Friday, May 26, 2017

Hotroot Soup

My boys love the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. While I haven't read the books myself, I finally relented and made a Redwall staple-- hotroot soup. My boys read off the list of ingredients, and I adapted the best I could to this fictional food. We did find shrimp, potatoes, leeks, onions, garlic, horseradish, and watercress to throw into the soup. We did NOT find ditch nettle peppers or bulrush or mare's tail. 

The boys also mixed up a spicy blend of various dried pepper powders for the adventurous to add to their soup. 

The soup looked like this:

Our hotroot soup

And, of course, we couldn't stop with just soup. I tried to make farls of bread without checking online to see what a farl is. I know now that what you see below is NOT a farl, but the bread was loaded with seeds, whole grains, and pumpkin and delicious anyway. Although I've not read any of the Redwall books, I'm sure it would be appreciated by all the critters in the stories.

NOT farls of bread

My husband added to the feast-- shrew beer. He looked online for a Redwall drink, and brought home the necessary ingredients-- root beer, chocolate syrup, lemon juice, and ice cream. 

Redwall treat

So how was it all? The soup was actually delicious. I would make it again in a heartbeat. An added bonus was that we tried out a new vegetable to us-- watercress. We learned it was peppery when it was raw, but once it was cooked in the soup, it lost its bite. 

The boys are already making plans for future Redwall feasts. Maybe I'll read the books myself and surprise them someday.

If you would like to make your own hotroot soup, I can't offer an exact recipe. I basically looked at the ingredients and figured out a way to fit them together. Here are my (completely inexact) directions.


First I boiled shrimp in water with some Old Bay seasoning. I wanted the shells to flavor the broth, so I cooked it so long the shrimp were a little tough. I removed the shrimp and strained and saved the broth for later. 

In a different pot I sautéed in butter some chopped leek, green onion, and a ramp I happened to have. After that cooked for a little while, I added in a bunch of chopped garlic and a few hot pepper flakes. Then I added about a half of a cup of flour and stirred. Next I added back the shrimp broth a little at a time, stirring so it didn't get clumpy.

Next I added in a bunch of peeled and diced potatoes. While the potatoes were cooking until they were tender, the boys peeled the shrimp. I cut each shrimp in half and washed and chopped a bunch of watercress. I learned that the watercress stems were really tough, so a good bit of the stems went into the compost bucket. 

Once the potatoes were fork tender, I poured in some milk and a little cream. Then I dumped in the watercress and shrimp, as well as the last of some jarred horseradish, and allowed it to heat up until nice and hot. I tasted it and added a little more Old Bay, some more salt, and a little ground black pepper. 

The "hotroot" blend we added if we wanted it spicy was basically a blend of chili powder, cayenne powder, red pepper, and white pepper. At least, that's what I think it was. One of the boys engineered it, and I did not supervise too closely.

If I were to do it again, I would cook the shrimp just until done and remove them from the water so they don't get so tough. Then I would peel them and add the peels back into the broth to cook a little longer before straining it. I don't actually know if cooking them longer makes more flavor, but the shrimp broth was so good the way we had it that I wouldn't want to chance missing out on that good taste. 

I really didn't measure anything. I just added things until it looked good--like some soup a bunch of otters might enjoy. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Big Fat Hiatus

Life is way too busy and hectic for me to worry about keeping up three blogs.

BUT. . . 

I am still reading and still want to help others who might be interested in my opinions of children's books.

SO. . . 

I've decided to attempt a weekly children's book review blog post over at the blog where I post my newspaper column.


I hope to post the book reviews on Mondays @ The Spice of Life.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

_The Dark_ by Lemony Snicket

I made the mistake of picking up Lemony Snicket's first book in that unfortunate series, but I plugged through it till the end. At our latest library outing, one of the books I grabbed from a display happened to be a picture book for children by the same author. Before reading it, I was perfectly prepared to write a bad review.

However, Lemony Snicket surprised me with The Dark. Certainly with a title like The Dark there was more than a possibility that this book would be depressing, and, well, dark. Instead it was delightful. with illustrations by Jon Klassen which are anything but frightening and complemented the theme of the book nicely.

Young Lazlo is frightened of the dark. He soon discovers that the dark is not out to get him. In fact, the dark leads him to an enlightening ending.

Illustrations by Jon Klassen are not frightening and complement the theme of the book nicely.

I would recommend this for any age child, but I would think that it would especially be a good fear-fighting tool in the arsenal of a parent of a child frightened of the dark.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

_The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp_ by Kathi Appelt

My son picked this one out. When I perused the cover and blurps on the cover, I thought, "Great. Another book about an environmental agenda."

When I got around to reading it, it started slowly. The point-of-view jumps around. It puts me in mind of Holes (if you've ever read that) with the shifts in point-of-view and setting (including time). It's a little hard to follow at first. 

Luckily the language of the swamp, dripping with voice and beauty and nature's humor, kept me reading. Then I was hooked into the broken narrative that began spiraling together to form the meat and fun of this book.

The raccoon scouts of Sugar Man Swamp have been watching for decades, even if they never were quite sure what they were looking for and, if they found it, who to report to, unless it was the great Sugar Man himself, a giant of a Big Foot-type character. But where to find him amongst all the rattlesnakes? And 12-year-old Chap tries desperately to save his home and his family's business after his beloved grandfather dies. Then there's the bad guy, the selfish and mean capitalist without a heart, the guy you love to hate. Somehow Kathi Appelt ties all of these characters (plus some) together to form a cohesive and delightful story.

Did this book have an agenda? Yes and no. It was the kind of agenda I'm okay with. It wasn't overpowering. I mean, the characters were trying to save the swamp from wild boars and from being totally concreted over. It worked because the story wasn't only about that.

And the writing was good and intelligent.

My 10-year-old liked the book, and I don't recall anything objectionable (I admit I read it at least a month ago.).

My recommendation is to read it. You may need to start reading it out loud at first to help if you think your reader might struggle tying the broken plot together. It will take a few chapters, but then you both should be hooked.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

_Lincoln's Grave Robbers_ by Steve Sheinkin

When I was in school, I really didn't dig history. Presented in standard (boring) textbook format, it didn't engage me. If you'd ever told me in 6th grade that I'd enjoy reading a history book, I would have thought you were crazy or from Mars.

Flash-forward many a year. I'm now trying to teach my children to enjoy history. Our history curriculum definitely makes it easy and interesting to like history. Add in books, both fact and fictional, related to the same time period, and history does become more than enjoyable.

Lincoln's Grave Robbers ties together historical details with which you will likely be familiar (things you can learn in a textbook) and more obscure facts that really flesh out the story. And it is a story. It's not a list of dry facts. It follows both those who sought to rob President Lincoln's grave and those who attempted to stop them. And it's suspenseful, and in that spirit, I won't give anything away.

I definitely give it two thumbs up with no reservations. Unless your child is highly, highly sensitive and squeamish. Really, it's not too gross, but the subject matter does involve graves and dead bodies. There is some discussion about grave robbers, in general, and why doctors robbed graves. My sensitive son read it and had no problems. He loved it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Pair of Quirky Characters

I'm lumping two books together because I read them a month or so ago, and if I don't, my memory will completely fail me concerning the two.

Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment by David A. Adler and Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week by Caroline Adderson both revolve quirky (or weird) main characters. They are both chapter books for the younger crowd (probably 9 and under interest level). Neither are particularly riveting. Definitely not candidates for major awards, I hope.

But. Jasper John Dooley is annoying. The book revolves around him being the Star of the Week at school. He is so very excited about getting to be the show-and-teller and all the fun responsibilities that go along with the Star of the Week job. Meanwhile, his friend, Ori, gets a new baby sister, a screaming-all-the-time baby sister. While Ori is begging to come over so he can sleep, Jasper John Dooley is completely wrapped up in his Star of the Week duties. All I could think about Jasper John Dooley was how incredibly selfish he is, even for a child, even for an only child, even for a weird one who collects belly-button lint. It didn't help that the author made disparaging comments about parents of big families not even knowing who their children are, something that perhaps riled me up a bit.

In Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment, the odd character is Calvin (not Danny who is Calvin's friend). Calvin is weird, too; instead of bringing belly-button lint to show-and-tell, Calvin makes Danny carry around jelly beans in his pockets for days while conducting an experiment. Instead of putting down certain types of families, the families in Danny's Doodles, even the "different" families, were respected. Where J. J. Dooley is self-centered, annoying, and definitely not a good friend, Calvin's quirks somehow enhance the friendships he makes.

In a nutshell, both of these books are all about the quirky main characters and their goings on at school and home, but where Calvin (of Daddy's Doodles) presents a good model for friendship and acceptance of said quirks, Jasper John Dooley simply makes you want to avoid him.

Will I forbid either book? No. Could I convince either of my boys to read either of these books? Even when I pleaded? No.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

_Goofballs #4: The Mysterious Talent Show Mystery_ by Tony Abbott

Well, the title says it all. This book is goofy, and not in a really cute way. The goofiness is not even clever or funny, it really is just lame. The simple middle school friends basically act goofy while solving a mystery I didn't even find intriguing. And that's it.

This is a book for earlier readers, but I don't think even young and silly children would find this an amazing read.  While there was absolutely nothing objectionable in this read, I couldn't even persuade my boys to give it a quick read to give me their opinion. I think falls in the category of "Why Bother?" I know I certainly won't bother to check out any other titles in the series.