THE OPEN BOOK

26
Sep

Weekly Wrap-Up: Royalty Checks, Conferences, and Celebrations!

Horray! Saturday!

It’s not Friday. I accept this. So, instead of Friday Favorites, I’m calling this the Weekly Wrap-Up. Better late than never, right? I’ve also accepted that writing three blog posts a week while starting a new job, grad school, trying to write a sequel, and have a semblance of a life is insanity. For now, at least, I think I’m going to switch to two blog posts a week. Not that I won’t write more when I have the time (haha), but two posts is much more feasible than three right now.

But enough of that–let’s get on to the actual post! This past week was a curve ball. I attended not one, but TWO workshops on early literacy and librarianship. One of the workshops was in the Cities (the Twin Cities or Minneapolis/St. Paul for those of you outside Minnesota), which was amazing because I got to have dinner with one of my close friends from high school. Also, I had my first full staff meeting with the whole library system. Does it make me a huge nerd to say that I was REALLY excited for the staff meeting? Most likely. 🙂

Besides the workshops, here are a few other highlights from my week:

My First Royalty Check!

That’s right, people! I OFFICIALLY HAVE MADE MONEY FROM MY BOOK! Actual, real money! From my own writing! I can’t tell you how amazing that feels. I literally danced around and sang when my publishers gave me the check. And speaking of Seven Stones

River Place Press is Running a THIRD PRINTING!!!!!

Third Printing!

Third Printing!

A third printing. Three printings in one year. Can you believe it?!? People are reading my book! PEOPLE ARE READING MY BOOK! If you are one of those people, THANK YOU!!! If you aren’t one of those people, you really should reconsider your life choices.

Eid al-Adha

I LOVE experiencing new cultures and ESPECIALLY new foods. On Friday night, I had the amazing opportunity to celebrate Eid al-Adha with new friends, and it was wonderful! Mankato has a very large Somali population, and most of the community practices Islam. I had never been invited to an Islamic celebration before, but when my cousin asked me if I wanted to attend a feast how could I resist?!

Because I’m a nerd who loves to learn, I did some research on the festival of Eid. Eid al-Adha is known as the “Festival of Sacrifice” which celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. After a day of prayer, greetings, and the exchange of gifts, there is a big celebration where you eat tons of delicious, delicious foods while visiting with friends. What could be bad about that?! Answer: nothing.

The spread!

The spread!

I had never had Somali food before, and found that it is FABULOUS! My favorites were Samboosa (fried savory triangles stuffed with spiced meat), Bur (a slightly sweet fried dough), Shaah Somali (a light, milky, very sweet chai-like tea flavored with cardamom and other spices. Shane hates tea, but he loved Shaah Somali. He drank a whole cup!).

Bajia: little fried bits of heaven

Bajia: little fried bits of heaven

My absolute favorite food was Bajia. If you like falafel, you’ll love bajia–they are little balls made from chick peas and fried to perfection. I. Love. Bajia. Also on the menu was Kahawa (fried coffee. That’s right. FRIED coffee infused with cardamom, spices, and sweetened) and a spiced rice, potato, and meat dish called Bariis Iskukaris.

All of the food was so good it was hard to stop eating! It didn’t help that all the other women kept telling me that I was too skinny and had to eat more. Oh well, twist my arm. 🙂 I love the spices in Somali food–especially the use of cardamom. Cardamom has always been one of my favorite flavors–such a sweet, earthy, spicy flavor–and it was in almost everything I ate.

Dessert: simple biscuits dunked in the sweet, spiced Kahawa or Shaah Somali.

Dessert: simple biscuits dunked in the sweet, spiced Kahawa or Shaah Somali.

I feel so fortunate to be invited to such a beautiful celebration! There I was, a Celtic lass talking and laughing with women from Somali, the Sudan, and Yemen. It was awesome! I met some new friends and found some new favorite foods. Eid Mubarak. 🙂

That’s my week! I’m off to do homework!

Happy Saturday!

21
Sep

Caramel Apple Scones

Caramel_Apple_Scones

I ate all my scones before I could get a good picture, but they looked just like these ones from oneingredientchef.com 🙂

I love the autumn. Crunchy leaves. That wonderful chill in the air. Scarves, sweaters, Halloween (my FAVORITE holiday). And the food. Oh, lordy, the food. In my opinion, it just doesn’t get better than the flavors of fall and those sweet-spiced treats you just can’t get enough of.

Like these caramel apple scones, for example.

You heard me right: caramel. apple. scones. The ooey-gooey-ness of caramel meets the sweet-tart of apple, and it’s all wrapped up in a fluffy scone. Can it get any better? YES! Because this recipe is ENTIRELY FREE OF REFINED SUGARS.

Wait, wait. A caramel sauce that’s free of refined sugars? But, how?! Surely, there must be some trick! You are right to be wary, but let me assure you that this is the real deal. Let me introduce you to my secret weapon: dates.

detoxinista.com

If you’ve never had a date before, you need to go to the store and buy a bag. Right now. In fact, you need to buy two because you will immediately want to make this caramel sauce. Dates are a sweet, succulent dried fruit that are essentially nature’s caramel. They are ooey. They are gooey. And they are the main ingredient in this homemade, no-cook caramel sauce.

Now, let’s talk about these scones. I usually dive head-first into pumpkin baking, but this year I wanted to explore the other flavors of fall as well (never fear, I’ll be posting a plethora a of pumpkin recipes before too long. Did I mention pumpkin is my favorite flavor EVER?). I adore caramel apples and look forward to them every year. However, the “caramel” you buy at the store–whether individually wrapped in plastic or in those white tubs–has a lot of questionable ingredients and is laced with scary chemicals. On the other hand, making a homemade caramel sauce is a PAIN (at least in my mind). I don’t have a candy thermometer, so I thought my caramel days were over.

Then, I met dates and my life changed forever.

*Cue romantic music*

I discovered that if you soak dates and throw them in a food processor (or blender) with some vanilla, milk, and salt it becomes INSTANT CARAMEL SAUCE. It really does taste like traditional caramel, and yes it is FANTASTIC to dip apples in. I’ve been snacking on caramel apples all week, and feel good about it because I’m essentially getting two servings of fruit instead of tons of artificial ingredients and empty calories.

My recipe tester (aka, Shane) is a notorious scone-hater, but he has been raving about my caramel apple scones. They taste like heavenly dessert, but are healthy enough to eat for breakfast. Now that’s what I call a win-win.

Julia’s Caramel Apple Scones

Scones

2 small-medium apples, coarsely grated

2 cups white whole wheat flour + enough to dust work surface and hands

½ cup Sucanat

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 Tbsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground ginger

pinch salt, optional and to taste

½ cup coconut oil, cold

1 large egg

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

Caramel Sauce

1 cup Medjool dates (they’re the most caramelly), soaked (note: make sure your dates are pitted! You can buy most with the pits already removed)

ÂĽ tsp sea salt, or more to taste

1 tsp lemon juice

ÂĽ cup milk, plus more to add for texture

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp coconut oil

For the Scones:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  2. Grate the apples using the coarsest blade of a box grater and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, add 2 cups flour, Sucanat, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, optional salt, and whisk to combine.
  4. Add the coconut oil, and with a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter in. I smoosh the butter with forks and when it’s the size of large marbles, I use my hands and knead it in. It will feel like semi-wet, cool sand. Some larger pea-sized butter clumps are okay.
  5. Add the egg, yogurt, vanilla, to the apples and whisk together
  6. Pour wet mixture over dry, and fold until just combined. That’s enough. Good job. The dough will be wet and soggy. You want that.
  7. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons flour over a clean work surface and lightly coat hands.
  8. Turn dough out onto surface and shape it into a 8-inch round, approximately. Dough is very moist, wet, sticky, and tacky, but if it’s being too stubborn or too wet to come together, sprinkle with flour 1 tablespoon at a time until you get it to come together and into a round.
  9. With a large knife (coating the knife in flour helps), slice the round into 8 equal-sized wedges.
  10. Using a flat spatula or pie turner, carefully transfer wedges (aka, curse and yell as the scones stick to the work surface) to prepared baking sheet spaced at least 2-inches apart. Do not crowd because scones puff and spread while baking. Bake for about 20 to 24 minutes, or until scones are very lightly golden and cooked through. Because they’re baking in quite a hot oven, watch them closely starting after about 15 minutes to ensure the bottoms aren’t getting too browned.
  11. While the scones cool, make the sauce!

For the Sauce:

Drain water from the soaking dates. Dump all the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend. Add more milk. Blend some more. Add more milk. Blend again. Blend until you get the creamy, delicious texture you want for your caramel sauce. Lick the spatula. Heck, lick the blender. I won’t judge. Okay, you’re done.

Slather the warm apple scones with the date caramel sauce and enter to autumnal baking heaven!

Suggested Pairing

A mug of pumpkin coffee and a winding trail through fall foliage

Happy Monday!

 

18
Sep

Friday Favorites: The Life of a Librarian/Writer

As I write this, it’s still technically Friday! I intended to get up an hour early and have my blog post written and up for the world to see before work. Then, my alarm clock didn’t go off this morning. All was well, I still woke up in plenty of time for work but no time for a blog post. Now, as I sit on my couch with a lovely cup of tea in hand, I am ready to wrap up this week and enjoy the weekend!

What did this week bring? Well, a cold slap of reality for one. I had the loftiest, grandest ambitions for my writing and blogging this week. I thought I could get back into writing every day and blogging thrice a week. Alas. I forgot what a cruel mistress graduate school truly is. I am sad to say that, though I got an entire chapter written last week, I have written ZERO words this week. Oooo. It hurts to say that, but the truth is the truth. I am hoping for a late surge this weekend, so wish me luck. Things are really heating up in the sequel–I just need to find the time to put all the words in my head down onto paper.

In the meantime, I’ve been playing board games, doing yoga, rocking story times at my library, watching movies with Shane, and planning a whole marathon of autumn inspired baking!!! Here are some of this week’s highlights:

Curiosi-Tea House

Curiosi-Tea!

It’s official. I found my favorite spot in Mankato: The Curiosi-Tea House!!! I drove by this place one day and had to go back. It is HEAVEN in this little tea shop! They have the most adorable decorations, delicious tea, and scrumptious treats. The best part is that they SERVE tea, so you can enjoy afternoon tea with your friends! The owner is absolutely lovely and offers over 150 different kinds of tea in her shop. I literally could spend all day there, and I just might while I work on homework this weekend! Stop by for a cuppa if you want to say ‘ello! 🙂

Story Time!

Friendship Story Time

Friendship Story Time

My second week of doing story time was fantastic! Above is a picture of my preschool-aged story time setup. The theme was Friendship: we read You, A Visitor for Bear, and Two Bunny Buddies (I highly recommend all of these titles!). As usual, I had a bunch of songs, fingerplays, and dances for the kids (my favorite was the “Dancing Scarf Blues” where the kids all danced around with colorful scarves and instruments–led by yours truly). For the craft, we made pipe cleaner friendship bracelets. The kids had a fantastic time and so did I!

I get to go to two library conferences this next week, and I SUPER stoked but also sad because I’m going to miss story time! Instead, the Lead Librarian gets to lead a truly epic story time filled with BUBBLE MACHINES and a fun “sink or float?” activity. Needless to say, I am bummed to miss the debut of the bubble machine, but I know Matthew will have as much fun playing with the kids as I would. 🙂

Moonflow Yoga

This class has been my lifesaver this week. Moonflow yoga is intense, relaxing, and completely rejuvenating. I love it so much that I want to share it with you! Ali Kamenova is my favorite yoga teacher (with TONS of free classes on YouTube), and this is possibly one of my favorite classes of all time. If you’re feeling stressed or tired, click “play” and get your Zen on.

Book of the Week: Stella by Starlight

Fantastic read!

Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.

I am LOVING this book. The author has this magical way of weaving words like poetry; the characters are lovable, real, and the story is gripping. It is an honest picture of the South during an ugly period of history, and Stella is a really cool heroine. I will be spending some happy hours on the couch with my faithful mug of tea and this book on Sunday. 🙂

That’s all for this week! Happy Friday!

14
Sep

Slow Cooker Chicken Dumpling Soup

The first pictures with my new smart phone!

The first pictures with my new smart phone!

As soon as the first chill is in the air, I start craving soup. I ADORE soup. To me, soup means fall just as much as scarves, sweaters, pumpkins, and crunchy leaves. When September rolls around, it’s all I seem to want to eat: a hearty bowl of soup and some crusty bread. Mmmmm. I get hungry just thinking about it.

There is something immeasurably comforting about soup. With all the changes in my life lately, I needed something familiar and warm. When the temperature suddenly dropped and my soup craving kicked in, I knew exactly what I wanted to make: Chicken Dumpling Soup.

Cooking has always been a big part of who I am. Making homemade food for the people I love is one of my favorite things to do. Cooking is also what helps make a house feel more like a home. With all the craziness of the move, I hadn’t been able to cook in our new place yet, so it still didn’t feel “right.” Well, after whipping out my Slow Cooker and letting my soup fill the apartment with warm, inviting smells, it feels a lot more like home. I spent my Saturday evening writing a new chapter with a pumpkin candle burning next to me and Chicken Dumpling Soup simmering in the kitchen. It was pretty perfect (minus the homework).

The best thing about this soup (like all my recipes) is how incredibly easy it is to make. The only real prep work you have to do is chop veggies and mix the dumpling ingredients together. The slow cooker does all the rest! And if you are intimidated by making your own dumplings, FEAR NOT! It is simple and super fun to plop the raw dough into the soup. Trust me. Slow cooker soups changed my life, and I hope this recipe helps you greet fall with a belly full of warm soup.

Julia’s Crazy Good Slow Cooker Chicken Dumpling Soup

Say hello to a big bowl of cozy

Say hello to a big bowl of cozy

The Soup

1 yellow onion, diced

5 cloves of garlic, diced

5 carrots, diced

5 stalks of celery, diced

2 organic chicken breasts

10 cups of chicken broth (I usually do water and organic bouillon cubes)

1 Tbsp Thyme

1-2 Tbsp Herbs de Provence (note: I had these on hand, so I threw them in and they were FANTASTIC! If you don’t have Herbs de Provence, just use whatever blend of herbs you like. Rosemary is always good with chicken dishes) 

Salt & Pepper, to taste

The Dumplings

2 cups white whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp Earth Balance or butter

1 tsp salt

1 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy is up to you!)

1-2 tsp herbs of your choice, optional (I used more Herbs de Provence)

Directions

Add the veggies, garlic, and onion to the slow cooker and cover with broth. Submerge the chicken breasts whole. Add herbs, salt, and pepper. Turn your slow cooker to “Low” and walk away for 8 hours (don’t have that much time? Crank that dial to “High” and cook for 3 hours).

Mmmm…smell that? It’s ready for the dumplings! If you were cooking your soup on “Low,” turn it up to “High.” Take those chicken breasts out of the soup and shred the meat with two forks. Put all that goodness back into the soup.

To make the dumplings, mix the dry ingredients together. Then, add the butter and milk. Mix again. Take a spoon and plop the raw dough into the slow cooker. Cover, and let the dumplings cook in the soup for about 15-20 minutes.

Check the dumplings to make sure they are cooked all the way through, and DEVOUR!!!

Pair with a delicious crusty bread.

Happy Fall!

What’s your favorite fall comfort food?

11
Sep

Friday Favorites!

Hey, All! Good to be back! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, and this past week was no different. The good news is that I’m starting to get into a routine, both with school, the new job, and writing.

What does that mean? Hopefully, it means that I will be back to posting three times a week like I was before the move, AND that the sequel will be finished before the end year. That’s my new goal. It used to be September, but with all the madness of packing, unpacking, and starting a new life, I’ve barely gotten to write. I’m going to start my weekly word count again soon, and hopefully have a few new recipes to share next week as well (I haven’t had time to cook yet in our new apartment. For those of you who know me, you can imagine how much that has been killing me!).

And now, for Friday Favorites! The FIRST Friday Favorites post in Mankato! YAY! So, what have we been up to this week?

2015 Highland Games

It was a good day to be Scottish!

It was a good day to be Scottish!

I was SO excited to be a part of the Games that I’ve been attending since high school. And it was BETTER than I imagined! My goal was to sell 100 books (50 each day), but I brought a few extras. Just to be positive, you know? Well, I should have sold more because I am SOLD OUT of the second printing! I sold 118 books!

THANK YOU to all my new readers (I loved meeting you! Enjoy the novel!), old friends who came out to see me, and everyone who worked so hard to pull off the Games. I can’t wait for next year!

My First Storytime!

0910150955[1]

All set and ready to ROCK!

My very first storytimes were this week and they were fantastic! I had a Baby Lapsit on Wednesday, and my Romp & Rhyme Storytime on Thursday. The picture above is from my Romp & Rhyme, and me & the kids ROCKED it! My theme was Back to School. We read Pete The Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, Splat the Cat, Maisy Goes to Preschool, and Mouse’s First Day. Of course, we rocked out to songs and played lots of fun games. Afterward, I had several parents thank me for the program and say they would make storytime part of their weekly routine! YAY!

Mineopa Falls

0910151733[1]

The Falls at Sunset

Yesterday was my favorite day in Mankato so far. Shane had a day off and I only had to be at the library for storytime, so we had a WHOLE DAY together. It was a gorgeous day for biking, so Shane planned a bike ride, but didn’t tell me where we were going.

Waterfalls?! I couldn't believe it!

Waterfalls?! I couldn’t believe it!

If you’ve never biked in Mankato, be warned: it is HILLY. Some of these hills want to kill you, and they nearly did. But we are tough Hobbits, and biked to Mineopa Park up and down some truly beautiful countryside. When we got to the park, I found out why Shane wanted to come here: WATERFALLS!

What a perfect day!

What a perfect day!

We had a picnic right next to the beautiful falls. It was perfect, and such an adventurous ride! I can’t wait to explore more Mankato parks!

That’s my week in a nutshell! How was yours?

Happy Friday!

03
Sep

Wisconsin Highland Games 2015!

After almost a little more than a month’s break from touring, I’m off to another book signing! And GREAT news, Wisconsin Friends. I’m coming your way! I’ll be at the Wisconsin Highland Games this whole weekend, so if you missed me at The SweetSpot back in July, make sure you come out and say hi!

The Highland Games were something I used to look forward to all year long. What’s not to love about caber tossing, haggis hurling, longbow, knife throwing, dog shows, dancing, Scottish culture, language, and food?! And this year, I get to be a part of it all! I am so excited!

There truly is something for everyone at the Highland Games. Whether you are Scottish or just a Merida fan, you will find something to love. I really enjoy the fact that once you pay for your ticket, almost all of the events and shows are free! There is so much to do and see, and everything is a celebration of us wonderful, kilted Celts.

I’d love to sign a copy of Seven Stones just for you! So grab your kilt and stop by the Highland Games, wander into the Cultural Center, and we’ll talk about my book over a fresh scone and a hot cup of tea.

I’m hitting the road and on my way back to Wisconsin. See you there!

02
Sep

Welcome to Our Mankato Apartment!

Happy September, Everybody! It feels SO good to be back! We are now officially moved into our new apartment, and I can’t wait to show it to you.

So far, Mankato has been MAGNIFICENT! I am loving my new job as a Children’s Librarian, Shane is rocking is new position as sports anchor/reporter, I’m writing again, unpacking is DONE, and we are having fun discovering the area (which is gorgeous, by the way. I had no idea! All rolling hills, which is nice after the FLAT adventures in Northern Minnesota).

To share our new apartment, we’ve created a digital tour just for you! Shane is manning the camera this time, so the video is a little smoother. To be honest, though, I used my computer camera and the quality just isn’t all that great. You still get to see us, hear me banter, and see our place. What’s not to love?

See you soon!!!

Happy Monday!