Were you ever a Junior Ranger?

I’ve been doing a little more research for the next Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale. Look what I found! 🙂

Did you know you can get a Junior Ranger badge and book for your kids (ages 5 to 13+) at all of these National and State Parks?

If the list of 400+ parks overwhelms you, try this map to see what’s near you.

map of the United States of America showing states

(If you’ve read LOST WITH LEEKS, you know we’re all about maps around here. I may get lost, but I always have ALL the maps. 🙂

Do you have a 4th grader at your house?
Did you know 4th graders can get a free pass for the whole school year and the summer that follows? Sounds like adventure to me!

image of 4th grade pass to parks

Lost in a Campground

Stone castle walls with skinny steep wooden staircase (half-covered with wooden roof)
This rambling castle with ruins and tunnels is the inspiration for the Saffron Kingdom. A tunnel is an easy place to lose your sense of direction. Burg Rheinfels, (literally “Fortress Rhine Cliff”) in the central Rhine valley. © Laurel Decher, 2019, St. Goar, Germany.
Do you have a good sense of direction? How about the rest of your friends and family?

The second Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale, LOST WITH LEEKS, is all about getting–you guessed it–lost. Prince Nero has a magically magnetic personality. He’s charming, but he wrecks compasses and maps.

I don’t know about charming, but I’m an expert at getting lost. One of the worst times as a child was in a huge campground.

I found the shower building. No problem.

But when I came out again, nothing looked familiar.
Hundreds of tents and campers stretched out in all directions. The sunset showed me West, but that didn’t help me. I didn’t know where I’d come from.

I also didn’t speak any French. By filling my hands with water from the wash room sink, I tried to mime that our tent was near the lake. *blushes* Needless to say, that didn’t work.

The colors of the tents all faded with the light. Finally, I walked out from each side of the building. In straight lines, so I couldn’t get MORE lost.

Eventually, I tripped over our tent lines and recognized where I was.
The arctic explorer returns to base camp. I could have died out there!
*cue Star Wars theme*

My family was unfazed. *Okay, it was July.*

How about you and yours? Do you have a story about getting lost? What helped you get “found” again? What are your favorite tips to keep your kids from “staying lost”?

P.S. Today is the last day for the free Seven Kingdoms short story TROUBLE AT THE CHRISTMAS FAIR. You might get lucky if the price hasn’t changed everywhere yet.

If you missed it, you can sign up for my Reader’s List and get the first five chapters of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS free. (That’s the first Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale, about the magic of speaking up.)

Each Tale stands alone, so they can be read in any order.

tablet phone ebook hardcover images of LOST WITH LEEKS

If you get lost as much as I do, you might enjoy Prince Nero’s adventures in LOST WITH LEEKS

Click here for more about the book.

What tests do you need to pass to become a. . .?

What careers have you always wondered about?

The next Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale stars the Saffron twins, Magellan and Saffy, so I’m thinking about what kinds of things they might want to do in the future. No promises and no spoilers. 😉

This video is about what surveyors do and how to become one.

The graphic novel-style WikiHow guide to becoming a surveyor is more informative:

cartoon image of a surveyor
How to become a surveyor

https://www.wikihow.com/Become-a-Surveyor

Would you have thought of a park ranger as Criminal Justice Career?

Did you know there was an International Ranger Federation?

The advantage of the reading and writing life is that you catch a glimpse of other peoples’ lives. 🙂

Shopping for Kids’ Books (ages 9 to 12) at your Home or Library?

Here’s my latest menu of books for hungry readers. I’ve read all of these (and many others) this year and you can see my reviews on Goodreads by clicking on the titles or covers of the books.

Feel free to share and to comment about favorite books you’ve read this year for 9 to 12 year olds!

Books for everyone!!! 🙂

Need even MORE? Check out another list of mine here. The screenshot below shows part of the list.

There’s more to explore!

The second book in the Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale series is all about exploring–with a prince who has no sense of direction!

A map of the Seven Kingdoms from the Proclamation. The kingdoms in the Rhine and Mosel River valleys are: Cochem, Marigold, Indigo, Magenta, Saffron, Rose, and, of course, Blackfly! ©Laurel Decher, 2019

Just for fun, here are the real castles that inspired the Blackfly and the Saffron Kingdoms. LOST WITH LEEKS stars the Blackfly Prince Nero and the Saffron royal twins: Prince Magellan and Princess Saffy!

Nero’s a trouble-magnet–for compasses, maps and magical creatures. Worse, his royal mom has kidnapped St. Nicholas. Nero’s got to map out a rescue right away!

The Book Echoes podcast interviewed me about TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS

Something quite surprising happened!

Connie B. Dowell of the Book Echoes podcast interviewed me about TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS:

Book Echoes is a podcast about young adult and middle grade authors. You can see all of the interviews here. Enjoy!

 

book cover image for TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS princess with toolbox standing on top of a burning tower

If you enjoy visiting Cochem castle as much as I do, you might like the story of this inventor princess.

It’s save-the-kingdom time. . .

Can she finally use the one tool that’s never worked. . .her quiet voice?

It’s a way to spend a little more time in the Seven Kingdoms.

Happy reading!

Click here for more about the book.

Veggie of the Week Challenge: French Lentils meet Indian Spices

palm trees with a white plaster railing and the mountains and ocean of Sicily behind
Need a little tropical feeling at the supper table? Sicily. © Laurel Decher, 2019.

The Veggie Challenge started because writing can be TOO absorbing. If the family writer is also the family cook, mutiny threatens!

The goal is to keep the family healthy while I draft the second Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale.

A brief word from our sponsor:

Trouble With Parsnips is part of a special Buy 3 Get 1 Free deal at Kobo Canada today through Monday (January 10-14, 2019). Yay! If you read on Kobo, check out the sale here. ad for Kobo Canada sale showing Trouble with Parsnips on an ereader and the High Water Tower at Cochem that inspired the Palace Agricultural Library

P.S. I didn’t want to leave anyone out, so my book is also discounted in Australia, New Zealand, other Canadian bookstores, and in the U.S. and U.K.  Click here for your favorite online bookstore. Thanks for spreading the word!!

*****************************************************

The Veggie of the Week 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 the:

French Lentil

I’ve never grown my own lentils, but the very first lentils I remember eating were given to me by my French aunt. (Thanks, Françoise!)

Our French Lentil supper was based on “Indian Lentils & Rice” from Whole Foods for the Whole Family and this Instant Pot recipe for Mujadara.

Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker version:

  • 1 onion, chopped (for lentils and rice) +
  • 2-3 onions, sliced (for fried topping)
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 C French lentils
  • 1 1/2 C Basmati Rice
  • 3 C Water
  • 1 tsp Coriander, ground
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin, ground
  • pinch of Cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Bay leaf

Sauté chopped onion in oil and add spices and crushed garlic when onions soften. I added the French lentils before the rice to give them a head start for about 2 minutes. (Regular lentils cook faster and regular brown rice cooks slower, so adjust accordingly.)

Add Bay leaf. Cook the rice and lentils under pressure for 12 minutes. While they are cooking, sauté the 2-3 sliced onions until browned, then add:

  • 1 1/2 tsp Coriander, ground
  • 1 tsp Cumin, ground
  • pinch of Cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Salt

Zucchini cubes and carrot slices sautéed with oil and salt and pepper went really well with this. We always eat it with yogurt and the cilantro is finally growing on the balcony after striking all summer, so we had cilantro.

Bonus meal: When I have leftovers, I toss the onions, lentils, and rice in the food processor, add an egg and bread crumbs and make “veggie burgers.” These are tasty fried in a pan and served with cheese and spinach or arugula or lettuce on a roll.

Regular version:

Cook the rice and lentils in a pot for about 45 minutes?????. Cool and refrigerate for later or sauté the onions and serve as above.

Half-way healthy: The healthy part is pretty obvious. 🙂 A plus is that a bean + a grain = complete protein. Half-way: If you have reluctant lentil and rice eaters, being generous with the oil and salt helps. We serve this with European “low-fat” yogurt which is basically American “high-fat” yogurt.

Cheap: French lentils generally cost more than ordinary brown lentils. Basmati brown rice costs more than ordinary brown rice, but it tastes much better. This recipe uses so many spices that you could get away with the less expensive lentils and rice.

Vote: Thumbs up! There’s something about lentils that is stress-relieving. It sounds strange but eating lentils is like popping bubble wrap. The crispy fried onions are popular. Everyone approved the colorful sautéed veggies.

In case you’re interested, here’s the new, updated cover and a bit more about the book:

book cover image for TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS princess with toolbox standing on top of a burning tower

If you enjoy visiting Cochem castle as much as I do, you might like the story of this inventor princess.

It’s save-the-kingdom time. . .

Can she finally use the one tool that’s never worked. . .her quiet voice?

It’s a way to spend a little more time in the Seven Kingdoms.

Happy reading!

Click here for more about the book.

Veggie of the Week Challenge: 3 Ways to Fight a Dinner-Isn’t-Ready-Crisis

Homemade pumpkin pie with puffs of whipped cream
It’s a vegetable, right? © Jan Decher, 2018.

I’ve missed a few posts, so I thought I’d write about three panicky dinners and the tricks I used to get something half-way healthy with vegetables on the table in a hurry.

The good news: my family has noticed that I’m remembering to cook for them every once in a while. Even though I’m working on a new story. Families tend to be much more supportive of writers when they aren’t hungry.

Each week, I’ve been celebrating a vegetable in a Half-way Healthy supper.

*****************************************************

The Veggie of the Week 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.

 

Red Russian Kale

 

Half-way healthy: Inspired by the local Christmas market, I made a quick supper of sautéed kale, onions, garlic, rosemary, potatoes (and the inevitable kielbasa.)

Cheap: In German grocery stores, you can buy inexpensive kale and spinach chopped and frozen into Tator-Tot-sized “pellets”. (I know, it sounds like guinea pig food, but it’s really convenient.)

Vote: The family liked the kale the first night, but I needed a change for the second dinner with the same thing. *cough*

Three Ways to Conquer Dinner:

Use meat as seasoning. I’m sure you noticed how often the kielbasa sausage kept showing up. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t post–I could hear the groans! But one of the key techniques for “half-way healthy” dinners is to use meats as seasoning. This means that when you buy a “regular” size package of sausages (especially in Germany!), it’s going to make a LOT of meals.

Cook under pressure. Many people swear by slow cookers or crockpots, but I’ve always had uneven results with them. From a public health standpoint, it’s unwise to re-heat frozen soups in a slow cooker, so they aren’t useful in that way. When dinner is endangered, what I want is a Fast Cooker. People around the world have been using pressure cookers to save cooking fuel and, judging from the new books at the library, they are coming back into fashion in other parts of the world. Here’s my favorite Pressure Cooker Cooking Times chart. I just bought an electric pressure cooker because it was on sale and I needed a quick way to cook at my mother-in-law’s house when the whole gang was in the kitchen. See one in action with French Chef Jacques Pepín making Game Day Chili in this video.

Cloak your leftovers. My Fannie Farmer Cookbook talks about having frozen crepes in the freezer (as if!! Do you ever have leftover crepes??) so you can re-dress your leftovers, like adding an elegant cape to a simple dress. For example:

  • Transform leftover chili in a baking pan by adding spoonfuls of cornbread batter on top and baking it.
  • Quiche or even simpler–add a fried or boiled egg.
  • Put leftovers in a tortilla or flatbread.
  • Make “pies”
  • Fill cannelloni pasta or make the easy-to-fill big stuffed shells. (Speedy Tip: Fill them uncooked and bake them covered with extra water and tomato puree until tender. You don’t have to buy the “special” pasta for this. Just don’t tell my Italian friends!)

Meat pies with leftover kale, potato, sausage stir-fry filling
If life gives you leftovers, make pies. I added a few slices of fresh mozzarella to the leftover kale, potato, sausage stir fry and pretended that these were our beloved Kale Calzones.

–Make the Fastest Soup Possible:

Red lentils are the fastest protein in the West (and maybe in the East).

  • Sauté onions, garlic, and a generous hunk of ginger, peeled and minced, and sliced mushrooms in a couple tablespoons of oil (if your family likes them–they add a great flavor to the soup so consider a stick blender if you have people who don’t like “pieces” in their soups).
  • Slice carrots thin so they cook fast. Toss in the pot.
  • I added a quart of frozen chicken stock and a healthiest-possible bouillion cube.
  • The lentils will cook quickly–5 minutes or so–so if you want pasta, add it in EARLY. (Up to 1/2 Cup of rotini or a handful of spaghetti broken in half.)

Hope you and your families are staying healthy during the holidays!

______________

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.

Another Veggie of the Week Challenge: Romanesco to the Rescue! Plus A Giveaway!

metal wok on table with butterfly pasta, red peppers, romanesco cauliflower that looks like tiny green Christmas trees
Red Pepper, Romanesco, Leek, and English Bacon Pasta. © Jan Decher, 2018.

After years of studying chronic disease epidemiology, I’m convinced that vegetables are hugely important (And delicious.)

But. . . .when I’m writing a story, I forget how much I like healthy food. Soooooooo. . . .

Each week, I’ve been celebrating a vegetable in a Half-way Healthy supper.

GIVEAWAY NEWSFLASH

Until December 3rd, you can sign up here for my email newsletter and get  TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS free (ebook or Kindle). Unsubscribe at any time.

Note: This is the complete book, not just the preview.

Why? PARSNIPS are humble root vegetables. This short giveaway is a little pizzazz to help make friends with new readers.

 

Back to our regularly scheduled program: (TA-DAAA!)

*****************************************************

The Veggie of the Week 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.

It’s a cauliflower! It’s a broccoli! No, it’s . . .

Romanesco

Whole head of pale green cauliflower with green minarets on a red napkin
I’m sure aliens must eat Romanesco. *makes note for sci-fi novel* © Jan Decher, 2018.

Half-way healthy: This supper starts off with a leek.

If you aren’t used to leeks, slice off the roots on the white end, and any wilty or tough parts on the green top. Lay it down and slice the whole thing length-wise. Wash each half well under the faucet (or you’ll have grit). After it’s washed, slice it thin across the grain. It is worth it–leeks have a nice mild-but-interesting flavor. (You can use an onion, if you don’t have a leek.)

Sauté: Sliced leek with a few chopped slices of English bacon (looked leaner than the American kind) in olive oil.

Core: Take off the outside leaves and core the Romanesco. My sous-chef a.k.a. photographer cut it into small pieces (Thanks sous-chef!). The florets don’t break off like regular cauliflower.

Even with the cover on, the Romanesco took longer to cook than I expected–about 15 minutes. It’s not as fast as broccoli. Red pepper wedges went in as the Romanesco was getting tender. I turned the heat down to keep the pepper peel tender.

Sauce: A spoonful of cornstarch dissolved in a cup or two of cold water plus a healthy bouillion cube. Add to stir-fry and heat gently until thickened.

Cooked separately: Cooked whole wheat pasta went in after the Romanesco was tender. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Cheap: I splurged on the Romanesco because I thought you’d enjoy how it looks. So, not cheap (under $5 or 5 Euros). But it makes a lot of food–easily supper for six adults.

Oddly, there was one head of Romanesco in the middle of a box of normal cauliflower at the local discounter (Aldi). So, it could have been cheap. If I hadn’t already splurged. Yes, I know, I’m weasel-ling.

Vote: Needs more pep. The Christmas-tree shape of the Romanesco is charming. Overall, the team went along with it, but they prefer “normal” cauliflower for flavor.

We all wished for the Chili-Garlic Puree from our grocery store in Vermont to pep things up. If you can get some, try it. 1/2 teaspoon would be perfect in this supper.

Years ago, I read in a library book (natch!) that Chili-Garlic Puree is the key to authentic Chinese cooking, but I can’t give you the source. 🙁

______________

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.

Until December 3rd, use this link to sign up, so you get your free copy of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS. Thanks for your interest!

The Reading Wonder Giveaway for Middle Grade eBooks includes LOTS of middle grade authors, check it the whole giveaway here.

book cover image for TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS princess with toolbox standing on top of a burning tower

If you enjoy visiting Cochem castle as much as I do, you might like the story of this inventor princess.

It’s save-the-kingdom time. . .

Can she finally use the one tool that’s never worked. . .her quiet voice?

It’s a way to spend a little more time in the Seven Kingdoms.

Happy reading!

Click here for more about the book.

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!):

*****************************************************

The Veggie of the Week 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:

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.

 

book cover image for TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS princess with toolbox standing on top of a burning tower

If you enjoy visiting Cochem castle as much as I do, you might like the story of this inventor princess.

It’s save-the-kingdom time. . .

Can she finally use the one tool that’s never worked. . .her quiet voice?

It’s a way to spend a little more time in the Seven Kingdoms.

Happy reading!

Click here for more about the book.