April 1st

A fun contest from Victoria Benchley!

Victoria Benchley

Ready to play?

Identify the location of the photo below.  Remember to register your answer by clicking on “Leave a comment” at the top of this page and then write your reply (I’ll approve comments at end of each day and reveal the locale in the following blog). 

Correct answer receives a point.  I’ll be posting a different photo, along with a hint, every day this month.  Whoever has the most points on April 30th will receive a prize (you’re not winning the lotto, dear people, but I will mail you a small gift which will include a modest Amazon card).  In the event of a tie, a randomly generated number will decide the winner.  So, be sure to check back here each day, and let’s see who can . . .

Name That Location!

Hint: This spot is considered one of the prettiest villages in this country. It’s…

View original post 21 more words

Fun Facts About St. Patrick’s Day

Having learned in the last few years that I am of Irish extraction, I’ve found a renewed interest in St. Patrick’s Day. For this week’s blog post I did a little digging and discovered some things about St. Patrick’s Day that I hadn’t known.

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The real Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish! He was British, born to an aristocratic family around the year 390. He didn’t even practice Christianity until, having been kidnapped and sent to Ireland to live as a shepherd, he experienced a religious conversion, escaped to return to Britain, and was told in a dream to return to Ireland.

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The real Saint Patrick wasn’t even a saint! He was never canonized by a Pope.

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It is said that St. Patrick taught people about the Holy Trinity by using the three leaves of the common clover (or shamrock) to represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000.

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The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States was held in Boston in 1737.

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On St. Patrick’s Day, there are over 13 million pints of Guinness sold around the world. Another fun fact: I don’t like Guinness.

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There are 34.7 million Irish-Americans. This is more than seven times the population of Ireland.

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The world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is held in the Irish village of Dripsey. It is only 100 yards long and stretches between the village’s two pubs.

Not Dripsey.

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Legend has it that wearing green makes a person invisible to leprechauns.

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There are no snakes slithering through the countryside of Ireland and there never were. When we hear that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, perhaps this is what is meant:

From Shoeboxblog.com

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! How do you celebrate?

Until next time,

Amy

First Tuesday Recipes for March

I hope I’m not speaking prematurely, but spring seems to be in the air! As I write this it’s supposed to be almost 60 degrees this afternoon and it’s beautiful and sunny out.

My thoughts are turning to spring meals. I’ve got two desserts and a decadent soup for you this month—and they feature lemons, strawberries, and asparagus. It doesn’t get much more spring-y than that!

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Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards

For the custards:

2 1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

1 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. milk

1/2 c. whole large eggs

2 lg. egg yolks

1/8 t. salt

pepper

For the soup:

1 lg. leek, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped

1/2 c. shallot, finely chopped

1/2 t. salt

pepper

1 t. unsalted butter

2 1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces

3 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 c. water

1/4 c. heavy cream

For this recipe, you’ll need 6 2-inch ramekins. If you don’t have them, you can order them from Amazon here. I have a set of them and I use them often for dips, garnishes at the table, etc.

 

Make the custards:

Butter ramekins and set aside.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring cheese, cream, and milk just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour steeped cream through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing lightly on the cheese solids. Discard cheese solids. Whisk together eggs, egg yolks, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Add steeped cream in a thin stream, whisking until smooth. Divide among ramekins.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and fill dish with a hot water bath about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I use a kettle to boil the water while the cream steeps so the water is hot and ready to pour into the baking dish when the ramekins go in.

Bake in center of oven for 40-45 minutes or until centers of custards are completely set. Transfer ramekins with tongs to a cooling rack and cool for five minutes. Do not cool longer than five minutes. Run a knife around the ramekin to loosen the custard, place a soup bowl over the ramekin, and invert so the custard is in the soup bowl.

While the cream steeps and the custards bake, make the soup:

Wash the chopped leeks in a bowl of cold water and drain well. Pat dry. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks, shallots, salt, and pepper; cook until leeks are softened, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, broth, and water; simmer, covered, until asparagus is just tender, about 10-12 minutes. After 2-4 minutes, remove 6 asparagus tips, cut each in half, and reserve for garnish.

Use an immersion blender to purée soup or purée in batches using a blender. Transfer soup to a large bowl and wipe out saucepan. Pour soup through a sieve into the saucepan; discard any solids. Stir in cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook over medium-low heat until hot.

Ladle soup over custards, garnish with reserved asparagus tips and extra shaved cheese, if desired. Serve hot.

 

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Lemon Chiffon Crunch

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs

1/3 c. light brown sugar

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/3 c. melted butter

1 3-oz. pkg. lemon Jell-O

3/4 c. boiling water

1/2 c. sugar

Juice and peel of one lemon peel, zested and chopped

12 oz. evaporated milk

 

Combine first four ingredients; mix until crumbly. Reserve 3 T. crumb mixture; press remaining crumb mixture into the bottom of a buttered 9-inch square pan; chill.

Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water; add sugar, lemon juice, and peel. Chill to consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Ten minutes later, pour evaporated milk into a freezer tray and freeze until ice crystals form around the edges. Turn into chilled bowl; whip until stiff. Fold whipped evaporated milk into Jell-O mixture. Spoon into pan on top of crumb layer. Sprinkle top with reserved crumbs. Chill until set.

 

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Crust:

3 c. flour

2 1/2 t. sugar

3/4 t. salt

2/3 c. chilled shortening, cut into pieces

1 1/4 sticks chilled butter, cut into pieces

10 T. ice water

Filling:

3 1/2 c. rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2-inch thick

16 oz. strawberries, hulled and halved (for very large berries, cut into quarters)

1/2 c. light brown sugar, packed

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/4 t. salt

Egg wash:

1 lg. egg yolk

1 t. water

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add shortening and butter and mix with a fork or pastry knife until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water, 1 T. at a time, until dough comes together in a ball. Divide dough into two disks and chill. When chilled, roll out disks into two circles. Place one circle into the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate.

Mix filling ingredients in a large bowl. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Spoon filling into pie crust. Roll out second disk of dough and place on top of the pie. Trim edges. Whisk egg yolk and water; brush over top of pie.

Place pie on baking sheet and cook in 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook pie for another hour and 25 minutes. Cover crust with foil if it is browning too fast.

 

Remember that readers are always invited to share recipes. Just email them to me at amymreadeauthor[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll put them in a future post.

Enjoy!

 

Until next time,

Amy

We Are the World Blogfest #WATWB

It’s already the last Friday in February (how did THAT happen so fast??), and time again for some good news to take you into March with a smile. This will be my first good-news post of 2020. Somehow I missed the January post, but I’m making up for it today.

The story I’ve chosen for this month is in keeping with my habit of reporting on innovations and ideas that are good for the environment and, therefore, good for all of us. It’s the story of a lab at Rice University that has discovered a way to turn carbon-based items (think food waste and plastic) into graphene, which traps greenhouse gases and is used to make more environmentally-friendly building materials.

Click here to read the story.

Here’s how #WATWB works: On the last Friday of each month a number of bloggers participate in a worldwide blog hop in which each blogger highlights a story that spreads good news, happiness, and hope.

Your cohosts for this month are Eric Lahti, Shilpa Garg, Sylvia McGrath, Peter Nena, and Belinda Witzenhausen. And if you want to read more uplifting articles, please visit the WATWB Facebook page here or the Twitter home page here to find links to other stories.

Want to join? Click this link to sign up and help spread some happiness!

The Top 10 Facts You Need to Know About Valentine’s Day

Ah, Valentine’s Day. The day so many of us love, hate, or love to hate. I used to refer to it as Black [insert day of week].

No matter how you may feel personally about the day, there’s no escaping its interesting history. Today I’m going to share some facts about Valentine’s Day that you may not have known. And since all my information comes from online sources, you can believe every word of it.

One. There is disagreement over the identity of the Saint Valentine, or Valentinus, for whom the day was named. There are as many as three possibilities, and they were all martyred for various infractions such as marrying people when Emperor Claudius had outlawed it (how romantic!) and helping Christians escape from Roman jails.

Two. Valentine is the patron Saint of a whole boatload of things, among them: engaged couples, happy marriages, traveling, beekeeping, and intervention of the plague, epilepsy, and fainting.

Three. There is no record of Valentine’s Day prior to the year 1375, when Chaucer first mentioned it in a poem entitled “Parliament of Foules,” in which birds come together on February 14th to find mates.

Four. Almost 6 million couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day every year.

Five. The oldest known valentine in existence dates from 1415 when Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Six. In 1847, Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase invented a machine that would make quick work of producing sore throat lozenges. It quickly became apparent that this machine would work well for candy, too, so Chase shifted gears and started making candy. The company he founded would eventually become the New England Candy Company (you may recognize this today as Necco!). and Necco wafers were the precursor to today’s candy conversation hearts. Interestingly, it was Oliver’s brother, Daniel, who came up with a way to press words onto the candies.

Seven. According to the National Retail Federation. Americans spend more money on jewelry for Valentine’s Day than any other gift.

Eight. More than five million American households give Valentine’s Day presents to their dogs, and less than half that number give gifts to their cats. Despite this glaring oversight, the amount of money spent on the average cat exceeds the amount spent on the average dog.

Nine. The highest number of Valentine’s Day cards go to…teachers! Not sweethearts, not kids, not Mom.

Ten. In the Middle Ages, young men and women would draw names to find out the identity of their Valentines. They would then wear the name of that person pinned to their sleeves for one week—hence the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

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Be My Valencrime is a perfect read for Valentine’s Day this year if you’re in the mood for something cozy, yet murderous. Many thanks to everyone who has ordered a copy already! The link to purchase your copy is here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Until next time,

Amy

The Top 10 (or so) Books to Read in Winter

As I write this, it’s about 30 degrees outside my window. I know, I know. Not exactly the frozen tundra, but it’s still cold. The fireplace is kicking out heat and pretty soon I’ll bundle up to take my dog for a walk. She loves the cold–in fact, she’ll lie down on the chilly ground outback and just survey her kingdom for hours.

Today’s weather has me thinking about books set in the wintertime. This weather is perfect for curling up on the sofa and reading. My list isn’t limited to novels; there are books for grown-ups, books for children, and books that combine the best of both worlds.

So without further ado, I present you (in no particular order) with my list for the top 10 books to read during the winter:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I read this book last year. It was haunting. In the several months that have passed since I finished the novel, I’ve come to regard it even more highly. It’s the story of a couple who are blessed with a magical child in early twentieth-century Alaska. You can read my review here.

 

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

I read this quite some time ago, but it has stayed with me. It’s a beautiful story told, in part, almost like a fairy tale (albeit a very dark fairy tale). It spans decades and has its roots in the starvation of Leningrad. It’s fascinating and spellbinding, and you’ll remember it long after you read it.

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

There’s a reason this book has been read by millions, made into a movie, and spawned countless imitations: it’s really that good. Set in a magical kingdom of eternal winter, it’s the ultimate tale of good versus evil. Younger readers appreciate the action and the family drama that unfolds; adults can appreciate the more subtle messages and dark humor in the story.

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

You know the story: the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future visit the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on the night before Christmas, prompting Mr. Scrooge to learn a valuable lesson about kindness and generosity. If you’ve never read the original by Dickens himself, do yourself a favor and read it. The language is flowery, much more so than modern novels, but there’s something about reading the words Dickens wrote that makes the story even better.

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Set in Russia, the coldest of cold places, this book examines the life of Anna, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who refuses to let that be her destiny. As she attempts to build a life with her lover, she faces scorn, ridicule, and social norms that force her to make a devastating choice. Spoiler alert: as with much of Russian literature, this book does not have a happy ending.

 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Full disclosure: The Long Winter and the rest of the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been among my favorites since I was old enough to read them. This one is especially exciting because it tells the story of one particularly bad winter in the Dakota Territory, when one blizzard after another culminates in a shortage of food, fodder for the animals, and even firewood. It’s thrilling to read about how the people of the territory managed to survive.

 

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

This was one of my favorite books to read to my kids when they were little, but you don’t have to be little to enjoy it. A young girl and her father go owling, hoping to see one of the magnificent creatures swoop by in the moonlit darkness. The illustrations are exquisite and the story is timeless.

 

Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick

This book, comprised of gorgeous photographs and simple words, is a love story to nature. There’s a stranger in the woods and the animals need to determine whether the stranger means them harm. Spoiler alert: the stranger brings only good.

 

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

David Sedaris has been called “one of the funniest writers alive” by Economist (because who knows humor better than economists??) and this collection of essays/short stories is an entertaining introduction to Sedaris if you’re not already familiar with his writing. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a Macy’s elf? Check it out.

 

And last, but not least, there is a tie between

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

 

 

and Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M. C. Beaton

 

You knew there was going to be an Agatha on this list, didn’t you? It was a toss-up between Dame Agatha Christie and another Agatha (Agatha Raisin, nosy and forthright brainchild of M. C. Beaton), so I chose to include both.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is classic Hercule Poirot, with the great detective trying to figure out whodunit in the murder of a millionaire businessman. The murdered man is surrounded by enemies on the Orient Express, a luxurious sleeper train that has become stuck in a huge snowdrift, so Poirot has his work cut out for him.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye follows the antics of fireball Agatha Raisin, Cotswolds detective and middle-aged divorcee, as she attempts to curate the perfect Christmas while trying to find the murderer of an elderly widow. M. C. Beaton, who passed away only three weeks ago, is a master at writing cozy mysteries.

What wintertime books do you recommend?

Until next time,

Amy