Classic Easter Books for Children

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One of my goals for this year was to make my children’s Easter collection of books more robust, or, erm, exist… We have a pretty good collection of Christmas books going that I set out for them to read during the Christmas season. But I struggled to find Easter books that weren’t all bunnies and flowers. I have nothing against bunnies and flowers, mind you, but also wanted some books with cultural and/or theological depth to them. Plus the few books I did have were geared toward toddlers, and my older children are no longer toddlers (sniff). So I’ve been scouring the internet, and searched my library’s catalog for Easter books, and have come up with several charming ones that explore the various European traditions associated with the holiday, as well as several other books that focus on the Resurrection story. Without further ado, may I present a short list of Easter books for children (and one for adults) that we’ve enjoyed!

In the European tradition section:

Don’t let the cover of We Celebrate Easter fool you. It make look like a fluffy bunny book, but it is surprisingly full of recipes, rhymes, stories, various traditions around the globe, and explanation of Easter symbolism. Slightly eclectic, but a thorough overview and introduction to the holiday.

If the adults want to explore, Rick Steves has a European Easter book that piqued my interest. It’s in my Thiftbooks cart…


Rechenka’s Eggs tells the story of a Russian grandmother who experiences an Easter miracle with her decorated eggs. A sweet tale that offers a glimpse into the tradition of gorgeously intricate eggs. Also in my cart.

That’s all I’ve currently found with an international vibe…I’d love to find more books that highlight the rich Easter traditions around the world. Please send any recommendations my way!

On the theological/religious list:

I’ve listed The Glorious Impossible first, since it kinda bridges the European and theological books. Madeleine L’Engle’s text (a retelling of Jesus’ entire life) is illustrated by Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. I’ve put it on my list to buy next year, since it looks text-heavy (a plus in my book, but perhaps better suited to slightly older children than mine are currently). Would also be a great art history lesson on Giotto!

God Gave Us Easter is one of the books we already own. It talks about death and life and promises in a more abstract/general way, and is a good reminder for younger children that candy and the Easter bunny isn’t why we celebrate Easter.

For somewhat older children, The Easter Story is a beautifully illustrated telling of the Resurrection story from the viewpoint of a donkey who is there to witness it all.

The book that I was probably the most excited to find (I ordered it last month!) is Easter Love Letters from God. There are seven stories about the events leading up to the Resurrection, each with a pop-up letter and a scripture reference, which lines up perfectly with a Holy Week countdown. It does not shy away from the crucifixion part of the story, but is done in a manner that works well even for young children. (I was especially excited to find it because one of my other goals this year was to finally put together countdown eggs that start on Palm Sunday, and was delighted to find a book that will coordinate with them. The eggs are on my list to-do this week!)

The two books below are both in my cart to add to our collection: The Story of Easter and Jesus Is Risen! I will update this post once they’ve arrived, but they look both visually and theologically appealing.

                                  

Easter has become “my holiday”, and I’m excited to finally feel like we’ll celebrate it more properly this year! Please send any other book recommendations (for adults or children) my way!

The links above are provided through the Amazon Affiliates program and we may receive a commission if you purchase books through a link. It does not affect the price you pay.

Planning a Trip to Europe: Part 5, Packing Tips and Strategies

I feel that there has been much (metaphorical) ink spilled on the interweb on the subject of packing. I have no desire to rehash ad naseum what everyone else has said, but here’s an outline of how we pack and what has worked for us. (While this is in the context of packing for Europe, these are the same packing strategies I use for any trip we take.) If you’re looking for tips on how NOT to accidentally pack/wear the same outfit as your sister five straight days in a row on a trip together, well, you won’t find that here…But! We have photographic proof that we’ve mastered the art of packing a capsule trip wardrobe! Heh.

 

We never pack more than a carry-on, and do indeed carry it on with us. It cuts down travel time (no waiting for suitcases), our luggage can’t get lost, and it’s much easier to hop on and off trains if you’re traveling light. We still have room for (small) souvenirs — candies, jellies, prints, mugs, scarves, etc. If you’re bringing back liquid items, your carry-on can be checked on your return trip. Alternately, some people find traveling with one large suitcase for the whole family to be easier (and use color-coded packing cubes). Regardless of how you parcel it out, don’t pack more than you can easily maneuver. Anything very important also gets packed on my person, not in my luggage.

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On a sleeper train — we felt very Agatha Christie. A perk of traveling light!

I pack a week’s worth of clothing and plan on doing laundry. I also coordinate my separates to get maximum mileage out of outfits, and have outfit flexibility with weather and what’s clean!  My base color is always blue, for example, and I’ll pack 5 tops and 3-4 bottoms, and make sure all the tops can go with all the bottoms and everything blends with blue. Having a colored pair of pants expands your wardrobe exponentially; for example, my 5 tops will all go with jeans (5 outfits), but then if I pack brown/pink pants/white pants that also match all those tops, suddenly I have 10 outfits. I can work with 10 outfits for two weeks! (The graphic here also illustrates the concept nicely.)

 

I’ve found that packing my favorite clothes (ones that I know I’m comfortable in) and are easy to wash and go (no ironing, please and thank you) are the best. Accessories are super small and another great way to mix it up. (But I usually keep those to a minimum too…) Nothing gets packed that isn’t part of a plan/outfit. Packing for “just in case” guarantees a large suitcase. Would not having “it” ruin the trip? Didn’t think so. Except extra socks and underwear, because that’s always a good idea. Honestly, my packing regrets have always related to packing too much, rather than not enough. Always bring a sweater, even in summer. If your trip spans two climates, I am of the opinion that dresses are unsung heroes of packing/layering: by themselves they’re cool and comfortable, with a sweater and tights you’re pretty warm.

 

When I pack for my children, I start about three days before we leave. Because every (EVERY) time I starting putting multiple outfits together I find dirty clothes in their drawers that need to be washed before I can finish packing (is it just my kids who do this??). And it’s no fun to do laundry last minute. So. Pack kids early.

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Favorite traveling shoes; they have seen many miles!

Be sure your shoes are comfortable for lots of walking and break them in ahead of time! Like clothes, I pack tried and true favorite shoes (this is not the time to pack an unproven pair, no matter how adorable). I never pack more than 3 pairs of shoes, and could probably usually get by with 2 pairs: again, neutrals and maximum matching. (Trust me, every time I’ve packed more than 3 pairs, something didn’t get worn and just wasted suitcase space!) If possible I bring only 1 pair of shoes for my children (that goes with everything), with a maximum of 2 pairs. If it’s warm weather, I’m a big fan of closed-toe sandals for toddlers; they protect baby toes from getting stubbed on uneven surfaces.

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Tried and true toddler shoes

If traveling with children in diapers: don’t stress about packing diapers and wipes — you can buy them there! If I have room to pack for more than the first couple days, I pack them, but they’re not my first priority (though if you pack lightly enough to fit comfortably into a carry-on, you’ll have room for them in your personal item…) Since kid outfits are small, I try to fit a couple extra outfits in for those moments when they go through more than one outfit a day. I pack (some) activities for my children, but try not to have a bunch of little things to keep track of. A few toys, coloring pencils, and an iPad for desperate moments and we’re set. They’ll always find something that sparks their imaginations! (Olive pits. Pigeons. Endlessly fascinating. And hopefully created a unique set of memories.) What I do pack in their carry-on backpack is an extra change of clothes so that in case of a mishap they can be reached immediately.

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Um, what can I say? We’re consistent in our kid luggage choice…

Generally speaking, you can buy just about anything you need in Europe, so don’t stress too much about forgetting something. Do call your bank ahead of time to place a travel alert, and travel with a debit card and a credit card. Don’t pack cash – withdraw it from an ATM after you arrive. It’s easier and you’ll get a better exchange rate than if you exchange your money for the local currency.

Things I am paranoid about and triple-check while packing: passports and prescriptions. Take pictures of your passports in case they get lost, so that you always have your passport numbers. I also email the pictures to myself and another family member in case my phone gets lost or stolen. It takes five minutes of time up front, but would save you oodles of time and headache on the bad end of an incident. (Which thankfully has never happened to us, but it does.)

You can buy regular over-the-counter medicine easily if needed (and even get antibiotics without hassle), but prescription meds are another matter. For instance, I am practically blind without glasses/contacts; getting around without them is hard, and I definitely can’t drive without them. They take up practically no room, so I always pack two extra pairs of contacts — my back-ups have a back-up! Would not having them ruin a trip? Er, pretty close to it.

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Also pack chargers and 220V adapters. In case my phone is DOA after a long day, I pack an actual paper print-outs of at least our first night’s lodging information, as well as whatever I need to know about our transportation upon arrival.

In my mind, packing extra clothes generally helps little, but packing strategic backup information is crucial. Traveling light helps us travel nimbly, and minimizes headache. Any favorite packing tips and strategies I’ve missed?

The rest of my trip planning dreaming can be found here: Part 1 Budget, Part 2 Destination and Tickets, Part 3 Accommodations and Pacing, Part 4 Food

 

Adventures with Food: Indian Butter Chicken

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Welcome to another family favorite recipe! This is one of those dishes that I would never have guessed ALL my children would love as much as they do, but my five-year-old has declared it his “1000% favorite food”! (For the record, roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar rates as “1% favorite” in his book. Sigh.) This recipe is both also remarkably healthy and budget-conscious –give it up for rice and chicken! (Speaking of budget, World Market is hands down the cheapest place to buy the ground coriander and cardamom called for in this recipe.)

You’ll notice it contains plenty of garlic. I always use more garlic than is called for in a recipe — Vive l’ail! I try to avoid kitchen “gadgets” as much as possible (for the sake of my cabinet space if nothing else), but I love having this garlic rocker; it’s simple to clean, easy to use, makes quick work of numerous garlic cloves, and since it’s stainless steel it will get the garlic smell off your hands if you use your hands to rinse it.

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This dish can be gently reheated the next day if you wish to make it ahead (but I would suggest leaving the cilantro to the last minute if possible).

We have eaten this with other kinds of rice, but the Basmati is especially good with it. Maybe it’s my Mexican-leaning tastebuds, but I think plenty of lime juice and cilantro is key to a flavorful dish here.

Indian Butter Chicken

Serves 8. Tweaked ever-so-slightly from Tasty Kitchen

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
  • 5-7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (This amount gives just a hint of heat — little enough that all my kids are happy. Use 1/2 teaspoon if you want it with some kick.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 lime, juiced (I often use more to taste)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 can (14.5 Oz. Can) Tomato Sauce
  • 1 can (14.5 Oz. Can) Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 2 cups half and half (in the name of all that is delicious and good for your body, please don’t use the nasty “fat free” stuff.)
  • 1 bunch chopped cilantro, or more to taste
  • Cooked Basmati rice (2 cups of uncooked rice is about right for us)

Combine the chicken, garlic, salt, both peppers, coriander, cumin, cardamom, and lime juice, and marinate up to overnight. (I have made it with practically no marinade time and it still tasted delicious, but the chicken and spices must be combined before cooking.)

Melt the butter in a 5-6 quart saute pan (you can also use a pot, though I think a saute pan works better), then add the onion and cook until softened. Add the marinated chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until all sides of the chicken are seared, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes; cover the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Then stir in the half and half and cilantro and serve over the cooked Basmati rice.

Reheats well for the rest of the week.

 

Life Lately: Wedding Weekend!

Life Lately: Wedding Weekend!

So the clan (Cahoots Crew/Krewe included) gathered this past weekend to celebrate the marriage of one of our sisters. It was a DIY wedding, and it is an indication of how hectic it was that we failed to get a single Cahoots picture to mark the occasion (except the whole family one). Le sigh.

How DIY? Michelle organized and set up and decorated, our dear sister-in-love arranged the flowers (except for the boutonnieres and corsages, which Michelle and I made. YouTube tutorial, anyone?), I made the cake and played the piano, my oldest was the flower girl, the dads and uncles did heavy duty watching the kidlets, and our father officiated. Definitely a family affair! (Not sure I’d actually recommend that level of DIY, so it probably won’t be a repeated phenomenon to that extent for the next sister, but it got done. We love you anyway, sisters!!)

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Chocolate raspberry wedding cake

It happened to be the same church where David and Michelle got married, so memories, memories!

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Sunday morning after the wedding most of the family gathered at my (Melissa’s) house for a casual brunch; if I’m honest it was probably my favorite gathering of the weekend, because we actually got to sit and visit with everyone! Luxurious no-work brunch courtesy of 2 dozen frozen Trader Joe’s chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat). The best!!

Our kids have been thrilled to get in so much cousin time; any happy excuse to see each other and everyone else too! (Didn’t hurt that the Detroit Crew left snow behind to revel in spring weather and flip-flops.) Seeing the people we love best was icing on the cake (ahem) of a happy occasion!

Reading Round-Up: Recent Recommendations

                                                             

Those of you who haven’t met us in real life may be forgiven for thinking that all we do is dream about travel and eat. And eat and travel. Well, almost. While I must admit those are indeed favorite activities, my first and constant love is reading. Below are three books (both children’s and adult’s) we’ve (Melissa and her munchkins) read recently that we thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to you.

Ok, so this book shouldn’t put to you sleep — the research on how sleep affects us and our brain (and whole body and every aspect of our health!) was fascinating. Well-written and not overly dense, it left me with a scientific backing for a guilt-free prioritization of my eight hours of the best. (Although bewilderingly the first chapter was full of wondering at how sleep evolved, and explanations as to how fundamental it is to life, which made no sense to me as to how life could have existed without sleep… but anyhow.) 4 stars.

I went into this book knowing really nothing about geopolitics, and ended it having (I think) a solid introduction to the subject. The author explains how geography affects  commerce, wars, culture, and current events, both past and present. (Mountain range in the way? Who knew that that’s part of the reason why that country is the way it is…) Concisely written, yet covers a lots of ground (so to speak…); it made several historical events make a lot more sense, and left me curious to read more about geopolitics. 4.5 stars.

I was browsing the juvenile audiobook section at our library when I spotted Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and thought, “Oh, cute classic child’s book. Sure.” Little did I know that we were in for a rollicking adventure full of a magical car, a secret cave, gangsters, a trip to France, and a kidnapping, all satisfactorily settled in the end. (I suppose I shouldn’t have expected less from the creator of James Bond. Yes, that Ian Fleming.) My eldest was absolutely enthralled, and begged me to turn it on every moment we got into the car (and wanted to listen to it again immediately upon finishing it!). 5 stars from the Krewe!

I’m currently on the hunt for a fun rollicking book of my own to read; I usually turn to a Daniel Silva, but I’d love to get a fresh recommendation!

Pączki Day!

Pączki Day!

One of the perks of moving every two years is getting to experience the cultural variety that the US has to offer. Whether at the World Ice Art Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska, or at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockport, Maine, we haven’t had to look far to find a unique local event.  So, when we heard about Pączki Day, a holiday apparently involving jelly donuts, the Detroit Crew was all in.

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Unless you hail from Poland or the Midwest, you may have never heard of this holiday. I hadn’t! It’s celebrated in the States due to the large Polish immigrant population mainly from Buffalo to Chicago and down through Ohio, and was historically a pre-Lenten sugar clean-out of the pantry. Here in Detroit, the donut-eating mainly takes place on Fat Tuesday, whereas in Chicago, I hear Thursday is also common.

 

The best-known bakeries in Detroit are located in the historically Polish Hamtramck area –  New Martha Washington Bakery and New Palace Bakery. If you go on Pączki (pronounced POONCH-key) Day, expect to wait in line for hours to sample this tasty treat. I highly recommend calling ahead – if you can get through!

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The American Polish Center in Troy

We also found that the American Polish Center in Troy, Michigan, (about 30 minutes from downtown) was offering Pączki for sale. Since we were on the hunt for an authentic Pączki, that seemed like a good bet. It also wasn’t a source we’d heard a lot about in our research on where to buy Pączki, so it seemed necessary for the purpose of researching this post that we try what the APC had to offer! 😉

 

Traditional fillings include Bavarian cream, prune, rose, lemon, apple, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, custard, and blueberry. New Martha Washington Bakery offers all these and a few more, however New Palace Bakery distinguishes itself through its specialty fillings. They also offer the traditional flavors, but their specialty fillings include combinations like Cocoa Puffs, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Chocolate Custard. Even President Clinton visited New Palace Bakery when he was in office!

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New Palace Bakery

So, on to the verdict! We held off on consuming the Pączki until we got home, so we could compare them and enjoy them with a cup of coffee. Upon opening the boxes, the color difference between the Hamtramck bakeries and the American Polish Center Pączki was surprising – the APC ones were several shades darker. We cut into the Pączki to compare the amount of filling from each bakery. Another clear winner – the APC pastries had more filling than the other Hamtramck bakeries.

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Clockwise from L: New Martha Washington, New Palace, American Polish Center

As far as the taste of the pastry itself, the APC won out as well. Theirs was moist and flavorful, while we found the other two bakeries’ a little dry and tasteless. The fillings were most delicious in the APC Pączki, though we did enjoy trying some of the specialty flavors from New Palace Bakery.

We certainly didn’t expect the results to be so clear-cut. It was fun to explore Hamtramck, a new neighborhood of Detroit to us, but I think I know where we’ll be buying our Pączki next year!

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Clockwise from L: New Martha Washington, New Palace, American Polish Center

Know before you go:

  • New Martha Washington Bakery and New Palace Bakery both accept credit cards (though New Palace adds on a surcharge, so you might consider bringing cash). The American Polish Center only accepts cash for their Pączki sale.
  • Flavor options for New Martha Washington are visible in the picture in this post, for New Palace Bakery are posted here, and for the American Polish Center are custard, strawberry, raspberry, prune, apricot, blueberry, cherry, apple, and lemon. More information can be found on their website.
  • I easily found on-street parking in Hamtramck and had no trouble getting my orders, but I strongly recommend calling ahead, regardless of the bakery you choose. (Particularly if you have kids in tow, as I did. :-)) That said, I did go a couple of days before Fat Tuesday, so as not to have to brave the lines and traffic.

Happy Pączki eating!

Adventures with Food: Carbonara with Fresh Pasta

Adventures with Food: Carbonara with Fresh Pasta

Once we started making our own pasta, we were excited to begin adapting some of our favorite recipes for use with the good stuff. 😉 This one is a family favorite (I mean, who doesn’t like carbonara?) that we originally found on Simply Recipes. I’ve upped the bacon and garlic and given instructions for use with fresh pasta. Enjoy!

Carbonara with Fresh Pasta

Serves 6

Fresh pasta ingredients:

  • 300 grams semolina flour
  • 300 grams all-purpose flour
  • 6 eggs at room temperature

Carbonara ingredients: 

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound bacon (or pancetta), diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 whole eggs*
  • 1 1/4 cups grated parmesan (or pecorino) cheese
  • Black pepper to taste

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First, you’ll want to mix up your pasta, wrap in it plastic wrap, and have it resting for an hour. While you’re waiting, dice the bacon, mince the garlic, and grate the parmesan. Whisk together the eggs and half of the parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup) and set aside.

 

 

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After pasta dough has rested, roll it out using your pasta roller and hang your noodles. We prefer fettuccini for this recipe, though tagliolini or spaghetti would also work (you’ll need to adjust pasta cooking times if you choose a different noodle cut).

 

 

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Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

While that’s coming to a boil, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large (5 or 6 qt.) sauté pan. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat.

Cook your fresh fettuccini until al dente (about 2 minutes – taste-test it before draining). **Reserve a cup of pasta water.** Put the still-dripping noodles into the sauté pan with the bacon/garlic mixture and toss quickly to incorporate. Add the egg/parmesan mixture and continue to toss. As needed, add pasta water until you get a creamy, rich mixture (you shouldn’t need the full cup of reserved water). Top with freshly ground black pepper and the remaining parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

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*Worried about cooking with raw eggs? The heat of the bacon/garlic mixture as well as the heat of the just-boiled noodles cooks them enough, and we’ve never had an issue with it. If this is a concern for you, don’t let it keep you from trying this recipe! Try using pasteurized eggs.