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Well, yesterday was Meatfare Sunday, which announces the coming of Lent.  No more meat until after Pascha (Easter) and this week is the last week for eggs & dairy, so I’m declaring it Dairy Week.  A final round of those delicious poppy seed wafers made with butter, eggs and heavy cream?  Yes, please.  Crumbled feta on a cracker?  Why not!  Buttery apple crisp with vanilla ice cream?  Why yes, let’s pick up some more vanilla ice cream.

This morning I realized that I didn’t have any granola to go with my Greek yogurt, so instead I thought I’d make oatmeal.  But I wanted it to be…exciting…so I checked out the index of Good to the Grain to see if she had any suggestions.  That’s when I spotted a recipe for steel-cut oatmeal and remembered that I had steel-cut oats languishing in the cupboard.  She has you toast the oats in a little melted butter, then add the water and cook until thick and creamy – and the result really IS thick and creamy.  Pour a little cream on top (don’t mind if I do) and add a bit of sweetener (she has a recipe for a pear compote, but I went for quick and easy with maple syrup) and stick the leftovers in the fridge to reheat on work mornings.

I’m a happy camper – and I think this will still be delicious during Lent without the cream (shh, I cheat with butter during Lent) but with some fruit.  I’m always at a loss for Lenten breakfasts beyond toast with almond butter.  Regular oatmeal is okay, but to me it just begs for DAIRY to make it more exciting.  The steel-cut oats are just a touch more thrilling.

In related news, Bronwen and I are picking things up again with Long Distance Kitchen, just in time for those Lenten recipes!  Hello, beans!  I still have old recipes to post (ahem) so maybe I should get started on that before I dive into the new stuff – milk tea cupcakes, green tea & chocolate macaroons, that apple crisp (are we sensing a dessert theme here, or is it just me?)

The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice, #1)The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

I had mixed feelings about this fantasy/adventure title – on one hand, it’s a straightforward story with plenty of appeals for readers who like action and quest stories, but on the other hand it never rises above that. The style is occasionally clunky, the premise and characters are unoriginal, and the action predictable. Would I recommend it to kids looking for a story heavy with descriptions of training (sword fighting, horseback riding, archery, stealth), fighting (and physical revenge on bullies and enemies) and a fantasy world that doesn’t require too much imagination – yes, definitely. There’s nothing wrong with a story like this and the series definitely has its fans. But would I recommend it to readers looking for great characters and original fantasy worlds, with maybe a bit more subtlety? Probably not. I’m revealing my personal biases in terms of what makes a great story, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking of kids I could suggest it to. I am curious to know how the series progresses, but not curious enough to read them all myself.

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Which Witch?Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson

This is, as Ibbotson would say, one of her “rompy” books. You’ve got a wizard who spends his days smiting and blighting but feels he ought to marry and produce an heir, so naturally he holds a contest to find the blackest, most evil witch around. Unfortunately, the pickings are slim and include the sweetest, whitest witch you’ve ever met. Throw in an orphan, an earthworm acting as a witch’s familiar, a baby Kraken, assorted ogres and you’ve got a deliciously rompy story that manages to be funny, gross, and sweet all at once. Definitely recommended to budding fantasy fans or older readers who want something light.

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Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot (Scientists in the Field Series)Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery

I find it difficult to convey my enthusiasm for this book without sounding ridiculous. “It’s about these parrots! That smell like honey! And they’re almost extinct, and these people had to wait five years for a chick to hatch so they could go to New Zealand for ten days to write this book! You should totally read it.” Yeah. But that’s pretty much how I feel.

The story has a great sense of urgency, both because the parrots are so endangered (87 are living at one point during the course of the book) and because Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop had such a short window of time to do on-site research, gather observations, and take photographs (visitors are only allowed to stay on the parrots’ island for ten days). I’m not normally the type to get worked up over an endangered species, although I do believe we humans need to undo some of the damage we’ve done, but these birds were thrilling, and I give credit for my enthusiasm to Montgomery and Bishop for gripping storytelling and great photos.

As with other Scientists in the Field books, readers really get a sense of what it is that scientists do and why their jobs are important and interesting (I say this as someone who never enjoyed science class). Here, we see the dedication of the scientists (and the governmental support they receive) as well as what their day-to-day job entails. Waking up at all hours to help heat a kakapo chick? Check. Hiking through all weather to locate birds and monitor food supplies? Check. Store a dead penguin in your fridge? Check. Highly recommended for budding scientists or environmentalists, maybe fourth grade and up (that includes you, grown-ups).

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Sapphique (Incarceron, #2)Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

I enjoyed reading Sapphique – trying to guess where the story would go, what any twists would reveal, how the characters would sort themselves out in the end – but overall the book never quite hit the point of resonance. It’s tricky to pinpoint, but it was one of those stories where the build-up was good but the payoff wasn’t quite there, both with the characters, in terms of emotional connection, or with the plot. I wanted to end it with either a satisfied sigh or a “how could she!?” but instead I just closed it and moved on to the next thing.

This is not to say that someone else won’t find that resonance at the end – but it felt similar to my experience with Incarceron, where I loved the concept more than the execution (and when Incarceron was discussed at the Mock Printz, let’s just say that people weren’t kind).

Source: my public library

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February 2011

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