Veggie of the Week Challenge: The Colors of Italy Pizza

pizza baked on a stone with pepper and zucchini length-wise slices, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and an Italian flag toothpick in the center.
Red pepper and zucchini pizza. © Jan Decher, 2018.

This summer, my brand-new middle grade book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, took up the vegetable portion of my brain (I heard that) so dinner was often shoot-your-own-sandwich.

We interrupt our veggie challenge for a moment to bring you a word from our sponsor:

If you’d like to try TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS at your local library, you can recommend it on Overdrive. (See image below.) Thanks for the veggie boost!

screenshot of Trouble With Parsnips bookcover and Recommend button and Read a Sample button

Back to our regularly scheduled veggie: To celebrate (and thank the long-suffering locals), I bring you (TA-DAAA!):

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Ace Pepper

We grew a variety called “Liebesäpfel” (love apple) that were very small this year because of the drought. Small green peppers are on this pizza along with the red pepper from the store (on sale this week even though it’s November!) and zucchini. “Ace” is a favorite pepper variety that we grew both in Minnesota and in Vermont.

Pizza dough: our favorite recipe is from the KitchenAid mixer cookbook with 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of flour. If you have a good mixer, you can easily double the recipe. (We left our mixer behind when we changed countries and electrical systems. Even if you use a good mixer, DO let the dough take up all the flour before you add more. Stroll by the working mixer and put a little more in every once in a while. You and the dough will be happier.)

2 1/2 tsp dried yeast, 1 c water (the same temp as your hand–it should feel like nothing), 2 tsps olive oil (the freshest you can afford), 1 tsp salt.

If you mix up the first 2 cups of flour with a big spoon in a bowl, your fingers don’t get sticky. Dump it out on a floured board and add the rest, little by little, until you like the way the dough looks. German flour has more protein than American flour so the dough won’t take as much.

IMHO, the key to EASY home-made pizza dough is adding a LITTLE flour at a time.

Pour a little olive oil in the bowl, turn the dough all around in the bowl so it’s shiny. Cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it on the counter all afternoon to get nice and puffy while you do other stuff.

Treat it like a slow-cooker meal and make it in the morning. Or the day before. (If you refrigerate pizza dough overnight, it comes out even tastier. I cover it with plastic in the fridge.)

Half-way healthy: 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of white flour keeps the half-way healthy dough from being too heavy. Or add a little toasted wheat-germ for more B-vitamins. Fresh mozzarella is inexpensive here and lets you use a bit less cheese. Tomato puree (not sauce) keeps the salt reasonable and the pizza juicy.

To anchovy or not to anchovy? A friend of mine always puts anchovy paste in the dough, but I haven’t done that for a while. Not sure if it adds more protein than salt and fat. Does anyone know?

Cheap: Red peppers were on sale, maybe because it’s still quite warm weather for November. We used to buy a bushel of each color pepper at the end of the season from the Farmer’s Market in St. Paul (Minnesota) and then they were quite reasonable. If you freeze them ready to use (washed, seeded, and sliced), dinner is half-made.

Vote: Murmurs of mutiny! Oh no! The pizza stone method is too advanced for us. We have to wait between small pizzas because our pizza peel isn’t big. Making pizza on a huge cookie sheet makes it’s sturdy enough to pile on more veggies.

As people filled up with pizza . . . questions about possible pepperoni died away. A close call, but success!

I wish I knew how to make these pesto, tomato, mozzarella boats. We ate them in the Cinque Terre and they were marvelous:

baked boats of bread filled with pesto, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

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Veggie of the Week: Tendersweet Cabbage + Sausage Stir Fry

wok with sliced cabbage, carrots and kielbasa sausage next to a pot of brown rice and a flat variety cabbage cut in half
Germany is the land of sausage. Half-way healthy version. Photo ©Jan Decher

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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In case you missed last week, this’ll catch you up:

In short, cooking went on the back, back burner, while I published my first book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, so dinner was unimaginative for a few months.

hardcover of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS standing amidst cups on breakfast table.
Hardcover invades table set for breakfast. © Laurel Decher.
Mild-mannered hardcover disguised by breakfast dishes. © Laurel Decher

By the way, I got to see the hardcover for the first time today! Yippeeeee!

*cough* Writer folk are easily distracted from the important work of feeding people.

 

Hence the Challenge:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Tendersweet Cabbage

The grocery store had a variety called “Jaroma” that’s supposed to have a less “cabbage-y” odor. Not sure we noticed the difference, but the shape was like the Tendersweet. Another milder variety of green cabbage is the “point-y” one. (“Murdoc” looks like a 1920’s skirt, very flirty for a cabbage.)

The stir fry is very simple: onion, a generous hunk of fresh ginger, chopped, a few garlic cloves with the center sprout removed, 3 sausages, sliced thin and 2 carrots. When that looks sautéed, I add 1/2 a cabbage, sliced and chopped through a few times in the other direction, turn the heat down and let the cabbage slowly melt into tenderness.

A little cornstarch dissolved in cold water with the healthiest bouillon cube I could find made the sauce. 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper added a bit of zip.

Half-way healthy: I like to “cancel out” the sausage with cabbage family vegetables and I slice the sausage as thin as possible to get the flavor. Brown rice balances this stir-fry nicely.

Cheap: The cabbage was on sale for under $2 and I only used half. If you were cooking for a mob, you could use the whole thing with another carrot and onion for balance. I froze the rest of the sausages in the package.

Vote: Thumbs up! “It would have been too sweet without the brown rice.”

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

The Veggie of the Week Challenge is Back: Ruby Chard

garden bed in early spring, no weeds, but red poppies blooming
My garden last May. © Laurel Decher.

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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And we’re back! In case you missed last week, this’ll catch you up:

My family endured, uh,  . . . minimalist cooking during the publishing of my first book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS. But they need vitamins and writers can’t run on chocolate forever.

Hence the Challenge:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Ruby Chard!

(Spinach would work here too, but Ruby Chard grows all season long. Healthy, cheap, and tasty.)

Mean Mac & Cheese adds a vegetable to a kid favorite. Purists can eat noodles from the middle. (Epidemiologists aren’t heartless.)

I fold ruby chard leaves in half, rip off the center rib and slice the stacked leaves nice and thin. The chiffonaded ruby chard gets tucked into the corners of a 9″ x 13″ pan or around the edges of my only big casserole dish.

pasta casserole with chiffonaded ruby chard on the edges on checked tablecloth
Mean Mac & Cheese with Ruby Chard. (Same dish, different veggie.)

Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure* is the Béchamel sauce we use for Mean Mac & Cheese. (Sounds so much fancier than white sauce with thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper and salt. We’re all about the words.)

*We have the German translation of both Vegetarian Epicure volumes bound into one: Das große Buch der vegetarischen Küche.

Half-way healthy:

  • If you have people who balk at whole wheat pasta, try “hay and straw” (half “regular” pasta and half whole wheat.) Or try a different brand (or shape) of whole wheat pasta. (Some brands really do taste like cardboard. Persist! 🙂
  • Béchamel sauce can be lower in fat than whipping cream, if you use lowfat or skim milk and actually measure the butter. It helps to add extra milk to the sauce to make sure the ruby chard doesn’t dry out.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese has more flavor per serving of fat than mild cheddar so you can get away with a little less cheese. Adding a small amount to the top during the last few minutes of baking makes the whole thing seem cheesier (in the best possible way).

Cheap: I had a whole salad spinner full of ruby chard from the garden, so I didn’t buy my veggies. You can spend as much or as little as you like for whole wheat pasta and cheese.

The vote: Another thumbs up!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing–I know, you’re all about the veggies–you can unsubscribe at any time.

“Veggie of the Week Challenge” in honor of the upcoming holidays and my new children’s book

My first book for 9-12 year olds, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, made for some extremely casual (be kind, people!) meals at my house.

Winter is coming, as they say, and the attention span for cooking vegetables is getting shorter. The garden is closing down and the holiday shopping list is ramping up!

So, I have a suggestion:

TADA!!!

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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To keep my family from becoming poor and wan while I work on my second book, I’m committing to serve up a half-way healthy*, cheap, vegetable dish to the exacting pool of eaters at my house once a week.

Feel free to play along in the comments! Go ahead, show me how it’s done. Your inspiration is welcome!!!

Here are the “rules”:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety. Forget the step-by-step! You are artistes, are you not? (I can’t follow recipes, but I’ll let you know if I refer to any.)

No holds barred. If the crew gives the thumbs down or orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

*half-way healthy means an attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Our first vegetable victim was cauliflower.

The run-down: 1 whole cauliflower broken into flowerets, the least expensive Swiss cheese available, grated, the quiche formula from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook, modified for my giant quiche dish.

Quiche crust from a food processor cookbook I got from the library once (mea culpa!): 1 1/2 Cups flour, 1 stick frozen butter cut into pieces, whirr it up and add 1/4 C water you put in the freezer for a few minutes. Press the crumbs onto the sides and bottom of your pan and make a decorative edge to keep it from burning. Wanted to add red pepper for color but no time, so I sprinkled paprika on top.

Half-way healthy: Buttermilk instead of milk to fool *cough* family into thinking they were getting cream. Added chopped parsley from windowbox into crust (Vitamin C) and put in 1/2 C whole wheat flour with 1 C white flour.

Cheap: No expensive ingredients. (What?! You want me to show my receipts?)

The vote: Thumbs up!

white casserole dish with quiche sprinkled with paprika
Speedy Cauliflower quiche. © Jan Decher, 2018.

Will they make it through the holidays? Tune in weekly to find out.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing–I know, you’re all about the veggies–you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Want to read a brand-new children’s book? Spoiler: It’s mine. :)

My first children’s book is coming out today in paperback!!! And ebook!! and Kindle!! YAY!

*dances from living room to kitchen and back*

WARNING: There are root vegetables involved. And princesses. And a dessert sluice with cream puffs. But the nameless princess of Cochem has it, um, under control.

paperback of Trouble With Parsnips a middle grade story about speaking up

Because I’m shy and retiring, you can read about it over at The Winged Pen.

Or you can find out more here, including the links for ebook, Kindle and reading it at your library.

Thanks so much for your interest!

Regards,

Laurel

p.s. Hope you enjoy it!

What You Say Depends on Where You Come From

footbridge covered with white and purple flowers connects market square to stone church with onion steeple, and to the "red house"
View of the Protestant City Church of Monschau (Evangelische Stadtkirche Monschau) and bridge covered with flower boxes. Monschau’s “Red House.” Monschau, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

The charming village of Monschau is in Germany, but Americans and Belgians were filling it up the other day. It’s very close to the Belgian border and so charming that it draws Americans from much further away.

It’s a mix of cultures. I overheard this classic exchange in a café:

“Salt or sugar?” An American tourist picks up the glass dispenser from the café table and shakes it.

Her companion says, “Sugar. No one eats that much salt.”

My German husband and I have been married 29 years, so I’ve forgotten things I didn’t know when I first came to Europe. This exchange resonated with me. I’ve heard it many times before. We don’t realize how much our cultures influence us until we leave home.

When we were first married, we met someone who was researching communication and conflict among international couples.

“How do you know if it’s cultural or if it’s personal?” I asked.

“Couples from the same pairs of countries say the same things,” she* said, somewhat dryly. “When you hear the same thing again, you know it’s cultural, not personal.”

Obvious to anyone outside the marriage. Impossible to see inside an international marriage. Two mini-stories:

We hadn’t been married a month when I asked my new husband if he’d like to take out the trash. “No,” he said, taking what I’d said at face value.

Another time, we watched TV with relatives in a tiny living room. I didn’t realize I was blocking anyone’s view, so when someone asked if I could see all right, I said, “Yes, thank you” and sent the whole room into laughter.

Learning to ask for what you need is challenging in any culture and is less tied to language than we think.

My mom once pointed out how children change their tactics when they reach school age. Babies and toddlers can point at what they want without being impolite or use brand-new words to demand something.

But once we have language skills, no one gives us credit for plain words any more. Older children have to gaze longingly and hope someone notices and offers it to them.

We know children need help to learn language, but it’s easy to think that some kids are born knowing how to communicate and others are “shy” and will never learn.

My upcoming book**, Trouble With Parsnips, is a fairy tale for readers 9 to 12 about a girl who is puzzled that no one seems to hear the important things she has to say. She’s moved on to become an inventor instead.

**The book is taking up all my thoughts and leaking out into every conversation! If you’re remotely interested, you can find out more here. If you’re not, sorry for the accidental commercial!

*I really wish I knew this researcher’s name, because I’d love to read her work. If anyone else knows, let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

Stone tower with doorway through the middle.
Whoever built this Tower didn’t feel like chatting with strangers. 🙂 Monschau, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Tour a German publisher: Kiepenheuer and Witsch in Cologne

office with Cologne Cathedral visible through the window.
The Cologne Cathedral is so huge, it feels like you could reach your arm out the window and touch it. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Last week, our local library visited the German publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch in Cologne. Their offices look right out on the Cologne Cathedral. Their location next to the main Cologne rail station make it easy for their internationally renowned authors to drop by for coffee.

They have a fascinating history. I never thought about German publishers being shut down after World War II. Kiepenheuer & Witsch was one of the first to receive permission to resume publishing (because the Nazis had shut them down earlier.)

We had a tour “in publishing order” from the front desk:

bright red front desk with name of publisher in white and a row of books in a built in shelf
Welcome to Kiepenheuer & Witsch! © Laurel Decher, 2018.

to the mail room:

beautifully made old fashioned scale with dial to show weight
An heirloom scale to weigh packages of books. You can’t have more than 30 kilos of books on this scale at a time. Kiepenheuer & Witsch publishing house. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

This place values books. I enjoyed the author portraits and sideways bookcases in the hallways:

hallway with square portraits lined up in a grid 4 high by more than 10 across
Once you have your second book published with Kiepenheuer & Witsch, you can have your portrait on their walls. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Book covers are designed here. We were allowed to take pictures of these final versions, but the concepts for the next catalog are top secret. They publish 100 new books a year with about a dozen editors. People work hard here!

paper printouts of final bookcover designs, put up with fat round magnets
Kiepenheuer & Witsch don’t all look the same. Each book’s design is based on what the author put in it. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Finished books in the marketing department are ready to entice bookstore owners:

white bookcase with square cubbies to hold stacks and display standing up copies of new books, some shrink-wrapped
Posters and finished books, like a giant box of brand-new chocolates. The Kiepenheuer & Witsch sales department is ready to go out to bookstores. © Laurel Decher, 2018.
White t-shirt with Kiwi logo pinned to wall.
KiWi is a hip abbreviation for Kiepenheuer & Witsch and the name of a paperback imprint begun in 1982. Team shirts for bygone days when each publishing house had a soccer team to play in a tournament. Happy the house with athlete authors! © Laurel Decher, 2018.

World Championship-Level Book Formatting

This book, titled simply S, by Doug Dorst and J.J. Adams, is the designer’s ultimate formatting dream. *cough* There are guides about how to read this book with notes and accessories but there was no guide for putting it together.

This book might seem like the ultimate argument for a print book, but there are ebook versions. (My head hurts thinking about it!)

If the German translation is 10 to 35% longer than the English original, that must have made the hand-lettered notes challenging:

Printed book with marginal notes in two ink colors and formatted handwritten lists, postcards and other papers tucked in strategically.
Your mission should you accept it: Make the German translation, probably longer, fit into exactly the same space on every page. Include two colors of hand-written notes in the margins and all kinds of crazily formatted postcards, shopping lists, and dials. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

The book I want to read next: Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod.

The subtitle sums it up: First Aid for German Problems. This book calls to me. For years, my relatives and friends have been using German in ways I never learned in class. This book promises to make everything clear–in a light-hearted way.

My city library lists an edition with over 700 pages. Yikes! That’s a lotta German grammar. But I’d really love to understand why my German relatives say things the way they do.

The title means: the dative case is the death of the genitive case. A grammar murder mystery? I know–it sounds deadly–oops!

[If you’re wondering: English sort of has these “cases” but we’re not as serious about them. Dativ is somewhat like what we call indirect objects: I gave it to him. Genitiv is somewhat like using apostrophes. The author’s book.]

author and book cover photo with a bright green list of German grammar tips in entertaining language
This book is the one I want to read first after the tour. I saw it on the author photo wall–book covers are up in the hallways too. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Kiepenheuer & Witsch’s decisions shaped the kind of publisher they have become. The tour made me think about the role of a publisher in society.

  • What books do you publish?
  • What is a “book?”
  • What will make readers want your books?
  • How will you show authors you value them?
  • What public conversations will you start or take part in?
  • Who’s going to try and shut you down?

Hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.