Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Cool & Creamy Layered Strawberry Dessert

Today my husband is 40. Yup. He's made the leap into the next decade. I think it hit him fairly hard actually. So I threw out lots of sayings to make him feel youthful again. You know the typical sayings: "You're only as old as you feel.", "40 is the new 30", "Glad it's you, not me". You know uplifting kind of things. Luckily he has a youthful wife who is a few (ok, a couple) of years his junior. I like to refer to myself as his trophy wife. ;)

So anyway, since Karate Guy's birthday is within the same week as dear old Brad's and I was tired of baking cakes on hot days I decided to make him a different kind of dessert for his fete. I remembered that Brad had asked me weeks ago to make this ridiculously easy, yet very pretty refreshing dessert for him so I made it today. It took less than 10 minutes to prep it (and 3 hours in the fridge) and I had a very pretty dessert that looked like it took a lot longer. Brownie points with minimal effort. Gotta love it!

Originally the recipe makes 8 servings but here in our house our birthday motto is "go big or go home" so I only made 5 servings and put them in large plastic wine glasses. Topped with whipped cream and some additional strawberry slices it was wonderful.

1 (6 servings) strawberry Jell-O mix
3 cups boiling water
1L container Cool Whip, frozen (I used reduced fat ... like that will help in this dessert)
2 cups strawberries - culled, halved and sliced
additional whipped cream
additional strawberry slices for garnish

In a large bowl, combine Jell-O powder and boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Add the frozen Cool Whip to the Jell-O and cut it into smaller chunks. Using a large whisk, beat the Cool Whip until it has combined with the Jell-O.

Meanwhile, divide 2 cups of strawberry slices among 8 glass cups (or 5 large plastic cups if you're like us) - as long as you can see through them so you can see the layers it's all good. Pour Jell-O mixture over strawberries. Refrigerate for a few hours. The layers will form while the mixture cools down.

When ready to serve, top each cup with whipped cream and additional strawberry slices.

Tip: Try using different kinds of Jell-O with different kinds of fruit. Just stay away from pineapple and kiwi because the Jell-O won't set if they're added.

Are Your Kids Reading This Summer?

My three kids are total book addicts like their mom. I've mentioned before that one of my goals as a Mom was to get all three of my kids to be avid readers. I can easily check that task off my lifetime to-do list and give myself a BIG gold star. All three look forward to reading before bed each night and are addicted to the library -- we go twice per week in the summer and usually have over 50 books out. Needless to say I'm building up some major arm muscles carting the books back and forth and have a system to keep all of the books from being lost or sent to the wrong library system (since we belong to two different systems).

But I do not complain! I love that they're addicted to something that I love to do as well. I do get a wee bit cranky when we're running late for school and I find Karate Guy lounging on his bed reading a Hardy Boys book and saying "I'm almost finished this page, Mom! Just one more minute!". Brad just smiles and says "You wanted them to love reading!". Yes, I did ... just not at 8:50 in the morning. ;)

For the past several years my kids have signed up for the summer reading programme at one of our local libraries. If your local library has a similar programme I highly recommend signing up. In Ontario TD Canada Trust sponsors the programme but I'm not sure if it's all over Canada or not. Anyone know?

Our library sets our three huge baskets of summer goodies each with it's own theme to entice the youngsters. There's the girly basket, the outdoors basket and the boyish basket - all filled to the brim with fun, flashy stuff. For every 10 books a child reads him or herself they get a ballot to try to win one of the baskets. Plus for the first 10 books they get erasers, pencils etc to get them going.

I personally think that the library should have an adult version too! I'd totally rake in the loot!! Have baskets filled with coffee gift certificates, a mug, bookmarks, chocolate, some 'forget about your late fees' tickets ... oh ya, baby. I've mentioned it to the librarian but she doesn't think it'll happen. Ageism at play? Huh.

So, how have my kids fared with their reading this summer? Well, about 4 weeks into this project and they've all read at least 50 books. Yup. F-I-F-T-Y! Even Missy Moo! This is the first year she's been able to read well enough to read all the books herself. You cannot begin to imagine how improved her reading has become just from daily reading.

Gotta love it when you have kids that read!!. Hubby is on the other end of the "Love Reading" spectrum and sadly, after 18 years together I've given him up as a lost cause. He has his other hobbies ... reading is just not one of them. And that's ok. He's the yin to my reading yang.

FYI: My kids have slowly begun to jump back into their own reading blog after a long hiatus. Karate Guy has included one of the books we got him for his birthday this week. It's an encyclopedia of horrible, gross facts. Check out his review at

Are your kids avid readers? What books are they into?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Some of the Bounty From My Back 40

Back 40 may be pushing it but I've gotta tell you ... having a veggie garden has been a lot of fun. I have tomato plants, a strawberry plant, rhubarb, chives, rosemary, oregano, basil, carrots and green peppers! Ten year old "Cub" was even out there this morning watering our veggie garden. I love seeing the kids get involved in the garden!

I love the fact that I can walk out of my kitchen and snip off some fresh basil or tomatoes (both pictured above) and throw them in a sauce or salad. Mmm, mmm, good! The smell of fresh basil is awesome!

One of my tomato plants is a behemoth! I suspect it's taking steroids but I'm afraid to ask it. It has taken over a good 1/3 of my garden but has at least 30 small tomatoes getting ready to ripen up. I say at least because I find it hard to see into the middle of the plant/bush to see what I've got growing in there.

On the other end of the spectrum, my sad little rhubarb plant is hangin' in there ... just barely. I've found that vegetable gardening has taught me a modicum of patience ... you can't rush a rhubarb. I've tried!! You can water, feed, suck up all you want but it'll grow when it's good and ready. Huh.

Does anyone else boast a home veggie garden? What are you all growing? What are some of your star plants?

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Pact

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 495
First Published: 1998
First Line: "There was nothing left to say."

Synopsis: The Gold and the Harte families have been inseparable since their oldest children were born 3 months apart. Emily and Chris have been best friends and practically raised as siblings since birth. Both sets of parents were thrilled when they learned that their kids had taken their relationship to a more romantic level in their early teens.

Suddenly, one November morning both families are shocked to learn that 17 year old Emily is dead ... shot with a gun that Chris had sneaked out of his father's gun cabinet. When both families learn of their children's suicide pact they are utterly shocked. They are thrown in even more turmoil when Chris is charged with Emily's murder.

This book is about the struggle of both families in the aftermath of such unspeakable violence that they never saw coming. Like many of Picoult's books this one focuses on several hot topics which include teen love, depression and teen suicide.

My Thoughts: This is my second book by Picoult (the first being "Salem Falls" which I enjoyed as much as this book). Picoult definitely has a knack for jumping into highly controversial topics with vigour.

I find her a talented writer who can write a suspenseful read and is able to keep the reader interested with very little information as to what really happened to cause the suspenseful issue. What I mean is ... she tells you what happened (ie Emily's death) but then slowly gives the reader options that niggle in the back of their mind until she slowly lets the reader know what really occurred -- which, in my book, makes for a good read. I like not getting all of the facts right off the bat and how she can twist the storyline here and there to keep the reader interested.

That said, I liked this book but didn't love it. I honestly think it's because this book was supposedly deemed a love story but I found the relationship between Emily and Chris more twisted and odd than romantic. Their relationship seemed forced and fake and just didn't seem real to me.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Weekly Reading Poll

Hello all!
Hope your summers are going well. I've been able to do quite a bit of reading this summer in the evenings since there is nada/bupkiss/zilch on TV at this time of year.

This past week I really enjoyed reading my first Sidney Sheldon book, "Master of the Game". A light 'literary eye candy' read with lots of manipulation and greed. Total "Dynasty" type book.

Right now I'm reading "The Pact" by Jodi Picoult and really enjoying it. She has a way of keeping the reader interested and needing to find out more.

Next up? I've found a new author, Stephanie Bond, who has written several books in a mystery series. It seems like a "Stephanie Plum"-type book but unfortunately I reserved the 2nd, 3rd and 4th books in the series and forgot to reserve the first. *sigh*

Luckily, my Fairy Bookmother dropped off some new reads so I have to decide if I'll read "Undone" by Karen Slaughter (mystery/suspense), "Secret Daughter" by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (fiction) or "The Neighbour" by Lisa Gardner (suspense). Oh the pressure!!!

What are you all reading? Have you read any of the proposed books I've mentioned? If so, did you like them?

Grilled Salmon with Citrus Salsa Verde

Salmon has got to be one of my favourite fish ... or meat for that matter. There are so many different ways to prepare it and different flavours to use with it that the options seem endless. This recipe is from the book Giada at Home by well-known chef Giada de Laurentiis. When I saw that the recipe had salmon and citrus together I knew that I had to try it out.

This is a wonderfully light dish that is great for a hot summer evening. It has a light flavour and the agave (or pure maple syrup like I used) creates a wonderfully, slightly sweet carmelization to the outside of the salmon. When it's paired with roasted potatoes and onions and a side of grilled zucchini or asparagus it's the perfect summer meal!

Salsa Ingredients
2 large oranges
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsely leaves
2 scallions, finely sliced
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Salmon Ingredients
vegetable or canola oil for the grill
4 (4-5 ounce) skinless centre-cut salmon fillets, each about 3-inches square
2 tbsp amber agave nectar or pure maple syrup
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa:
Grate 2 tbsp zest from the oranges and put it in a medium bowl. Peel and trim the ends from each orange with a sharp knife. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and place on a cutting board. Coarsely chop the segments and scoop them into the bowl with the orange zest. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, scallions, mint, capers and red pepper flakes. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the salmon:
Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Brush the grilling rack with vegetable oil to keep the salmon from sticking.

Brush the salmon on both sides with the agave nectar and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until the fish flakes easily and is cooked to medium. Transfer salmon to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Spoon the salsa verde on top of the salmon, or serve it on the side as an accompaniment.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Master of the Game

Author: Sidney Sheldon
Genre: Historical Fiction, Modern Fiction
Pages: 495
First Published: 1982

Synopsis: Kate Blackwell is the matriarch of her family. At a party celebrating her 90th birthday Kate looks back on her life, her relationships and the huge company she helped to make into an international conglomerate. She also examines how she manipulated those close to her in order to get what she wanted. The book spans many decades, many countries (Scotland, South Africa and the US) and tells Kate's story as well as the story of many of Kate's family members.

My Thoughts: This was my very first book by Sidney Sheldon. I know! Apparently I have been living under a rock! It's not like I haven't heard of Sheldon but I hadn't actually read any of his books ... until now! This book was written awhile ago (I was but a wee babe ... well, maybe more of a tween) but Sheldon, living up to his master storyteller status, knew how to write a good book that keeps the reader wanting more and never really ages. How can manipulation, treachery and loads of money ever go out of style in books, I ask you?!?!

I was given the sequel to this book by Jen S (aka my Fairy Bookmother) and knew that I'd want to read the prequel first before delving into the sequel so I got to know the characters well. When asked, Jen S described Sheldon's writing as Dynasty-type reads. Oh ya! It felt like J.R was going to pop into a few scenes with Sue-Ellen ... oops, that's "Dallas", but you get my meaning! Filled with lots of deceit, treachery, manipulation and loads of back-stabbing, a few sexy scenes thrown in for good measure AND told by a master story-teller .... it's hard to put this book down!
This saga is written in a linear fashion and spans over a century of Kate's family. Although it does kind of revolve around Kate it doesn't totally focus on her (which I loved). The story starts with her parents and continues on to the introduction of her great-grandchildren. I think writing it this way keeps the storyline fresh and moving (which is always a plus in my book - me of the limited attention span).

I'm looking forward to reading the sequel to this book ("Mistress of the Game") which was written in Sheldon's style but authored by Tilly Bagshawe. Highly recommend this book for a summer read. Don't let the almost 500 pages scare you ... it's a quick read.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Monday, 19 July 2010

Baked Sea Scallops

I have loved scallops since I was 12 years old. My dad got me to try some bacon-wrapped scallops on a trip that our family took to eastern Canada and after that meal I was definitely hooked (no pun intended). Since then scallops (broiled, grilled, baked, bacon-wrapped ...) have been one of my favourite seafoods. Unfortunately, cooking them at home has always scared me.
Well, today I decided to surprise Brad and try a new recipe using scallops! This dish was really good and the scallops were cooked perfectly (pattin' my own back, thank you very much!). The flavours of the wine and Parmesan tasted great and I loved the smooth texture of the scallops paired with the coarse texture of the breadcrumbs together. Served with some orzo and some asparagus and this would be a great meal.
16 sea scallops, rinsed and drained (I used thawed some frozen scallops then brought them to room temperature)
1/4 cup butter, melted
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced (or 2 shallots, finely diced)
1/3 cup white wine
3 pinches nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
lemon wedges for garnish

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place scallops, 1/4 cup melted butter, garlic, red onion and white wine in a large bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir gently to coat scallops. Transfer to a casserole dish.

In a separate bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and 4 tbsp melted butter. Sprinkle on top of scallops.
Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until crumbs are brown and scallops are done. Do not overcook scallops or they will become tough. As soon as they lose their translucence and turn opaque, they're done. They will also cut easily with a knife when they're done. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice before serving.
Yield: 4 servings

Sunday, 18 July 2010


Author: Carrie Jones
Genre: Young Adult/Supernatural
Pages: 273
Published: 2010
Series: 2nd book in the Pixies series
Series Order:
  1. "Need" (2009)
First Line: "There are these bizarre people who actually like physical education class."

One Word Review: fromage

Synopsis: Zara and her new friends thought they had solved their town's pixie problem by locking the pixie population and their king in a secluded house in the woods. Unfortunately, as the pixie king's power decreases another pixie king, Astley, arrives in town vying for the old king's kingdom. Astley swears to Zara that he is different. Can she trust this attractive pixie even though Astley is after her to become his pixie queen? Zara swears she will never turn pixie and she has a group of friends who will stand by her. But when one of the things she loves most becomes threatened will Zara change her mind and do something she's sworn she'll never do?

My Thoughts: Sadly, this book didn't captivate this reader. The first book in this series, "Need", was a really good read filled with romance and action. I wanted to read "Captivate" to find out what happens to the Pixie King and his minions who have been locked in a house deep in the woods. Sadly, towards the end I had to force myself to finish the book.

This book didn't even come close to being as good of a read. It was filled with cliched and too 'cutsie' conversations between Zara and Nick. For example, "'Baby? What's up?', his face is a worried ball of cute." is not my idea of great writing. I think I may have damaged my eye muscles due to the overwhelming need to roll my eyes in various points in the book. Maybe that's how tween and teenage girls learn their amazing ability to eye roll. Something to ponder. I realize that this book was written for young adults but I think the 13 to 15 year old female population deserves better examples of teen love than this wee bit of cheesiness.

As for the storyline? It kind of dragged and I didn't feel like there was enough angst or 'will she, won't she?' regarding the two main men in Zara's life. The arrival of the new Pixie king, Astley should have created more stress or confusion for Zara. Is he using Zara or does her really love her? He did make Zara acknowledge her Pixie side, I'll give him that much but it would be interesting to see what his true intentions are. Not sure I totally trust the character.

"Captivate" had a little too much in common with "Eclipse" in the Twilight saga. SPOILER ALERT: Zara struggles with the decision to change to pixie just like Bella struggled to change to a vampire. The love triangle between Zara, Astley and Nick just wasn't there enough. Not enough 'who will she pick?' ... maybe the author is waiting to delve into that topic in the next book? "Eclipse" did a much better job, in this reader's opinion, in playing up the love triangle.

My Rating: 2 stars

Long Lost

Author: Harlan Coben
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 404
Published: 2009
Series: 9th book in the Myron Bolitar series
Series Order:
  1. Deal Breaker (1995)
  2. Drop Shot (1996)
  3. Fade Away (1996)
  4. Back Spin (1997)
  5. One False Move (1998)
  6. One Final Detail (1999)
  7. Darkest Fever (2000)
  8. Promise Me (2006)

First Line: ""YOU don't know her secret," Win said to me."

Synopsis: Terese, an ex-girlfriend of Myron Bolitar, calls him in the middle of the night and asks that he fly to Paris to help her - no questions asked. Myron goes to Paris and learns about a secret Terese has kept for over a decade -- she once had a daughter who had died in a car crash. Now Terese suspects that her daughter may be alive and needs Myron's help to find her.

My Thoughts: This book reminded me a lot of James Patterson's style of writing and keeping the reader really engaged in the story. "Long Lost" (and the Myron Bolitar series in general, so I've heard) has a lot more humour than a Patterson book. Lots of little jokes here and there made it an enjoyable read.

One of my favourite characters in the book is Myron's best friend Win. In my head I pictured a Barney Stinson-type character (if you watch "How I Met Your Mother" you'll now have that picture in YOUR head). Win offers a lot of humour to, at times, a tense storyline. I just wish he was in the book more.

On the negative side, I wasn't totally loving the reasoning behind the mystery -- it seemed like a bit of a reach to me. But I do plan to read more books (starting at the beginning) of the Myron Bolitar series. I've heard from other people that this book is the weakest book in the series and that the previous books are a lot more witty and have more suspense in them.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Five Quarters of the Orange

Author: Joanne Harris
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
First Line: "When my mother died she left the farm to my brother, Cassis, the fortune in the wine cellar to my sister, Reine-Claude, and to me, the youngest, her album and a two-liter jar containing a single black Perigord truffle, large as a tennis ball, suspended in sunflower oil, that, when uncorked, still releases the rich dank perfume of the forest floor."

Synopsis: When Framboise Dartigen returns to her small childhood town in France after decades of being away she is glad that no one recognizes her. She changes her name and opens a small cafe using the recipes that were handed down to her by her mother in an old scrapbook. Framboise tries to blend in with the townspeople hoping that they won't realize she's the daughter of one of their most famous and notorious citizens whose actions still haunt the residents of the small town.

While reading the recipes in the scrapbook, Framboise realizes that her mother has also added notes about her life ... before the event that changed all of their lives. With the help of a close friend she tries to piece together her family's history.

The story flips back and forth from Framboise's childhood to her return to the town decades later. It focuses on the time when Framboise was a 9 year old child living in her small town that was occupied by Nazis, how she and her siblings sold information to the Nazis for special treats and also tried to deal with their abusive mother who was prone to severe migraines. In her current situation, Framboise has to deal with the ghosts of her past and learns how to finally put the past behind her.

My Thoughts: From the write up on the front cover of this book I thought it would be exactly the kind of historical fiction that I like. I'm fascinated by WWII and love reading about how regular people dealt with living during such a tumultuous and horrible time in history.

Sadly, this book just didn't interest me. I read over 2/3 of the book and was literally forcing myself to read it in the end ... so I gave up. There was never enough momentum in the book. Too many verbose descriptions -- it got to the point where I was just skimming through paragraphs trying to get the gist of it. The characters were hard to relate to and I didn't find a connection with the main character at all. I wanted to find out exactly what was the situation that caused all of the commotion for Framboise's family ... but even that couldn't hold my attention.

My Rating: 0/5 stars (aka didn't finish it)

Weekly Book Poll

Oh man! I have been so lax with the whole Weekly Book Poll. Perhaps I should rename it Biweekly Book Poll? I guess I'm on 'summer time'. By the time I get my kids in bed all I want to do is cuddle up with a cuppa tea and my current book.

This summer my kids and I have been taking FULL advantage of our two library systems. Not that we typically don't use the library but we're talking insane amounts of books and visiting the library at least 3 times this past week! My kids have all signed up for our library's summer reading programme (this will be at least the 4th year) and I cannot tell you how much it helps keep them reading and increases their reading ability!! Missy Moo (6 1/2 yrs) has read over 30 books this summer to me and the boys are not far behind (reading books that are a few hundred pages each). Gotta love a kid who adores reading!!!

This past week for my reading has been hit and miss for me. As I mentioned, my Fairybook Mother stopped by with some new reads so I read one of those. It's by Harlan Coben (I have yet to review it but it's next on my list). A really good read. Coben knows how to keep a story moving with great suspense.

This morning I officially gave up on a book. I had started reading "Five Quarters of the Orange" by Joanne Harris this past week. It was the book that, at the used book sale, two separate women came up to me and told me it was one of their favourite reads and that I just had to get it. For $2 I did and have been waiting to read it. I want to like it, I really do but after over 200 pages it just isn't very interesting. It's an interesting premise and the front cover sounded good ... but it kind of ended there. I hate not finishing a book ... but I hate wasting my time even more. So, for now anyway, I've moved on to the second book by Carrie Jones called "Captivate" (the first book in her Pixie series is called "Need" and I really enjoyed it). It's a YA (young adult) book with supernatural twists in it (a la "Twilight").

On that note, I finally went to see the new Twilight "Eclipse" movie this past Tuesday with a couple of my girlfriends. Two of us were in the Jacob camp and one sadly was in the Edward camp. ;) We all agreed that it was the best movie so far from the Twilight series and I may go see it again with Farmer Giesen (if she's up for it). Much funnier than the first 2 movies and lots of action.

So, after all that blathering ... what are you all reading? Heard of any other great reads/series out there? Inquiring minds want to know!

Soft Lemonade Cookies

Lemon has got to be one of my favourite flavours ... especially in the heat of summer. When I got an email from Taste of Home that featured this recipe I knew that I had to try it. These would be great to pop into a picnic lunch or for a quick snack while at the local splash pad!

These cookies have the consistency of a Dare Bear Paw cookie but with mild lemony flavour. Their taste reminds me of McDonaldland Cookies (you know, the original kind). If you want a more lemony flavour I'd try adding fresh lemon zest (maybe from 1/2 to a whole lemon).

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup thawed lemonade concentrate, divided
Additional sugar for top of cookies
Additional lemonade concentrate for top of cookies

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and baking soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with lemonade concentrate.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (or small melon-baller) onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for approximately 8-10 minutes or until bottoms of cookies start to brown. Remove cookies to wire racks. Brush with lemonade concentrate; sprinkle with sugar. Keep in an airtight container to keep cookies soft.

Yield: 5 dozen

Tip 1: Try poking a few delicate holes in the top of the cookies before brushing on the lemonade concentrate to get some extra lemony goodness into each cookie.

Tip 2: Make sure your butter is only at room temperature and not softer. If it's too soft you'll end up with very flat cookies, not rounded like they're supposed to be.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Silent in the Grave

Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Pages: 435
Published: 2006
Series: 1st book in the Lady Julia Grey series
Series Order:
  1. Silent in the Grave
  2. Silent in the Sanctuary
  3. Silent on the Moor

First Line: "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."

Synopsis: As the book opens we find Lady Julia Grey's husband, Edward, wildly convulsing on the floor. In rushes servants as well as Nicholas Brisbane who was a guest at dinner. When Edward dies Julia goes through the typical one year mourning period as is expected of her. As that period comes to an end, the mysterious Nicholas Brisbane comes to Julia and tells her that he believes that her husband was murdered. As Julia and Brisbane delve into the mystery Julia learns that her husband's murder isn't just a parlour game and that her life may be at stake. With the help of Brisbane, Julia learns more about her husband's death, what he secretly did in his life and learns more about herself in the process.

My Thoughts: Above I typically quote the first line of the book just for fun. This time I added the second line as well because I think that these are awesome opening lines and really sets the humourous tone of the book!

This book is set during the time of Queen Victoria's reign (lots of corsets and societal rules) but isn't a stuffy read at all. It is filled with a delicious sense of humour that is dry and, at times, self-deprecating ... my favourite kind! I giggled out loud in several parts and re-read many passages just because I wanted to giggle again at Raybourn's wonderful choice of words.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a silly mystery book. Quite the opposite, actually. It's much more of an intelligent read than I was expecting. It is cleverly written with many references to the culture of the time, Greek mythology and books. These references really add to the feel of the book. I love the fact that Raybourn doesn't 'dumb down' her book and assumes that her audience is intelligent to follow along or, in my case, look up items/words that are a little foreign to them!

This book also had a wonderfully refreshing vocabulary. Bravo to Ms. Raybourn for getting me to look up words. With my iPhone in hand (and it's trusty dictionary app) I had to look up several words that were new to me (look at me learn'in!). From "epicene" (feminine, unmanly) to saturnine (sluggish, gloomy, taciturn), reticule (small purse or bag) and majordomo (man in charge of a great household; a chief steward) I learned many new words.

As for the mystery/suspense part of the book? It was very well done. I do admit that half way through it did get a bit dodgy and slowed down a little too much. Raybourn it seems can get a little too verbose when describing type of lace on some curtains or how a dress hangs on a lady which, to me, isn't all that riveting. But she quickly picked up the pace and had me at the edge of my seat.

There are LOTS of twists and turns in this book. I was constantly re-evaluating whom I thought could have killed Edward when Raybourn throws a totally different set of possibilities to the reader and changes everything.

The March family is a quirky set of characters who strive to be different from the stuffy confines that society typically puts on the idle rich. From her forward thinking father, to the "Ghoulish" cousin who overstays her welcome at the homes of family members who have lost loved ones, to her numerous brothers and sisters the secondary characters are quite varied and really add to the storyline.

Lady Julia is a spirited and impetuous young woman who has enough spunk to get herself into some trouble but not enough to be annoying. She is a very likeable character and I look forward to seeing how her relationship with Bribane continues. I also like the fact that Raybourn didn't rush this (I assume) budding romance. She didn't plop them into bed at the first opportunity but is biding her time and building more intrigue around this couple.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Last Olympian

Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Supernatural / Young Adult
Pages: 381
Published: May 2009
Series: 5th book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Series Order:
  1. The Lightning Thief
  2. Sea of Monsters
  3. The Titan's Curse
  4. Battle of the Labyrinth

First Line: "The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car."

Synopsis: The demigods and gods alike have been anxiously awaiting the war against the evil titan, Kronos. While the gods are busy fighting Kronos' biggest monster Typhon, the young demigods are left to protect Mount Olympus and Manhattan against Kronos' other monster allies.

My Thoughts: I actually finished this book 5 days ago but have finally found some time to review it! This was a great end (?) to this series. Truth be told, the way Riordan ended this book made me (and my 10 year old) wonder if there could be another book after this one.

This book has a little bit of everything. It's filled with lots of action, redemption, romance and involved quite a few twists that keep the story going at a nice pace. Monsters from previous books are reintroduced as the fighting intensifies around Mount Olympus.

Riordan also finally lets the reader (and Percy) in on the big mystery surrounding the prophecy about Percy as he approaches his 16th birthday. There are no slow moments or lags in this book and I found it really hard to put down (and more than a little disappointed that the series has ended ... at least for now).

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Friday, 9 July 2010

My Fairy Bookmother

So there I was cleaning and tidying my house (yet again) on our first rainy day in a week. With the kids all at home now on summer vacation my house can go from clean to cluttered in less than 50 seconds.

I was in my laundry room knee-deep in running shoes and baskets of laundry ... you know, livin' the dream, when all of a sudden my doorbell rings and who should magically appear? My very own Fairy Bookmother with her arms full of books!

Had I subconsciously clicked my heels while picking up yet another stray sock from my kids? Had stepping on my 10th piece of Lego today magically sent out an SOS to my FBM? Had her Fairy Bookmother senses started tingling? Who knows. All I know is that she generously gave me several Jodi Picoult reads that I have yet to read as well as a few others.

Gotta love the Fairy Bookmother. I highly recommend getting one. :) Thanks Jen S!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Creamy Lemon Asparagus Pasta

Are you one of those people who ALWAYS makes too much pasta because when they look at the dry pasta they think it's just not enough so they add more to the pot then they end up with an obscene amount of pasta and they shake their heads and wonder why they do it each and every time? *gasp for air* Ya, me neither.

But IF I was one of those unfortunate people I'd be on the lookout for a recipe that uses that extra pasta. Case in point ... I happened to have some extra spaghetti noodles from last night's dinner. I had made my Mediterranean Tuna Pasta when my mother-in-law came over for dinner and voila -- enough noodles to feed an army. So my MIL tossed a bit of butter with the extra noodles and put them in the fridge.

Today I came up with a new recipe. Brad and I really liked it. I had a bunch of asparagus plus a lemon in the fridge that was just beggin' to be used so I came up with this recipe. LOVE the flavour of fresh Parmesan cheese, asparagus and lemon. De-lish! This dish tastes like a nice light pasta dish ... but it's not! :) With heavy (aka whipping) cream and fresh Parm it's devilishly good.

Yield: 2 servings

Leftover spaghetti noodles (or you can cook some fresh ones until they're al dente)
1/4-1/2 lbs asparagus, cleaned and ends snapped off. Cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces.
3 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup water or vegetable stock (see Tip below)
1 lemon for juice and zest
Fresh black pepper (or lemon pepper)
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (plus extra to shave on top)

If you don't have any leftover pasta, cook some until it's al dente.

Zest entire lemon (use a microplaner it's so easy!). Then cut lemon in half and juice it. Set zest and lemon aside.

Meanwhile, put asparagus into a shallow glass dish. Almost cover asparagus with water. Cook on HIGH in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes (or until it's al dente, not mushy).

In a large skillet, melt butter. Cook garlic for 2 minutes. Add flour and stir. Whisk in heavy cream, water and the zest from the whole lemon (don't skimp here!). Bring mixture to a rolling simmer. Add 3/4 of the juice from the lemon.

Add the Parmesan cheese to the creamy mixture and reduce heat. Simmer for approximately 6 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken.

Drain asparagus and add it to the creamy mixture. Add black pepper. Add leftover pasta and use tongs to coat pasta with sauce. Top with fresh Parmesan shavings. Drizzle pasta with the remaining lemon juice. Serve with crusty bread.

Tip: Try using the water from cooking the asparagus instead of the water or other vegetable stock.

Tip 2: This recipe can easily be doubled, if needed.

Weekly Reading Poll

Oh man, I've been really lax when it comes to the weekly reading poll. With various Canada Day celebrations it must have slipped my mind.

You all know what I've been reading (a whole lot of Percy Jackson!) but now I'm on to a new historical fiction/mystery series which features the main character Lady Julia Grey. I think I heard about this series via a poster at the Todays Parent reading forum. I'm only 40 pages into it but so far I like how the author writes and it seems like a more intelligent read than many historical fiction mysteries I've read in the past. "Silent in the Grave" is the first book in the series.

What's up next? Hmmm. I have a Sidney Sheldon book awaiting my attention and since I've never read any of his books I'm a little intrigued to see what all the fuss is about. It's a book written after his death back in 2007 -- yes, dead men can write just like dead female authors like V.C Andrews ;) After that, I'll have to see what I feel like reading.

So, what are you all reading? Did you love it? What's up next?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

My Ultimate Brownies

As promised here is my favourite brownie recipe which goes perfectly with my Cocoa Buttercream Icing. Mmmm. Just thinking about it makes me want to bake another batch ... if it weren't for the ridiculous heat wave we've been experiencing here in the "Great White North" I just might have. I'm talking about 33C but with the humidity it feels like 41C! (for my non-metric followers that's around 91F). Ya, that's hot!

I've been making this recipe since I was about 12 years old. It was one of my favourite recipes to bake as a kid. It actually comes from a cookbook for kids called "Let Me in the Kitchen! - A Cookbook for Kids and Other First-Timers". I tried to find it on Amazon but unfortunately it's no longer in print it seems. Shame. It was a great book that had recipes for tuna casserole, breads, muffins etc. Ahhh, but I digress ...

If you're looking for a good fudgy brownie look no further. This is it.

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
3 eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a microwave safe glass bowl, melt butter. Add both sugars and cocoa; mix well.

Break eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork. Add eggs to the sugar mixture and mix well.

Sift flour and baking powder together over mixture and stir in. Add vanilla and walnut pieces (if using). Pour into prepared baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Cocoa Buttercream Icing

I've made this icing twice in the past week. It's a great icing that has just the right amount of sweetness and tastes great over chewy brownies. I'll post my favourite chewy brownie recipe soon! I've been making it since I was a teen and I originally found it in a cookbook for kids.

The two batches of brownies I made this past week for Canada Day and end of school celebrations turned out wonderful and I received many compliments on them and I think a big part of that had to do with this icing.

When I iced my brownies, sprinkled them with Smartie bits then popped the whole thing in the fridge, the icing turned into an amazing chocolate fudge-type icing. Delish! Actually, the reason I used this icing was because I wanted to sprinkle Smartie bits on top of my brownies and needed a 'glue' to hold the bits on. :) Worked perfectly!

3 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup cocoa
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp milk

Mix icing sugar and butter together by hand. Add cocoa and vanilla. Gradually add milk until icing is smooth and spreadable.

Generously frosts one 9x13-inch cake or an 8 or 9-inch two-layer cake.

Note: If your icing sugar is lumpy, run it through a sifter.

Mocha Chocolate Icing
-- Add 2 1/2 tsp dry instant coffee with the icing sugar.

Lady Killer

Author: Lisa Scottoline
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 413
Published: 2008
Series: 12th book in the "Rosato and Associates" series
Series Order: See for series order
First Line: "Mary DiNunzio sat across from the old men, deciding which one to shoot first."

Synopsis: Mary DiNunzio is a hard-working and successful lawyer who brings in a lot of work for Rosato and Associates. She has a lot on her plate with her various cases but feels compelled to help people from her neighbourhood in Philidelphia. One day Trish Gambone - aka the "Mean Girl from high school" -- walks into Mary's office in desperate need of help. Trish is terrified of her abusive boyfriend who is connected to the Philly mob. Mary remembers Trish's boyfriend because Mary had a big crush on him in high school too. Mary offers a few options to Trish but they're suggestions that Trish doesn't take.

When Trish suddenly vanishes and Mary feels guilty for not helping her enough initially. With pressure from people in her close-knit neighbourhood Mary searches for Trish which leads Mary into a nightmare that threatens her reputation, her job and even her life. Along the way Mary learns more about her own past ... and some things she had thought she had dealt with a long time ago.

My Thoughts: This was a good suspense read but not great. There wasn't the usual major twists or the strong main characters that I've come to expect from Lisa Scottoline. There were some twists ... but they were kind of expected and obvious to me.

Mary is an interesting but too flawed main character. She just seems too beaten down for my liking. The guilt she feels for not helping the horribly rude Trish is something that I just didn't understand. Mary was walked on and insulted regularly by Trish and then by Trish's gaggle of girlfriends ... and yet this successful lawyer takes it. Really? I'm not against flawed characters and actually find flawed main characters more real and believable. But when the flaw becomes too much it can make the character unbelievable.

I much preferred some of Scottoline's other books, namely "Dirty Blonde" and "Daddy's Girl". I'm not giving up on the "Rosato and Associates" series yet though. I still have "The Vendetta Defense" sitting on my dresser waiting to be read. Scottoline is a good writer ... this book, in my opinion, didn't showcase her talent.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Friday, 2 July 2010

Strawberry Trifle

I made this trifle years ago for a Canada Day party but haven't made it since. Not sure why because this is a really easy dessert that looks like you took a lot of time making. I made this dessert yesterday for our annual Canada Day celebration with family friends and it was very well received.

I actually changed this recipe a bit because I didn't read the ingredients list very carefully. Shame on me. I had bought a 6 serving vanilla pudding mix instead of the original 4 serving that was called for. So my trifle ended up having more pudding (yay!) and more milk but don't worry .... I increased the fruit in the trifle as well in order to minimize the guity feelings when I had my second helping. I also baked the angel food cake (from a mix) which took most of the prep time but you can easily buy one from your local food store and save yourself the extra time.

This is the kind of dessert that you can alter easily by changing up the fruit you put in it. Try out different combinations -- strawberries with some grated chocolate on top would be great. The trifle I made yesterday only had strawberries (and lots of them!) because my kids didn't want BLUEberries in the trifle because it was Canada Day and the blue would make it an American trifle. My little patriots. :) I think next time I'll try using different cakes (namely chocolate) and perhaps some Bailey's could be added for an adult version. :) Enjoy!!!

2 cups cold milk
1 pkg (6 serving) instant vanilla pudding
1 (8oz) tub Cool Whip topping, thawed
1 angel food cake, cut into 1/-inch cubes
2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1 cup kiwi
1 cup fresh blueberries

Pour milk and vanilla pudding into a medium bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer for 2 minutes. Gently stir in 1 1/2 cups of the Cool Whip. Set aside.

In a large glass bowl, layer half of the cake, half of the pudding mixture and half of each fruit. Repeat layers. Cover top with remaining Cool Whip. Decorate with extra berries.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Store leftovers (if you have any) in the refrigerator.

Note: Recipe adapted from "Patriotic Trifle" recipe by Kraft.

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