Louisiana New Year’s and Cabbage Roll Recipe

December 31, 2009

When I was growing up in southern Louisiana we celebrated many holidays with the same traditions each year: chicken barbecues and egg boxing for Easter, crawfish boils on Mother’s Day, fish fries and dances for my parents’ anniversary on the 4th of July, crab boils and German chocolate cake for my birthday in August, All Saints Day services and flowers in the graveyard on November 1, gumbo for Christmas Eve dinner. Now that I live far away in Oregon, a lot of those traditions are hard to maintain. The one I keep alive, without fail, is also one of my favorites, the New Year’s Day tradition of eating cabbage and black-eyed peas.

I know Louisiana isn’t the only place in the country with this tradition, and although I’m not sure of its origin, I believe it goes way back as a way to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Cabbage is supposed to symbolize the greenbacks that will come your way in the new year. Black-eyed peas signify coins in your pocket. I know lots of friends and family who could use more of both of those in the coming year. So once again, tomorrow morning I’ll be at my stove cooking cabbage rolls to eat for our dinner. It’s something everyone in my family looks forward to. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about the black-eyed peas. Every year we all manage to choke a few down, but as long as I’ve been eating them I still don’t really like them. I can doctor them up with bacon and hot sauce, but I can’t imagine ever looking forward to heaping a pile of black-eyed peas on my plate. Cooking should be a great activity to take up the time I’m not cheering on LSU’s Tigers in the Capital One Bowl, or the U of O Ducks in the Rose Bowl. I’m looking forward to ringing in 2010 this way.

Here’s my recipe for cabbage rolls. While I got this from my mom, who has been making them for as many years as I’ve been around or more, I think most cabbage rolls recipes are similar. Enjoy!

New Year’s Day Cabbage Rolls

  • 1 small cabbage
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1-1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 16-oz. can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • Toothpicks


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Carefully cut stem from cabbage and steam for about 15 minutes over boiling water. Let cool. Loosen cabbage leaves.
  3. While cabbage is cooling, heat oil in large skillet. Sauté onions, celery, garlic, and bell pepper in oil until limp, about 7 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.
  4. Sauté ground beef in skillet until well cooked. Add reserved vegetables, tomatoes, egg and cooked rice. Mix well.
  5. Have a large casserole dish on hand. Take one cabbage leaf, place about a tablespoon of meat mixture at the base, fold over the sides and roll into a ball. Place the roll into the casserole dish and secure with a toothpick in the middle. Repeat until meat mixture is gone.*
  6. Place a 1/2 cup water over the cabbage rolls and bake for 45 minutes.

*If you don’t have time to put the rolls together, you can also layer the ingredients in your dish to make a cabbage casserole.

Check Out This Contest for a Sony Reader at Booking Mama

December 30, 2009

I was reading Booking Mama’s blog yesterday and found out about a great contest she’s got going on until January 3. As part of a campaign by Sony to promote its new website, Words Move Me: Connecting Readers Around the Literary Moments They Love, Booking Mama will be giving away a Sony Reader to someone who leaves a comment on her blog post about a favorite book read when growing up. If you’re like me, it may be difficult to choose one.

I learned to love historical fiction when I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare and Drake: The Man They Called a Pirate by Jean Lee Latham. Later I devoured all the historical fiction by Gore Vidal I could find. The best part is that I couldn’t wait to share the things I read as a child with my daughters when they were old enough. It’s so rewarding to see your children fall in the love with the same books that meant so much to you. I’ll be commenting at Booking Mama as soon as I decide which book to single out. Then I’ll be checking out Sony’s new website.

Book Review: A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

December 29, 2009

Grandma Dowdel’s back, only this time she’s known as Mrs. Dowdel to the Methodist preacher’s family that just moved in next door. The family, which includes three children, has been relocated from Terre Haute, Indiana to take over what is to be a new Methodist church but what is now a run-down building with no windows, a deteriorating roof and no congregation in a small Illinois town.

As family members work to adjust to a new life, gruff old Mrs. Dowdel next door seems to know exactly what each needs. Bob, who tells the story, is the middle child on the verge of puberty. He’s the easy target of bullies and in need of confidence as well as friends. Phyllis, fourteen going on twenty, is appalled at having to start high school in a place where she knows no one. Her obsession with everything Elvis leads her to take up with an unsavory character and start lying to her parents about where she’s going and what she’s doing. Six-year-old Ruth Ann is starting first grade, and she’s searching for someone to look up to. The dad, of course, needs a congregation, and the mom needs help keeping them all functioning well.

Fans of A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder will be happy to read more about Grandmas Dowdel’s schemes to influence her small town and the family next door for the better. She’s just a gruff as ever, but older now. The gifts she bestows are not the kind you can wrap and put under a Christmas tree, but they are the kind no receiver would seek to return. Peck is a master of subtle storytelling, letting the reader reach conclusions about the characters along the way. He’s also superb at bringing bygone times to life, and in A Season of Gifts he deftly captures life in a small town during the late 1950s.

I read this book aloud to the whole family, which includes my husband and two teen daughters. We all loved it, something rare for the four of us with our different tastes in books. I highly recommend it for family reading as well as for children aged nine and up. Buy this book now, even though Christmas has just passed. Then pack it away with your Christmas decorations and be pleasantly surprised when you pull it out next year.

Tea for Book Lovers

December 28, 2009

I recently discovered a line of teas I think make great gifts for readers. It’s called Novel Teas and it’s packaged by Bag Ladies Tea. For the past few days I’ve been sipping on my own cups of tea made with Novel Tea bags. The tags are stamped with sayings by writers, such as the one in the photo above from Louisa May Alcott, who says, “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.”

English Breakfast tea is in the bag, and although I’m a coffee drinker for breakfast, English Breakfast tea is my choice for lunch and to sip during an afternoon of writing. I know we’re just past Christmas and gifts may not be the on the top of your list today, but there’s bound to be a gift-giving occasion in your future that these teas will be perfect for. Bag Ladies has collections for teachers, sisters, gardeners, mothers and more. Any of them can make a whimsical gift. It’s so refreshing to find something out of the norm that you know will be enjoyed by a tea drinker.

Speaking of Louisa May Alcott, here’s a reminder to tune your TV to PBS this evening at 9 p.m. to watch the American Masters biography on her. The film is directed/produced by Emmy Award winner Nancy Porter and written/produced by Harriet Reisen, who is also the author of the biography published by Henry Holt and Company called Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. I saw a preview of the film, and I was fascinated by the things I learned about Louisa, her family, and the times she lived in. Check out one of these websites for more information: http://www.alcottfilm.com/ and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/. You can also read my review posted below.

Great Show to Watch: An American Masters Biography of Louisa May Alcott

December 27, 2009

American Masters’ film biography of Louisa May Alcott is a fascinating glimpse at a remarkable woman and the times she lived in as well as the people who surrounded her. Told in styles that range from documentary narration, drama and animation, the story takes the viewer from Louisa’s early life until her death in her mid-50s. The show is called “The Woman Behind ‘Little Women,’” and it airs tomorrow, Monday, December 28 at 9 p.m. on PBS. To be sure of the time, check your local public broadcasting station listings.

Louisa’s family of four girls faced many hardships as they moved from Boston to Concord, Massachusetts and back again during Louisa’s childhood. Her father, Bronson, was a visionary ahead of his times as a schoolteacher who was unsuccessful when he pushed unpopular ideas, such as equality of the races. Not only did he abhor slavery, but he also believed blacks to be the equal of whites, and he enrolled blacks in his school. The Alcott home in Concord was even a stop on the Underground Railroad of slaves passing through on their way to freedom.

Because of his unpopular views, Bronson Alcott had difficulty supporting his family, so his wife took on many tasks to earn money that would house, clothe and feed her family. As soon as Louisa was old enough to take on jobs, she also earned money to support the family.

As she worked at tedious jobs, Louisa composed stories in her head, and when she wrote them down and submitted them, she began to supplement her income with the money she got for her tales. She knew she wasn’t writing great literature, but she was practical about needing the money that came from her writing. Most of her stories then were published under a pseudonym, a fact that wasn’t discovered for more than 60 years after her death.

Louisa became best known for Little Women, a fictionalized story whose characters are based on her own family. Although considered a children’s author, much of her writing included pulp fiction thrillers that told stories of murder, revolution and drug addiction.

Louisa’s story is also fascinating because of the literary lions she grew up around: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The American Masters biography is also filled with well respected screen actors: three-time Obie winner Elizabeth Marvel plays Louisa May Alcott and Tony winner and Oscar nominee Jane Alexander plays her first biographer, Ednah Dow Cheney. When the characters speak, their dialogue is taken from historical journals and other writings.

I got a review copy of this program, and I watched it with my 18-year-old daughter. We sat spellbound throughout the show, and then we talked about what we learned over dinner with the rest of the family. I highly recommend it not just for those interested in knowing more about this fascinating author, but also as a companion for mother-daughter book clubs reading Heather Vogel Frederick’s novels in The Mother-Daughter Book Club series. These books take place in Concord, Massachusetts. In the first books of the series, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, the girls and their moms read Little Women throughout the year they meet, and they learn lots of information about Louisa May Alcott and her times.

Outtakes from the show and an interview with director Nancy Porter and writer Harriet Reisen can be found at pbs.org/americanmasters. You can also check www.alcottfilm.com for more information.

Christina Hamlett’s Interview in American Chronicle

December 24, 2009

Recently I was able to answer a few questions for Christina Hamlett about mother-daughter book clubs, the writing life, reading, and my guidebook, Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. Here’s the link to the interview at American Chronicle.

Christina was a wonderful resource when I was writing Book by Book. She’s been an actress and director, and she also teaches and writes, which is why she had lots of helpful advice to add to the chapter on Book by Book that tells how to stage a play with your book club members. She’s also written a great book to be read by book clubs with older daughters called Movie Girl. Here’s a past interview of Christina herself at Mother Daughter Book Club.com.

Book Review: Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose by Diana Leszczynski

December 18, 2009

Both of Fern’s parents, Olivier and Lily, are world-famous botanists. In fact, Lily’s uncanny ability to help nearly extinct species keeps her constantly on the go to exotic locations. But Fern isn’t happy always playing second fiddle to plants. For many years she has wanted nothing to do with nature and the outdoors.

That’s especially true once her parents move to the fictional town of Nedlaw (a play on Walden?), Oregon, where Fern feels out of place among the more glamorous students with cosmopolitan working mothers at her school. She’s downright embarrassed by her mother’s clothes, and the fact that her hair always seems to be a bit wild. So when Lily leaves on another trip to help another plant, Fern doesn’t even say goodbye—something she regrets when Lily disappears and is presumed dead.

Soon, though, Fern discovers that she shares a gift her mother passed down to her. Plants can talk to her, and she can talk back. She finds out that her mother is alive, being held captive in a cave somewhere far away by an evil man who wants to manipulate her gift. How will Fern find her, especially when her father has her committed to an institution after he sees her conversing with a willow tree? And how can she make anyone understand her certainty that her mother is still alive, when she can’t tell anyone about her ability to communicate with plants without losing her gift?

Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose by Diana Leszczynski recounts Fern’s adventures as she seeks to save her mother and nurture her blossoming gift. Her travels find her in the clutches of a deranged psychiatrist who hates children, and on a boat at sea with a group of orphans. During her search she is both hastened and hindered from reaching her destination by members of the plant world. Along for the ride is a single petal from the silver rose Fern’s mother was helping when she was kidnapped.

There’s a strong message of respecting nature and all it has to offer, and the book won the 2009 Green Earth Book Award Honor. To be certain, there are many “green” messages, but Fern Verdant doesn’t feel at all preachy as it shows Fern learning how to use her talent for good.

You’ll be happy to accompany Lily on her quest to find her mother, be reunited with her father, help the orphans and save the silver rose. While girls aged 9 to 12 will enjoy Fern’s adventures, their mothers can also appreciate how Leszczynski pokes fun at many aspects of the adult world, including psychiatrists, psychiatric facilities, lifeguards, spy agencies and scientists who may be too smart for their own good. Moms may also be able to prompt discussion of why teen girls often get embarrassed to be seen with their moms, and how moms and daughters can learn to appreciate the things that are important to each of them.

Mother-Daughter Book Club Reunion

December 18, 2009

Last night my daughter, Madeleine and I went to dinner with our mother-daughter book club members. After more than eight years in the club together, the girls all started college in August and September. This was the first time they were home after the end of their first terms, and the first time we were all together since before they graduated in May. We were missing one member, who is still finishing finals at her school and won’t be home until the rest of us are scattered in different directions. Otherwise, the evening was perfect.

As I looked around the table at these familiar faces, I was grateful for the fact that we’re still making it a priority to spend time together. I’ve known most of the girls in the group since first grade and through the added connection of Girl Scouts, and it was so rewarding to see them grown into poised young women. Even though we hadn’t all read a common book for our get together, our thread is strong enough for us to have meaningful conversations about each others lives without the opening a book provides.

Too many times I find myself in conversations at gatherings of acquaintances where I don’t create conversation that matters and don’t receive any back. So it was especially rewarding to spend an evening with people I care about, learning new things about who they are as individuals.

Book Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

December 16, 2009

It’s 1935 on Alcatraz Island. Al Capone is The Rock’s most famous prisoner among a number of notorious criminals. He’s also a constant fascination for the families of the guards, who live in houses on the island next door to the cellblock.

Moose Flanagan is the son of one of those guards. He’s adjusting to life without his autistic sister Natalie, who has just been accepted into the Esther P. Marinoff School, a place her parents believe will help her learn how to function better in society. Moose is sure Al Capone pulled strings to get Natalie in after Moose wrote a letter asking for his help. When Moose gets a note in his laundry, he knows Capone is asking for a favor back. But how can he fulfill the request without getting his dad fired and the whole family exiled off the island?

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko is a charming follow-up to her Newbery Honor winner, Al Capone Does My Shirts. You’ll fall right back into Moose’s story and life on Alcatraz, with its strict regulations for prisoners, guards and civilians alike. This time Moose is trying to navigate his conflicted feelings for Piper, the warden’s daughter, and keep all his friends happy. He also has to determine where to draw the line with the cons who perform maintenance jobs in the homes: can he trust these men who for the most part seem like regular people, or should he keep their past crimes in mind when he interacts with them? I highly recommend this book for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.

Book Review: According to Kit by Eugenie Doyle

December 15, 2009

Kit can’t believe her mother would force her to stay home and be homeschooled just because a classmate at her high school pulled a knife on another student. She doesn’t want to stay home and spend even more time helping take care of the dairy farm she lives on with her mother, father and grandfather. And when homeschooling turns out to be not much schooling, since no one actually has time to spare to work with Kit on lessons, she ends up on her own a lot of the time.

But at least Kit can lose herself in her ballet lessons she takes at the local college…that is until her beloved teacher Ursula becomes sick and can no longer teach. Graduate students pick up the slack, but it’s not nearly as fulfilling for Kit as Ursula’s classes were. When Luis arrives with his wife and baby to take over the class, Kit is enthralled by his attention to her. Luis sees her potential and encourages her to audition for a prestigious art school in Montreal, Canada, a long drive and a world away from her Vermont farm.

Predictably, Kit’s mother says no, but Kit is full of newfound confidence and a desire to dance. Plus, she wants to live up to Luis’s expectations, and she can’t let no be the answer.

According to Kit by Eugenie Doyle highlights the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. How much does a mother open up to reveal herself to her daughter? What dreams for her future does a daughter share with her mother? When the two have different visions for the daughter’s life, how can they reconcile their conflicting desires for what’s best?

According to Kit also juxtaposes two very different pursuits—farming and ballet—and manages to show the rewards and challenges of both. It shows Kit’s longing for a mother who will talk to her and share her emotions, not hold everything inside as she carries with her a long-ago personal tragedy. There’s lots to discuss here for mother and daughters. Despite one scene near the end of the book where Luis aggressively comes onto Kit sexually, a scene that seems out of place and under-addressed for its impact, I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls 14 and up.