Reading

Popsicles

Popsicles 1
Paletas de fresa (or strawberry ice pops) in the back row and paletas de yogurt con moras (yogurt ice pops with berries) in front.

Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas FrescasPaletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson

When I was a kid and it was really hot out and our legs were sticking to the car seats, sometimes for a special treat we stopped at the nearest drive-in dairy for big sticks or orange creamsicles. Mostly we ate popsicles at home, though. It seemed like we always had popsicles in the freezer in the summer, and for while we experimented with making our own. We poured whatever fruit juice we had in the fridge into molds and later we flopped around the house sucking on them. Sometimes we just used water. The texture never felt like store-bought popsicles — orange juice froze funny with big flat crystals, other juices felt kind of granular, and the icicles (water popsicles) came out hard, like ice. But I like the memory of wondering what they’d be like and experimenting, and then eating them slowly while reading a book, trying to decide if I liked them or not during the long, boring afternoons.

When I grew up, I didn’t think much about the holidays and changing seasons until I became a mom. Suddenly, they seemed important. Rhythmic, seasonal sense memories seemed like a key part of kid life, and it felt like it was largely up to me to make them happen. For summer, I was going to make popsicles. Last year I ordered a couple of popsicle recipe books and looked at the pictures and fantasized. This year, I got out the blender.

I started with a book that had pictures of healthy kids eating fruit-studded popsicles out in nature. Right away I realized I should have been reading the recipes instead of looking at the pictures when I picked this book out, because it called for ingredients like wheat germ, quinoa, and flax seed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any fond memories of flax seed, let alone fond summer popsicle memories. I tried the most innocuous-looking recipe in the book: yogurt, strawberries, lemon juice and honey. When I gave one of the popsicles to my son, he rejected it and he has refused to try any round, drinking glass-shaped popsicle I’ve offered him ever since. I get where he’s coming from. They tasted like so-so smoothies, and they felt grainy.

Gavin thought getting the texture right might take sugar, so I gave away the first book (along with the bag of wheat germ I bought in an initial wave of optimism) and turned to Paletas by Fany Gerson. Most of her popsicle recipes involve simple syrup, which seemed like a good sign — and it was.

We tried paletas de fresa (or strawberry ice pops) and paletas de yogurt con moras (yogurt ice pops with berries) first. The strawberry ice pops tasted almost like homemade strawberry jam and they felt soft and smooth and right. I have fantasies of eating homemade strawberry popsicles with abandon, but the amount of sugar in these made them feel like eat-with-restraint dessert popsicles. Not exactly what I was looking for, but delicious.

The yogurt pops on the other hand were… less successful. Gerson suggests blackberries but says you can use any berry. I went with blueberries and left them whole. I knew in my head that when you freeze things they don’t taste as sweet, but it sunk in for me in a way I’ll remember as I was biting through those hard, tart little berries. I loved the yogurt base made with lemon simple syrup and honey, though, so I’m going to try them again, but next time I’ll blend whatever berries I’m using with powdered sugar (one of Gerson’s alternate suggestions) before stirring them into the yogurt.

This morning, we picked up strawberries and avocados at the farmers’ market.  I want to cut the sugar the strawberry ice pops in half to see how the texture comes out, retry the yogurt pops with blended strawberries, and then I’m going to make paletas de aguacate (avocado ice pops).

Dinner: A Love Story and Child of Mine

Dinner: A Love Story
Dinner: A Love Story is one of my very favorite cookbooks. The stories, tips and pictures make it really readable, and the recipes that fit different stages of family life are GOOD. The pork shoulder ragu recipe is my absolute favorite. The first time I made it, I served it up, took a bite, and saw that everyone else at the table–including my toddler who usually waits for me to feed him–had already tucked in and were eating with focus. People hardly talked until we were about halfway through our bowls. A couple of our other favorites are bean burritos with pickled onions and grilled peaches, which taste like peach pie without the crust.

One of the most helpful books I read about feeding babies and kids was Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. Satter is a nutritionist, and after Child of Mine she wrote a cookbook to show people what she meant by family meals — recipes people could easily cook and serve that they would enjoy and that kids could enjoy, too. I enjoyed reading it and sampling some of the recipes, but I think Dinner: A Love Story makes the best companion book for Child of Mine that I’ve come across so far. They could pair well to make a great baby shower gift  (along with some frozen pork ragu).

Audible

Audible 2

Audible was one of my favorite things during my first year of parenting. I’ve had a subscription for years, and it is still one of my favorite things, but during that first year, I wanted to be paying attention to my baby. I didn’t want to be looking at a smart phone or a screen constantly, but the days were long and I also needed food for my brain. We listened to a lot of audiobooks that first year. I don’t lean on audiobooks as heavily now that my son is a toddler and he’s more tuned into (and has preferences about) what is playing in the background. These days I mostly use them for long car drives, but they are still one of my great pleasures in life.

Gavin and I like to listen to audiobooks together, and some of our favorite audio books over the years have been the Terry Prachett novels narrated by Stephen Briggs, especially Going Postal, Making Money and The Wee Free Men. I also loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. I read Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle in book format, but Gavin is listening to the audiobooks, and they are quite a ride, particularly if you like very, very long rip-roaring adventures (over 100 hours), and you can be patient for the first 14 hours — or about a single normal book’s worth of pages if you are reading — while you wait for it to get exciting. Maybe I’m not selling that one properly — what I’m trying to say is that it was worth it. I got into those during a stretch when my son would nap best if I was lying in the bedroom with him, and I was reading up a storm during those naps, so I was looking for a lot of bang for my buck when buying books. They’re less of a bargain on Audible, because what is sold as three paper books is broken up into seven normally priced audiobooks. Still, if you like long stories, historical fiction and adventure on the high seas, these are about as exciting as it gets.

The Little Island

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown (of Goodnight Moon fame) is another great book for Earth Day. The same, and always changing, the little island discusses with a visiting kitten how it is both itself and part of the wider world. We see the seasons change on the island. We see how the weather changes the island’s appearance. We see animals come and go. We learn, along with the kitten, that “all land is one land under the sea.”  The illustrations are of seagulls and fish, lobsters and spiders, seals and kingfishers, butterflies and wild strawberries, owls and bats and a pear tree all on and around the island, and the text feels like poetry — good poetry.

If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond


When we read If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond, we imagine wading in the pond with Thoreau, sitting on a carpet of pine needles together, walking through forest trails together, watching ant wars, and chasing a fox. We imagine drinking cold, clean Walden pond water, and picking and eating huckleberries together.

I like the idea of reading books for Earth Day that celebrate nature and that remind us how wonderful it feels to be in it, rather than urgent or scary books about what we need to do, especially for small children. I think the deepest, most sustainable action comes not out of fear or guilt, but out of love. I think love is the place to start, especially with children.

Who Made This Cake?

We love Who Made This Cake? by Chihiro Nakagawa. I’ve always had a thing for little tiny people living in the big world and for things that should be little being huge — I read all of The Littles books when I was a kid, and I love Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. And my son loves construction trucks and cracking eggs and he also loves cake. So, between the two of us, we can happily read Who Made This Cake? over and over.

Inside this book is a magical world where hundreds of industrious, playful tiny people use construction equipment to bake a birthday cake for a little boy while he is off at the toy store with his parents. They set up ramps and deliver dump trucks full of flour and sugar and baking power to a mixing bowl, and they crack eggs with an impact hammer attachment on an excavator. They cart the egg shells off the ramp on flat bed trucks, and then they mix the batter with what may be fictional beater attachements on excavators. (Remarkably, most of the other equipment looks like miniature versions of things my son and I have seen on construction sites or non-fiction books.) They pump the batter into the baking pan using trucks and hoses a lot like the ones we see pumping cement at construction sites around town. While the cake is baking, the little people — who might possibly be children, or just child-like — order smoothies from food trucks and visit and play guitar and take naps. When the cake is ready to be frosted, they mix whipped cream in cement mixers and pump it onto the cake using cement pump trucks. A tiny helicopter delivers a “Happy Birthday” sign. When the boy comes home from his birthday shopping trip, you can see the little people watching from the window ledge as his mom brings the cake to the table, and the construction machines they used are his toys, which have been put back in the living room. On the end page, they all spread out outside to sing and paint and read books and play soccer and basketball and violin or to just walk and talk together. It’s a joyful book that makes me feel like the world is good and beautiful and full of possibility.

Busy Car Book

Busy car book 3
We love the Usborne Pull-Back Busy Car Book.

Busy Car Book 1
Each page has a track for the pull-back car to follow, and the car has a fifth wheel underneath in the middle to keep it on the track. The story follows the car as it travels along until it finally arrives at the beach.

Granted, what my son loves most about it is the car. It may be the most expensive (and smallest) pull-back car we’ve ever found! We were shopping for a new book, and when he saw the little car in this one, our search was over. He zeroed in on it very enthusiastically and on no uncertain terms. Usborne knows how to sell books to toddlers. The car is so precious that my son doesn’t want me to take it and run it on the tracks. He likes to hold it while I trace the tracks with my finger and read him the story. To read it properly, I have to take the car while he is sleeping and read it to myself. Which I sometimes do.

Christmas books: Sampson, the Christmas Cat

Sampson the Christmas Cat
Sampson, the Christmas Cat by Catherine Stock

Sampson is a stray who smells the family’s Christmas turkey cooking and sneaks in through a window. The kids find him hide him from their mom, who is not a cat lover. They manage to cover for him until their annoying cousin comes over and blows a tickler in everyone’s faces. Sampson springs out to attack it, and maybe, just maybe he wins their mom over.

Christmas books: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I'll Be Home for Christmas

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Holly Hobbie

We love Holly Hobbie’s Toot and Puddle books. Two pigs, one a homebody and one an adventurer, are best friends who live together in the country with a parrot named Tulip. In I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Toot (the adventurer) makes his way home from a family reunion in Scotland, but he’s held up by an ice storm and snowed over roads until finally a mysterious stranger in a sleigh gives him a lift on Christmas Eve night.