Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Year In Review

Reading Goal: 45 Achieved: 57
TBR Shelf: 25      Achieved: Way.too.many.

I confess. I'm not sure what happened to my TBR shelf. It kind of exploded on me. Maybe buying Oddo the Nook wasn't such a great idea? [nodding and listening] Yeah, you're right, Oddo was an awesome idea. Anyways, I'll keep working on the TBR shelf for 2012.

Reading Goal: 47
TBR Shelf: 5 on Oddo
                   30 on physical shelf

Favorites from 2011: This was a little tough. I didn't read much that truly stood out in my head. It was the year of mediocre reading. A few books that stood out a little more than the rest:

A Town Like Alice was a surprise find. A book I thoroughly enjoyed and wish I had kept in my personal collection for a future re-read.

The Weird Sisters was entertaining and very real to me. I recommend it for anyone who has sisters.

Beat the Reaper was another surprise find. Amazing writing all the way to the end.

The Help was a great book that pulled me out of a reading slump.

The Ape House was another great book by an author who is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

I can't help but mention Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, it was a fun fun book that I can't wait to share with The Spawn.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Little Women

Little Women (Little Women, #1)Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven't read this book in, oh, probably twenty years. I remembered a few things from the book which helped because overall I felt the book was rather anti-climatic. On the other hand, this book read very well and wasn't filled with heavy overtones considering the time period it was authored. I did find myself skimming quite a bit when the author would go off in the narration voice on morality or whatever soapbox needed standing on.

SummaryLittle Women is one of the  best loved books of all time. Lovely Meg, talented  Jo, frail Beth, spoiled Amy: these are hard lessons  of poverty and of growing up in New England during  the Civil War. Through their dreams, plays,  pranks, letters, illnesses, and courtships, women of all 0; ages have become a part of this remarkable family  and have felt the deep sadness when Meg leaves the  circle of sisters to be married at the end of Part  I. Part II, chronicles Meg's joys and mishaps as a  young wife and mother, Jo's struggle to become a  writer, Beth's tragedy, and Amy's artistic pursuits  and unexpected romance. Based on Louise May  Alcott's childhood, this lively portrait of  nineteenth-century family life possesses a lasting vitality  that has endeared it to generations of readers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hidden Staircase

The Hidden Staircase (Nancy Drew, #2)The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a quick read. The formal writing is quaint. The lack of reality in the stories makes it easy to read and put aside as purely entertainment.

Series: Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #2

SynopsisNancy is introduced to Miss Flora and Aunt Rosemary by Helen Corning, a character who aids Nancy in the previous, and first, volume of the series. They believe that their home is haunted. Odd things have been happening at the Mansion. A valuable necklace has been stolen, and an owl gets into the house, seemingly of their own accord.Meanwhile, Nancy's father is being harassed by a crooked character, Nathan Gomber, who threatens violence. Carson Drew will travel to Chicago during the first part of Nancy's stay at the old estate and join her later. Nancy finds it difficult to focus on the mystery at hand when her father fails to arrive home from Chicago in a timely manner - he appears to have vanished.

Recommended Reading:
The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
The Bungalow Mystery by Carolyn Keene
The Mystery at Lilac Inn by Carolyn Keene
The Secret of Shadow Ranch by Carolyn Keene

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband

Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband (Daughters of the Glen, #1)Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband by Melissa Mayhue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a pretty classic travel back in time fall in love, come back to the present kind of story. It was funny and cute and overly gushy romantic. The characters are flat, the heroine morphed over night from wimpy girl to kick ass first take names later. It's the author's writing that kept me in the story over the plot, characters or whatever. Very good writing, which is unusual for this genre.

Series: Daughters of the Glen Book 1

Synopsis: SCOTLAND, 1272. Connor MacKiernan, a descendant of the Fae Prince, is a warrior who lives only for honor and duty. Though he's vowed never to marry, that's exactly what he must do to save his sister. Enter a little Faerie magic, and the search for a bride is on.

DENVER, 2007. Caitlyn Coryell is having a really bad day — she just discovered her fiancĂ© with another woman! Imagine her surprise when she puts on some sexy lingerie and an antique pendant and Connor appears in her bedroom, begging for her help. He offers a simple yet outrageous adventure: travel to his time, marry him, and return home.

But nothing's simple when Cate is trapped in the thirteenth century. The wedding's delayed, someone's trying to kill her, and in the middle of all this, she realizes she's falling in love with a man who can only be her husband for thirty nights.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bone Rattler

Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America (Duncan McCallum, #1)Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America by Eliot Pattison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When it comes to historical fiction involving Scotland (or at least Highlanders) in the 1700's... this wasn't the same caliber as a Diana Gabaldon, but if you love her you'll like this! This was a well-written novel involving many aspects of history - from Scotland, to England, to America. I really enjoyed the characters, although I did struggle trying to remember who was who sometimes. The plot twisted and turned and came together brilliantly at the end. I thought I had read that this was the first book of a trilogy, so I will be looking for the next books in the series.

Synopsis: Aboard a British convict ship bound for the New World, protagonist Duncan McCallum witnesses a series of murders and apparent suicides among his fellow Scottish prisoners. A strange trail of clues leads Duncan into the New World and eventually thrusts him into the bloody maw of the French and Indian War. Duncan is indentured to the British Lord Ramsey, whose estate in the uncharted New York woodlands is a Heart of Darkness where multiple warring factions are engaged in physical, psychological, and spiritual battle.Exploring a frontier world shrouded in danger and defying death in a wilderness populated by European settlers, Indian shamans, and mysterious scalping parties, Duncan, the exiled chief of his near-extinct Scottish clan, finds that sometimes justice cannot be reached unless the cultures and spirits of those involved are appeased.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Mom's Chili

This is the way my mom made chili growing up (except with diced tomatoes). One thing that I like about the recipe is that it's kid friendly, but it doesn't take much to jazz it up for adults. You can add green chiles, jalapenos, tobasco sauce, or increase the chili powder - whatever you want to do to increase the heat. The measurements are approximate (I've never actually measured) so adjust as needed.

1 lb. hamburger
1/2 onion chopped fine (my mom shreds her onion with a cheese grater and the anti-veggie sister is none the wiser)
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with roasted garlic and onion
45.5 oz can chili style beans in chili gravy
15 oz can red kidney beans (light or dark), drained and rinsed
16 oz can Bush's Original Baked Beans (yes, it has to be Bush's)
5.5-8 oz can V8 vegetable juice (if you want less sauce, use the small can, if you like more sauce, use the big can, on that note: I use two small cans)
1-1/2 tbsp chili powder
3/4 tbsp cumin
2 bay leaves

Brown hamburger and onion in large pot. Drain grease.

Add remainder of ingredients, mix well and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for a minimum of 20 minutes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dreamsicle Fudge

My mom made these for Christmas a few years ago. I kind of feel like the recipe needs a few tweaks. It's not very fudge-like and everyone I know who has made it has the same struggles I had (it's kind of dry and crumbly). This time that I made it it was kind of grainy even though I cooked it long enough (wondering if it was because I was making a double batch that I should have cooked it just a bit longer). I'm not a wonderkin when it comes to this stuff, so I probably won't mess with it.

2-3 tsp. orange flavoring
9 drops red food coloring
12 drops yellow food coloring [on that note, I used a few drops of orange AmeriColor gel paste]
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
3 cups sugar
1 (12 oz.) pkg. white chocolate chips
7 oz. marshmallow cream

Mix orange flavoring, red food coloring and yellow food coloring and set aside.
Boil butter, evaporated milk and sugar for 5 minutes. Add white chocolate chips and marshmallow cream. Mix well.
Reserve 1 cup white mixture.

Add orange flavoring to remaining mixture. Pour into a 13x9 buttered glass dish.

Swirl the cup of white into mixture. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 1" squares.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cheesy Cornbread (ABM)

I've been looking for a good cornbread recipe for the bread machine. I've tried a few and never been satisfied - they were too mealy or too bready or too spicy... This one fits perfectly for what I want to use it for. It's a perfect side dish to chili, it's great with honey and butter. There is cheese in the recipe, but I couldn't pick up on the flavor enough to be overwhelmed, it was a subtle attribute of the bread. I did make a few deviations from the recipe - it called for buttermilk but I screwed up the grocery shopping (again) and failed to get either buttermilk powder or actual buttermilk, so I soured the same amount of milk with 2 tbsp of white vinegar. I also  used colby jack cheese instead of cheddar - and really I think you could use any kind of cheese, even Mexican flavored cheese for a little extra spice. This is the recipe for 1-1/2lb loaf.

1-1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tsp shortening
3 cups bread flour
3/4 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp dry yeast

Place ingredients in order in bread pan. Select 1-1/2lb size, light crust and basic bread setting. Start machine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Considering the hoopla that PSL's get each year, when I saw this recipe on Annie's Eats I knew it was a "must make" for me. I did make a few cheats to make these work for me (call me cheap and lazy, I'm okay with it). I did not brush with coffee before frosting (I thought it was unnecessary and I was right, these have a good coffee flavor to them already), instead I spread with store bought caramel sundae topping and then frosted. Trust me, the caramel adds just a little bit of sweet without being in your face. Next time I think I'll use actual pumpkin spice instead of separate spices for a little bit of flavor variety.  It was a perfect combination of pumpkin, coffee and the whipped cream frosting was like inhaling eating an actual PSL, and is probably the only time I have enjoyed a whipped cream frosting. In fact I hear them calling from my fridge as we speak...

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp espresso powder [this stuff is expensive, so I used a strong roast instant coffee]
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves [I had a hard time keeping this in the recipe due to my dislike of cloves, so I used a mere pinch of the stuff *shudder* that was enough for me]
1 tsp salt
15 oz can pumpkin puree [despite the fact that I have fresh, homemade pumpkin puree, I did use canned to clean out my pantry]
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 jar caramel sundae topping (you'll use about 1/3 of the jar)

Preheat oven to 350 degs F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, coffee powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Stir together and set aside.

With an electric mixer, blend pumpkin, sugars and oil. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add flour mixture in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.

Fill cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Bake 18-20 minutes, until cupcakes are golden brown. Transfer pans to wire rack, cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans. Let cool completely. Once cooled completely, spread with caramel sundae topping.

Whipped Cream Frosting:
2-1/4 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Whisk heavy cream. Blend in the confectioner's sugar gradually. Whip until stiff peaks form, being careful not to over-beat.

Use a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip to frost the cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and more caramel sauce if desired.

Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Highlander of Her Own

A Highlander of Her Own (Daughters of the Glen, #4)A Highlander of Her Own by Melissa Mayhue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It wasn't a bad read as far as the genre goes. I felt kind of cheated on the plot and character development side, there was so much more the author could have done with the base storyline and characterizations. On the plus side, this was a well-written book - the POV's stayed with the character, there was no redundancy with the storyline when the POV shifted to another character, there was some irritation on my part with word usage (like a particular word was stuck in the author's brain and she used it every chance she could get), but otherwise a very clearly written book. I probably won't be reading the entire series, but willing to pick up the other book by this author that's on my shelf.

Series: Daughters of the Glen Book 4

Synopsis: TEXAS, PRESENT DAY. Ellie Denton's world has spiraled out of control. A strange new birthmark, animals talking to her, and her mother's ex-husband laying claim to the family ranch have her thinking life can't get more complicated. But Ellie doesn't know the birthmark's connection to her Faerie ancestors.Complicated takes on a whole new meaning with her innocent wish to find her true love.

SCOTLAND, 1304. Caden MacAlister has more trouble than he can handle. With his brother held for ransom and the laird missing, the last thing he needs is another problem. But the Fae have other plans. A mysterious woman shows up in his stables, sent by Faerie Magic to find her true love. Fighting his attraction, Caden insists she's meant for one of his brothers. With his history, he has no desire for a woman in his life — especially a woman sent by the Fae.

Only the magic of the Fae can determine whether Ellie will find a Highlander of her own...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orange Chicken

I found this recipe over at Annie's Eats, one of my favorite cooking blogs. I didn't change much, although I did make the marinade and sauce the night before. This is still a time consuming recipe that I won't be attempting again on a weeknight. Also next time I make it I'll probably skip the cayenne pepper in the breading, it was too spicy for The Diva to eat. This was pretty awesome as leftovers too!

Marinade and Sauce:
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup orange juice
1-1/2 tsp orange zest
6 tbsp white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tbsp ginger [1 tbsp fresh]
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 lbs chicken breasts or thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tbsp + 2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cold water
8 thin strips orange peel (optional)

Combine chicken broth, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a large sauce pan; whisk to blend well. Measure out 3/4 cup of mixture and transfer it to a large zipper lock plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, pressing out the excess air and sealing well. Refrigerate and let marinate 30-60 minutes, but no longer.

Place the saucepan with the remaining mixture on the stove and heat over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Add the mixture to the saucepan with the sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce is thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the strips of orange peel, if using. (I reheated this in the microwave the night I cooked the chicken.)

Coating and Frying:
3 large egg whites (I used two whole eggs)
1 cup cornstarch (I used half flour, half cornstarch)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Heated oil - I used my electric deep fryer to better control the oil temperature.

Prepare coating by whisking egg whites to a froth in a pie plate or shallow dish. In a second pie plate (or plastic bag works well for me), combine cornstarch (and flour), baking soda and cayenne pepper; whisk to blend. Drain chicken of marinade in a colander or large strainer; pat dry with paper towels. In small batches, place chicken pieces in egg whites, coating well. Transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly, shaking off the excess.

Fry chicken until golden brown in oil heated to 350 degs F (about 5 minutes).

Toss chicken with sauce. Serve over rice.

Thankful For...

... a five day weekend! Much needed and appreciated.

I spent a little time this morning in bed, cuddling with The CofC and kittens, drinking my coffee and reading. Seems like a great start to things!

I have quite a few goals for my days off:

  • finish the two books I've started
  • make 10 dozen cookies for the cookie swap (technically it's 5 dozen cookies and 5 dozen fudge)
  • finish painting the kitchen
  • make a huge dent in my house cleaning
It seems like there's plenty of time to get everything done, but yet I know there isn't enough time once I add in all the other obligations that are piling up:
  • Thanksgiving Eve church service
  • two family get togethers (Thursday and Sunday)
  • wedding reception (Friday evening)
  • sleep
  • QT with The CofC and BB
  • Driving The Spawn back to his dad's
  • menu planning and grocery shopping for the next two weeks (this consumes hours of my time. it's ridiculous.)
Reality. It's kicking my butt.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lazy Day Beef & Vegetable Soup

I made very few changes to this recipe (that I've had forever *cough*). The most drastic thing that I did was use less beef (original recipe called for 2-1/2 lbs, I used just over 1 lb) to make it a little more economical. You can use any variety of diced tomatoes - plain, with garlic & onions, italian seasoning, etc. - for a little added oomph. I used a tri-colored pasta, but you can use any small shaped (ditalini, small shell, small penne) pasta. The tri-colored pasta is a little too big, but still yummy. I forgot to buy a bag of mixed frozen veg's, so I faked it for this post with a little bit each of a bag of corn, carrots and green beans. Next time I make this I'm going to add 1-2 tbsp tapioca because the broth was really thin.

1 lb. stew beef
29 oz can beef broth
15 oz can garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas), drained
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 tsp salt (if needed) - I didn't use
1 tsp dried italian seasoning, crushed
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup uncooked pasta

Combine beef, broth, beans, tomatoes, water and seasonings in crockpot; mix well. Cover and cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 hours. No stirring necessary during cooking.

Stir in vegetables and pasta, continue cooking covered for 1 hour, or until beef and pasta are tender.

Stir well before serving.

When Size Matters

When Size Matters (Flipside)When Size Matters by Carly Laine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite sure where to start with this book... I wasn't so sure about it being written in first person, but turned out to work in the book's favor. I really liked the main character. She made sense to me, I saw a lot of me in her. This book really had some great characterizations, a lot of detailed backgrounds. We didn't really get to know the hero of the story and the plot was kind of thin. Well, as thin as a short trashy romance can get. Wholly unbelievable, but a fun and funny book. A nice diversion from heavy reading.

Series: Harlequin Flipside #19

Synopsis: Dallas hair, diamonds the size of boulders, double-D cups stacked with silicone - would these be the reasons Dylan Stone feels a jumbo attack of insecurity coming on? Considering that Texas boys equate "cheerleaders" with happily-ever-after, this computer whiz can't quite see how her own, um, all-natural gifts fit in.

Which might explain why she's the last virgin standing and a teensy bit concerned that the "problem" is out of control...

Until she meets Brad, a man as elusive as he is gorgeous. She's sure he's a contender for The One... if only he would stop running at even the slightest whisper of a glimmering rock!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blue Nude

Blue Nude: A NovelBlue Nude: A Novel by Elizabeth Rosner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was too slow-paced for me. I found the story wandered too much between (boring) current events to the past. I felt the lack of detail and symmetry to be a contrived way to build suspense that failed.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 14, 2011

Comebacks at Work

Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master ConfrontationComebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation by Kathleen Kelley Reardon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't finish this book. I found this book to be very logical, very explanatory, and what I did read has been helpful. I will probably be coming back to read this book again and give it the better review that it deserves.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Banana Bread

After slaughtering The Diva's pumpkin and making puree... you might think that makes me a bad mom, but once you taste this bread, you'll understand why sacrifices had to be made. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup mashed banana and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. I'm not the kind of girl who measures mashed banana so I used one whole banana, 2 cups pumpkin puree and skipped the oil completely. It came out very dense and moist... and oh-so-delicious! Oh, a few other tweaks that I made: instead of orange zest I used dried orange peel (the stuff you buy in the spice aisle, not homemade) and I used half the original cloves because I don't really like cloves. If you like cloves then double the amount I have here.
nonstick cooking spray
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 15 oz can pumpkin (or 2 cups homemade puree)
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 mashed ripe banana
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, orange zest, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves in a medium bowl.

Stir together pumpkin, eggs, sugar and banana in a large bowl. Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes; remove bread from pan and cool completely. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice bread and serve with Dark Chocolate Butter.

Found in last year's HyVee Seasons magazine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dark Chocolate Butter

This stuff is... yeah. What you don't see in the picture is my mouth waiting to pour this stuff in. For the purpose of pictures (and lack of patience) I did not refrigerate it. It does set up nicely once refrigerated. If it sticks around that long! The flavor wasn't a "dark" chocolate, more like "not as sweet" chocolate. I will probably be trying this with a dutch process cocoa for a darker flavor.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup baking cocoa
3 tbsp water
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

In a small heavy saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa and water until smooth. Add butter; cook and stir over medium low heat until bubbly. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour into a small bowl. Cool for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Found in last year's HyVee Seasons magazine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

It's no secret around my house that I love anything pumpkin. I even had a plan idea this year to go through all of my pumpkin recipes and actually make them vs. just drooling over them. I planned to do this in October, but then was distracted by The Diva's birthday and the kitchen painting project (still unfinished). Surprisingly, I have never attempted to make my own puree. This year, I tackled that little project. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, just very time consuming.

Although canned pumpkin is prized for convenience, you might discover that the satisfaction of preparing your own pureed pumpkin is worth the effort. Though baking time and water content vary with pumpkin size and variety, any pumpkin can be seeded, baked and pureed for use in recipes calling for canned pumpkin. One pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin yields about 1 cup of pureed pumpkin. When a recipe calls for a 15 oz. can of pumpkin, use 1-3/4 cups of puree; a 29 oz. can contains 3-1/2 cups.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut a clean pumpkin (sugar pumpkins are recommended, I used the one my daughter painted at daycare - washed, of course) in half from stem end to the bottom. Scrape insides with a metal spoon to remove seeds and fibers, reserving seeds, if desired. Place halves, cut sides down, in a roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. [Note: I don't have a roasting pan large enough so I put each half in a 9x13 pan.]

When cool enough to handle, scoop out pumpkin flesh with a spoon, draining off any excess liquid and avoiding browned portions. Puree in blender or food processor or mash with potato masher until smooth. Place puree in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a deep bowl. Bring ends of cheesecloth over puree to cover. Place a 1 lb. can on top as a weight. Allow to drain about 1 hour or until puree is the consistency of solid pack canned pumpkin. (Or skip draining step and cook puree over low heat, stirring frequently, until any free water is evaporated.)

Place puree in 1-3/4 cup portions in freezer safe resealable pastic bags or containers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace between the top of pumpkin and the top of bag seal or container rim for expansion during freezing. Seal, label, date and freeze for up to nine months. Thaw before using in recipes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Happiness Project

The Happiness ProjectThe Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book expecting entertainment, not self-help, so it was hard to change my mindset while reading this book. There were some things that I really enjoyed about this author - that she was very black and white, she needed some way to track her progress and she was honest about her flaws. I liked that she told stories that were relevant to what was going on her life, although sometimes I felt she went on and on (beating a dead horse) about something that was "Okay, yeah, I got it the first time you said it" material. Overall, this book didn't do much for me.

Synopsis: Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love. With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

Recommended Reading:
The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Life is a Verb by Patti Digh
The Immortal Life of Henrietta... by Rebecca Skloot
Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner

Monday, October 24, 2011

Juice Box Robots

So... I thought I was being completely original. Actually, my intention was to make juice box and a candy grab bag for The Diva's birthday party at daycare... but then I wondered if I could make Tinkerbell juice boxes... and then my experimenting led to me thinking "these look more like robots" so then I talked to my best friend Google... and yeah. Not so original idea. But I did find a lot of ideas to make my not-so-original idea better. My favorite was found at My Insanity - I really liked the combination of chocolate and chewy candies, and the dots for eyes really made them cute. I left mine with their original packaging showing because 1) I'm lazy and b) it reminds me of the Lifesaver trains my mom used to make at Christmas (which reminds me, I should figure out how to do those...) These were a super-quick twenty minute project and the daycare kids loved them!

Here's what I used:
12 mini juice boxes (4oz. size) I bought these in packs of 4 at the dollar store in apple and fruit punch flavors
24 Hershey's milk chocolate nuggets
24 Laffy Taffys
24 Starbursts
24 mini dot labels I found these in the office supply aisle at Wal-Mart.

You'll also need a hot glue gun! I have a low temp one so the kids can help me when I tackle projects like this.

Glue two Starbursts to the bottom of the juice box for feet. I didn't worry too much about matching these, but next time I will take the time to match the feet and the arms. There were a few boxes that I had to play with to get to balance just right so they would still stand (there was one that I actually had to glue a third foot onto) but for the most part they all balanced perfectly after the feet were added.

Glue two Laffy Taffy on each side of juice box for arms. I did take the time to match these on each robot.

Glue two Nuggets with flat sides together. Glue to top of juice box to make the head.

Attach two mini dot labels to head for eyes (remember that the straw is the back of the robot body so you want the eyes to be facing the front).

Voila! I really like the varieties that Kendra came up with - different shapes for heads, Rolos for feet - but I think I'll stay away from the Pez arms. (Not because I don't like Pez, I just like Pez when it comes out of the Pez dispenser :) It's fun!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tinkerbell Cupcakes

While I was planning The Spawn's birthday cake, The Diva looked at me and said: I want Tinkerbell for my birthday. Seven months later, I managed to deliver Tinkerbell.

What you need:
12 cupcakes (I made mine from a white cake mix)
1 can vanilla frosting
1 small tube black decorating icing
1 small tube red decorating icing
yellow food coloring (I recommend AmeriColor made especially for baking)
36 sticks Juicy Fruit gum
12 vanilla wafers
12 green fruit chews (I used Jolly Ranchers)
You'll also need a rolling pin (or a smooth glass works too), a sharp knife for cutting the wings and dress fringe as well as a piping bag and writing tip for adding the hair.

Cut 24 small wings from 12 pieces of the gum. I did this by folding each piece in half and cutting two at a time. If I did this again I would do them individually for a smoother cut. I discovered when I did the larger wings that single sticks of gum cut much smoother.

Cut 24 larger wings from the remaining 24 pieces of gum.

Microwave the green Jolly Rancher fruit chews for no more than 3 seconds each to soften. Flatten each fruit chew and roll out on a clean work surface. Cut little notches in the bottom of each fruit chew to make the dress fringe.

Add enough yellow food coloring to 1/4 cup of the vanilla frosting to tint it yellow. Spoon the yellow frosting into a resealable bag.

Add food coloring to the remaining vanilla frosting to tint it your color of choice. I baked my cupcakes in these super cute (and expensive!) flower shaped cupcake papers. Because the papers were purple, I choose to do the background frosting in purple but you can do it in any color you want (or no color at all).

Spread each cupcake with background frosting and make smooth.

Arrange the green fruit chew dress on the lower half of a cupcake.

Place 2 large wings and 2 small wings on the top third of cupcake.

Pipe a line of frosting on the bottom half of the BACK of the vanilla wafer. Attach the whole vanilla wafer on top for the fairy's head.

 Using the yellow frosting, pipe some hair and a bun with the yellow frosting as pictured. Because I am not very good with frosting, I kept it simple by drawing a semi-circle partway down the wafer (leaving just enough room to make the swirly dot for a bun at the top) and filled in with three or four lines for bangs. A few of the cupcakes actually wound up looking like they had mini suns perched on their head, but for the most part this technique worked.

Pipe the eyes with the black decorating icing.

Pipe a smile with red decorating icing. I actually had a vision of using some little cake decorating doo-dad for a mouth, but couldn't find anything that worked.

I had also thought to cut wafers for arms and legs, but really, the winds, head and dress were enough. The Diva knew instantly that mom had made her Tinkerbell cupcakes. She absolutely loved them!

Another note about these cupcakes, they do not store well so I wouldn't make them any longer than one day in advance. And really, it only took me about an hour to frost, shape and assemble the cupcakes, so it's very easy to do the day of the party - unless you're also in the middle of painting your kitchen, making a taco bar for 25 people, making a second cake and trying to clean your house. Then by all means, make them the day before. (By day three, the wafers had turned mushy, the gum was wilted and the fruit chew had melted. You've been warned.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chocolate Mint Cake

First of all, let me apologize. I am not a baker. I try, really, I do. I just lack the patience to go slowly and attend the details, but really I just want it done so I can eat it. Now, you may laugh at my pathetic attemp at 1) a level cake b) smooth frosting without crumbs and pi) purple daisies.

I found this cake at I am Baker (who makes lots of amazing things that I will never attempt, see above) and knew it would be perfect for The Diva's birthday. I patiently waited for four months to make this cake. It was worth it! Oh man, was it worth it. I made a few variations from the recipe, okay, ONE variation. I used a whole banana. I like bananas. I thought I could taste it slightly but it was hard to tell because this cake was SO MINTY. Too minty, actually. The next time I make it I will be reducing the amount of extract to let more of the chocolate flavor come through. Anyways, I even copied attempted I am Baker's idea of green frosting and daisies (on a miniature scale). So, yeah. Here's the recipe...

1 box chocolate cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge)
1 cup water
2 sticks butter (softened)
4 eggs
1 ripe banana
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. + 1/4 tsp peppermint extract [next time I'm decreasing to 3/4 Tbsp]
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine all ingredients in a mixer on low for thirty seconds, then increase speed to medium and mix until just combined.

Pour into prepared pans (I used two 9 inch pans) and bake for 30-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

 Buttercream Frosting:
I used this recipe (also from I am Baker). I used the shortening called out for in this recipe. I should have mixed it a little better, it was a little grainy from the powder sugar, or maybe used a tadbit more milk or shortening, or maybe even a little more vanilla extract as I thought it was rather flavorless. (Or maybe I was just overwhelmed by the cake?) Anyways, I really liked this frosting for decorating. It was easier to use than the canned frosting that I've tried before. I'll be using it again.

4 cups powder sugar
1/2 cup shortening
5 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in mixer on lowest setting for 30 seconds. Switch to medium high and mix for 2-5 minutes.

Back in the Game

I'm sure you've noticed that I've been posting actual book reviews lately. You know, instead of endless whining about not being able to read. Yay me! I'm not quite holding up to my resolution to read for half an hour a day. Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's not at all. It has helped me carve out time to read though. Now if I could just do the same for everything else (like house cleaning, German lessons and house cleaning)...

No one pays attention to my lists the way that I do, I get a little obsessive about my lists, so it's okay if you didn't notice that my TBR list hasn't moved in the last month. This is because I've been utilizing the eBook loan program at the library. Have I mentioned how much I adore my Nook? I love it. It fits in my purse. It's cute and easy to use. sigh. I love that thing. Ahem, so ... All this eBook reading is great, but it isn't helping my physical TBR shelf or the eBooks that I purchased when I first got my Nook. So, I'm finishing up the two books that I have on loan and then I'm going to work on the four books sitting on my nightstand.

Other news on the home front: The house is still awesome. I've been working on repainting the kitchen. I would have finished but I came down with a nasty cold. The Diva turned four last weekend. We had a lot of fun with food for her party. (Stop on over to my cooking blog Cooking With Sherry to check out what we were doing. The posts should be popping up over the next few days.) I've been working out the schedules - my PTO/paid holidays, daycare paid/unpaid days, and where The Spawn needs to be - to use up my PTO and unpaid daycare by the end of the year. So far it's looking like I'll have a few extra days around Thanksgiving and Dec. 22nd to Jan. 3rd off. This opens up a lot of time for projects! And boy, do I have projects...

Hope everyone is having a great time out there!

ETA: Oh! And we have two new additions in our house :) We have kittens (Snickers and Kitten) now. It's been a fun adventure for the kids as they've never had pets.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenMiss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised when I started reading this to find that it was a YA book. Or maybe I knew it and forgot. I really enjoyed this book, even more than I expected to. It even had pictures! The characters were fun and the storyline was "I've heard this before" but with a twist (or several) that made it fun. There was some language and subject matter that made it more for older kids so it will be awhile before I let The Spawn read it. It ended with the feel of a series, so I hope there's more to come as the author left a few strings hanging.

Synopsis: A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

Recommended Reading:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Forgotten by Cat Patrick
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Things They Carried

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure where I found out about this book so it took me by surprise. I've read a lot of war stories, but nothing about Vietnam before. This was an interesting perspective to a piece of history that I know very little about. This is a collection of short stories about the author's time in 'Nam. Some it becomes repetitive, but in a way that adds to the darkness of the subject. Some things you can't let go, they continuously loop through your head and you keep living it over and over. There were especially touching moments when he talked about his past, how he felt about being drafted, and a haunting story about a friend who went home and didn't know how to deal with no longer being in the war. This is a good piece for anyone who wants to read from the perspective of someone who was there.

Synopsis: A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three.

Taught everywhere—from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing—it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing.

Recommended Reading:
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Thursday, October 6, 2011

North of Beautiful

North of BeautifulNorth of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't expect to like this book. In the first few chapters we're introduced to the main character who seems shallow, self-absorbed, over-achiever, I want to hate this girl. This girl is the surface. Then we meet the girl underneath all of the surface. The girl with the father who is always right, always bigger, always better and will cut down anyone who dares to be his equal. The girl who worries about an elderly friend falling and slipping. The girl who makes art but won't show anyone because it says too much about who she really is. The girl who has a boyfriend she doesn't particularly like because she's afraid no one else will love her.

This book really took me on a voyage about what beauty means, what it is to love and accept someone and that sometimes you have to dig through the past to find your future. Life changes, people change, nothing is constant.

The only thing that I didn't like was the ending. This book was a gentle peeling away of layers right up until the end, and then suddenly there was big dramatic "this is how you get your happy" ending. It was too much and I put the book down slightly dissatisfied.

Synopsis: It's hard not to notice Terra Cooper.

She's tall, blond, and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably "flawed" face. Terra secretly plans to leave her stifling small town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob's path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?

Recommended Reading:
The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander
Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis
Willow by Julia Hoban

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Who Wants To Marry a Heartthrob?

Who Wants to Marry a Heartthrob? (Harlequin Flipside, #23)Who Wants to Marry a Heartthrob? by Stephanie Doyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fast and light read. I thought the characters were well-written and better fleshed out than what they usually are in a book of this short length. This book made me giggle a lot.

Series: Harlequin Flipside #23

Synopsis: The Cast
1) One buff, self-centered former soap star
2) Fifteen excessively ambitious beauties
3) One mouthwash sponsor (fresh breath is important)
4) One very driven advertising executive (Richard Wells) and his pert assistant (Bridget Connor -- as un-Beauty Queen as they come)

The Show
One man, a bevy of beauties and cameras everywhere to record the catfights.

The Really Big Problem
When a bad boob job forces a contestant to bail, Richard begs Bridget to fill in -- never expecting she'll make it past the first cut. But to Bridget's glee and Richard's dismay, it seems that the hunky star of the show is very interested in Bridget.... plenty of action!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Call Me Irresistible

Call Me IrresistibleCall Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I left this book unfinished thirty five pages into it. I have really mixed feelings about giving up on this book. I wanted to like it because I've heard great things about this author, but this book was really... unrealistic. And confusing. Too many references to details that were never explained (I have a feeling it's a series book and I jumped in the middle) it seemed designed to be a character reunion. The author never seemed to settle on a set POV as it wandered around from a poorly written third person and flashing between different character perspectives. I don't mind if this is done well - like with chapter or sectional breaks, but when it happens three times in the space of four paragraphs, I have a hard time. The characters were okay, way too fake and extremely stereotypical. Maybe my expectations were just too high.

Synopsis: R.S.V.P. to the most riotous wedding of the year!
Lucy Jorik’s the daughter of a former U.S. president.
Meg Koranda’s the offspring of legends.
One of them is about to marry Mr. Irresistible—Ted Beaudine—the favorite son of Wynette, Texas.
The other is determined to save her friend from a mess of heartache.
Meg knows breaking up her best friend’s wedding is the right thing to do, but no one else agrees. Faster than Lucy can say “I don’t,” Meg’s the most hated woman in town—and stuck there with a dead car, an empty wallet, and a very angry bridegroom. Broke, stranded, without her famous parents watching her back, Meg believes she can survive by her own wits. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? She’ll lose her heart to Mr. Irresistible?
Not likely. Not likely at all.

Best of Friends

Best of FriendsBest of Friends by Cathy Kelly

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I gave up on this book sixteen pages in. It was clunky and dull. An obvious introduction to a long cast of characters. It's hard to pin down exactly WHAT I don't like about the book, but as soon as I started reading it I knew it wasn't my kind of book.

Synopsis: Abby Barton's TV career is taking off and now she and her husband can have the life they've always dreamed of in a lovely Irish town — at least, in theory! But when your husband takes you for granted and your teenage daughter hates you, an adoring old flame can spell danger to your seemingly perfect life. Fortunately, Abby has her friends to keep her sane. For starters, her best friend, Sally, owns a beauty salon, and Sally and her husband throw fantastic parties, where there are still more friends to be made.

Sally's friend Lizzie makes time for everybody: her gal pals, her grown children, even her ex-husband. But when her ex finds someone new, Lizzie can't help but wonder if she'll ever love again. The women are all thrilled to meet Erin, who has moved home to Ireland from Chicago for her husband's new job. But is she cut out for small-town life, and what of the family she left behind years ago? Together and on their own, these four women are about to face highs and lows they never anticipated. Only from each other can they learn that life is for the living and that they need to grab it with both hands....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ape House

Ape HouseApe House by Sara Gruen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not what I expected. It started out like it was going to be a very serious pro-animal, scientific rant. No, really, that's what I thought it was going to be - for about the first four pages. There was humor, lots of humor, there were bombs and strippers and a meth-lab dog and monkey sex - I mean apes. This was a great, fast-paced story. As always, I loved the author's writing. It was so easy to fall into the story. She made even the most ridiculous series of events seem so realistic that I found myself thinking "yeah. Yeah, that could totally happen." In some ways the way the plot unfolded and interconnected reminded me a lot of the early days of the Stephanie Plum series. (That's meant to be a compliment.) I really enjoyed the alternating POV's - from a journalist, the apes' caretaker and occasionally the apes themselves.

Synopsis: Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships—but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets—especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans . . . until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest—and unlikeliest—phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.

Recommended Reading:
The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass
Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay
Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lord John and Hand of Devils

Lord John and the Hand of DevilsLord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors. It still amazes me the way the DG takes intricate details, multiple plot lines and perfectly flawed characters and weaves them into stories that are easy to fall into, get lost in and come up gasping for air at the end. I was wondering if she could really do it in short story format, and was honestly surprised at how true she remained to all of the things that I adore about her writing. I don't think she short changed her readers or her characters at all. If anything, it makes me want Lord John stories.

Synopsis: A keepsake collection of Lord John Grey’s shorter adventures and a spectacular addition to any Gabaldon fan’s library, Lord John and the Hand of Devils brings three unique novellas together for the first time.

Lord John and the Hellfire Club marks the first appearance of Lord John outside the Outlander novels. A young diplomat who had begged for Lord John’s help is killed before he can explain his need. Witnessing the murder, Grey vows to avenge the young man, as the trail leads to the notorious Hellfire Club and the dark caves beneath Medmenham Abbey.

In Lord John and the Succubus, Grey’s assignment as liaison to a Hanoverian regiment in Germany finds him caught between two threats: the advancing French and Austrian army, and the menace of a mysterious “night-hag,” who spreads fear and death among the troops.

Finally, in Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, Lord John is called to the Arsenal at Woolwich to answer a Royal Commission of Enquiry’s questions regarding a cannon that exploded during the battle of Krefeld. Accusations ensue, and Lord John finds himself knee-deep in a morass of gunpowder, treason, and plot–haunted by a dead lieutenant, and followed by a man with no face.

Recommended Reading:
Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon
Echoes by Danielle Steel
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Dead Heat by Dick Francis

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Help

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book so much, I don't even know where to start. I was hooked from page one. I couldn't read enough, fast enough - and yet I didn't want it to end. The story is told by three characters, all in first person. Normally I don't like books with multiple point of views because there is overlapping repetition, but the author managed to avoid this completely. The voices were very clear and well sectioned. The book covers quite a bit of time, about two years, in the early 60's. I found the references to historical fact added so much to the story - the fashion, JFK's and Medgar Evers assassinations, Martin Luther King Jr., the establishment of zip codes, color TV's, TV remotes, there were so many little details in this book to place the reader inside the story. The characters were wonderful, I felt for them - I was connected. I laughed and cried through this book. This book opened up my eyes to how far we've come in half a century. I didn't even realize there were rules for blacks, other than just the segregation. I didn't know that many people believed blacks were dirty and diseased and stupid. There's so much more I want to say, but I don't want to spoil it. You HAVE to read this book.

Synopsis: Be prepared to meet three unforgettable women: Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken. Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own. Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

Recommended Reading:
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Committed: A Love Story

Committed: A Love StoryCommitted: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I hadn't planned to read this book because of my feelings for EPL. A friend sent it to me with a note that she thought I would enjoy it more than EPL. She was right, at least in the fact that I did not throw the book across the room as I did with EPL - several times. The book started out good, really really good. There was story, dialogue, action, feeling, it was good! And then, things became weird.

The book became this long, opinionated self-help book. EG takes us through an education on the state of marriage, such as it is in modern times, and a (so-called) history of marriage. I almost put the book down when I read her out of context translation of what the bible says of marriage. She also discusses subjects such as marriage and children, marriage and working, marriage and passion, and the marriage ceremony itself. A variety of interesting topics, certainly, but missing one necessary thing: A story. I wanted a story (in fact the title advertises the book as "A Love Story"). There were lots of little stories of other things wrapped up in all the lunatic ranting, but there was no real story of Liz and Felipe.

So, what kept me reading this non-story? Mostly her writing. She writes in such a clear voice, at times it was like sitting down for coffee with a good friend. Also, as a marriage skeptic myself, I heard a lot of things that I believed long ago to be true. Things that resonated with me on a "How can I be true to me but still fulfill my societal obligation" level.

Synopsis: At the end of her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian living in Indonesia. The couple swore eternal love, but also swore (as skittish divorce survivors) to never marry. However, when Felipe was unexpectedly kicked out of the United States by U.S. Immigration officials, the couple was faced with a strict ultimatum: get married or Felipe could never enter America again. Over the next ten months, as Elizabeth and Felipe wandered Southeast Asia waiting for permission to return home and wed, the author searched far and wide for wisom, advice, and perspective on the subject of romantic commitment.

Recommended Reading:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
Un Amico, Italiano: Eat, Pray, Love in Rome by Luca Spaghetti
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali

Thursday, September 8, 2011

White Chocolate Berry Dessert

There are no pictures. Long story short, my camera took an unplanned swim this summer and has not yet been replaced. I will be updating the posts with pictures, as well as posting about my new-to-me kitchen, hopefully in the next few weeks. SOON! In the meantime, take my word for it, this cake is pretty and delicious!

My aunt gave me this recipe after she made it for her daughter's bridal shower. I've put the recipe here as she sent it to me, but note that I did make a few changes which didn't affect the cake at all. First of all, white chocolate is only available in 6 oz. boxes (or at least the stores that I shop), so I always buy two boxes and cut 1 oz. of chocolate from each layer. The other change that I often make is that if strawberries are not in season (read: expensive as hell) I use sliced frozen strawberries. I simply thaw them completely in the fridge, dump the container in a strainer to remove as much liquid as possible (I don't rinse) and follow the recipe instructions. This cake is perfect for entertaining because you can bake the cake the day before and add the topping the day of your party.

Bottom Layer:
8 squares (1 oz. each) white baking chocolate
6 tbsp butter, cubed
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a microwave safe bowl, melt white chocolate and butter at 70% power. Stir until smooth. Cool. In mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar until lemon-colored. Beat in melted chocolate mixture and vanilla. Combine flour and salt; beat into egg mixture. Spread in greased 12x9x2 inch baking dish; set aside.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 squares (1 oz. each) white baking cocolate, melted and cooled
1 egg lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and white chocolate. Beat in the egg, sugar, sour cream and vanilla until combined. Carefully spread over bottom layer. Cut through filling and bottom layer with a knife to swirl. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

8 oz. Cool Whip, thawed
4 squares (1 oz. each) white baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced

Before serving, fold Cool Whip into white chocolate. Fold in strawberries. Spread over dessert.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Thr3eThr3e by Ted Dekker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'm struggling writing this book review. I'm struggling with my decision to not finish the book. I wanted so badly to love this book - to even LIKE it, but it failed me. Or I failed it. I'm not sure. The book starts out with a brief and shallow discussion on the nature of evil in mankind. I think this was meant to be a foreshadowing device, but there was nothing profound in the discussion so nothing resonated or stuck with me. Right away we're thrown into some action by immediately being introduced to the bad guy and his twisted little game. The author won points for not wasting time with that. My problem is with all the things the author did waste time with. Analyzing and detailing every.little.thought, motivation and response of each character. The language used in the book... I appreciate the author's attempt to avoid over using profanity, disturbing imagery or sex, but there were a few cases where the absence of it was completely out of character. And speaking of characters, the main character is a seminary student - and he doesn't once pray to God. It was like ... I don't know. The character occupation note was to give him some kind of innocence or good, but the author didn't back it up. I did skip to the end and read the last two chapters just to see how the book played out. I was quite disappointed. I've seen this plot before, it's a movie called Fight Club - watch it and save yourself some time by not picking up this book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 20, 2011


*Sigh* It's beautiful. And seriously distracting. I've spent several hours looking through this book since I got it on Thursday.

To say that the pictures are beautiful simply isn't adequate. The colors, the scenery, the characters... it's leaving me speechless.

I can't wait for this book to get my full undivided attention, but right now, I need to put it down. Probably in a locked drawer. And give the key to someone I can trust.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Game Plan

Nobody Panic. I have a plan. Maybe.

My TBR shelf is creeping up towards 70 books again.

I'm not sure I should challenge myself again, but I'm going to try it. This one is going to be a little different in that I'm going to challenge myself to read for 30 minutes every day. Doesn't sound too hard, does it?

Up next:
Thr3e by Ted Dekker. I'm faking enthusiasm about this one.
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. Kind of looking forward to this one.
Lenz by Georg Buechner. This one is going to be a project book over the course of a few months.

Oh The Glory Of It All

Oh the Glory of It AllOh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmmm... well. I enjoyed some parts of this book. It seemed to take forever to get through the boring stuff at the beginning of the book and get to the part where I couldn't put the book down. The beginning was filled with a lot information that I thought was neither pertinent nor really very interesting. So really, condense the first 150 pages down to ten, make the book 350 pages and it's a five star for me. So what I liked: this guy writes amazingly well. He was funny, and honest and sometimes his story was so heartbreaking, I had tears swimming in my eyes. The guy can really write. Sometimes I had no clue what he was talking about but I could still SEE it. I highly recommend this book with the advice to just "suck it up" and get through those first 150 pages. It's worth it.

Synopsis: Sean's blond-bombshell mother regularly entertains Black Panthers and movie stars in the family's marble and glass penthouse. His enigmatic father uses a jet helicopter to drop Sean off at the video arcade. The three live happily together “eight-hundred feet in the air above San Francisco; in an apartment at the top of a building at the top of a hill: full of light, full of voices, full of windows, full of water and bridges and hills.” But when his father divorces his mother and marries her best friend, Sean's life blows apart. His memoir shows us how he survived, spinning out a “deliriously searing and convincing” portrait of a wicked stepmother (The New York Times Book Review), a meeting with the pope, sexual awakening, and a tour of “the planet's most interesting reform schools".

Recommended Reading:
Them: A Memoir of Parents by Francine du Plessix Gray
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tired of Complaining?

Anyone tired of hearing me complain about not being able to read? Anyone?

And has anyone looked at this list recently?

It's ridiculous how much this situation stresses me out.

Here's what is on the reading plate:
Oh The Glory of it All: This is a good read, I recommend it for anyone who likes memoirs, but it was slow reading in the beginning. I'm finally to the halfway point and I can finally read for more than ten minutes.

Thr3e: This one is up for Book Club. I totally cheated and read the last two chapters of the book. I have a feeling that I'll be doing quite a bit of skimming on this one.

[insert random fluff novel here]: Looking forward to one or two Flipsides after reading the above mentioned books.

Committed: The Captain sent me her copy (that she got from The Queen) with the comment that I would enjoy this more than I enjoyed EPL. As EPL was also a read in Book Club, I may suggest this one for the next read (and thereby killing two birds with one stone,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cranberry Strawberry Spinach Salad

I don't have a picture of this because... well, I was a tad bit frantic the night I made this. The wind was howling, the rain was pouring down and I was pretty sure were all going to die. I also had a house full of unexpected company for supper, about half of which were children under the age of ten. I think I may have broken some dishes that night as well. It was chaotic and crazy, but I will be making my version of this salad again, so there will be a picture added soon! [famous last words but whatever]

I found this recipe over on Darla's blog. I made some tweaks to the recipe [noted in brackets] not so much because I thought her recipe was wrong but... well, that's just what I do okay?

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar [I used 1 tbsp because I thought it would be too sweet]
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar [I used red wine vinegar]
2 tablespoons cider vinegar [I used regular vinegar]
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted 350 degrees for 10 minutes [I didn't toast my seeds]
full pinch paprika [I had no paprika so I used a little more than a pinch of Cayenne Pepper, which was a nice spicy bite to go with the sweet]

1/2 lb. (8 ounces) spinach, rinsed
1/2 cup fresh, finely diced onion
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup blanched and slivered almonds, toasted 350 degrees for 10 minutes
[The cranberries and almonds are where I deviated as well. I bought a bag of Salad Makers dried cranberries with sugared walnuts (that's why I cut the sugar down in the dressing and no toasting involved) and also added thinly sliced strawberries.]

Put all dressing ingredients in a jar, put the lid on tight and shake the crap out of it.

Put all the salad ingredients in a bowl with room for tossing.

Add dressing and toss until all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Catching Up on Book Blogs

The last two months I've been a little obsessed with buying and moving into a house. While I still have lots to do around here, my 30 year mortgage tells me to take my time. So this morning - really all weekend - I plan on catching up on my book blog reading, hopefully getting through a book, watching NetFlix movies, working on my German lessons and maybe, just maybe, I'll work on a few inside house projects. The heat index is supposed to be in the 110 degree range for the next week, seems like a perfect time to fully appreciate having central air and blowing off yard work.

Added to Wish List:
Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Tales from my Hard Drive by Megan Karasch

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dishing It Out

Dishing It Out (Harlequin Flipside)Dishing It Out by Molly O'Keefe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a cute book. The first half of the book was good, when the main characters were building chemistry. Overall the book was lacking a plot and the romance fizzled out at the end for me.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ye Olde Kitchen

This is my old apartment kitchen. This is where I did all of my cooking and attempts at baking for the last four years. 49 months if you want to be technical. I had a love/hate relationship with this kitchen.

There were things that I loved: I mean, really, for a (so-called) low-rent apartment, the kitchen was pretty huge. Another thing that I loved was that I had enough cupboards that I could keep most of my applicances off the counters. I also loved that I was allowed to paint my apartment. When I moved in the kitchen was plain old white. I wanted a tomato-meets-cranberry red, but couldn't find the exact color that I wanted so the awesome paint guy at Menard's worked on creating a custom color. I love this red. I love this red so much that when I moved out of the apartment I took the half gallon of paint with me and my new kitchen will be getting a makeover.

Things that I hated: The constant battle with the stove/oven. The burners never really lowered the temperature enough to simmer things, it was always more of low rolling boil or off. I was always in serious danger of burning things if I turned my back for a second. The oven was often temperamental - I often set the temperature 25 degrees less and for a little less time than directed. The fridge(s) were another horror story altogether. While I loved the cupboard space, the counter space was lacking when it came to serious baking projects.

All in all though, I had some good times in this kitchen. I had failures, I had successes, there were laughter and tears. There was even an episode of being severely jet-lagged, drinking an entire bottle of Jaeg and passing out at the table. Oh! And how could I forget trying to feed the pickiest German at this table? True story.