Too Darn Cute

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cheesecake Bites

Here's the recipe!

I have an interesting relationship with cheese.  I can really enjoy a good cheese.  I think I learned this during my 18 months in France.  The French make cheese like Americans make cereal.  They have an entire refrigerated aisle dedicated to every kind of cheese you can imagine.  I was always amazed at the variety and selection of cheeses. One of my favorite things to do was browse the selection and choose a new cheese to try that week.  When visiting Paris with Jacob, I asked him several times if we could just buy a chunk of cheese from a farmer's market and a fresh baguette for lunch.  It may be my absolute favorite meal.

However, I don't seem to appreciate melted cheese as much.  I have been slightly disappointed in the world-famous Chicago Deep-dish Pizza.  Don't get me wrong - It's good.  It's just that the deep dish is filled with melted cheese.  And it turns out that Chicagoans don't really like sauce on their pizza which is actually my favorite part.  I feel the same about quesadillas and really gooey mac and cheese.  I just don't like eating a mouthful of melted cheese.  

But back to the good stuff.  I love that Jacob can appreciate a good cheese like I can and sometimes we'll buy a fancy cheese and pretend we're back in France.  You can find some really good ones here, though the selection is generally quite a bit smaller (and we have yet to find a really good, authentic baguette!).  This weekend we wanted to share our love with some friends and hosted a "Cheesy Game Night" where each couple was invited to bring a yummy cheese to share.  We ended up with quite a good spread and some seriously yummy snacks.  

To go with all the salty snacks, I wanted to make something sweet and found these delicious-looking Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake Bites on Pinterest (because I DO love a mouthful of cheesecake).  The recipe was easy to follow, not too difficult, and turned out SO GOOD.  I was quite relieved that we had a few leftovers.  I will most definitely make these again.  These bites are not a last-minute kind of dessert because you do need to make the cheesecake the day before and freeze it.  But none of the steps were terribly time-consuming and they came out looking pretty good if I do say so myself.


I stuck pretty close to the recipe, though I did slightly more cream cheese and slightly less greek yogurt (a little closer to the original recipe that she followed).  I only dipped about a third of the cheesecake bites, left a third plain, and drizzled chocolate and peanut butter on a third.  I have never thought to put coconut oil in the chocolate to thin it out (I've only ever used shortening).  It worked so well and gave the chocolate a slight hint of coconut flavor which tasted really good.  I would definitely recommend making these.  You will not be disappointed.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again
Written by Thanhha Lai
Ages: 8-12

This is a historic fiction about a ten-year-old named Ha who grows up in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Because the country is becoming dangerous, she must flee with her mother and three brothers to the United States. The story reveals her physical and emotional struggles as she becomes a student in Alabama who sticks out in every way. We learn about Ha's experiences, her hopes, and her memories through a series of poetic journal entries.

I really enjoyed this one! I actually didn't know it was poetry until I opened to the first page to begin reading. While I wasn't so sure about it at first, I soon began to love that her story is told through poems. It has a simplicity in it. I am no history buff and don't know much about Vietnam or the Vietnam War, but I found this story a great way to get a little background into the culture and country. You still don't get many details about the war, but you do get many snapshots of life in Vietnam. Ha teaches a little about the food, religion, and customs of Vietnam through her journal entries. I also enjoyed the narrator, Ha. The scary and exciting and sometimes-heartbreaking story is told through her young eyes. She is very easy to relate to; Each of us has felt like an outsider trying to fit in at some point in our life. She is a sort of hero, not necessarily because she does anything extraordinarily heroic in the story, but because she faces real problems with courage and patience. 

There are so many ways I would use this book in my classroom. It is filled with teaching opportunities! Here are a few ideas I had while reading and reflecting:

Bullying: There is a very evident theme of accepting those different from us. Ha shows up to a new school where she looks, talks, and behaves differently from everyone else. Most of the children make fun of her or stay away from her, but a few important characters take the time to get to know her and help her. This would be a great book to help children think about how their actions can affect others and what they could do to help include others instead of isolate others. 

Making Inferences: This would be a great tool to use in reading comprehension while teaching the skill of making inferences. Ha uses her journalistic poetry to give us clues about things that happened during her day or how she is feeling. The book is filled with entries that would be fun to discuss with a class. I would read through an entry and decide together how she was feeling or what happened. Then, using the text, we could identify the clues Ha gives us that helped us figure it out. 

Poetry: This is a verse novel, narrated through poetry. It is a more abstract form of poetry, quite different from a lot of the poetry that we read and wrote in my 4th grade class. I think students would enjoy trying something a little less formulaic. I love that each poem is like a journal entry and she keeps them short and simple. Each one has a very specific subject (usually evident from the title). Some stood out to me as having a bit of a pattern that could help students get started. These would make fun lessons: 
  • "Birthday Wishes" (p. 30): In this entry, Ha reveals some of her hopes and wishes that she wouldn't say aloud. She begins, "Wishes I keep to myself" and then lists seven wishes, each in its own stanza. She ends with an eighth stanza that begins, "Mostly I wish..." Students could follow this pattern and share some of their own wishes through short, descriptive lines. 
  • "Not the Same" (p. 232): Papaya is a repeating symbol of Vietnam for Ha and she describes it several times. This poem is written after she is given some dried papaya and tastes it for the first time. It would be a fun poem to talk about adjectives and to let the students write their own poem using some juicy, descriptive words of a favorite, a hated, or a new food they have tried.
I would definitely recommend this book. As a read-aloud, a class novel, or a bedtime story, it would be a great one to read and discuss together.