Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Strawberry Girl Strawberry Bread

 I first read Strawberry Girl in Mrs. Basista's fourth grade class, and when I started this blog, I knew I had to make something to celebrate this awesome book.  (Maybe partly, again, because of my love of all things Berry.)  I'm giving a little more background for this one than I usually do, just because I feel like I should.

Strawberry Girl, written by Lois Lenski, is the 1946 winner of the Newbery Award.  Ms. Lenski was a prolific author, and may be most famous for her books about children of various regions and cultures in the U.S., including Bayou Suzette and Corn Farm Boy.  She also wrote several picture books and several historical novels, as well as being an illustrator for the first few of the Betsy-Tacy series (which we discussed last fall).  I remember reading Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison (one of the historical novels) several times as a kid.

Strawberry Girl is one of the regional novels.  It's set in Florida, and the characters pride themselves on being "Florida Crackers" - basically, poor farming families.  The book features two main families: the Boyers, including Berthenia (Birdie), who is the title character, and the Slaters, including young Jefferson Davis (Shoestring).  The Boyers are relatively well-off and have recently moved to the area to grow and sell strawberries, sugar cane, and anything else that will grow.  Birdie wants to be friends with everybody, and wants more than anything to be a Strawberry Girl, selling her berries on a street corner in the nearby town.  The adult-me wants to say, "wow, dream big!", but I remember being a kid and thinking how much fun it would be to grow and pick and be able to be proud of my own strawberries, so I must have gotten cynical in my old age.

As a side note, I have on several occasions attempted to grow my own strawberries.  It never worked very well.

Anyhow.  The Boyers' closest neighbors are the Slaters, who really don't have much of anything.  They aren't farmers so much as squatters, and they don't raise their cattle so much as let it run wild.  This doesn't lead to friendliness between the families, since Mr. Slatter isn't too happy about Mr. Boyer fencing in his land.  No love lost between the dads in this book, which is really too bad, because the moms seem to hit it off pretty well.  And Birdie and Shoestring could totally be BFFs, given the chance.

The things I remember from the 1994 reading of this book were how much I liked the main character, the desire I had to grow my own strawberries, and the description of a road made out of logs as a Corduroy Road. My friend Manna remembers mainly that the book is written in a strong dialect that's a little hard to understand. Neither of us remembered Mr. Slater being an alcoholic or the bits with animal cruelty (which really just stand to show you how much of a jerk Mr. Slater is - it's not like they're glorifying it).  So, just be aware that, if you're giving this book to your child, there are a few things in there that aren't all sweetness and light.  But I still recommend that you give this story to your kids, though, because it's an awesome book, and you really don't remember the unhappy parts.  At least, I didn't.

So!  For Birdie, who is the best Strawberry Girl ever, I have made this awesometastic Strawberry Bread.  I found the recipe at the AllRecipes website, listed as Strawberry Spice Loaf, and all credit goes to HMBOLAAF, who posted it.  (I just added vanilla and extra berries.)  Thank you! 

Strawberry Girl Strawberry Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
2 16-oz. bags of frozen strawberries, thawed
2 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350, and grease and flour two 9x5 loaf pans (I actually made one large and two small loaves instead of two large ones - if you do that, be sure to adjust your cooking time).
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda.  Dump the bags of strawberries into a (different!) large bowl, and squish them up with a fork, your fingers, or a potato masher to break them up a bit.  Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla into the strawberries, and mix well.  
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour in the strawberry mixture.  Mix thoroughly until everything is combined, and pour into the loaf pans.
4. Bake the loaves for one hour, or until a toothpick/butter knife in the center comes out clean.  

I've been told that this bread tastes like apple cider donuts, without the apple and with strawberries.  I've been describing it to people as "like banana bread, but with strawberries and without bananas." It's also really good with some whipped cream and additional strawberries on top.
So good!  I know the color looks "off" here, but it's not.  It really is that odd reddish color.  You could add some food coloring if you wanted it to be more vibrant, and I meant to do that, but totally forgot.  I bet it would be good with some pecans or walnuts mixed in, too.

Also, I know this post is more about what I thought of the book and less about the book itself, but I wasn't sure what else to say about it.  What do you think - have you read it?  Would you recommend it?  And what would you talk about for this book, if this was your blog?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

City of Ember Roasted Potatoes

Imagine this: There's a city underground, deep enough to be cut off from the rest of the world entirely.  It was built years ago by people known only as The Builders, who supplied the city - Ember - with everything it could possibly need: canned food, clothing, a generator and power grid for electricity, a plumbing and sewer system, a greenhouse for growing fruits and vegetables - everything the city's people could need for 200 years.

But that was 241 years ago, and now, decades after the day when residents were supposed to return to the surface, the plans for Ember have been lost.  Supplies are running low, and the generator is slowly dying.  Ember is in fear of the day when the lights don't come back on after a blackout, when the shelves are bare, and when the plants stop growing.

Imagine, too, that you have found the Builders' plans, that you know that it's time to get the residents to the surface world, and how to do it, ending the years of darkness and uncertainty.  But nobody will listen to you.  After all, you're only 12 years old.

That's what happened to Lina Mayfleet in The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.  She, along with her friend Doon and 2-year-old sister Poppy, has to decide whether to follow the Builders' instructions and escape from the city, or give up and let Ember die?  Tell me... what would you do?

I seriously love this book.  I saw the movie randomly on tv one day and loved it, and then found out that there was a book version (which came first, naturally), and it's even better than the movie (of course)!  Better than that, even?  There are four books in this series, and my library has all of them!  I made the ultimate sacrifice and re-read City of Ember for you, my dear friends, and I even have Book 2 (The People of Spark) on my coffee table for later.  (I left books 3 and 4 at the library this time - no need to be greedy.)

Anyhow.  It's not like I'm obsessed with this book, but it is one of the few that I've brought to people, put in their hands and said, "Read this.  I'm not kidding."  There's just something about it that makes me highly recommend it to just about everybody.

So, back to Ember.  Food, naturally, was pretty scarce in the city, since they only had what they little remained on the storeroom shelves and what they could grow in the greenhouse, which was, with plumbing and lights being unreliable, not all that much.  But there was one thing they could always count on, and that was potatoes.  Lina had potatoes for almost every meal, and while I'm sure she was probably sick to death of mashed potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner... that really doesn't sound all that bad to me.

I love potatoes.  I'm like Bubba from Forrest Gump - I'll take them any way I can get them.  Boiled, baked, mashed, fried, potato soup, potato stew, potato dumplings, potato bread... but today I'm sharing with you one of my all-time favorite potato recipes.  It's easy as heck, and tastes really good, too.

City of Ember Roasted Potatoes
Red potatoes, about 2 or 3 per person*
Olive Oil - about 1 tbsp. per person (use as much as you need to lightly, evenly coat the potatoes)

*NOTE about the potatoes:  There are many varieties of potatoes, and they're good for many different things.  Russetts are good baking potatoes, and yellow potatoes (like Yukon Gold) are awesome for mashies, but for this, I like good ol' red potatoes.  For one thing, they're solid enough that you don't have to worry about them getting mushy, and for another, you don't have to peel them!  Plus, they're yummy.  But you can substitute other potatoes if you want.

**NOTE about the spices:  You can use just about anything here.  I assume Ember's people would have just used salt and pepper, and this recipe are great with just that.  You can also do some with rosemary and dill, or with Italian seasoning, or with garlic powder and dried onions (or real garlic and onions!), or go really funky and use a little bit of dried salad dressing mix, like one of those Hidden Valley Ranch pouches (just make sure that you don't use a whole packet for just a few potatoes, because that may be overwhelming). They also make spice blends just for this, in the pre-mixed-spice-pouch section of the store.  Really, anything's good.  This time, I used dried diced onions and garlic powder, which is why they look "chunky."  I used a bit much... but it was so good!

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Wash and dry the potatoes, and cut them into biteable chunks.  I generally cut my red potatoes into 6 to 8 pieces each, but whatever size you like is fine.
2. Put the potato pieces into a bowl and add the olive oil; mix well, until evenly coated.  (This also works with a large ziploc - add the ingredients and shake to coat).  Add the spices of your choice and mix again, until the spices are evenly distrubuted.
3. Pour the potatoes onto a cookie sheet in an even layer.  Pop the whole thing into the oven, and cook until the potatoes are cooked through, stirring/flipping the potatoes about 30 minutes in.  When they're done, they'll have a light crust on the outside, and the inside will be warm and soft.  This usually takes me about an hour and 15 minutes, but I check at 45 minutes and again at 1 hour, just to make sure they're not getting burned.

I'd like to give attribution for this recipe, but I remember my Mom making this when I was little, so it may just be one of those things that Moms know how to make and pass it along.  (My Uncle Hawk also makes a mean roasted potato, to be fair - it's not just Moms.)

One of the things I like about this recipe is that I also cook my chicken at 350, and that takes usually 35-45 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken breasts), so if I time it correctly, my dinner comes out of the oven at the same time!  I'm a big fan of that.  (Take it out, let it cool for a few minutes while I microwave some veggies, and eat!)  Alternately, you can roast the potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30-45 minutes.  They taste about the same, so it all depends on what temperature you're cooking other things at, or personal preference.

As a side note for those who didn't see my side note - yes, that is a different location, and totally different plates!  Also, a new camera, so it won't take me 5 minutes to get a good shot.  Hooray!

Quick Notes

Hello my friends!!
It's been a busy busy summer.  I finished my last two classes of grad school, took two 1400+ mile long road trips, and am completely relocated to Florida. A lot has changed, but things are going well right now, and I finally have time to get back into doing what I love - reading, cooking, eating, blogging.

You may notice a few changes on the blog -- please let me know what you think!  (I'm not sure what possessed me to make everything blah-green when I started this up, since that's not really the most appetizing of color schemes.)  I like this much better.

I've heard that there have been some issues with commenting, and I apologize for that - I have no idea what the trouble was.  We've been set to Everybody Can Comment, and there should be no waiting period before comments show up, but if we continue to have problems, we may have to make some bigger changes. If there are problems, please let me know, either via Facebook or email (katcooksthebooks@gmail.com).  You can also write either of those addresses, or use the comments here, to tell me what you think, suggest a story or food for me to review/cook, tell me how awesome I am, or just to say hi.  I love getting email.

The other consideration is whether I want to get my own domain name.  I'd like to, but Blogger doesn't allow the use of their software on outside websites, so it means that we'd be moving to a different program - what do you guys think about that?

So, we're back in action.  And yes, there WILL be a recipe posted tonight.  Cross my heart and hope to burn my cookies if I'm telling lies.