Reading The Family Dinner

I came across Laurie David’s The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids One Meal at a Time at my library and fell in love. Not only are there some great recipes in this attractive book, but the philosophy that drives the book will improve the experience of your own family dinners. David’s encouraging and enthusiastic writing will inspire you to be more intentional about putting food on the table.

Apart from the recipes, the book contains rich sections on stocking a pantry, cooking together, encouraging conversation, making green choices, and expressing gratitude. Each topic is covered in a way that provides options you can apply to your personal situation. I scribbled as I read and amassed a notepad full of kitchen tips, recipes, music recommendations, quotations, and resources. I finally realized that this is a book I need to add to my own library.

A few of the recipes have already become favorites, and there are so many more to try! Mac ‘n’ Cheese Please is my family’s favorite macaroni and cheese recipe ever. It tops the orange-from-the-box that my kids prefer, and it is better than the elaborate Martha Stewart version that I slaved over (and it was pretty darn good). Did I mention that it is a quick and easy stovetop recipe? I think we are going to have it tonight.

Other recipes we have enjoyed are Pea Nutty Noodles, Bang Bang Chicken Parmesan, and Chicken Piccata with Crispy Smashed Potatoes. You can visit The Family Dinner website for an ongoing discussion of family dining and a list of recipes. I browsed the recipe index earlier this week and added Chopped Salad and Monina’s Wheat Berry Salad to next week’s meal plan.

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Reading Wild

I recently heard an interview with the author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail on the Diane Rehm show. I’m a sucker for a memoir; I love to peek into the lives of others, partly because I am nosy and partly to glean something from someone else’s life experience. So I added the book to my “to read” list and devoured it this past weekend.

Cheryl Strayed did not disappoint me. I’m not giving away anything that isn’t on the book jacket when I say that her life hit amazing lows in the four years after the death of her mother, which occurred when she was 22 years old. In an attempt to reclaim herself, Cheryl decided to hike 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. By herself.  With no backpacking experience.

The writing is entertaining, raw, funny, and lyrical. The story has been percolating inside Strayed in the 20 years since she took the hike. She wrote the memoir using her journal and the recollections of people she met along the way. She acknowledges that her memories of events might represent only one possible version of how the events actually occurred, and I believe the story is also influenced by the person and writer she has become since then.

I am impressed by the personal journey of Cheryl Strayed. She undertook her hike in the days before cell phones and iPods. Her days were filled with her own thoughts, pain, joy, and boredom. I think you would have to make a more conscious effort to take such a trip today.

After reading Wild, I am adding Strayed’s other works to my “to read” list: Torch, and the Dear Sugar column.

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Feeding the Book Habit

I love to read, and I read all kinds of materials on all kinds of topics. I used to be more attached to my books, requesting the latest must-reads as presents so I could keep them on my shelves. I have always used and appreciated my local public library to support my habit, but as my tastes changed and I completed a few moves with my extensive collection of books, I began to really appreciate the library.

My library provides a variety of free services—yours probably does too. The online catalog is a convenient way for me to reserve my copy of the latest bestseller from home. The online research areas provide access to hundreds of professional journals and periodicals that give me higher quality information than the basic internet search. I can even compare dishwashers in the latest issue of Consumer Reports. The reference desk offers book club kits for book groups. Select a title from the list of kits and tell them how many copies you need. A few weeks later, pick up a bag of books and accompanying author information and discussion questions. The books are checked out to one person and for several weeks, to allow your group enough time to read and discuss the selection.

I do buy books occasionally. There are reference books I like to have on hand and some favorites I like to read again and again. Sometimes my library doesn’t have a book club kit, so I purchase the month’s selection. I hate to pay full price, so here are some of my best sources for buying new and used books at discount prices.

  • Used Bookstores—I recently got a half-price copy of The Great Gatsby on audio book for a long car ride at my local used bookstore. You can get credit by turning in books you no longer need.
  • Community Book Sales—The annual book sale put on by the library system near me takes donations and also sells books it no longer needs in the collection.
  • Thrift Stores—There are several in my town that have a wide selection of hardbacks and paperbacks for low, low prices. This is a great place for the books on the school reading lists in your town.
  • Discount Online Sites—Some of my favorites are,, and
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Knitting Epiphany

I really like to knit. I should be much better at it than I am, given how long I have been trying to master the skill. My current project is a Honeycomb  Scarf from the book Sock Yarn One-skein Wonders: 101 Patterns That Go Way Beyond Socks!, by Judith Durant. It is a lacy look, created by simple repeats of yarnovers  and knit togethers alternating with a knit row. At least it seemed simple until I got started. I ran into problems when I would get momentarily distracted and forget where I was in the repeat. I am not good at fixing things in my knitting, so my plan of attack has been to glare at the mistake, swear at my knitting, and then tear it out and start the whole thing over again. By my estimate, if I added up all the knitting I have done on this scarf, I would have a scarf about 4 miles long.

I learned a lot along the way about this particular pattern, but I was still not having success pulling out the knitting just past the mistake and trying to get it back on the needles. I always ended up with too many or too few stitches and a wonky patch in the scarf. I was about to give up this project entirely (or my family was going to give it up for me), when I had a knitting epiphany. It was all the yarnovers and knit togethers that were giving me fits, but there was a simple knit row every other row. I had the idea of threading a piece of scrap yarn through all the stitches of a knit row and then continuing the pattern. That way, if I made a mistake, I would only have to tear apart the knitting back to the row containing the piece of scrap yarn. When I got to that row, I could simply slip the knitting needle back through the stitches following the scrap yarn like a trail of crumbs.

It worked! I am making real progress now and might actually finish this scarf. I knit about 10 rows, and then I use a large plastic needle to thread a piece of scrap yarn through a knit row and keep on going. I still mess up and somehow end up with an extra stitch at the end of a row, but I no longer have to rip out the whole thing. I just have to swear a little bit and rip out just enough knitting to get me back to a piece of scrap yarn so I can put the scarf back on the needles and keep going. I can easily pull the scrap yarn out after I get past the point of needing it as a security blanket. I have never heard of this strategy so I claim it as my own, but I am willing to allow that another knitter might have come across the method (or even that all experienced knitters in the universe are aware of this method and I was the only ignorant one). It is so satisfying to solve a knitting problem!

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This Tablecloth Looks Familiar

Earlier this week, I co-hosted a pasta party for the girls’ high school soccer team.  This is a weekly event during the soccer season, and it is a fun whirlwind of about 25 hungry, laughing girls. I shared the cooking responsibilities with another mom, but we fed the team at my house. As my co-host and I were going over our checklist, she said, “What about paper plates, plastic forks, a plastic tablecloth, and napkins?” I said, “I have got them all covered.”

I used to agonize at full-house holidays or when we entertained more than a few friends. We have lovely china from my husband’s grandparents, but it is delicate and cannot go in the dishwasher. Every time we used it, I worried about someone feeling bad if they broke it—and I hated spending time in the kitchen washing and drying china when I would rather enjoy my company. And my green conscience hated using paper plates and plastic utensils that would get tossed in the trash.

To solve the plate problem, I went to Crate and Barrel and got two dozen white dinner plates. Our everyday dishes are also white, so I can combine the sets when we have a big gathering. The white plates go with any table décor and can be dressed up if the occasion calls for it. I got a great deal on our stainless flatware a few years ago and I got plenty of it. I saved our old set to supplement when we have bigger crowds. My style is pretty simple so it all blends. (I have seen another strategy, which is to buy mismatched plates in the same color scheme at thrift stores and garage sales so you have plenty on hand for a reasonable investment.)

We do use cloth napkins regularly at our house, but I confess that I used paper napkins for the pasta party. The napkin drawer is full of a hodge-podge of colors and I need to stitch up a fresh batch of napkins. I think the most I have in any one fabric is 12. I should use several fabrics that coordinate so I have enough for big groups.

By definition, the pasta parties involve red sauce. I didn’t want to use my “nice” tablecloths, but I needed something to cover the protective pads on the table. Painter’s drop cloth to the rescue! It is just the right size, the neutral color looks like linen (well, maybe in dim lighting), and you wouldn’t believe how well it washes up. I think I got a two-pack for $10 at Home Depot.

The girls seemed to have a great time, and they ate plenty. They certainly earn their appetites, but I think they eat more when they aren’t worried about the paper plate collapsing under the weight of the food! These standard items have gotten me through a wide variety of entertaining occasions with confidence.

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Wipe It Down

I have been making baby steps toward removing chemicals from our daily cleaning supplies at home. For years I have used the Red Juice and Blue Juice from The Clean Team. The Clean Team developed safe products that their cleaning staff could use day after day and not worry about harmful side effects. I have found these two products to be very effective for general cleaning, and Red Juice is wonderful for spot treating stains on the carpet. I still plan to keep them in my repertoire, but I added a new member to the cast. I ran out of Red Juice concentrate and looked online for a recipe for a basic household spray cleaner. I found Alice’s Wonder Spray and decided to mix up a batch.

This recipe is in many locations online, but I believe the original credit goes to Karen Logan, in her book Clean House, Clean Planet.

Alice’s Wonder Spray

  • 2 T white vinegar
  • 1t borax
  • 1 1/2 c hot water
  • 1/4 c castile soap
  • 10-15 drops essential oil

Mix vinegar and borax in a spray bottle. Add the hot water and shake gently to dissolve borax. Add castile soap and essential oil last. Shake gently to mix.

I keep several bottles of Alice’s Wonder Spray around the house. I use it mainly in the kitchen and bathrooms for wiping anything and everything. I have experimented with scented castile soaps, so sometimes I leave out the essential oil. I have used several different essential oils—even a Christmas Blend over the holidays. Go easy on the castile soap. If you add too much, the cleaning spray will foam up and leave a residue after you wipe.

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As I have become more aware of some of the chemicals lurking in our health and beauty products, I have tried to steer toward less-harmful options. Toothpaste in particular usually contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium fluoride, and propylene glycol.  I looked at some of the more natural options and was pleased to see that Trader Joe’s toothpaste has a short and comprehensible ingredient list. As we ran out of toothpaste, I gradually replaced the commercial tubes with the Trader Joe’s version. My family grumbled a little bit but made the transition pretty easily.

I have taken synthroid for years and it has resulted in some gum recession. I read that White Oak bark and Slippery Elm could be helpful for gum issues, so I ordered Christopher’s Herbal Tooth and Gum Powder. It takes some getting used to, as it is brownish green powder that is basically bits of ground-up bark. It is a bit dry in the mouth, and there is definitely no foaming, but my mouth feels very clean after I use it. (Maybe it is just the contrast after rinsing the “mud” out of my mouth!) I use the herbal tooth powder once or twice a week.

Then, I came across this recipe on Simple Mom and couldn’t resist giving it a try. I love it! I haven’t converted my family yet, but I am working on it.


  • 2T coconut oil
  • 3T baking soda
  • ¼ t stevia powder
  • A few drops of peppermint oil or extract

Mix all ingredients until well blended.

I do not include the stevia as a sweetener and I do not miss it. I use about 10 drops of peppermint oil and that gives the toothpaste a minty flavor that isn’t overwhelming. It has the consistency of regular toothpaste. I keep my toothpaste in a small, lidded jar and I use my brush to scoop a little out. As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that it would be more sanitary to use a little scooper to apply it to the brush! Maybe I will do that if it seems as though anyone at my house wants to share my toothpaste.

It is my opinion that in the 6 months that I have been making my own toothpaste, my breath is fresh, my teeth are a bit whiter, and my gums rarely bleed when I floss.

 Here is the link to the complete article on Simple Mom:

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