Holiday Recipes, Day Two: Banana Cookies

banana-cookies1Writing about cookies yesterday inspired me to do something with the VERY ripe bananas in my kitchen. This is another of my abuela’s recipes, not specifically for the holidays but a nice addition to any plate of goodies.

Note: I actually had no shortening, and I don’t much like it anyway, so I substituted coconut oil, and it worked beautifully.


Banana Cookiesbanana-cookies2

2-1/4 cups flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed bananas

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Sift together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with mashed bananas, blending well after each addition. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 12 minutes or until just browned. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Holiday Recipes from A Witch’s Kitchen

Last night, A Witch’s Kitchen hit #10 in Kindle sales of children’s books about cooking! Today it’s down to #26, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating! So each day this week, up until Christmas, I will share with you one of my favorite holiday recipes. Remember also that nearly all the recipes from A Witch’s Kitchen are available in my free cookbook, Millie’s Recipes.

Today’s recipe is a traditional holiday cookie from New Mexico, biscochitos. This is my abuela’s own recipe, with a few of my own notes added. I wish I had time today to make some and take pictures for you, but here’s the Pinterest page on biscochitos to whet your appetite. My abuelo always used to take the last scraps of biscochito dough to sculpt little people and animals, often held together with toothpicks. I swear, they tasted the best of all!


2 cups vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
Red wine to taste
3 Tablespoons anise
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Cream together the shortening and 1 cup sugar. (If you are feeling bold, you can substitute lard for the shortening.) Beat in one egg at a time. Stir in anise, then add the wine. (I recommend burgundy.) Add up to 1/4 cup, drop by drop, until the batter is creamy but not liquid. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg batter and mix thoroughly.

Roll out batter to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out cookies with cookie cutters. Round, oval, and diamond shapes are traditional. This batter also works very well in a cookie press. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes or until just browned. While cookies are baking, combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon. When you remove the cookies from the oven, immediately toss them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture to coat. Makes 15-20 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cookie (a cookie press gets you closer to 20).

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

Math Lab for Kids: An Excellent Gift for Your Budding Mad Scientist

mathlab-coverThere are certain advantages to being an author, such as getting review copies of books, and an amazing one landed in my mailbox this week: Math Lab for Kids by Rebecca Rapoport and J.A. Yoder. (Disclosure: the authors are friends of mine.) It’s the perfect gift for any budding mad scientist because it showcases the creative side of math.

My children are notoriously difficult to influence. Recommending a book is a great way to ensure that they will not read it. They will, however, pick up books left lying around or sneak them off my shelves. So when Math Lab for Kids arrived, I resisted the urge to say, “Look! Cool Math Stuff(TM)! Let’s do it!” Instead, I stealthily left it in plain sight in the living room. Later that afternoon, my 12-year-old spotted it. She picked it up, flipped through it, said, “This looks cool,” and then got distracted and left it on the dining room table. My 9-year-old found it there the next morning.

“Is that interesting?” I asked.

No response, but about five minutes later, she said, “Mom? Can I have some toothpicks?”

“I already gave them to you for your book report diorama.”

“Oh.” She finished her breakfast and wandered off.

These were promising results. So after dinner this evening, I broke my own rule. “Hey,” I said, trying to be cool and casual about it, “wanna do some math puzzles with me?”

img_20161217_191539589“Sure,” said my 12-year-old. “It looks like fun.” I managed not to drop my jaw on the floor.
More typically, my 9-year-old employed her favorite word, “No,” and went to her room. But five minutes later, as her sister and I were discussing the lab we’d chosen to do, she came back and joined in anyway.img_20161217_200238009

We picked out Lab 17: Creative Curves. In this lab, we draw geometric figures and then use needle and thread to sew lines across it such that they look like curves. The girls were all over this, selecting colors and patterns. I drew the patterns for them and numbered the points. My 12-year-old took to it like a fish, completing her first figure quickly, then cutting it out of the cardstock and hanging it proudly on our Christmas tree.
img_20161217_200405703My 9-year-old had a tougher time, with frequent mistakes. When bedtime rolled around, she hadn’t completed her figure. “It’s okay,” I told her. “You can finish it tomorrow.”

She looked me right in the eye. “NO.” It took me a good half-hour to finally get her to stop sewing and go to bed.

Meanwhile, my 12-year-old had chosen a far more challenging figure to try. After several false starts, we figured out how to draw it on the cardstock, mark out the points, and she got sewing. And then bedtime rolled around. “But it’s the weekend,” she insisted. “Can’t I stay up a little late? Pleeeeeease?” But we bundled her off to bed anyway.img_20161217_200448776


I can hardly wait to try another lab. The Mobius strip lab looks fantastic. I expect Koch snowflakes to join the curve stitching on our tree. And I’m really intrigued by the graph theory. This is going to be a fantastic Christmas vacation.

So if you’re looking for the perfect gift for your young mad scientist, or you just want to get a kid interested in math, I highly recommend this book. Apparently, other readers agree. It’s currently Amazon’s #1 new release in Children’s General Study Aid Books. Order fast, and you can have it under your tree, too.


Rating Cambridge-area Cafes for Writer-Friendliness

Phew! After more than a month of being nearly continuously sick, I’m well enough to get out of the house, go to a nice cafe, and write. Which reminds me that, now that I’ve moved to Cambridge, I’d intended to start rating the cafes I go to for ideal writing conditions. First, I should define those conditions:

1. Quality of fare: If you’ve read A WITCH’S KITCHEN, you know that I love food. Any cafe I go to should have good food and drinks at reasonable prices. I’m not talking four stars in the Michelin guide, but I want better than brownies and donuts.

2. Comfortable space: Are there plenty of tables? Are the chairs comfortable? Tables large enough to stretch out in? Can I meet friends here? Are there outlets I can plug into? Is it warm? Are there windows where I can look out at people passing by? Not too noisy, not dead quiet?

3. Free wi-fi: This is a mixed blessing. Sometimes I spend entirely too much time faffing about the internet and not writing. Other times, I really need to get online to research things. But there’s no way I’m going somewhere I’ll have to pay extra for connectivity. This, incidentally, means no Starbucks except in very dire circumstances.

4. Accessibility: Is it easy to get to by bus or subway? Along the bike path? Easy walking distance from home? How late is it open?

The gold standard, for me, was the Gulu Gulu Cafe in Salem, MA. It has excellent food (though they sadly no longer offer ghost pepper salami), fabulous lattes, and an eclectic selection of beer, cider, and sterner stuff. The Gulu is large enough that you can almost always get a table (except in October), their smallest tables are still large enough to handle a laptop, and a plate of food, and their large common table offers more sprawl space if you’re poring over manuscripts. It has enormous glass windows, offering a great view of downtown Salem and its wonderfully diverse citizens. Inside, there’s always artwork by local artists, as well as whimsical murals in the back hall and the bathrooms. Best of all, they’re open from 8am to 1am or midnight, every day. The downsides: I had to drive there, even when I was living in the next town over, and they have live music every night except Tuesday night.

So now I’m searching for a new favorite cafe. Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, and Arlington have so much to offer! It should take me a good long while to work my way through all of them.

Today, I tried two: Cafe Zing and Panera in Porter Square.

Cafe Zing is located inside Porter Square Books and occupies just a tiny corner of the space. They have great food: delicious pastries, excellent Vietnamese fresh rolls, and pre-made sandwiches from sister Kickstand Cafe in Arlington. Today, I had their fresh mozzarella and pesto sandwich on a baguette and a tall glass of ginger lemonade. Both were quite delicious, the sandwich fresh and tasty, the lemonade not overly gingery and quite refreshing. However, Cafe Zing has very little table space, and while it does offer free wifi, it actively discourages people from parking and writing for hours. So while it’s a lovely place to stop in for a book and a bite, it’s not a good choice for writing time. Cafe Zing is open 7am-9pm weekdays, 8am-7pm weekends.

Panera Bread is the exact opposite. I had a cup of tomato soup and a chai latte. The latte is not bad, but the soup was terrible. Only ate half of it, and I paid as much at Panera as I did at Cafe Zing. However, Panera has tons of space, including a basement room that was nothing like full and offers seating with outlets liberally scattered around the room. It’s a cozy space with a faux fireplace and mellow background music. Good if I want someplace to hole up for hours, as long as I don’t have high expectations for the food. Panera opens at 6:30am and closes at 9:30pm, 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

My old standby in the area is the Blue Shirt Cafe, which has decent food at reasonable prices, free wifi, and a nice view out into Davis Square. However, the tables are small and the chairs uncomfortable. Also, after years of haunting the place, I’ve gotten bored with their menu. A close second is the Kickstand Cafe in Arlington Center. Great food, including the best green tea latte I’ve ever had, but always incredibly crowded because they’re the only decent cafe in Arlington, plus they close at 7pm.

Got any suggestions for good cafes in the area? Let me know!

2017 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide Now Available!

Just in time for the busy holiday shopping season, the 2017 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guide is now available from or your local independent bookseller. (Disclosure: I’ve got a story in this.) This remarkable anthology consists entirely of science fiction stories written for kids – mostly middle schoolers but also a little YA. This is unique in the publishing industry right now – no one else focuses on SF for kids, which is a shame because that’s the age of wonder, when children are just starting to really explore their world and all its possibilities. Science fiction teaches kids to ask that all-important question: what if? The ability to imagine what could be is what fuels innovation, from Silicon Valley to civil rights.

So this season, give the young (or young-at-heart) reader in your life the invaluable gift of imagination. I can hardly wait for my copies to arrive: one for under the tree, and one to donate to my daughter’s school library. I’m wishing fervently that I had ordered more during the Kickstarter. There are so many people I’d like to give it to. Off to Porter Square Books I go to order more!