Gretchen Rubin is a master of sorts when it comes to happiness. As the author of The Happiness Project, she lived for a year working on better understanding her own happiness and working on becoming a happier person. In Happier at Home, Rubin decides to focus on her happiness at home (in her marriage, with her possessions, in her neighborhood, and as a parent among other areas) and begins her quest for home-based happiness in September when her daughters return to school. Her honest lessons about happiness (and her attempts to make her house a happier home) are engaging because Rubin doesn’t take herself too seriously and is consistently practical (who has time to make a happy home if it is all-consuming). While living a busy life, she does little things (ranging from acupuncture to having honest conversations with her parents) to improve her life and the lives of her husband and two daughters.
This book is packed with Rubin’s approachable voice and humor. This is a fun read that is genuine – it feels like you are talking to a good friend because Rubin is so honest in her 9 month quest for a happier home. She infuses her writing with dozens of happiness-based quotes which are inspirational and refreshing. At times it seems like the book is one big experiment for Rubin (which in a sense it is), and that can lend a slightly haphazard feel to the writing, but it does make it more real. Happiness at Home is well worth a read!
I try to read Young Adult novels occasionally during the school year so that I know which ones to recommend to my students, and I now know that I can recommend Gravediggers: Mountain of Bones to those who want a spooky tale that isn’t too scary. Gravediggers focuses on three middle school students who head out to Homeroom Earth camp in Montana for a week of science immersion. Ian (a stubborn jock who strives to be popular), PJ (a scrawny film-buff), and Kendra (a socially awkward computer geek) are forced into the same camp group and reluctantly head out to pick wildflowers. Though Ian and PJ are friends, they rarely associate at school because Ian is afraid of being taunted, and Kendra’s only association with Ian was a time when he teased her in class for being nerdy.
After only a few minutes on the trail, they get bored, and when Ian spots a large buck in the woods by the trail, they begin chasing it trying to examine it. After coming to a clearing and watching the buck bound off, the three realize that they are lost. Kendra’s compass isn’t working, and the three have no idea where they are going, but after hiking for ages, they think that they have finally found a safe haven in an abandoned old cabin. Soon they find that the cabin isn’t so abandoned after all – there is a skeleton in the basement and zombies hunting them down from the woods. What ensues is a two day race to outrun the zombies (and all of the other unnatural threats that haunt the forest).
The book has great heart-pounding suspense, but the ages of the heroes seems a bit out of sync with the intended reader (while I think that some of my freshmen would enjoy the story, I don’t know that they would be interested in reading about middle school protagonists). Also, the action is great up until the last few chapters of the book when it appears that author Christopher Krovatin rushed an ending in hopes of possibly following it up with a sequel. Overall, this is a good read for middle schoolers or early high schoolers, especially for readers who are fans of Darrin Shan novels.
I love eggplant and this is a perfect quick and easy dinner. While the recipe below is not gluten-free, you can make it with gluten-free hamburger buns and gluten-free bread crumbs as an alternative. Also, I used artichoke pesto for a smoother, creamier taste, but any vegan pesto would work.
Eggplant Pesto Burgers
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 cup prepared marinara sauce
1 cup panko or traditional breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp each, salt and pepper
Olive oil spray
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
1 jar prepared pesto
1 bunch arugula, washed and trimmed
1 package hamburger buns
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a pan by lining it with a silicone liner or aluminum foil.
2. Place marinara in a large shallow dish. Mix breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper in another large shallow dish.
3. To prepare eggplant, dip them in the marinara to coat, then place in the breadcrumb mixture and cover both sides. Place on the prepared baking sheet and when all eggplant slices are prepared lightly spray with olive oil, place the baking sheet in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden.
4. When eggplant is done, prepare the hamburger by spreading about 1 Tablespoon of pesto on each bun, and layer eggplant slices, tomato, and arugula.
Hidden America has a wonderful premise – exploring the careers that keep America running is a fascinating idea. There are so many behind-the-scenes jobs in America that a book like this is the perfect way to get a sneak peek at careers that we often take for granted. With themes like coal mining, migrant labor, ranching, and landfill operation, readers get a great taste of some of the hardest workers in the nation. Unlike working in a classroom, law office, or medical practice, these careers are not mainstream and the average American typically knows little of them. That is what made this an interesting (and unique) read. Each chapter can be read on its own because each focuses on a different career and allows the reader to explore a different aspect of little-known American careers.
Unfortunately, Hidden America lacks the voice that would really being personality to the tales of the workers. I was intrigued by all of the aspects of being an air traffic controller and a Ben-Gal cheerleader, but Jeanne Marie Laskas’ style is lacking – it comes across as incredibly conversational with lots of worker dialogue (almost like a magazine interview where the majority of the information that we gain is directly from the profiled figure). With workers who dedicate so much of who they are to helping keep America running, I would have liked a more formal and approachable tone.The concept is neat, but the voice is lacking.
These biscuits are light and fluffy and have just a hint of sweetness to them. They are perfect for pairing with chili or tasty as a morning treat. Plus, they are quick to make with a weeknight meal.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
1 cup sweet potato puree (or take 1 sweet potato and puree it in a mixer until smooth)
1 cup flour
1/3 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled vegan margarine
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lay a silicone baking liner on the pan.
2. Put the flour, garbanzo bean flour, cornmeal, sweet potato, and vegan margarine in a stand mixer and blend until the mixture is completely mixed. Add baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, and mix in completely. With mixer still running, add vinegar, milk, and maple syrup.
3. When all ingredients are mixed, scoop heaping spoonfuls of dough and drop onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden on top.
This chili is light and bright – the perfect dinner to make on a busy weeknight in the fall. I used frozen butternut squash and corn to save time and make this healthy dinner even faster. It is vegan and gluten-free, but be warned – this may not last long enough to have any leftovers! Also, when I made these, I made them with the sweet potato biscuits and it was delicious!
Golden Harvest Chili
1 onion, diced
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
12 ounces frozen butternut squash, thawed
1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a large pot over medium-high, and cook onion and garlic in oil for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant.
2. Add remaining ingredients and cook, covered, for 25 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.