Thursday, 30 December 2010

Live to Tell

Author: Wendy Corsi Staub
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 372
First Published: February 2010
First Line: "New York City -- He lunges across Sixth Avenue mid-block and against the light, leaving in his wake squealing brakes, honking horns, angry curses through car windows."

Synopsis: "Live to Tell" follows the lives of three people. Lauren Walsh is a suburban mother who is trying to get over recent divorce from her cheating husband and deal with how it effects her three children.

Elsa is a middle-aged woman trying to move past the feelings of loss over the disappearance of her young old son 14 years ago.

The final storyline follows a very powerful man who has a long hidden secret. If his secret is made public it would put an abrupt end to his political career. When a memory stick filled with the politician's secret is misplaced it puts many lives in danger as the man attempts to protect all that he has attained.

My Thoughts: This was the first book I've read by this author. It was a good suspense novel with a very interesting premise but it was too slow in parts. Too much of the storyline dealt with Lauren's feelings of betrayal over her divorce and the ensuing gossip in her small town making it feel more like a Chick Lit read instead of a suspense novel. I would have rather had more attention focused on increasing the tension within the storyline.

Another issue I had was the fact that there were a lot more characters than I'm used to which made it difficult for me to keep them all straight. The storyline was good but the big 'ta-da' moment didn't come until around page 300. I guess I'm an impatient reader because I want more suspense build-up and want to know the big secret earlier.

The book ends with a cliffhanger of sorts which makes me want to read the follow-up book, "Scared to Death" to see where the author goes with the character and storyline that is alluded to. Overall, a decent read with a fairly predictable ending.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats

I was perusing the net a few weeks ago trying to find an egg-free treat to bring for Christmas with my family. As I've mentioned before my 11 year old son has a peanut allergy so baking/cooking without nuts is second nature to me now. But when we get together with my extended family I also have to cook without eggs because my little 2 year old nephew has a peanut and egg allergy. Cooking and baking without eggs is a whole other ball game for this baker and I'm up for the challenge!

When I found this recipe on another blog called Recipe Rhapsody I knew it would be a hit. One of my favourite recipes to make during Christmas are my Chewy Sugar and Spice Cookies and these festive Rice Krispies squares taste just like them ... and are a whole lot quicker and easier to make!

The recipe uses Kraft Gingerbread Mallows which my sister picked up for me while she was on a shopping trip to the States recently. These are really cute marshmallows that are in the shape of gingerbread men! On a side note: I think these would look adorable sitting in a pumpkin spice latte!! How cute would that be?!? Unfortunately for us Canucks, I've never seen them here in Canada. Not to worry! The blogger who posted this recipe said that if you don't have the special Gingerbread Mallows, just use 10oz of regular mini marshmallows and double the four spices. You'll have the same taste and texture.

These were a big hit in our house with my kids begging for 'just one more'. There is no higher praise than that! Enjoy!

1/2 cup butter
1 (10oz) bag gingerbread marshmallows
1 tsp molasses
1/4 tsp each: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves
several dashes of salt
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Grease an 8-inch square baking pan (sides should be at least 2-inches high). Set aside.

In a large pot (I used a soup pot), melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir in molasses, spices and salt. Stir in marshmallows until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Stir in Rice Krispies until coated with marshmallow mixture. Quickly spread into prepared pan and press down using a spatula or spoon coated lightly in butter. Let cool, cut into squares and serve (or store in an airtight container for a day or two).

Tip: Make sure you use a very large pot like I did. You need the extra room when stirring in the Rice Krispies.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Worst Thing She Ever Did

Author: Alice Kuipers
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 210
Title in the USA: "Lost For Words"
First Published: May 2010
Other Book By This Author: "Life on the Refrigerator Door" (2009)
First Line: "I look at the words, black like inky spiders, and watch the webs they weave."

Synopsis: Remembering the tragedy that happened the previous summer is the last thing that Sophie wants to think about. Unfortunately everyone else is tippy-toeing around her and constantly asking if she's ok. Meanwhile, her mother, the one person who is supposed to support Sophie during this crisis, locks herself in her room for hours at a time leaving Sophie alone to deal with her pain. For the past year Sophie has been retreating into herself because she doesn't know how to deal with the feelings of guilt she's been experiencing. She doesn't confide in her best friend, she has a very strained relationship with her mother and doesn't even open up to her therapist. On the advice of her therapist Sophie starts to write a journal to document her feelings. It's only when she finally decides to confront her feelings of loss does she truly begin the healing process.

My Thoughts:
This was a good read but, unfortunately, I didn't fall head over heels for it. I think it mainly had to do with me not connecting or embracing the main character, Sophie. She was likeable ... I just couldn't put my finger on it.

I did enjoy the diary format of the book. It helped this reader get to see how the tragedy truly affects Sophie, in her own words. From clearly describing Sophie's feelings to her increasingly common panic attacks, I felt that the author successfully and authentically got into the head of this emotionally damaged teenage girl.

I also liked how Kuipers slowly lets the reader in on what the tragedy was that changed Sophie's life. Done the wrong way, the author can irritate and bore the reader but Kuipers let enough information dribble out throughout the story to keep me interested. While it did, admittedly, lag a bit in the middle, it was still an emotional and sensitive portrayal of how a teenage girl would feel and live in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Sunday, 26 December 2010


I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday with their families filled with lots of food and family!! Unfortunately our plans with my family were suddenly changed when, late on Christmas Eve, poor 7 year old Missy Moo became very ill (and still is) with a bout of the flu.

Needless to say we kept our family home from the annual extended family Christmas at the cottage. It was a very quiet day here and while it was nice to have some quiet family time, it was a little lonely for a holiday celebration. Here's hoping Missy Moo gets better soon (and no one else catches it) before we celebrate with Brad's family in a few days!

Apparently, I was a very good girl this year. So good, in fact, that my parents bought me a KINDLE with Wi-fi and 3G! Yup, I'm spoiled. Unfortunately, they are on back order so I only have the kindle cover right now. But just the knowledge that I'll have my very own Kindle in a month makes me happy for now!

Now back to the book review -- The following is a book I read last week which was given to me by my Fairy Bookmother. It's my 98th book of 2010!! In fact, I've finished book #99 already but will post the review later. I'm now reading book #100. Oh ya. I did it!! 100 books in one year! It can be done!

Author: Grant McKenzie
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 427
First Published: 2008
First Line: "Rick Ironwood staggered back from the blow, his trick knee giving out with a pop as his feet twisted sideways in a puddle of grimy engine oil."

Synopsis: Sam White, a struggling middle-aged actor, returns home from his job as a mall security guard only to find his house in a smouldering ruin and two body bags being removed from the scene. Sam assumes that they are the bodies of his wife and teenage daughter until he receives a phone call from a man who says he keeping Sam's family captive. They will remain safe and unharmed only if Sam follows this stranger's violent instructions.

When Sam meets up with Zack, another victim of this madman, the two realize that they have previously met. They decide to secretly work together to find out the identity of the mad man and rescue their families ... all while trying to stay one step ahead of the police who are hot on their trail for the crimes this madman is making them commit.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed the premise of this book. It's all about an everyday Joe being forced into doing things that he wouldn't normally do, all to save his family. It's a well written suspense novel that has a fast-paced storyline and short chapters (a la James Patterson). I liked the fact that it's intense but not overly gory (like some J.A Konrath suspense novels).

My only beefs are that the ending was too abrupt and there didn't seem enough closure. We didn't get to know Zack very well either and, at times, I had a hard time figuring out if it was Sam speaking or Zack because they were written so similarly.

A really good book with lots of action.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Krisp Kringles

With Christmas fast approaching I've been on the lookout for some new recipes to add to my repertoire. When I visited one of my favourite blogs, The Other Side of Fifty, I found a treat that I just couldn't pass up. "The Other Side of Fifty" is the brain child of Mags who is known for her cookin', her whit and her wonderful sarcasm. A woman after me own heart!

I admit that I'm not a huge sweet tooth but when I saw that Mags had incorporated both peanut butter and chocolate along with cookie bits and Rice Krispies for some crunch I knew I had to try this recipe. Plus these are no bake! How easy could these treats get, I ask you!?! Missy Moo helped me whip these babies up in no time at all.

The only hitch for my family is that it does use peanut butter (not so good for those who are allergic to peanuts) so I substitute my favourite soy-based alternative. It used to have the easy to remember name "Freenut Butter" but was rebranded and is now called Safe for Schools WOW Butter Peanut Butter Replacement *gasp for breath*. It is truly the closest in taste and texture to real peanut butter that I've found. I just wish it was easier to find in stores.

But I digress .... These morsels were de-lish! Sweet with some crunch and, in one-inch balls, you can easily pop one into your mouth with no one being the wiser! Give these sweet treats a try and I guarantee that you won't have any leftover.

Note: I halved Mags' original recipe
Yield: 36 one-inch balls

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup smooth peanut butter OR Freenut/Wow Butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (ie Oreo)
1 cup rice cereal (ie Rice Krispies)
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 tbsp shortening
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, peanut or freenut butter and the vanilla. Add the cookie crumbs, rice cereal, icing sugar and mini chocolate chips.
The best way to combine this mixture is to get down and dirty. Make sure your hands are clean, remove all your rings etc and dig in! Roll into 1-inch balls and place on waxed paper. Freeze for approximately 1/2 hour.
Meanwhile, melt semi-sweet chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Dip balls into chocolate (I simply used two spoons) and place on waxed paper until chocolate is set. Let chocolate harden and store balls in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Getting Over Mr Right

Author: Chrissie Manby
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 291
First Published: 2010
First Line: "My love life was and always had been a disaster."

Synopsis: After years and years of dating losers Ashleigh finally meets her Mr Right in Michael. After years together Michael goes through a transformation from a guy who wore high-waisted pants and mismatched shoes to a guy whom most women would notice. While Ashleigh is dreaming of her future married life with Michael complete with house and kids, unfortunately Michael has different ideas.

Suddenly Michael breaks up with Ashleigh ... via Facebook! Ashleigh is totally gobsmacked and cannot believe her life has changed so drastically when she thought things were great in her relationship.

This news devastates Ashleigh and sets her in a whirlwind of emotions that threaten her career and close friendships. Over the course of the book we see Ashleigh to through the various stages of grief and how she copes with learning that Michael has a new girlfriend. Ashleigh goes on a quest to win Michael back which quickly becomes an obsession.

My Thoughts: Let me just start off by saying that writing Chick Lit has got to be a really hard genre to write. There are very few writers of Chick Lit whom I love to read. A Chick Lit author has to be quirky, witty, funny and romantic. This book was quirky but it went so over the top trying to be funny/quirky that some of Ashleigh's antics to get Michael back went from quirky to silly to stupid and unbelievable (calling a psychic cat? really?).

This book is written by a British writer so there were many references that this Canadian just didn't get. References to various British TV personalities (I assume) and other famous people. I'm quite well versed in the differences in British words compared to Canadian (love British authors usually) but there were so many of these references that it felt like I almost needed a Brit/Canuck dictionary to get through some passages.

It had a good premise but Ashleigh was too over the top for my liking. I had a hard time liking her because she just came off as too desperate and needy. I felt more compassion for her best friend who tried to talk some sense into her but ended up getting smacked down by Ashleigh in her attempt to help.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Hell Hath No Curry

Author: Tamar Myers
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 267
Series: 15th book in the Pennsylvannia Dutch Mystery series with Recipes
Series Order: See here
First Published: February 2007
First Line: "It was the best of crimes; it was the worst of crimes."

Synopsis: Magdelena Yoder is a Mennonite woman who runs a very successful bed and breakfast in her home town of Hernia, Pennsylvania. When Hernia's ladies man Cornelius Weaver is found dead in another woman's bed Magdelena, who is now mayor of the town, decides to get to the bottom of the murder. As she investigates, the number of women involved with Cornelius seemed to be adding up at an alarming rate.

My Thoughts: This wasn't as good as the previous book I read from this series. It just wasn't as quirky and the jokes seemed too repetitive and silly. Note: I skipped from book #9 in the series to book #15. Unfortunately, there were a few spoilers from the previous books I hadn't read yet (note to self: always read a series in order!).

After reading two books from the series, I have a really hard time imagining what Magdelena looks like. Initially I pictured her to be middle age, plump with the prayer bonnet etc. But in this book, it goes on and on about how beautiful and stunning she is ... which doesn't gel with my inital impression from reading book #9 in the series. I plan to read the series from the beginning and perhaps its in those earlier books where a more detailed description of Magdalena can be found.

I'm glad that I read "The Crepes of Wrath" (9th book in the series) first. This book was a pale comparison and just didn't have the humour the other book had nor the involvement from the quirky secondary characters. Being the 15th book in the series perhaps the author was running out of steam? I look forward to reading from the beginning of the series to see where Magdalena first began.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Good Daughters

Author: Joyce Maynard
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 276
First Published: 2010
First Line: "October 1949 - It begins with a humid wind, blowing across the fields from the northeast and strangely warm for this time of year."

Synopsis: Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson were born on the same day, in the same small New Hampshire hospital in the 1950's. Ruth is the fifth daughter to a stable farming family while Dana is raised by free-spirited, drifter parents who are constantly on the look out for unattainable dreams. Ruth longs to break free from her small town life while Dana longs for stability in her life. Over the years the girls keep in contact mainly because Ruth's mother is adamant on the 'birthday sisters' staying in touch.

Both girls try to find their ways in the world and try to find acceptance within their own families. Told in the alternating voices of both girls, "The Good Daughters" follows the lives of these two very different girls from the 1950's to the present as they learn about family, love, sex, loss and parenthood.

My Thoughts: I had a hard time rating this book. I would have rated it 2.75/5 stars because I thought it was just ok but would recommend it if you weren't set on having a big 'ta-da' ending.

Personally, I found the book depressing, dark and a little hard to get through. There wasn't a lot of joy in the girls' lives (except when Ruth finds love -- one of the highlights of the book because it was so well written and a relationship that I have never read about before).

My biggest complaint was the fact that the ending was foreshadowed within an inch of it's life leaving no wow factor. I would have preferred a gradual reveal to keep the reader interested.

It's hard to write this review without giving too much away. SPOILER BELOW ........................
The whole premise of the book is about two babies being switched at birth and being raised in two very different families. I found the premise interesting but not plausible. As a mother I just couldn't believe that two women could just walk away from their children like they did. I could not fathom it ... especially when both women knew shortly after getting home from the hospital that they had the wrong babies! Just doesn't seem plausible to this mom.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Sauce

I think I had mentioned in an earlier post that I got my crafty on recently and made a homemade advent calendar. The item the kids picked yesterday said "Breakfast for Dinner" (a hit at our house). I could have made my regular homemade pancakes but I was feeling festive and wanted to change things up. So when I saw a recipe in my latest Simple & Delicious magazine that had a cranberry sauce for the pancakes I knew I had to give this one a go. Cranberries are a fav of mine and this recipe would be a good use for the numerous bags of fresh cranberries I have hoarded in my deep freeze.
As usual, I made changes to the original recipe to make it my own. The pancake recipe is a tried and true that I use often and the sauce is similar to the one found in the magazine except that I added some extra orange zest.
Karate Guy LOVED these pancakes ... even when I admitted that the red spots weren't raspberries but cranberries! He's been converted to the wonder that is the cran!! Yay! I think these would make a great Christmas morning breakfast! Enjoy!
Cranberry Orange Pancakes with Cranberry Sauce
Yield: 12 pancakes
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tbsp white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
zest of 1/2 orange (approximately 1 1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup chopped frozen cranberries
Cranberry Orange Sauce
1 cup frozen cranberries
2/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp orange zest, finely chopped
Make Cranberry Orange sauce: In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of cranberries, orange juice and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes. Cool slightly. With a slotted spoon, remove 1/4 cup of cranberries; set aside.
In a blender, process cranberry mixture until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in maple syrup, orange zest and reserved cranberries. Keep warm.
Prepare pancakes: In a small bowl, combine milk and vinegar. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, whisk together: eggs, vegetable oil and orange zest. Stir into dry ingredients and mix just until blended (don't over mix!). Fold in chopped cranberries.
Heat griddle to medium-high heat. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the lightly greased griddle. Turn pancakes when many bubbles form on top. Cook until second side is golden brown. Serve with cranberry orange syrup.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Triple Chocolate Cookies

I was asked by my boys to bake something to bring to their annual Cubs/Scouts holiday campfire tonight. I could have whipped up some of my standard sugar cookies, shortbreads, oatmeal cookies etc but I wanted to find a new cookie to wow and surprise them.

Note about moi: I'm not a big fan of chocolate cookies or cakes for some reason. I think that's because sometimes they're too rich for me. These cookies had the right balance of chocolate to chewy ratio (I took it upon myself to sample my creations to ensure quality control. After two huge cookies I could accurately access my baking and gave myself two thumbs up!).

If you're looking for a nice, chewy chocolatey cookie look no further. These are easy to make and have ingredients that everyone has in their kitchens. These would taste exceptionally delish dipped in milk. I'm thinking that some mint chocolate chips would taste really good in this cookie too!

I'm sure my menfolk (and Missy Moo) will enjoy these after school and while we're freezing our bippys off in the cold tonight at the campfire. Enjoy!

Triple Chocolate Cookies
Yield: 3-4 dozen
From: (originally from "The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book" (2008))

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in two batches, mixing thoroughly after each. Batter will be very thick. Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop heaping tablespoonfuls (I used a medium melon-baller) on to baking sheets, two inches apart. Squish down the balls of dough a little if you used a melon baller. This will help the cookies come out more flat.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies lose their gloss and firm up. Cool on trays.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

Today it was quite cold and blustery outside (if I may quote dear Winnie the Pooh). It was minus 10ish but the wind made it feel so much worse! When the weather's like that I tend to hunker down and make a filling, warm meal. So, off I went in search of a chicken pot pie recipe.

I found quite a few on-line and in my cookbooks but they seemed pretty blaw (hardly any spices, no garlic - what?!?), and used creamed soups as the base. I'm definitely not against using canned soups as bases but today I was channelling Martha Stewart and wanted a truly 'from scratch' meal.

I was throwing caution to the wind and cookin' without a recipe (oh yes, my friends, I was that wild and crazy!). But I knew that me of little memory would have to keep track of all the goodies I put into said pie. Luckily I keep a small notebook in the kitchen when I go on a cooking spree like I did today. Otherwise I'd honestly have no idea what I put in. Too much tinkering and tweaking going on without writing it down.

The finished product was really tasty! It was a big hit with those of us over 5 feet tall (Brad and I went for seconds) but those little people who call me Mom weren't big on this dish (other than the crust). Does anyone know when little humans grow out of the 'food shan't touch each other' stage? It's getting old fast here in our house. I hope your families enjoy this dish!

Chicken Pot Pie
From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 2 deep dish pies

2 tbsp butter
1lb chicken breast, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)
1 1/2 cups peeled, diced potato
3 cups water
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup frozen peas

Ingredients for No Fail Pie Crust

Prepare No Fail Pie Crust. Roll into two balls; wrap in plastic wrap and keep in fridge until needed.

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large, deep skillet melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chicken, onion, carrot, garlic, celery and mushrooms (if using). Saute for 3 minutes. Add potatoes, water, sage, pepper and salt - ensuring that chicken and potatoes are covered in water. Boil until potatoes are almost cooked and chicken is no longer pink, approximately 10 minutes.

In a large measuring cup, combine milk and flour until smooth. Pour into chicken mixture and stir until the mixture begins to thicken. Add frozen peas. Remove from heat.

Roll out each ball of crust dough between two sheets of plastic wrap until they are the appropriate size to make the top for your pie. Pour half of the chicken mixture into each pie plate. Place dough over each pie plate and seal edges.

Bake pot pies on a cookie sheet (in case of leakage) for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for an additional 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Note: The chicken mixture is still pretty runny in this dish. If you'd like a thicker mixture add more milk/flour mixture. I just don't add so much that you end up with a sauce that's more paste-like than creamy. :(

Tip: If you don't need two pies right away, tightly wrap extra pie (before baking) in a large Ziploc freezer bag. Suck out excess air to prevent freezer burn (I use a straw). Freeze until needed. Thaw before baking.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Cat, The Quilt and the Corpse

Author: Leann Sweeney
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 278
Series: 1st book in the 'Cats in Trouble' series
Series Order:
  1. The Cat, The Quilt and the Corpse (2009)
  2. The Cat, The Professor and the Poison (2010)
  3. The Cat, The Lady and the Liar (2011)

First Line: "My cat is allergic to people -- yes, odd, I know -- so when I came in the back door and heard Chablis sneeze, I stopped dead."

Synopsis: Jillian Hart is a recently widowed forty year old who lives with her three beloved cats - Chablis, Syrah and Merlot -- in a small South Carolina town. Jillian has a business near and dear to her heart, making quilts for cats, and her business is thriving.

When Jillian returns from an overnight craft show she realizes that someone has been in her house. She is heartbroken to learn that Syrah is missing. Jillian begins investigating and discovers more missing cats and a dead body.

My Thoughts: Let me start off by saying that I'm more of a dog person than a cat person. I don't have anything against cats but I also don't want to read an entire book gushing everything feline when it's meant to be a mystery.

I knew going in, based on the title, that this book would have a cat theme to it. After reading the book it's more of a cat obsession, which I found totally excessive. The main character owns 3 cats, makes cat quilts, checks her smart phone for video of her cats who are at home, goes on and on and on about her love for felines. All this feline talk takes centre stage leaving the mystery portion of the book weak and floundering. I had to force myself to finish the book just so I could move on to the next book. Definitely not a good sign.

Sometimes the secondary characters are quirky enough to pull me through a dull read but sadly the secondary characters are cliches and totally one-dimensional. I also found the idea of someone being able to sustain a large house, 3 cats and a nice lifestyle on merely a business selling quilts for cats a little unrealistic. Correct me if I'm wrong. Is there a huge market for cat quilts? If you're a cat fanatic and love to read about small town life this book could be for you. I, apparently, am not such a person.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Kiss Me, Kill Me

Author: Maggie Shayne
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 394
First Published: 2010
Series: 3rd book in 'Secrets of Shadow Falls' series
Series Order:
  1. Killing Me Softly (2010)
  2. Kill Me Again (2010)

First Line: "Carrie Overton had known her life was about to change forever."

Synopsis: Dr Carrie Overton is driving to her new job as a doctor in Shadow Falls when she sees a young woman at the side of the road who is in labour. Carrie delivers the baby but shortly afterwards the woman disappears, leaving a note with her newborn. In the note the birth mother asks Carrie to raise the baby as her own. Carrie, who is unable to give birth herself, decides to fulfill a life-long dream to be a mother. When the birth mother is murdered a little while later Carrie decides to keep the secret to herself.

Sixteen years later, she and her son Sam are still living in Shadow Falls. When one of Sam's friends goes missing the police initially think of it as a runaway issue. But when the boy's body is found and then another teen disappears the small town fears that they may have a murderer among them. When newcomer Gabriel Cain visits Shadow Falls and starts asking too many questions Carrie becomes suspicious but does Gabe have secrets of his own that he must keep to himself?

My Thoughts: This is a fast-paced suspense novel that is able to keep up the momentum and tension that is necessary for this type of book. There are lots of twists and turns, and a little romance to boot. The romance and some of the romantic writing has a slight whiff of fromage but overall it adds to the overall storyline. I actually enjoyed the relationship between Sam and his teenage girlfriend more than Carrie and her beau. I found the young couple's relationship more authentic.

At first I thought this 400 page book would be a slower read just based on the size of the book but I read this book in a little over 2 days and found it hard to put down. I did have an inkling about 'who dunnit' but the author managed to give me one last twist and I ended up guessing wrong. Love that!! :)

It's the third book in the Shadow Falls series but I found it quite easy to read this book without reading the previous two. I'm really looking forward to reading more from this author. Highly recommend.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Mini Oreo Surprise Cupcakes

Today we celebrated my mom's birthday at the cottage. Mom is a pretty awesome lady who is loved by all. She is a great wife (for 40 years), a wonderful mother (who survived raising 3 daughters), is known as a Saint to her sons-in-law and is adored by her 10 grandchildren. At the end of the day, Nanny is where it's at. So when we get a chance to celebrate her we do! And by celebrating I mean lots of people, lots of noise and loads of food! We had 8 children, 3 dogs and a bunch of adults, including my cousin and his family who surprised her with a visit. It was a great time filled with tobogganing, snowman making and LOTS of food!

Birthdays usually mean cakes are baked to celebrate. Personally, I'm not a big cake fan but I do enjoy a cupcake. I know the taste is the same but the fact that it's a little dessert just for moi thoroughly delights me. I also find it easier to make a bunch of cute cupcakes than a cute cake. It just seems like the pressure is less because if you mess up one or two cupcakes no one needs to know (you can easily eat your errors and no one is the wiser). If you screw up the birthday cake, there are not many ways to hide it that don't involve a stomach pump.
Picture a vanilla cupcake topped with a swirl of chocolate icing and a mini Oreo. When you slice it in half you find the centre filled with a pocket of cream cheese and ... a mini Oreo!! Could it get any better?! Cake, cookie and icing joined in culinary bliss! Delightful!
These cupcakes are a mishmash of two different recipes. The cupcake idea is adapted from a recipe from Kraft Canada. Originally they called for a chocolate cake mix to be used (probably so you can see the cream cheese layer better) but I was in a vanilla mood so I changed it up. Also, in Kraft's recipe they said to use Cool Whip on top of each cupcake instead of icing. If I'm given a choice between Cool Whip and homemade icing, I will pick the icing every time! I used one of my 'tried and true' icings which is from my Betty Crocker cookbook and together these two recipes are truly wonderful!

1 pkg (2-layer size) cake mix (chocolate or vanilla)
Ingredients needed to make cake mix
1 pkg (8oz) cream cheese, softened
1 egg
2 tbsp white sugar
48 mini Oreos (1 bag will do it)

Creamy Cocoa Buttercream Icing
3 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa
2-3 tbsp milk (or more if needed to get the right consistency)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Set aside.
Prepare cake batter as directed on the package.

Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, egg and sugar until smooth.

Spoon half of the cake batter into the muffin cups. Top each with approximately
1-1/2 tsp of the cream cheese mixture. Top with one mini Oreo; (see picture
on the right). Cover Oreo with remaining cake batter.

Bake for 19-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Prepare icing: Combine icing ingredients and mix until smooth and thin enough to pipe onto cupcakes. Using a cake decorating bag and tip (Note: I used my Pampered Chef Easy Accent Decorator with one of the star tips) pipe frosting in a circular fashion around each cupcake. Top with a mini Oreo. Refrigerate cupcakes if not serving within a couple of hours.
TIP: If you're carting these cupcakes to an event and don't own a fancy cupcake carrier (like me), use one of those flat cardboard trays that a case of 24 pop come in. 24 cupcakes fit perfectly and the sides of the tray keep them all in line. It's not fancy but it works.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Crepes of Wrath

Author: Tamar Myers
Genre: Light Mystery
Pages: 255
First Published: 2001
Series: 9th book in the Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery with Recipes series
Series Order: Look here
First Line: "I woke to find a woman's face pressed against the pane of my bedroom window."

Synopsis: Hernia, Pennsylvania is a rural area with a large population of Mennonite and Amish people. Magdalena Yoder is a Mennonite woman who owns a very successful bed and breakfast in the small town. While she is a great business woman she is also quite adept at solving murders. When Lizzie Mast, known as the world's worst cook by her neighbours, dies from a bad batch of crepes most people figure her cooking killed her. Magdelena is not so sure and is happy when her brother-in-law, the inept sheriff, deputizes her and asks her to look into it.

My Thoughts: This is my first book by Tamar Myers and I enjoyed it. Don't expect a deep, dark mystery. It's a very light read and although it is entertaining many of the things that occur seem fairly implausible to this reader.

One of my favourite things about this book is the writing. Some of the innuendos, puns and double entendres literally made me laugh out loud because I just wasn't expecting them when the book was based around a middle-aged Mennonite woman. I realize that it was probably written for the shock factor and, if so, Myers definitely took me off guard!

For example: "A good Magdalena would have spent the time wisely, perhaps reading the Bible. It was, after all, Sunday afternoon. Instead, I sat on my chair and twiddled my thumbs. When I got bored with that, I reached down my dress to play with my pussy." After I closed my gapping mouth and put the eyes back in my head I proceeded to read the first sentence of the next paragraph. It's there that Myers makes it clear what her original meaning is "My pussy is a purebread chocolate point Siamese named Little Freni." Ohhhhhh. Yes, that's what I thought (total lie - my mind was in the gutter). Little Freni likes to nap inside one of Magdalena's overly large bra cups. Gotcha! Now, I ask you ... how likely is it that a flat chested Mennonite woman walks around with a DD bra with a kitten napping in one cup? Probably not all that common even among the general population but funny nonetheless.

Magdalena is a good main character who is strong and fiesty. She even provides her inn guests with an "authentic Amish experience" while staying at the inn. For an added cost they can clean their own rooms, make her dinner and even do the laundry. The city folks eat it up! Believable? Well, no ... but still amusing.

While the mystery itself was pretty thin and the resolution of the mystery kind of blaw it was still a decent read mainly due to Magdalena and the cast of quirky secondary characters.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A riddle: What do you get when ...

you have 9 women, freshly brewed coffee, homemade muffins and a charity? Give up? Bags and bags full of used clothing donated to those who truly need it!

Eleven year old "Cub's" school was having a charity drive. For every tonne of used clothing donated an organization would give the school $2. The school is then going to donate the money to a local charity (that the students will choose) and the clothes will be sent to eastern Europe. A double charity!!

I thought I'd try to combine my God given muffin talents (toot toot), my love of the java and chit chat. So I invited a few moms over to my place this morning. My only requirement for attending was that they had to donate at least one bag of used clothing. It went really well and I ended up carting a full minivan of clothing (16 very heavy garbage bags, to be exact) to the school. The school was shocked to see how much we donated at a single event. Yes, coffee at my place is considered 'an event'.

What did I learn with this little endeavor? Well, I learned :

  • it feels really good to do something for others
  • it destresses me when I purge my closets
  • I have ladies who'll help me out when needed
  • it is possible for me to wake up at 6:30am (to bake said muffins). Who knew?!?
  • I have really weak arm muscles (which are still feeling shaky after carrying the bags. Sad, I know!)
Thanks to all who came on over! I hope you enjoyed the morning and enjoy the extra space in your closets!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret

Author: Judy Blume
Pages: 149
Genre: Young Adult/Tween
First Published: 1986
First Line: "Are you there God?"

Synopsis: Margaret Simon is 11 years old when her parents move her from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey. Now she has a new school, has to find a new group of friends and deal with everything else that someone eleven-going-on-twelve has to deal with.

My Thoughts: It might seem a little odd for me to pick up a tween book out of the blue. I read young adult books but not usually one that deals with 11 year olds. I have to admit that with the end of the year coming quickly and me with my "100 Books in a Year" challenge I have semi-cheated and picked this book mainly because it was short. Bring on the boos and hisses. That's not to say I didn't want to read this book ... it's just that given more time I probably would have picked another read. Them's the breaks. I really want to accomplish my goal with with 9 books to go and Christmas looming I gave myself a little respite. Don't expect me to pick up "Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You?" next week though. I'm not totally focusing on childhood literature. ;)

Growing up, I was probably the only girl who never read this book. I know! Shockingly enough, I was not raised in a cave (suburban Toronto, actually). My only excuse is that at that age I was more interested in seeing what antics Nancy Drew and her cronies got themselves into than some girl named Margaret who also lived in suburbia. So now, at the ripe old age of thirty-blah-blah-blah I finally picked it up and tried to get into an 11 year old frame of mind. "Justin Bieber is soooo cute!" "Mom! You're not seriously thinking I'm going to wear THAT, are you?". Ok, I think I'm there.

Back when I was 11, I had heard from friends that this book dealt with getting your first period but other than that I hadn't heard too much more about it. I suppose when you're a tween (a term that wasn't around waaaay back in my day) the subject of menstruation trumps most book topics of that age group. Except, of course, which Corey was cuter. With that comment, I just aged myself!!

I found this to be an easy-going read (if not a little slow) that shows some of the issues and concerns that affect many tween girls. Topics such as hoping and praying that you'll finally fill out your bra (sadly, something I'm still praying for), dealing with boys and first kisses and deciding which faith to follow. I found it amusing when Margaret decides to investigate various religions because she needs to know if she'll be joining the Y or the Jewish Community Centre that summer.

The book is quite dated (it was written back in the 80's!) so there are several issues that today's tweens deal with that aren't discussed, naturally. I'm also not sure how realistic this book was when dealing with the issues of tweens. I didn't remember having most of the same feelings as Margaret (except for the whole bra thing) which made it seem a little unrelatable for me when I think back to when I was eleven.

I did find the book a little on the short side but, seeing it's actually for tweens I'll make that a wee 'moo' of a beef. I also would have liked to see more of her relationships with her grandparents and parents. How they related to Margaret as she spread her wings a bit.

This is a decent read which is a good way to open up the conversations of many topics that face tween girls.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Stones From The River

Author: Ursula Hegi
Pages: 520
Published: March 1995
First Line: "

Synopsis: This book follows the life of Trudi Montag who is a little person (or 'zwerg') living in a small town in Nazi era Germany. We first meet Trudi after she is first born and is emotionally abandoned by her mother who suffers from mental illness. Trudi spends a good deal of her childhood hoping and praying that she'll grow. She just wants to be like everyone else and even (unsuccessfully) resorts to hanging from door frames to aid in her growth.

As Trudi matures she constantly feels that her height and 'otherness' make her an outsider in her own town. She does find a sense of power in her ability to get people to tell her their secrets. But when the Nazi's take power she also learns how to keep the secrets of those she cares for, specifically two Jewish families who have always been kind to her.

My Thoughts: This is the second time that I've read this book. I first read it back in June of 1997 and adored it -- surprising, since it was an Oprah pick (she and I don't see eye to eye on most books). This time around I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it's because I've read some truly outstanding books about the Holocaust (especially "In My Hands") which may have made Stones From The River pale in comparison. Unfortunately, this was the book that I picked for our book club and many people are having a tough time getting through it.

I think my main issue with the book was the pace. It dragged in several spots. Hegi had some wonderful ideas for the protagonist ... but then the idea would fizzle or take too long to get to the 'a-ha' moment. Trudi was also a different kind of protagonist. I found that I wasn't always rooting for her. She was a hard character to like because she was so rough around the edges and harsh. Even though the reader had access to Trudi's inner-most thoughts, I still felt like I didn't get to know her.

Don't get me wrong. I did enjoy the book ... I just wasnt' compelled to read it. It was interesting to see how the Third Reich slowly gained momentum and power in Germany among the typical small town German citizens. To see how Hitler's regime easily got between citizens who had grown up with each other and resulted in pitting neighbour against neighbour. It was also interesting to see how the people in Trudi's town easily fall in line with the Nazi regime. Hegi shows the reader that due to years and years of obedience and conformity (specifically to parents and the Catholic church) the citizens find it hard to go against the grain and stand up against the Third Reich.
Because the story is based in a small town many (and I mean MANY) secondary characters are introduced making it hard to remember who the author was talking about. With so many townspeople included in the overall story that you never really got to know any one secondary character well. She touched on many but didn't get me to really care about what happened to any specific character.

I'd be interested to hear what other people who've read this book think of it. Especially if you're re-read it and see it in a new light.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, 2 December 2010

School of Fortune

Authors: Amanda Brown and Janice Weber
Pages: 342
Published: 2007
Short and Sweet Review: meh
First Line: "The elastic on Wyeth McCoy's sleep mask snapped just as his nightmare reached a horrific climax."

Synopsis: Pippa Walker is part of one of Texas' biggest and richest families. When she and her boyfriend decide to get married Pippa's controlling mother takes hold of the wedding day reigns and plans a Texas sized wedding to showcase her daughter. We're talking mega menus, gondolas flown in from Venice and 10 bridesmaids that had to try out to be in the wedding!

But when Pippa learns about a secret that her fiance has been keeping she bolts from her own wedding resulting in her parents disinheriting her. Add to the fact that her beloved grandfather dies at the wedding and Pippa is left penniless and with no family. In his will, her grandfather said that if Pippa were to graduate from a school she could inherit his huge estate. Not a scholar by far, Pippa attempts several different schools, from traffic to match-making to circus school, in order to complete her grandfather's requirement.

My Thoughts: Even though I picked up this book on one of the Chapters cheap tables I had fairly high hopes for the book. Co-written by the author of the "Legally Blonde" series I figured it would be an off-beat, humourous read. Weeeell, not so much. While it did have the right premise for a quirky read it just didn't reach it's potential in my opinion.

Some of the subplots seemed disjointed and forced. Some odd circus school in the middle of no where? Really? Many of the subplots didn't seem to flow together and it felt like they were put into the main storyline just so the authors could have Pippa say a good one-liner (which, in the end, wasn't very good either).

As for the characters they were .... ok. Pippa definitely didn't have the brains or the sass that Elle (from Legally Blonde fame) had that made her a likeable character. I skimmed through the last third of the book waiting for some big 'a-ha' moment which sadly never happened.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, 29 November 2010

Chicken, Bacon, Spinach & Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta in a Creamy Garlic Sauce

What a wonderful weekend! My menfolk were off on a Cub/Scout camp together which just left Missy Moo and myself to have a total girl-fest! Two days filled with eating ice cream, time with girlfriends, shopping, going out to dinner and even a movie. Bliss!

Yesterday Missy Moo and I went to see the new Disney movie "Tangled". It was a great movie filled with lots of laughs from the secondary characters and almost got me choked up (me of little tears!). I would say that if you have a sensitive youngester (I'm talking 5 and under) there were a few chase scenes that were intense and they did talk about hanging (and even showed a noose). That's probably why it's rated PG and not G.

Anyway, after my menfolk came home and showered (a bunch of guys/boys in a cabin sans showers for 2 nights does not an olfactory treat make!) the men sat down to watch the Grey Cup (Canadian Super Bowl) and I got to work making this dish for Brad and I to enjoy.

It featured Brad's favourite ingredient, bacon. His mantra has always been 'bacon makes everything better' and with this dish I have to agree. By using only 6 slices we got the bacon flavour that we loved without eating a pound of bacon in one sitting. Our family can pack away a lot of bacon if we're not careful!

This dish came together beautifully and was really easy too. I had Brad BBQ the chicken breasts while I was cooking the bacon which just made my job easier. You can saute the chicken along with the bacon if you prefer (might make the chicken a little too greasy though). You can also use precooked chicken breasts (the kinds you'd use for salads to make your life even easier) or use leftover cooked chicken.

This is a colourful dish with lots of flavours that compliment each other well. It's also a great way to add spinach to a dish (you can pass it off to kids as 'spices' if you chop it up finely enough). If you're not a fan of sun-dried tomatoes (is there such a person?!?) then try substituting fresh, diced tomatoes instead.

2 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced
6 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 lb rotini
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup half'n'half creamer
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained and sliced
3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 handful of baby spinach, stems trimmed and coarsely chopped
to taste - fresh black pepper and salt

Cook rotini in salted water. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

In a large skillet, cook bacon until almost crispy (I don't like mine dried out). Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside. Remove all but approximately 2 tbsp of the bacon fat from the skillet.

Add onion, garlic and mushrooms to the skillet and cook until onions are transparent. Scrape up all the bacon bits from the bottom of the pan. They're not gross, they're flavour!!! Add creamer and simmer for a few minutes. Add the cooked bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan; stir well. Add spinach to the mixture and cook until wilted. Add pasta and toss well. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with more fresh Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 3 servings

Thursday, 25 November 2010

My Favourite Things

This pre-Christmas time of year is my favourite time of year. It's cold outside, we have the fireplace on and I look forward to my bake-a-thons as Christmas approaches. There are not many things better than smelling fresh baking while snow falls outside as I'm inside spending time with my family. My personal bliss!

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching it got me thinking of another Christmas pastime that I look forward to (but Brad cringes at) ... watching "The Sound of Music"! Could there BE a better way to spend an afternoon than with Julie Andrews belting out well-loved and well-known musical numbers? Brad whole-heartedly disagrees (sadly he must not have the Julie gene).

So here I was thinking all things Julie when I began to hum (it's inevitable) the song "My Favourite Things" which then lead me to writing a little ditty based on the song but with some of MY favourite things. Useless Tidbit: I find it amusing to change the lyrics to well-known songs.

Dame Julie may like raindrops on roses and a nice doorbell but I have other ideas. Here's my version ....

Baking some muffins and snuggling "fresh" babies,
Drinking my coffee while chatting with m'ladies,
Drooling o'er diamonds on top of some rings,
There are a few of my favourite things!

Cream coloured linens and crisp oatmeal cookies,
Watching "Big Bang" and films sans furry Wookies,
Looking at model homes with all their bling,
There are a few of my favourite things!

Damon in "Diaries" and Shemar when he's shirtless,
Seeing my home really ordered and dirtless,
Travelling to Europe with Brad in the spring,
These are a few of my favourite things!

When the kids fight,
Or when a meal bites,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don't feeeeeeeel, so baaaaaaaaaad!

I'm such a geek. While I don't think that David Foster will be knocking at my door to collaborate on a song anytime soon at least my lyrics make me smile. That's all that really counts, right?

So, what are some of YOUR favourite things?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Still Missing

Author: Chevy Stevens
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 340
Quick Review: disturbing & compelling
First Line: "You know, Doc, you're not the first shrink I've seen since I got back."

Synopsis: Realtor Annie O'Sullivan is just closing up the open house she's been at all afternoon when a man approaches her and asks to have a quick look at the house. Annie agrees and it's a decision that will change to course of her life. Annie is abducted and held hostage by this deranged man who abuses her both mentally and physically for a year.

There are two parts to Annie's story. The first details the year Annie was in held in captivity by this mad man. The second describes the nightmare that she lives through once she escapes (as told via discussions with her psychiatrist). Once freed she helps the police track down the real identity of her captor (she named The Freak) and how he came to choose her to abduct.

My Thoughts: I had heard great reviews of this book from one of my oldest friends (who has very similar book tastes to my own) as well as my Fairy Bookmother. After reading it I was surprised to learn that this was the author's debut novel. A huge undertaking for a first timer but done with wonderful execution and feeling.

It was also one of my possible choices for my book club selection. While I loved this book I think that the raw and brutal nature of the book would have been too much for my book club.

This is one of those books that you'll find hard to put down. At times I felt like I was reading with one hand in front of my eyes because I wanted to know what happened ... but at the same time I didn't want to read about the hell Annie went through. Does that make any sense?

From the write up on the book jacket the reader is prepared that it isn't going to be a feel good kind of book so the abuse that is inflicted on Annie isn't a surprise. But it is truly heartbreaking to see what Annie endures while held against her will in that small mountain cabin and it's equally disturbing to see how that abuse affects her once she's freed. We see Annie struggle with her newfound fame and even more importantly how she learns to live and survive after the abuse.

The author has a wonderful understanding and ability to voice Annie's inner thoughts which makes Annie feel real and believable. You know that the horror and mental abuse Annie suffered through aren't going to be overcome quickly or by the end of the book but will be part of Annie for the rest of her life.

This story is filled with twists and turns that make the reader keep guessing who is behind Annie's kidnapping until the very end. The story is raw and vivid and shows the underbelly of humanity, and sadly, what some people are capable of doing to others.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Here in Canada there are certain signs that we use to determine if winter is getting close. These signs are indisputable facts of nature -- Canadian Geese fly south, many of our elderly follow them down to the southern States (although the geese have the added benefit of bypassing the pat downs and body scans at the airport ... I think), snow shovels are dug out of the basement and hung in the garage in preparation, snowblowers are tuned up and the mighty slow cookers come out. If we're going to have to deal with cold weather we're definitely going to need a hot, filling meal to get us through (a glass of wine never hurt either)! There's nothing like coming home to the smell of bread in the bread machine and this wonderful stew in the crockpot and knowing that all you have to do is serve it up!!

This stew is one of my comfort meals. I actually thought that I had posted the recipe already but when two friends of mine requested a stew recipe I found out that I hadn't posted it yet. So here it is!

This is a simple, yet filling meal that doesn't take much prep in the morning. There are two ways I make this stew and the only difference involves the taters. A) I parboil the potatoes. But usually, with 3 kids getting ready for school in the morning, time is of the essence. I usually opt for B) I don't parboil the potatoes but make sure that they are on the bottom of the crockpot and totally submersed in the liquid.

Tip: If you cut up your carrots, celery and onion the night before (keep the carrots and celery immersed in some cold water) it makes prep in the morning easy. Then it's just a matter of throwing it all together. 10 hours later you have a complete meal that goes really well with crusty bread to dip with. It's also perfect to reheat for lunch the next day.

2lbs stewing beef (1-inch pieces)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped
1 (10.25oz) can beef broth (1 1/2 cups)
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup frozen peas

Parboil the potatoes until almost tender.

Place meat in the slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. Pour flour mixture over meat and mix until meat is coated. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Cover and cook on LOW heat for 10-12 hours (or 6 hours on high). Stir thoroughly. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Picture From: Beth

Friday, 19 November 2010

Mozart's Sister

Author: Nancy Moser
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: E-book (Kindle for iPhone)

Synopsis: Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl were raised from birth to love and excel at music. At a young age their parents toured their children around Europe to play for royalty. Wolfgang received many accolades but sadly, Nannerl was always in the background wanting to get acceptance and acclaim in her own right from her audience and especially from her father. Nannerl learns first hand the inequality of the sexes in the 18th century.

My Thoughts: I've always had a love for Baroque music and really enjoy playing it on the piano. Mozart is one of my favourites and I especially loved seeing the movie "Amadeus" waaay back in the 80's that featured Mozart's life. When I saw the title for this book in the Kindle store it intrigued me that the focus wasn't on Wolfgang but on his practically uknown older sister.

This is a good historical fiction novel and my only gripe was that it lagged quite a bit in the middle. There is only so much one can write about illness, travel, Nannerl deferring to her father's demands time and again ... before it becomes redundant and boring. Truth be told, Nannerl's life probably was quite boring (not being able to do the one thing she loved and excelled at) .... but I don't necessarily want to read a lot about the boring parts of her life. I did enjoy the last third of the book but wish the middle third of the book was just as interesting. I think the final third of the book was more interesting because we finally see a personality in Nanneral emerge. Until then, she's so meek that she's almost non-existent.

What I did find fascinating was getting a glimpse into the life of a woman during the 1700's who was extremely talented ... yet almost forgotten. For the simple fact that she was born a girl, her talent was wasted playing second fiddle to her younger brother. She was a level-headed woman who was always obedient to her father. I could empathize with her situation but there were several times when I would have wanted her to make different choices and put herself first. Since the author used letters written by the Mozart family to each other Moser had little leeway in which to write how Nannerl's life unfolds.

Even though I know how Wolfgang's life ends I still found it interesting to have a 'behind the scenes' view that his family had of his wild ways towards the end of his life. A good read, but not a great one.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Random Reading Poll

I know that Christmas (and for my American friends, Thanksgiving) is coming upon us really soon. We're making mad dashes to the mall in hopes of getting ahead on our gift shopping (is that even possible?). Sadly, that time spent wandering around the mall searching for inspiration eats into our beloved reading time.

I know that my reading has slowed down quite a bit over the last week. Not only am I in full Christmas Gift Getting mode but I've recently got on the 'gotta decorate my home before I totally go nuts' train. After a lovely coffee and chat regarding home decor with my friends A and K I've been itching to do some DIY kind of decorating. You know, go to a thrift store pick up a table for next to nothing then transform it into something that Nate Berkus would love to own. Sadly, me of little attention span, usually loses steam half way through a project (this is where Brad usually comes in to finish up the job). I am willing to settle for just painting my dreary laundry room so we'll see what I can come up with.

Back to reading .... I'm currently reading "Mozart's Sister" by Nancy Moser. I bought the ebook for my iPhone for only $2 so I can't complain too much that I don't love it. I've always loved Baroque music and I've been fascinated by Mozart ever since I saw the movie "Amadeus" waaaay back in Grade 8 (I think). I thought that learning how his talent influenced his family would be really interesting. It kind of is but not to the extent I was hoping.

Up next? My FBM (Fairy Bookmother) gave me a stack of books yesterday and a few caught my eye right off the bat. If I remember correctly my FBM has highly recommended me to read "The Good Daughters" by Joyce Maynard. Looks like a book that I'd love. I also saw "The Boy in the Moon" by Ian Brown as well as "Kiss Me, Kill Me" by Maggie Shayne and "The Weight of Silence" by Heatehr Gudenkauf. So many books, so little time (in between runs to the mall!).

So what are you all reading? Found any new authors? I'd love to get some new 'faces' on here so if you know of other people who love to read please refer them to my blog. If you've been lurking on my blog please let us know what you're reading!!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Honey-Mustard Oatmeal Bread

Let me start off by saying that I'm a self-proclaimed carb addict. I cannot resist (nor do I even try to resist) a piece of warm crusty bread. It's just not in my DNA make-up to pass up fresh bread (I equally love it's cousins doughnut, bun, roll, biscuit and the flaky french cousin, croissant).

That said, I've usually shied away from baking yeast breads. Partly because of the time it takes to make yeast breads but mainly because there are a few steps you have to do which means you're stuck around home to ensure your bread rises. There's also the added fear of 'what if it doesn't rise and I've just spent 4 hours making a brick for dinner".

I made this yeast bread waaaay back when Brad and I were first married. Back when he was my one and only guinea pig for my kitchen creations. This recipe comes from one of my first recipe books that my Aunt Nancy gave me when I got married called "Betty Crockers New Cookbook: Everything You Need To Know To Cook ". Since then they've had at least one new installment of this cookbook published which just shows how long I've been married.

The bread turned out really well when I made it the first time and it turned out well again. In fact, when Brad saw the bread cooling on my wire rack he tentatively approached me and said "I don't want to insult you ...." (note to men, not a good way to start a conversation with a woman wielding a bread knife) ".... in case you spent hours making it but did you buy that bread?" I took it as a compliment! He could picture my loaf in a bakery? Yay! Yup, I made it for you dearest (and to feed the carb monster who dwells within me).

This yeast bread doesn't get much easier. You just need to take the time to let it rise, knead it and have it rise again. My first rise didn't fare so well so this loaf was actually a little smaller than the first time I made it but it still tasted good (it was a little heavier than it need be but still great for eating).

If you're a newbie at yeast breads give this one a try. Served alongside potato ham soup would be wonderful!

3-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
1 package regular or quick active dry yeast
1 cup very warm water (120 to 130 degrees)
1 large egg
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 tbsp water
garnish quick-cooking oats

Mix 1 1/2 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup oats, salt, honey, mustard, butter and yeast in a large bowl. Add 1 cup warm water. Beat with an electric mixter on low speed for 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat in egg. Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl and turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched. TIP: To make a warm spot in my kitchen for the dough to rise, I turned on my oven to 250F while I was mixing the dough. I turned off the oven put the bowl inside and left the oven open a little.

Grease bottom and side of a pie plate, 9x1-1/4 inches, with shortening.

Punch down dough (show that dough whose boss!). Shape dough into a ball. Place in pie plate; flatten slightly. Mix egg white and 1 tbsp water; brush on loaf. Sprinkle with oats. Cover and let rise in warm place for 45-60 minutes or until double.

Heat oven to 375F. Bake for 35 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped and is deep golden brown. Remove from pan to wire rack; cool.

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