional and painful blossoming of a relationship. Built initially on interest in comics and all the alt bands of the 80s, Joy Division, The Smiths, U2, it’s a sweet and upsetting and funny novel for teens. The audio version is fun as it has two narrators, one for each point of view. Definitely worth a read/listen.

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Things We Like: Bedrooms In The Attic

Post by Kyle St. Romain.

Now that I’m temporarily back in the world cable television, I’ve been able to catch up on all my favorite HGTV shows. Having watched countless episodes of Rehab Addict, Property Brothers, and Love it or List it (to name a few), I’ve noticed a bit of a trend: attic spaces converted into master bedrooms. This concept is especially apparent in older New England homes.

But why build a bedroom in the attic? Many older homes were never designed to accommodate a large master suite, something in high demand for today’s homeowner. And when lot size limits your ability to build an addition to your home, an attic bedroom provides a creative solution. While the idea of an attic bedroom initially seemed a bit strange, it’s actually started to grow on me. I am much more partial to an attic bedroom than a basement bedroom. Have a look at some wonderful bedrooms occupying these often-wasted spaces.

If you’re considering converting your attic into a master suite, there are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Will you mind climbing up extra stairs to your bedroom every day? Most modern bedrooms are located on the main level, which makes them convenient to access. With an attic bedroom, you’ll have the privacy of your own floor, at the cost of some extra cardio.

  • Is your attic able to be converted to a master bedroom? The first consideration is size, as not all attics are big enough to accommodate a master suite. Also, if you have ductwork and hot water heaters in your existing attic it may be cost prohibitive to relocate all these utilities.  Other considerations include installing windows, plumbing and electrical, as well as structural limitations. That said many attic bedrooms often feature very cool vaulted ceilings, which can add some serious visual appeal to your space that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) otherwise create.

  • Will converting your attic into a master bedroom yield a positive return on investment? To answer this question, you’ll have to do some research to see what price gains you may realize from increasing the size of your home’s living space. The return on your investment may not always be a top priority, however, especially if your home is already in your ideal neighborhood.

Understandably, attic bedrooms aren’t for everyone. But if your budget, lifestyle, and home can accommodate an attic-to-bedroom conversion, then you just may be able to create the master suite of your dreams. As always, I recommend checking out Houzz for more attic bedroom inspiration.

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Breakfast in Bed – Eggs à la Martin

Post by Alison Hein.

Through researching old cookbooks I’ve found that baked egg dishes were popular during the 1920s, and that someone named Martin figured prominently in the culinary world. Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer included a recipe for Eggs à la Martin without spinach in her classic cookbook Many Ways for Cooking Eggs. Another great culinary matriarch, Fannie Farmer, showcased Eggs with Spinach à la Martin in her famed Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. In this case, however, ham, as well as red and green peppers, were added to the mix. The meat, vegetables and eggs were cooked omelet style, then served over a bed of cooked spinach.

Interpreting a bit from Sarah and a little from Fannie, I came up with my own take on Eggs à la Martin – individual egg portions nestled onto a thick bed of spinach and breadcrumbs, baked in a creamy white sauce and topped with melted sharp cheddar cheese. Bubbly and hot from the oven, golden yolks blending with rich creamed spinach, these little eggs are sure to delight for a lazy Sunday morning or cozy breakfast in bed.

Perhaps something even Martin (whoever he was) would approve.

Ingredients

Cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
½ cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed
2 eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup grated cheddar cheese

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325°. Spray 2 ramekins or small oven-proof dishes with cooking spray.

To make white sauce, melt butter in small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth, thick paste forms. Whisk in milk and cook until slightly thickened, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Set aside and keep warm.

Add half of the breadcrumbs to each of the ramekins, then top with half the spinach. Pour enough white sauce on top to cover the spinach, then add a whole, cracked egg to each dish. Top with enough white sauce to cover each egg, then sprinkle half of the cheese on top of each dish.

Place eggs in oven and bake until whites are set and cheese is melted and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Cook eggs a little longer if you’d like the yolks to be cooked through. Serve hot with buttered toast, if you like.

Makes 2 servings.

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Things We Like: Sleeping In Total Darkness

 

Post by Kyle St. Romain

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the three basic ingredients for a good night’s sleep: (1) a dark room; (2) a cold room; and (3) a luxurious bed. There are some other things you can do that will help you sleep more restfully, like: getting enough exercise, eating the right foods, and even wearing a pair of socks to bed, but a comfortable bed in a cold, dark room are the pillars of good sleep.

Unfortunately in today’s world, many people sleep in relatively light rooms. Some people even sleep with the television set on — something I do not understand. But even if you’re able to fall asleep in a lit room or actually prefer it, chances are you’re not getting the best night’s sleep you could. So today we’re going to discuss exactly why total darkness is a must-have for your mind and body to rest properly.

Darkness was probably something our ancestors took for granted (read: feared). With no electricity or artificial lights, early humans lived by the natural cycles of day and night — the key word being natural. With the advent of fire we started to become masters over our domain. Fast forward to present time and it’s all but impossible to find total darkness outside unless you’re camping somewhere remote. This is especially true for those of us who live in urban environments where almost every street is laden with artificial lights — lights that are considerably brighter than what we would otherwise be exposed to at night (the moon and stars).

In darkness, our brains are wired to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps lower blood pressure, glucose, and body temperature. The production of melatonin is one of the most important physiological responses that helps us sleep better. When melatonin production is suppressed, we start to go into sleep debt, which can cause fat gain, insulin resistance, and inflammation.

When we are exposed to light before going to sleep, however dim, our bodies’ natural rhythm gets thrown out of whack. Making matters worse is that many light bulbs, computer screens, and smartphones emit blue light, one of the most stimulating colors of light. Exposure to blue light from a computer screen is why it’s harder to fall asleep quickly after responding to those late night emails.

If you’re struggling with overexposure before bed, here are some helpful tips for eliminating light before sleep:

  • Blackout curtains are an easy way to keep unwanted light from coming through your windows.

  • Get rid of electronics in the bedroom. All those little power indicators can create quite a bit of light in an otherwise dark room. Clock radios, televisions, computer screens, and other gadgets are common sources of light in the bedroom. Even if these devices are not emitting light, their electrical currents can still disrupt your sleep pattern, so get them out of the bedroom.

  • Color shift your computer screen. Working late is a fact of life for many of us, but if you have to be on the computer after sundown, you should at least try to minimize the damage. Having used the program f.lux for a number of years, it now hurts my eyes to look at a “regular” screen at night. This is something I cannot recommend enough.

So next time you’re having trouble going to sleep, think about how much light you were exposed to right before bed. You may find that a little less light is just what your body needs to get out of sleep debt.

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Breakfast in Bed – Savory Mushroom Aebelskiver (Danish Filled Pancakes

Post by Alison Hein.

My good friends Rosie and Jeff come through again! Rosie is the idea person behind our International Breakfast theme (remember Personal Shakshouka?) and Jeff is the talented cook who recently created a Proper English Fry-Up. What now, you ask? Well, Rosie gifted me with a new aebelskiver pan – the non-stick kind which makes flipping the little pancakes a breeze. Better yet, she gave me a breakfast cookbook which included savory aebelskivers! Goat cheese and herbs, jalapeño and cheddar, potato and bacon…

I decided upon a duxelles filling (sautéed shallots and mushrooms) for my aebelskivers. What a delight to bite into a tiny filled pancake and be surprised by the deep, earthy flavor of buttery button mushrooms. Served with a dab of sour cream on the side, Savory Mushroom Aebelskivers are a pleasant change from sweeter fare, and a delightfully different breakfast in bed.

And Jeff? He presented me with a recipe book filled with international breakfast recipes and a promise to cook for us again. This time – Jeff’s Costa Rican Tico Breakfast – coming soon to a kitchen near you! Stay tuned…

Ingredients

Mushroom Filling

2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cream
1 teaspoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Aebelskiver
1 cup unbleached flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 eggs, separated
Cooking spray (or melted butter)

Special Equipment
Aebelskiver pan

Preparation

To make mushroom filling, melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until softened. Add mushrooms and continue to cook another 5 to 7 minutes, until mixture is cooked through. Remove from heat. Stir in cream, parsley, salt and pepper and set aside until ready to use.

To make aebelskiver, combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. In separate small bowl, mix together milk, cider vinegar and egg yolks. Gradually add liquid mixture to dry mixture, stirring constantly, until batter is smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into batter.

Place aebelskiver pan on burner over medium heat. Spray each well of the pan liberally with cooking spray (or brush with melted butter). Spoon about 1½ teaspoons of batter into each well. Then place about ½ teaspoon of mushroom filling in the center of each aebelskiver. Finally, pour another 1½ teaspoons of batter on top, being sure to entirely cover filling.

Cook for about 2 minutes, until bottom of aebelskiver is dark golden brown. Carefully flip using two skewers, a knife and spoon, knitting needles (as is common in Denmark), or chopsticks. Continue cooking until flipped side is also golden brown, another one to two minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm while making the remainder of pancakes. Adjust heat and regrease pan as necessary while cooking. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Makes 20 to 30 aebelskiver.

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