Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Art of Making Macarons

Today is not a Monday. I'm not usually blogging on Wednesday. 

But last night we did a thing that simply must be documented. A quick pic and done on social media will simply not do.

Summer Bucket List 2020 has been different than past years. With the Pandemic, we knew we'd be staying close to home, so we challenged ourselves with homey things. Middle child, who loves to bake, added "Learn to make Macarons." 

Confession: I don't actually love macarons. And having heard from many, many, many sources that macaron-making is finicky and extremely difficult, and would likely take many tries to get it right, I really had no desire to make macarons. None.

But confession aside, I also believe in letting my kids try things that interest them. So here we go.

First of all, if you want to learn HOW to make macarons, with all the tricks, I highly recommend The Preppy Kitchen. John Kanell is entertaining, humble, honest about how hard they are to make and his own failures, and super detailed. We read the entire post, and watched the video several times as we worked on our macarons. 

For the record, our (spoiler alert) failure is in no way due to his instructions. πŸ˜‚

We started out in good spirits. We knew prepping the almond flour would be work, but it seemed a fairly easy first step to get right. Basically you sift the almond flour and powdered sugar to get rid of the biggest bits. So we sifted . . .

And sifted . . .

And sifted . . .

And holy cow! Are we not done yet???!

And mom, it's been a miserable THREE hours of sifting, and DO NOT take my picture!

So I think our sifter was a bit TOO fine, and if we ever try to make these again, a new sifter will be something we would DEFINITELY purchase. It is also possible that the Great Value brand of Almond Flour (labeled as "Superfine") was not a good purchase. (For the record, my husband did the shopping, not me. πŸ˜‰)

By the time we almost had the flour done, both middle child and I were exhausted and ready to call it good for the day. But lollipops and gumdrops! We had come this far, our eggwhites were AGED (yes, you have to age your eggwhites!) and at room temperature, WE WERE GOING TO FINISH!

So I had my son start on the meringue while I finished the sifting. Seriously. That was not a good deal on my part. But parenting and sacrifices and grumble mumble.

I did not remember to take pictures of the early meringue making. Suffice it to say, it also took A LONG TIME. Just not as long as the stinking sifting! 

Happily, the mixer does most of the heavy lifting at the beginning, so we only had to finishing whipping that meringue into a thick, marshmallowy mass. 

John Kannel (of the Preppy Kitchen) emphasized that the biggest mistake most macaron-makers make is not whipping their meringue long enough. Middle Child wanted to be thorough, so about the time I thought it was done he said: "Thirty more minutes by hand!"

Hahaha, yeah, not happening. Instead, we tried the upside down bowl test that John suggested, and we were gold. Middle child really liked that test. 

Next came the folding in of the flour (wretched flour!). This may have been where we failed. Something about getting out the big air, but keeping in some air . . . yeah, it was all a bit opaque to me, but I did my best. 

And no pictures of the actual piping because we were busy piping. Yeah, piping isn't really a skill we have either. So.

After having watched the video, we splurged and got a macaron mat. It was supposed to help them form the wall and kind of fix our bad piping. But . . .

And turns out, we didn't cook them long enough. That is a big bad mistake, my friends. Big BAD. 😳 I mean, ruinous, really. 😩 (I'm not crying, you are!)

Ahem. So while the parchment paper ones were even more irregular, at least they were cooked long enough.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I KNOW they look awful! But turns out, awful-looking does not equal awful-tasting. So there is that.

Next up, we went for the French buttercream filling, because as long as we're trying hard things . . . So middle child started whisking the egg-yolks . . . 

While I worked on the soft ball sugar . . .

What? That doesn't look like soft-ball sugar to you? 

This is actually failed attempt number two. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜­ (I can laugh now, but let me just tell you that it was not pretty last night. Not pretty at all. Middle Child kept trying to chat with me and I may have exploded. Then hard-working husband called right at the crucial moment (why yes, he was still at work at 8:30 last night, why do you ask?), and I didn't take his call! 😬 Oh, the stress!!

Turns out I don't actually know how to use a candy thermometer. (Yes, really, Mom. And yes, I am actually your daughter.) 

Once I figured that out (on attempt 3), it all went swimmingly, and voila! Beautiful, yummy buttercream.

But even beautiful buttercream can't fix undercooked macarons. Which means that after about six hours of arduous labor in the kitchen (SIX HOURS), this is all we have to show for it. Seven, crumbly, crackly, over-airy . . . but DELICIOUS macarons.

Oldest child very willingly test-tasted them for us and gave us his unbiased opinion of their tastiness. (I mean, he eats moldy bread, but whatever, we'll take it!)

As we were finishing up, middle child asked, "Should I start aging some egg-whites so we can make chocolate ones tomorrow?"

πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜‚ So you see? Even after six grueling hours, he still had his sense of humor. (We did not start those egg-whites)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Girlie Reviews Books: Just South of Home

Just South of Home: Strong, Karen: 9781534419384: BooksHello my fine readers! Today, I convinced my youngest, Girlie, to film a review of a book she devoured and loved. When I asked if she would be willing to review it, she ran upstairs and immediately wrote one out. 😲That never happens! I have to pull teeth to get her to do book reviews during the school year. So clearly she loved this one (despite how nervous she was to video it).

The book that led to her first ever summer report? JUST SOUTH OF HOME by Karen Strong.

Hope you enjoy Girlie's first ever video book review!

JUST SOUTH OF HOME is available for purchase at Brain Lair Books,, and wherever books are sold.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Author Interview: Lisa Katzenberger

 Hello my friends! I'm so excited to have another wonderful picture book author here on my blog. I knew I would like Lisa Katzenberger as soon as I heard the title of her book: NATIONAL REGULAR AVERAGE ORDINARY DAY. We happily connected on Twitter, and I'm so thrilled she agreed to an interview. So let's get to it! As always, I'm the one in bold green letters.
Hi Lisa, welcome to my blog!

Hi Janet! Thanks for asking me!

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children's books?

I have been writing since I was a kid. I’ve always loved books and have taken creative writing classes any chance I could. It’s always been my dream to be an author, and I first started writing fiction for adults. But when I had my kids, I was introduced to the picture book format and discovered what I was truly mean to write – stories for children.

I love that! There's just no going back once you discover the joy of writing picture books. 😊 Can you please tell us about your book?

Peter does not like being boredso he comes up with a way to have some festive fun—he'll celebrate a different holiday each day! But when he wakes up one morning to discover there isn't any holiday, he realizes he'll have to take matters into his own hands and make up his own!

Why did I never think of this when I was a kid??! But seriously, your book had me cracking up! I had no idea there were so many National Celebrations. What inspired you to write this story?

A few years ago, I worked as a social media manager and wrote content for client’s social media platforms. These offbeat holidays were just starting to gain popularity, and I would center content around them. I wrote “National Weird Holidays” as a Storystorm idea in 2016 and finally got down to writing it in 2017.

Ahh, Storystorm. Tara Lazar is brilliant. To my readers, if you don't know about it, I've added a link, so feel free to learn more. If you write picture books, definitely check it out!

Okay, okay, back to the interview. The ratings were just so clever. I always love to learn a little about process. Were the ratings always part of the story? Or at what point did you add them?

Thank you! I looked back at my drafts (there were about 15) . . .

Oh man. I feel you on that. So. Many. Drafts.

Yep! I added the ratings at draft 4, which was about a month into my revision process. I can’t remember what gave me the idea to add the ratings, but I’m glad I did – I think it’s a fun touch.

Brilliant touch, really. So my very favorite national celebration in the book is the National Ice Cream Sandwich Day. Yum! What is your favorite national celebration day in the book?

My favorite is the mash-up of National Bubble Bath Day and National Squirrel Appreciation Day. I tried to combine some (real!) holidays that would make for a silly scenario. But when I saw Barbara Bakos’ great illustration for this holiday, I was in awe! She really took it to another level with all her clever details.

Haha! Anything involving squirrels is AWESOME! And I loved all the detail in all the art! So much to take in with each page. Do you have a favorite image from your book by the illustrator, Barbara Bakos?

My favorite is National Underwear Day, where Peter is celebrating with underwear all over his body including, of course, his head. What child hasn’t thought they were the funniest kid in the world running around with underwear on their head? I laughed out loud when I first saw that illustration.

I mean, underwear on your head is always funny. πŸ˜‚

Okay, on to the speed round!

Ice Cream Sandwich Day vs. Eat-what-you-want Day? 

Eat What You Want Day!

Homecooked meal (that you don't have to cook!) vs. Take-out? 


Winnie-the-pooh character? 


Chocolate vs. Cheese? 


Thank you! So fun!! Okay, one last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Peter might choose for his personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!


Haha! Yep. That sounds perfect. Thanks so much again for being on my blog!

Thank you for having me Janet!

My pleasure! And for my readers,  see below to find out where to get your own copy of National, Regular, Average, Ordinary Day and where you can connect with Lisa on social media.

Lisa Katzenberger lives near Chicago with her husband and two children. She is the author of NATIONAL REGULAR AVERAGE ORDINARY DAY (Penguin Workshop 2020) and IT WILL BE OK (Sourcebooks 2021). She is a long-time member of SCBWI and the 12x12 picture book writing challenge.

You can find her website HERE, and follow her on TwitterGoodreads, Facebook, and Instagram

Copies of NATIONAL REGULAR AVERAGE ORDINARY DAY can be purchased from Lisa's favorite Indy bookstore, Anderson's Bookshop, as well as Bookshop.orgAmazonB&N, and wherever books are sold.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Author Interview: Sharon Giltrow

Today we have another author interview! I'm so excited to have Sharon Giltrow on my blog just in time for Father's Day! She is the author of Bedtime, Daddy! which released on May 12th. Let's jump right in, and as always, I'm in bold green.

Hi Sharon, welcome to my blog! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children's books?

Sure, I would love to 😊. I am the youngest of eight children and grew up on a farm in South Australia. My childhood was spent reading, making mud pies, exploring the salt lake and swimming at the beach. Now I am a part-time teacher of children who have a developmental language disorder and best of all a full-time writer. I started writing children’s books when my first child was born in 2006 but it wasn’t until 2015 that I started taking the idea that I could become an author seriously. I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 picture book challenge, enrolled in children’s book courses and started my journey towards becoming a published author.

Wow! SEVEN older brothers and sisters. As it happens, I grew up near a salt lake as well! Floating on the water is a pretty interesting experience. And I'm so glad you decided to write. Please tell us about your book!

Bedtime, Daddy! Is a humorous role reversal story, where the little bear in the story puts their daddy bear to bed. To do this the little bear must wrestle daddy bear into his pajamas, read just one more story, battle endless excuses, and use go-away monster spray to finally get daddy to bed. The story has a great balance between heart and humor. It would make a perfect bedtime and Father’s Day book, and there's even a Teacher's Guide.

I loved the role-reversal in Bedtime Daddy! What inspired you to write it?

My husband and my children. Over the last fourteen years my husband and I have taken turns reading to our children and putting them to bed.  During the nightly bedtime routine, I had a lightbulb thought… ‘wouldn’t it be funny if our children put us the parents to bed.’ The idea for Bedtime, Daddy! was born.

I love those lightbulb moments! And the steps of getting Daddy to bed are hilarious. One of my favorite parts is the monster spray. Do you have a favorite part of the story?

My favourite part of the story is when Daddy Bear and Little Bear are snuggled up in bed reading a story and Daddy Bear interrupts the story with these questions…

Why don’t ducks have arms?’ Or ‘Do sharks sneeze?

They were awesome questions! I love the randomness of it all. So true to life!  And let's talk art. The art is so whimsical, and fits the book perfectly. It really helps the reader feel that the advice is coming from a kid. Did you have any input on the art or illustrator? What was your reaction at seeing the art?

EK Books asked Katrin Dreiling to illustrate Bedtime, Daddy! Before I signed the contract, they sent me Katrin’s early sketches of the characters. There was a daddy bear, a human dad, a little bear and a little child.  Anouska the editor made a suggestion that perhaps using bear characters would have a more universal appeal. I trusted Anouska’s advice and am very happy with the bear characters. I love Katrin’s illustrative style and colour palette and she has illustrated my words and vision perfectly. When I first saw the storyboard for Bedtime, Daddy! I was ecstatically happy.

How interesting! Very cool that you had a choice on that. Can we talk writing for a minute? How many picture books would you say you wrote before finally getting a deal on this one?

My first picture book I wrote was in 2006, I then went on to write nine more before I signed the deal for Bedtime, Daddy! Since signing the deal I have written four more picture book manuscripts and one chapter book manuscript.

That is a lot of books. This business takes a lot of perseverance! What helped you the most on the path to publication?

Not giving up and believing in myself! As well as the support of my critique partners and the Kidlit community. Surround yourself with like-minded writers.

That is great advice. Having that support makes all the difference!

One last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Little Bear might choose for his personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!


Hahaha! I love it! So perfect. Okay, I know I already said last question, but where can we purchase Bedtime, Daddy!

Bedtime, Daddy! is now available to order around the world:

Thanks so much! And for my readers, see below for where to find and follow Sharon on social media platforms.

Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, WA with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. When not writing, Sharon works with children with Developmental Language Disorder. Sharon was awarded the Paper Bird Fellowship in 2019. Her debut PB Bedtime, Daddy, released May 2020 through EK books.

You can find Sharon on her Website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.