Arkansas Literary Festival

A National Assessment of Adult Literacy estimated that 1 in 7 Americans age 18 and older do not have the literacy skills they need. That’s more than 14 percent of adults in this country. And nearly 25 percent of Arkansas adults do not have a high school diploma.

The folks at Arkansas Literacy Councils want to change that.

One way you can help is to attend the fifth annual Arkansas Literary Festival this weekend in Little Rock. Proceeds benefit adult literacy programs through the Arkansas Literacy Councils.

Highlights of the festival include an author party Friday night, with authors such as Barbara Oakley (I really have no idea who that is, but if it turns out she’s any good I will claim her as a relative) and Saturday afternoon appearances by former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier and Arkansas’ own Crescent Dragonwagon. Free writing workshops are planned for Saturday.

Sounds like fun, eh? Check it out. It’s for a good cause.

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” ~ Mark Twain

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A book for Suzy

Dog for Susie cover

Sometimes you love something just because you love it, and trying to explain why just diminishes it.

Those of you who read my blog know my name, you know I love dogs (especially pound puppies) and you know I love to read. A book called A Dog for Susie is just perfect for me. Do I really need to explain why?

I won’t explain why I still love this book nearly four decades after receiving it, but I will show you.

Dog for Susie “he needs me”

I really thought this book was long gone. In the great purge of my dad’s stuff just before Mom downsized to a smaller house a few years ago, we got rid of a TON of his things — along with a lot of my books, board games and other childhood paraphernalia.

You see, Dad was a packrat, I am a reformed packrat, and Mom and big brother J.T. are tossers. Therefore, lots of stuff plus the need to downsize, combined with two tossers, a reformed packrat and a river of emotion equals stuff getting thrown out or sold that the reformed packrat will later regret having let go.

And for the past few years I had assumed A Dog for Susie had fallen victim to the great purge.

Fast forward to 2008. Bruce and I are trying to downsize, too. Since he was disabled last year and lost gainful employment (you can’t really count his writing computer programs for me as gainful — I pay him in raspberry sherbet and cups of green tea), we have decided to sell our house. And, friends, we have a LOT of books. Even after filling a “to donate” box, we still won’t have room for all of them in a smaller house. Because we have three rooms with built-in bookcases (in the market for a house? we’ll show you!) and the donation box contains a pitifully small number of donations.

So the other day I was lamenting that I wished we hadn’t tossed A Dog for Susie and how could I have let that book go anyway and how could anyone love it as much as I did, and Bruce — who has nearly recovered from his medical complications and has been busy as a bee, packing our books — said, “No, that book is downstairs on the shelf.” I was skeptical. Thought he must think I was talking about a different book. But he took me straight to the shelf. And there it was: a book for Suzy.

If I didn’t kiss him — on the lips — I should have.

Sometimes a book is meaningful only to the one it belongs to. And sometimes a book is meaningful to that someone’s husband just because he loves books, too, and knows that sometimes you can’t explain why a worn-out children’s book means so much to a 45-year-old woman who edits newspapers for a living.

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” ~ Anna Quindlen

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Are you smarter than a 6-year-old?

Taking inspiration from Berit’s post, I want to ask you four of the questions she asked her son, plus one question of my own (I added #3). The answers below are mine. For Cole’s answers, you’ll have to read Berit’s post. Berit, care to share any more of Cole’s school questions?

1) If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you like to go?
Australia, especially Ayers Rock and Sydney Harbor.

2) If you could be anybody else for a day, who would you be?
The person who gets to test flavors at an ice cream company.

3) What job would you least like to have?
Cleaning up road kill.

4) What else do you like to read besides books?
a) My friends’ blogs. No, seriously. I was going to say cereal boxes (to indicate that my love of reading is so intense that I will read just about anything), but blogs are more interesting, especially the ones written by my friends. It’s such a great new way of getting to know people you see maybe once a week. I have gotten to know Berit more through our blogs than anywhere else. b) News. c) Articles and essays on writing and editing, on words and how to use them well. d) Personal-finance stuff. I like to find ways to teach people how to make the most of their “treasures on earth.” e) The Bible. It’s the best source of inspiration, information, encouragement, training, correction and Truth you could ever ask for.

5) Do you think you’re smart?
I’m smart enough to know that’s a loaded question.

Now it’s your turn …

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Apples, cranberries and orange – oh, my!

Apple Walnut Torta

The chocoholic in me never ceases to be amazed that my palate can go so wild over other, less rich (or rich in other ways) flavors.

This morning it was Giada De Laurentiis’ Apple and Walnut Torta that made my mouth water. I saw her make it on the “Thanksgiving for Two” episode of Everyday Italian, and I promptly got up and started making the cake.

Every ingredient except the orange-flavored liqueur is a staple in my kitchen; I simply substituted a teaspoon of orange extract and some water. But I was out of dried cranberries, so I did have to go to the store. There, I found orange-flavored Craisins – yum! (Side note: For a snack, these are better than plain dried cranberries. The orange gives them an outstanding flavor, and a 1/3-cup serving contains 3 grams of fiber and no fat.)

As with the spice cookies I made two weeks ago, I could have eaten every last crumb of this cake, especially when it was still warm. In fact, because I wanted to share the cake with two sets of friends (a future client and a couple who did something nice for us), I started whipping up a second cake as soon as I tasted the first one. It’s made in an 8-inch pan, so it doesn’t go as far as a 9×13-inch cake. However, I will still have a few extra slices. Millie, if you see this post before Sunday morning, look me up between services and I’ll feed you!

In the next post, I’ll report on the Health-by-Chocolate Cookies I made from The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals. So far I’m the only one who has tasted them. My husband, who is ill, didn’t feel like trying one this afternoon, but I’m sure he will soon.

Apple and Walnut Torta (with a few modifications by Suzy)
Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian

¼ cup orange-flavored liqueur OR 1/4 cup water plus 1 teaspoon orange extract
¼ cup dried cranberries (recommended: Ocean Spray Craisins, orange flavor)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of ½ an orange
1 cup all-purpose flour OR 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups diced, peeled apples (about 2 apples)
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In small saucepan, heat orange liquid. Turn off heat and add cranberries, making sure all are submerged in liquid. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix cinnamon and orange zest. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, mix eggs, butter, sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add apples, walnuts and drained cranberries. Spoon mixture into lightly buttered 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish or cake pan. Bake about 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

To serve, while still warm cut into squares or wedges and serve with ice cream.

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Crust-ophobic no more

apple pie

Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook has eliminated my fear of pie crusts.

Before Martha, I was crust-ophobic after only a couple of attempts at making pie crusts, partly because of inferior recipes and partly because I refused to use a food processor (I didn’t want to clean it!). I could have saved myself a lot of frustration if I hadn’t been so lazy.

With the holidays coming up, I had decided to get over my fear of crust. After all, how silly is it to be afraid of pie crust? Pretty dumb, of course. But how important is the “perfect crust”? Ask the 10 or so women who showed up for a recent “technique class” on pie crusts at Williams-Sonoma in Little Rock. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a big deal.

With Martha’s pate brisee (the French version of classic pie or tart pastry), making a pie is a piece of cake! Using the food processor and following the recipe exactly made for a delicious crust with a nice, light texture. (In September, I made a blueberry pie for my husband’s birthday. Today it was apple [still working on my crimping skills — see photo]. Next time it will be coconut cream or banana cream. All from Martha’s handbook.)

The baking handbook has solved many of my recipe dilemmas, not just crust-ophobia. Say what you want about Martha Stewart, but when she puts her name on a recipe, you can rest assured that it will be foolproof.

Last week, my former co-worker paid me to make a cheesecake. Thinking of fall flavors, I told her I had recipes for pumpkin cheesecake, cheesecake with cranberry topping, and chocolate marble cheesecake (a flavor for every season!), but she said her husband wanted “plain cheesecake.” Again, Martha to the rescue. This time I turned to her Web site. My friend declared the cheesecake “awesome.”

Also last week, I made Martha’s ricotta cheesecake (from the book), and it was a big hit at Girls’ Night Out at church. My husband loved it, too.

The good thing about the baking handbook is that it contains more than just recipes and beautiful photographs. It explains techniques, equipment and terminology. (Perhaps it’s something only a devoted baker would appreciate.)

On her TV show recently, Martha talked to a caller who was “baking her way through” the baking handbook, determined to make every one of its 200-plus recipes.

What a great idea!

Stay tuned …

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