Monday, June 21, 2010

Archie and the Pirates - Fish and Coconut Soup

"Archie cooks his specialty: fish and coconut soup. They have a wonderful meal, with fried bananas for dessert." - Archie and the Pirates, Marc Rosenthal

I had a totally different book picked out for this week. My kids, though, found a new book in the library and fell under its spell and insisted I write about it instead. I capitulated because, well, I was completely smitten too. The world Marc Rosenthal creates in Archie and the Pirates is quirky and amusing and charming. It's a world in which a monkey manages to assimilate to his new island life and, with the help of a bird and a tiger, run a ragtag bunch of pirates off their island. What's not to like?

I'll admit, on first glance I saw the Curious George-ish monkey on the cover and I thought it might be a poorly written knockoff. DO NOT JUDGE THIS BOOK BY ITS COVER. It quickly becomes clear that while author/illustrator Rosenthal may have been inspired by H.A. Rey, Jean de Brunhoff (of Babar fame) and other illustrators of their era, his book stands on its own. The story begins as the tale of a marooned monkey, Archie. We aren't sure how or why he washed up on the island (it happened in his sleep...he just drifted off while in his bed) but in short order he manages to find food, build a new home and make friends with an ibis named Clarice. A menacing tiger named Beatrice turns out to be another friend. The three have a party to celebrate their new friendship but, unbeknownst to them, pirates are on their way to the island. When the pirates kidnap Beatrice, Archie and Clarice take action to rescue her, thwart the pirates and scare them away. They and the other island creatures rejoice and Archie invites everyone to build homes near his since they are now friends.

 This is a fun, quirky story with subtle humor that merits more than one reading. Close observations of the pictures reveal the pirates' impending arrival (their ship is seen through Archie's window as he sleeps) long before the animals see them. In one picture, before Archie meets Beatrice, she is seen lurking below his tree (again, with the pirate ship in the background). My kids love these little details and giggle over them every time we read the book. They also love the final illustration, of all the animals in their new homes. ("Which one is your favorite, Mommy? I like...") Rosenthal's writing style is straightforward, kind of quirky, and makes me and my kids laugh. Sample: "At the pirate camp, Captain Pequod has set First Mate LaFaargh to keep watch while they sleep, partly because he likes saying his name (LA FAAAARGH!), but mainly because LaFaargh has trouble sleeping." I know this is one of those books that, if we don't buy it, will be one my kids look for every time we go to the library.

When my kids asked me to put this book on the blog I had a brief moment of panic. What should I cook to go with a book about pirates and anthropomorphic jungle animals? Then I remembered that Archie cooks his favorite meal for Clarice and Beatrice to celebrate their new friendship. The meal? Fish and coconut soup (with fried bananas for dessert).

Fish Soup with Coconut Milk (adapted from Vatapa Fish Soup with Coconut Milk, courtesy of Food Network)

I am nowhere near skilled enough to make up my own recipe for fish soup. I found a recipe on the Food Network's website and modified it quite a bit. I eliminated the shellfish because I am allergic and I used the cooking oil I had on hand. You can compare my recipe to the original to see the other changes I have made.

  •  3 tablespoons cooking oil (original recipe recommends dende oil) 
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • dash of ginger (dried)
  • 2 large jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 2 cups light coconut milk
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash of Tabasco
  • 2 lbs. fish fillets (I used cod), bones and skin removed, cut into cubes
1. In large pot, heat oil and add onion, garlic, ginger and jalapenos. Cook for 10 minutes, or until softened.

2. Add tomatoes, lime juice and peanut butter. Stir for one minute.

3. Add chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, while stirring. Add coconut milk, cilantro, salt and Tabasco.

4. When ready to serve, brush a deep skillet or saucepan with oil and add fish. When fish begins to cook slowly and carefully pour the broth mixture into the saucepan. The original recipe says to cook for 8 minutes, or until fish is opaque. The broth is also opaque which makes it really hard to see the fish. I recommend making sure the fish is near cooked before adding the broth. I determined that it was ready to serve when I was able to get the fish to flake apart when I applied pressure with the back of a spoon.

5. Serve soup in bowls.

*Apparently, the pictures of the finished soup have disappeared. They never transferred from the memory card to my computer. It's an old card; I think maybe it's time we retire it...*

{Imagine my smiling kids taking bites of soup here!}

The soup had a nice, peanutty/coconutty flavor with a little bit of a kick to it from the spices. I'm not sure if the flavor profile was changed significantly because I omitted the shrimp but it tasted good to me. I really enjoyed it just because it was different than anything we've ever had. I'm always looking for new ways to prepare fish (beyond fish tacos and poached salmon) so this will be a good recipe to keep in mind. It really didn't take very long to prepare either. The kids liked it too, although my six year old complained that I should not be serving soup in June. However, they were happy that I made the soup Archie and his friends enjoyed. I promised I would make fried bananas soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Outer Space Activities

This week my kids and I have been reading about the moon, stars and outer space. Since school is out and we have more time at home, we've been doing additional space-themed activities as time permits. Here are a few:

Sending our names to Mars: Fill out the form on NASA's website to have your name included on a microchip on the Mars Space Laboratory rover that is being sent to Mars next year. You can also check out the US and world participation maps to see how your state or country ranks. As my six year old said, "We're going to Mars!" After registering they were able to print out cool participation certificates.

(Mars, image courtesy of NASA)

Drawing pictures of the sky: This was my four year old's idea. He wanted me to help him draw stars after reading How to Catch a Star (reviewed by me here).

Making Star Finders: Another activity from NASA, this allows you to make a star finder to help identify constellations in the night sky.

(Quintuplet Cluster, image courtesy of NASA)

Checking EarthSky for information on the evening's sky. Tonight, for example, Mars will be visible just north of the crescent moon. We haven't done this (or the above activity) yet because with it being so close to the June solstice, the kids are in bed long before the stars are visible. However, we are going to a wedding this weekend and the boys will surely be up well past their bedtimes so we'll try some stargazing then.

Looking at NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, which features a new picture daily, along with commentary from professional astronomers. I really love the image and activity from June 15, which happened to be my birthday:

Starry Night Scavenger Hunt 
Credit & Copyright : Original Painting: Vincent van Gogh; Digital Collage: Ronnie Warner

NASA's website has loads of activities, games, information and photos for curious kids (and adults!) You can find age appropriate activities for children in their "students" section.

*As an Amazon affiliate, I earn a small commission from purchases made through the links on this blog.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Space Books - Some of Our Favorites

On Monday I shared about two of my boys' current favorite books: How to Catch a Star and When the Moon Forgot. These whimsical stories speak to a common childhood fantasy of being able to capture a piece of the sky. My younger son, especially, is still at the age where he really wants to believe (even though he knows better) that he can have a star or the moon as a friend.

Those fictional stories are a good jumping off point for further discussions about the night sky and outer space. My kids have been fascinated with outer space for a long time. Last year my six year old even had an outer space themed birthday party at the local science center. My kids enjoy perusing the outer space/astronomy section of our local library and checking out books about planets and space exploration. Since this is a frequently read about topic in our household, I've decided to share some of our family's favorite non-fiction outer space books.

My Book of Space by Ian Graham

My Book of Space

Though a bit out of date (this book was published in 2001) this book provides a good overview of the solar system, the phases of the moon and space exploration.

Our Solar System by Seymour Simon

Our Solar System (revised edition)

If you have children who, like mine, love non-fiction and you haven't seen Seymour Simon's books, you must check them out immediately. Simon's books are notable for the magnificent photographs and accessible information. They can be a little long as read alouds--we often have to read them over two or three reading sessions--but can be enjoyed for the pictures alone. Our Solar System is the book that kicked off my six year old's interest in outer space. Simon has many, many books (including easy readers) out there about outer space and the individual planets (and the sun and the moon). My kids like all of them.

The aforementioned Our Solar System also kicked off my older son's obsession with Pluto. The first time we read this book it was the original edition from our old library in the Chicago suburbs. While reading through the updated (2007) edition he checked out of our current library, he was shocked and dismayed to discover--gasp!--Pluto was missing. Shock. Outrage. "What happened to PLUTO!" he bellowed from the back of the car. Thus I was tasked with explaining what had happened to Pluto to result in its demotion as a planet. Fortunately, my mother-in-law heard about the crisis and sent a helpful book to help explain it to him...

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto by Elizabeth Rusch

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto

Hands down one of the best non-fiction picture books we own, The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto is (like The Day-Glo Brothers) a non-fiction book presented in story form. It's the story of astronomer Mike Brown, his childhood interest in outer space and his discovery that led to the reclassification of Pluto. The choice to begin the story in Browns' early childhood makes it especially accessible to young readers, who may recognize themselves in the space-obsessed young boy.

In one of those cases where my child's interest in something piqued my own curiosity, I purchased a book about Pluto for myself. It was an entirely unexpected purchase, as I had not  read about space for my own edification since taking an astronomy course in college. (Full disclosure: I first heard about the book on The Daily Show.) Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet is a great book for non-scientists. Never overwhelming in its science-y talk, it tells the story of Pluto from its discovery to its eventual demotion. Humorous anecdotes, photographs, cartoons and poems about Pluto are also included. While it definitely does contain some decidedly adult humor and language, I have read sections of this book aloud to my six year old. He actually very much enjoyed it and wasn't bored at all, which says a lot about the author's style and accessibility. Also: he Twitters.

Here's his Daily Show interview with Jon Stewart. How can you not want to read about Pluto after listening to this guy? (Parental advisory: This is The Daily Show. There is a bleeped out word near the very end of the interview. I mean, it's bleeped, but since this is a family-friendly blog I thought I'd put that out there so there are no surprises if you're watching this with your kids.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System

This is a great overview of how the way we see the world changes as science becomes more sophisticated. As the book says, " took a long time and a lot of wrong guesses to learn what we know today." Yes, Pluto gets a shoutout, as do gravity and the configuration of the solar system. The text--though a bit lengthy (I was surprised my four year old was able to sit still for the entire book)--is conversational and playful.

The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System

My kids love The Magic School Bus series. I love that they present science in a fun and engaging manner. I do not love reading every single caption, sidebar and dialogue bubble in these books. And there are several. On every page. Even so, you can't deny that the format of factual information contained within the fantastical fictional story appeals to kids. As the young students and their teacher, Miss Frizzle, travel from planet to planet in their spaceshipified school bus we learn about each planet's properties and position in the solar system. Much to my six year old's consternation, this book has not been updated to reflect current information about Pluto. Nonetheless, it is a library favorite--and not, apparently, just of my kids. According to our county library's online database, their 31 (system-wide) copies have been checked out a total of 2006 times.

***UPDATE 7/4/2010*** Apparently they have updated this book to include Pluto's new status. I saw the more recent copy in a museum gift shop last week.

Stargazers by Gail Gibbons


Gail Gibbons is another of those extremely prolific authors who has covered just about every non-fiction topic out there, it seems. Stargazers is an introduction to stars and the night sky. We learn about what stars are and how astronomers study them. Some discussion is given to constellations. Gibbons' prose is straightforward and informative, perfect for young readers.

These are but a few of the many non-fiction books about outer space written for a juvenile audience. Check the shelves of your local library or bookstore and you are sure to find more titles worthy of inclusion on this list. What are your kids' favorite books about space? Please share in the comments. I'm sure my kids would love some new title recommendations.

*Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate, I receive a small commission when books are purchased via the links in this post.

Monday, June 14, 2010 the moon and the stars and the sun...

"Look--the moon can still shine even when the night is darkest." - When the Moon Forgot, Jimmy Liao

This week I am trying something a bit different on this blog. Instead of the typical book + recipe post, I am going to expand my theme throughout the week to include other books and projects we do that relate to our featured books (yes, two today) and recipe. With school being out we have a lot more time to spend with our books, and more hours of the day to fill with activities.

One of my boys' favorite topics--a subject we return to time and again--is outer space. They are fascinated by our solar system and space exploration. Over the years we've built up quite the collection of space books, from non-fiction to easy readers to fictional picture books. Kids are just fascinated with the moon and stars, even from a very early age.

To begin our week I chose two books that complement each other in tone and theme: Oliver Jeffers' How to Catch a Star and Jimmy Liao's When the Moon Forgot. I simply could not choose one over the other because they read so well together.

How to Catch a StarWhen the Moon Forgot

How to Catch a Star and When the Moon Forgot are both tender, somewhat melancholy (yet ultimately hopeful) books that have several common elements. In How to Catch a Star the young male protagonist (the same boy from Lost and Found), who is a bit lonely, wishes for a star of his very own. He devises various (humorous and improbable) ways to catch his star and bring it home but none are successful until, by accident, he finds a star (or is it a starfish?) washed up on the beach. The last image in the book is of the boy reading a story to his star.

When the Moon Forgot takes an almost opposite approach: when the moon falls from the sky he is found by a young (also a bit lonely) boy. While the rest of the world is thrown into disarray with the disappearance of the moon, the boy nurtures it and nurses it back to health. They become fast friends but the boy knows he can't keep the moon forever. Their separation is devastating but ends on a happy note, with the boy's dreams "always filled with moonlight." Liao's artwork is quite distinctive and one of the things that led me to seek out his other books. While Jeffers' world is sparse and airy (the boy, with his large head and wispy legs, looks like he could simply float into the sky to catch his star) Liaos' world is dense, lush and grounded. His pages are filled with color. Just look (and marvel) at his cityscapes and open fields. This book was originally published in Liao's native Taiwan--where he is one of their most popular author/illustrators--and intended for an adult audience, though his American publisher (Little, Brown) catalogues it in their children's category.

Neither of these books are what I would call shiny, happy stories. Despite their ultimately satisfying endings they both have a melancholic undercurrent that may be off-putting to some. My children, however, are very drawn to them. I think something about the idea of being able to capture a piece of the sky, or have the moon or a star as a friend, really appeals to them. My four year old has asked to read When the Moon Forgot every day for the past week. Because it is a new-to-us book we have enjoyed talking about it and discussing our own theories about why the moon fell to the ground ("It was sick. It shrank. Its gravity couldn't hold it up anymore so it fell." -- Six Year Old  "It was sad and scared." -- Four Year Old) and how the boy felt at different times in the story.

We were familiar with both Jeffers' and Liao's works prior to reading these two books. Jeffers' The Incredible Book-Eating Boy is one of my older son's favorite books. I bought How to Catch a Star for my younger son for Easter because I thought he would enjoy it--something about its tone reminded me of one of his other favorites, The Monster Who Ate Darkness (reviewed by me here)--which, coincidentally, was illustrated by Liao. Last month we quite randomly found Liao's Sound of Colors at our library and after enjoying that as well I began researching his other books. At this point I learned of When the Moon Forgot, and thought it would be a good companion read for How to Catch a Star. I absolutely recommend seeking out both of these authors' other works.

Because we have been reading about the moon and stars, of course we had to think of some way to incorporate both into this week's recipe...

Moon and Star Cookies

First, I owe you a bit of an explanation. My kids have random made-up names for certain things. They refer to giraffes as goofs. And cashews have always been moon nuts, due to their crescent moon-like appearance. I challenged myself to come up with a recipe using "moon nuts" that also incorporated stars. I hit upon the idea of making star-shaped cashew cookies. I based my recipe on the roll-out cookie recipe on the Pamela's Products website.

  • 3.5 cups Pamela's gluten-free bread mix
  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter (I used a combination of butter and Smart Balance spread)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • handful of cashews
Additional equipment: star shaped cookie cutter(s)

1. Soften butter in mixer. Add sugar and cream together. Add eggs and cream well. Add extracts.

2. Add salt. While blending add bread mix, 1 cup at a time. Blend together.

4. Chill dough for one hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350*. Dust dough and rolling surface with flour because the dough will be sticky. (I used brown rice flour.) Roll dough out on parchment paper and use cookie cutters to cut out star shapes.

6. Carefully remove star shapes and place on baking sheet.

7. Bake for 10 -12 minutes, or until edges begin to brown.

We are only just beginning our week of learning about the night sky. Please join us here on Wednesday when I will post some of my boys' favorite non-fiction books about the moon, stars and outer space. And on Thursday I will be sharing some of the star-related art and science activities we have been doing this week.

*Disclosure: I received a review copy of When the Moon Forgot from the publisher, Little, Brown.
**I am an Affiliate. As an Affiliate I earn a small commission when books are purchased via the links on this site. Thank you for helping support Eat Their Words.

Friday, June 11, 2010

School's Out!

Well, almost out. In just a few short hours I will head over to pick up my six year old from his last day of first grade. My four year old still has a few more weeks of preschool but his attendance will be sporadic, as we will be out of town for a family wedding and celebrating my older son's birthday during those last weeks. Now that school is out I can breathe a little easier knowing that we don't have to be up and ready by a certain hour and that we don't have nightly homework hanging over our heads.

I enjoy the summers with my kids because it allows me to continue teaching them at home. I am the first to admit that homeschooling would never work for us, but I do like the idea of exploring the boys' interests--interests they don't necessarily get to explore in a traditional classroom setting. I also think it's important to keep their minds active during the break from school. I've purchased a couple of reading guides to use with the boys to help further develop their skills. I'll be using Week-by-week Homework For Building Reading Comprehension & Fluency (Grades 2-3) with my older son. This book was recommended by his first grade teacher. I purchased The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading to use with my four year old. It's an introduction to phonics-based reading, and came recommended by a friend who is using it with her son (my four year old's best friend). Right now the plan is spend a half hour of one-on-one time with each boy--while I'm working with one the other will be allowed to play (parent-approved) computer games. My boys love using the computer but don't spend a lot of time on it so I need to make a conscious effort to make sure they are learning the skills they'll soon need (typing, using the mouse, etc.). I still need to find some math workbooks so they can practice math skills.

No school means being able to devote more time to projects that will be featured here on the blog as well. My main focus here will always be the book/recipe combo but we now have time to do other projects that pertain to the books we're reading and the recipes we are making. So you can expect to see some of those on here as well.

We've picked out some new (to the boys) read alouds for the summer: The Indian in the Cupboard and By the Shores of Silver Lake. Our county library system and some local bookstores have some summer reading programs that they can participate in for prizes. I plan to enroll both of them in lessons of some sort--we'll continue with my older son's piano lessons and probably do swim lessons for both of them. My older son is interested in tennis and the younger in soccer but those may have to wait until fall. We don't have (or belong to) a pool but my parents do and we want them to be comfortable in the water when we visit them and when they go to the pool with friends.

Lest you think I am some hardcore dictator mom who must schedule every minute of the summer, let me assure you that is not the case. If anything, I tend to be a little on the flighty side and resist all forms of scheduling. The loose schedule and goals/projects are simply meant to ensure the days don't get away from us. (Writing it out here further holds me accountable.) There will be plenty of time for games and free play (the boys are at an age where they play well together unsupervised) and, yes, even video games and television. I love books, I do, but--true confession here--I also love TV (I love any good story, really) so I don't mind letting the boys watch it in moderation. I might start watching the (new) Doctor Who series with them. I think the six (almost seven) year old will enjoy it, anyway. My four year old got upset watching the first Harry Potter movie and How to Train Your Dragon so I'm not sure how he'll take to the monsters/Big Bads of Doctor Who. Mostly, I am tired of watching the same old kid shows (except Phineas and Ferb--that never gets old) and train documentaries they favor and want to get them started on something else. They really enjoyed the Back to the Future trilogy so Doctor Who seems like a good next step.

Of course, it being summer vacation and all, we do have a few trips planned: we will be spending a week on the coast with my husband's extended family and another week in our hometown using my parents' house as our home base (they have a pool--and central air!) The boys are looking forward to these trips because they enjoy their grandparents and the change of scenery.

What are your summer plans? Any new books you're looking forward to reading? Do you have any special projects planned with your kids? Please share in the comments!

*Disclosure: As an Amazon affiliate, I earn a small percentage of any purchase made through the product links in this post.