Monday, November 23, 2015

"Jessica Jones": The Most Progressive Show on TV? #Marvel

Marvel and Netflix teamed up earlier this year to bring us the awesome original series, Daredevil. Husband and I watched it, and, as other collaborative series were announced (namely Jessica Jones and Luke Cage), we held our breath--though Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter on ABC were good, with Daredevil, they'd set the bar high. Was it too much so?

Image from
Jessica Jones was released in full (Netflix releases all episodes of their original series at once, unlike traditional television) this past Friday. With Melissa Rosenberg at the helm as show-runner (she's a fantastic producer/writer whose previous finest work includes some of the best episodes of Dexter, and she also wrote the screenplays for the Twilight Saga, but, hey, not everyone can hit a home run each time), the show was in good hands.

We spent the weekend watching all thirteen episodes, each one better than the last. Krysten Ritter was fantastic as the title character, and David Tennant was delightfully evil--chillingly so--as Kilgrave.

The show as a whole surpassed Daredevil, at least in my opinion, as Marvel's best series to date. Possibly even their best work, period.

I would also assert that Jessica Jones is one of the most progressive shows I've seen--maybe ever. The rest of this post is below the break, and thar be spoilers, matey! I will try to keep them minimal, but don't say I didn't warn you. Also, it's moderately NSFW, so you probably shouldn't read this post on your work computer.

Friday, November 20, 2015

#Thanksgiving Bonus #FoodieFriday: Roasted Carrots

Okay, I couldn't resist posting another one. Hey, next week is Thanksgiving, at least for those in the U.S., and who doesn't enjoy good food?

I've been seeing a ton of "Help! What should I make?" posts on the Internet (jeez, Facebook, haven't you ever eaten a Thanksgiving dinner?), and I thought I'd help out a little.

A lot of the questions are wondering what to make for a vegetable side. Most people say they're
Pic from the Food Network
already having the standard green bean casserole and/or sweet potato casserole, so they want something different or something that's not a casserole, too.

My suggestion would be to make these amazing roasted carrots. The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten.

I often mix the carrots with parsnips, which creates a pretty orange and cream dish. I usually cut the parsnips slightly smaller than the carrots because they're more dense, and that way the whole thing will cook at the same rate.

This dish transports well, too. In the past I've served it out of warmed-up Corningware (or whatever you have that's oven-safe), put foil on top, and brought it with me. It warms up nicely if it does cool off as well. I've brought it to a few Thanksgivings, and have been asked for the recipe each time. People are always shocked by how simple the dish is.

And I'm a big fan of "everything in moderation", but if you or someone you know is trying to keep their Thanksgiving intake on the lighter side, this dish is perfect for that. No cream or heavy butter (as much as I love those things) and though these carrots are good in their own right, they don't distract from the main event--that fabulous turkey.

A quick word about leftovers: The carrots are great warmed up, and, if you have enough of them, I would also suggest finding a good carrot soup recipe and pureeing them to make that. They're very versatile.


xoxo Sarah

#FoodieFriday: Double Chocolate Banana Bread

I hope you liked the coconut bread from last week, because I have another awesome recipe from Smitten Kitchen today: Double Chocolate Banana Bread.

It's a crime against humanity not to make this bread.

This is, hands down, the best banana bread--and maybe the best quick bread--I've ever made.

It's rich and chocolaty, and comes together quickly and without much fuss. It's moist (yes, you all should know how damn much I hate that word, but it's so perfect for this bread so shut up), and pretty much like eating chocolatey cakey bananay goodness that you shouldn't even be allowed to consume.

Pic from Smitten Kitchen
Your guests and/or gift recipients will beg you for the recipe, and this is the perfect quick bread with which to make people owe you favors.

The loaves even freeze well, in case you don't manage to inhale them like we do.

I'll add the same note about bread sizing as before: if a bread makes one 9x5 loaf, it will make two 8x4s. And, if you're making mini-loaves, it will likely make 4 of those. Just make sure the batter is distributed evenly. I have a mini-loaf pan and will typically do one spoonful in each, then a second, than a third to make sure they're all the same size.

I'm going to keep this short, because any more time reading this and fewer minutes baking this amazing bread would be an absolute crime. 

Let me know what you think! Have you made this bread before? 

xoxo Sarah

Friday, November 13, 2015

#FoodieFriday: Coconut (Quick) Bread

I promised you lovelies a couple of gift-worthy quick breads before the holidays, and that's what I'm aiming to deliver. One this week, one next week. Get your loaf pans ready!

Pic from Smitten Kitchen
For the uninitiated, a quick bread uses leaveners other than yeast to make the bread rise: baking soda/baking powder, etc. Because there's no yeast, there's no rising period, and the bread can be made quickly. Quick bread. Get it? They can be sweet or savory, but are generally very forgiving batter-wise and end up tasty.

First up: Smitten Kitchen's Coconut Bread.

This quick bread baked up beautifully, golden and crunchy. It was fantastic warm and with some butter.

The coconut flavor is noticeable but not overpowering. I'm not a huge coconut lover--I'm not necessarily going to order a pina colada, for instance--but I love this bread.

Plus, it's something different. Everyone around the holidays makes gingerbread, or pumpkin bread, or some kind of bread that involves nutmeg and cinnamon, and those can get tiring after a while. Don't get me wrong; that's one of the things I love around the holidays, but this bread will be a breath of fresh air.

A quick note on the size: if a bread makes one 9x5 loaf, it will make two 8x4s. And, if you're making mini-loaves, it will likely make 4 of those. Just make sure the batter is distributed evenly. I have a mini-loaf pan and will typically do one spoonful in each, then a second, than a third to make sure they're all the same size.

Happy gifting (if they even make it that far--you'll probably eat them all first and have to make a second batch).

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Leveled reading systems=pigeon-holed students? #amreading

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a parent, and I haven't frequented schools where reading systems were prevalent in over twenty years.

So let me tell you a story.

I was recently chatting with a friend who does have elementary-school-aged children, and we got to talking about the books we enjoyed when we were in school, required reading or otherwise. Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, etc. She--I'm not feeling creative today, so I'll call her Polly Parent--is active in volunteering in her kids' classrooms and around the school as well.

I mention remembering the little numbers on the backs of children's books--not the ISBNs, but the reading level. Polly tells me that reading levels still exist, but they're broader now; more...encompassing. Restricting, even. I ask he what she means, and she says that, in her kids' school, they use a leveled reading system. I don't know whether it's this one from Scholastic, but there are a bunch out there. Anyway, I don't remember if she said they use letters or numbers to signify levels, so I'll go by the numerical method to keep things simple.

From what Polly tells me, each student is assessed for their reading level. Well, okay, that seems standard--I can remember having to do that when I was in elementary school, and so did Polly. But after they're assessed, the school is stricter about allowing the students to branch out from their "assigned" level; at least that's Polly's impression. She says she's seen kids who won't even go near a book designated with a higher level than they were assessed at, even if it was on a topic they might find interesting. Example: If a kid is assessed at a level 4, they'll avoid a level 5 book like the plague. She's not sure if it's just the kids, or something they're being told (i.e. "Don't read a book at a higher level until you're assessed at that level"), but either way, it's disconcerting. They're being pigeon-holed; even if it's not explicitly stated, the restriction is communicated in some way.

Here's where it really gets depressing--Polly said that she'd heard that a class of students had gone to the school library, and when the teacher went to gather her class to take them back to the classroom, she noticed that a student had checked out a book at a higher level. "You can't read that!" the teacher told the student. Whether the teacher took the book from the student or the student was "allowed" to keep the book wasn't discussed.

At that point, I saw red. How was this happening?

Books are for everyone. Reading, like most things, takes practice--doing things that are more difficult is how we get better at it. I can remember taking books out of my school library, or my town library, or grabbing them from my family's shelves, that I'd have difficulty with. Guess what? I either read them with someone, or bumbled through it on my own with occasional help from someone else. I'd poke through old National Geographic magazines (I can't be the only one whose families stockpiled these like they'd make great burning material for the coming apocalypse), which are obviously written for adults. But I'd use my "context clues"--the words I did know, and the amazing pictures--and infer what the articles were about.

How do we expect kids to get better at reading--and learning--if their access to the materials they want to read is so carefully guarded and controlled? "Teaching for the test" and "common core" are already screwing us over; why is reading going the same way? If their natural curiosity is being stifled in such a way, do we really expect students to be passionate and interested in things as they get older? People already complain that our younger generations are too tightly monitored and don't develop coping tools or adequate levels of independence; could this be because--gasp--they aren't allowed to learn (in some ways) as they want to? To explore and experiment and find their interests? Reading is a vital part of development and communication, and we're taking that away and making it more regimented? Telling students they "can't" read something? How is that supposed to help educate and impart knowledge?

I say, kids should be able to read whatever they'd like if it's developmentally appropriate and they have access to it. If you're a parent, make it clear to your school (and the board of education, if necessary) that you want your child to be able to read to challenge themselves, check out whatever books they want from the library, and that, even though the students are assessed for reading level (as they should be), that that shouldn't define what they can do.

Your thoughts on this?

xoxo Sarah

Friday, November 6, 2015

#FoodieFriday: No-Knead Crusty Bread

Want to dazzle your guests with your home-made bread skills this holiday season? Never baked with yeast and making your own bread terrifies you? Think you can't make your own bread without a bread machine? Just looking for something to have with your soup?

If the answer is "yes" to any of those things, sit yourself down right now and listen up.

This No-Knead Crusty Bread recipe from Simply So Good deserves to be in your regular rotation.

A single batch of bread dough, risen for 18ish hours--sharp cheddar and dried dill.
Before I had made it, I was terrified of baking with yeast. I can make quick-breads with the best of them (and, oh, do I have some good ones for YOU, which I'll be sure to post on other Foodie Fridays before the holidays because---INSTANT GIFT!), but the idea that I had to add something alive (and therefore touchy and hard to control) to my food was nerve-racking. What if my water was too hot and I killed the yeast? What if my water was too cold and the whole thing stayed a floury glob that never rose?

But I tried it anyway--this recipe is surprisingly forgiving--and, oh man, is it good. It's also served as a gateway drug to my making other yeast breads with more confidence.

Our favorite variation is to add shredded sharp cheddar (about 1-1.5 cups) and some dill weed to it. That's the bread that I've shown in the pictures here. And search the Simply So Good page for variations including rosemary/Gruyere/lemon and cranberry/orange/almond. It's a very neutral-based bread, so you can make it sweet or savory. Have fun with it!

The recipe even doubles nicely.

Finished cheddar-dill bread! Gorgeous and crunchy.
A word on the cooking pot. You don't need the most expensive thing out there to make this recipe. I'd make it in my Le Cruset if I could, but I don't own one. However, I do have a great one from Lodge that gets a ton of use (I want another one, husband if you're listening...) between the bread and making soups and stews and even for frying things because it keeps such a nice even temperature. It's 6 quarts and blue and gorgeous. The red one is calling my name.


My point being, you don't have to break the bank for a cooking pot just to use to make this bread, but if you do get one, that's the one I'd recommend for the price and for the amount of use it would get. You'll seriously cook things just to use it. Cleans up like a dream, too.

Have you made this bread before? What's your favorite variation?

xoxo Sarah

Monday, November 2, 2015

Good luck, #NaNoWriMo writers! #amwriting

I just wanted to wish all the brave writers tackling National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the best of luck!

I did NaNo in 2013, and I'm still not convinced I'd want to do it again. My feelings were mixed on it even halfway through the whole thing. I'm super proud that I did it and hit the 50K word goal, but I don't think it fits my writing style at this point. Not to say I won't do it again, but I'm sitting it out this year.

May your muse be with you and may the words flow from your bleeding, cramped fingers like a leaf down a mountain stream.

Wow, that was poetic.

But seriously, good luck!

And, if you're participating in NaNo this year, leave your username in the comments so other writers can link up and you can cheer each other on!

xoxo Sarah