Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!!

I hope everyone had a great Hallowe'en with lots of little vampires, goblins, witches, pumpkins .... knocking on your doors. Our kids went out as a geek, a tough guy and a pumpkin. It was chillier than normal around here. I shouldn't be complaining because as a kid I spent many a Hallowe'en with a snowsuit on over my costume (thank you northern Ontario climate!).

Needless to say we had more than the usual 80 or so kids ... we're talking almost 150! Sadly, my mini chocolate bar stash has been obliterated ... so I'm heading to the food store and/or Wal-Mart tomorrow to buy some more 'emergency' chocolate which helps me when an ogre mood hits me. This emergency chocolate is hidden in a few spots in my house unbeknownst to my family. Well, they know I have hidden treats ... they just don't know where. Bwah ha ha!

I was taught this little tidbit by my own dear mother. A happy mom is a mom in a chocolate stupor! Key hiding places are anywhere that men and kids are fearful to wander .... laundry rooms, spice cupboards, old teapots ..... You could probably hide your stash where you store your extra toilet paper because goodness knows no one but a mom ever replaces the roll, right? ;) Ahhh, there's nothing like hitting your chocolate stash when you've had a hard day ... or hard minute. Whatever.

So what is everyone's favourite Hallowe'en candy? Personally I'm totally biased towards chocolate (specifically Reece Peanut Butter Cups and Twix). Shocking, I know. Who can resist those little packaged pieces of bliss?!? In my mind, I feel that because said chocolates are miniature I can eat as many as I want (or until I feel ill) with absolutely no guilt whatsoever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

Authors: Irene Gut Opdyke (with Jennifer Armstrong)
Genre: Autobiography
Pages: 236
Critique in 3 Words: Haunting, inspiring, incredible
First Line: "There was a bird flushed up from the wheat fields, disappearing in a blur of wings against the sun, and then a gunshot and it fell to the earth."


Synopsis: This book accounts the life of Irene Gut who was a sixteen year old Catholic nursing student in Poland at the beginning of WWII. This is an eye opening account of what it was like for non-Jews living in Poland during one of the most devastating times in history.

After the war breaks out Gut is brutally attacked and left for dead by Russian soldiers. She miraculously escapes into a German-occupied area where she is forced to work for the German army. With access to food, supplies and conversations from Nazi elite, she sees a way to bring comfort and safety to some of the Jews around her. She is soon promoted to housekeeper of a powerful Nazi major where she not only smuggles food and supplies to Jews hidden in nearby woods, but she is able to house 12 Jews right under the nose of her German employer. This is the story of selflessness and that the power of one person can do much to help the greater good.

My Thoughts:
I was so lucky to have stumbled upon this book thanks to one of my neighbours who loaned it to me. I have always had an interest and almost fascination with WWII. This book was amazingly vivid, haunting, blunt in recounting the attrocities that occured but also uplifting and touching. It's a no holds barred look at what life was like during WWII and the brutality that happened to Jews and the Poles who helped protect them from certain death.

This book shows how one person CAN make a difference -- even a tiny 16 year old girl who would otherwise think of herself as powerless in the face of the Nazis. Like Irene says "If you are a girl, this is how you destroy your enemies." She used all of the resources around her and never waivered in her resolve to help those who were more powerless than she was.

I know that Irene's story will stay with me for a very long time. I keep thinking - 'Would I have had the strength, courage and selflessness that Irene possessed?'. I'm honestly not sure. I'd like to hope I would but this young woman (we have to remember that she was only in her late teens/early twenties) lived through so much brutality and loss yet was still so extraordinarily self-sacrificing.
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I did respect how raw and shocking some of the scenes had to be in order to portray what life was like back then. One of the most shocking scenes (and there were several) that will stay with me for a very long time was a hanging scene. Irene says "It took no time to hang them. No time at all. First these people were alive. Then they were dead." Blunt and emotional.
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While this is a book about brutality, fear, powerlessness and evil it's also a book about courage, the strength of family, friends and the human spirit, faith and hope. It left me feeling emotional and thankful to people like Irene who continue to make their mark on the world.

I highly recommend this book.

My Rating: 5/5 stars


Monday, October 25, 2010

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup


When the weather gets cool and wet an overall blaw feeling comes over me. One of the things to give me some more 'get up and go' is to make (and eat) a nice warm soup. I had had a package of cheese tortellini sitting in my fridge just begging to be used so I went online on the hunt for a new recipe. I found this recipe on food.com and tweaked it to make it mine. You can change this soup up by using spicier diced tomatoes, adding diced zucchini, fresh spinach leaves or even beef tortellini. It's also a great meal to make on those crazy extracurricular-filled week nights. Pop some bread in your bread machine because nothing goes better with a warm soup than warm, homemade bread!
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olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 (19oz) can diced tomatoes
2 (10.75oz) cans Campbell's condensed tomato soup
2 soup cans filled with milk
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried basil)
1 (10oz) can chicken broth
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 (9oz/350g) package cheese tortellini
Coat a large soup pot with olive oil. Add onion and garlic; saute until soft.
Add canned diced tomatoes, dried basil (if using fresh basil add it later), tomato soup and the two cans of milk. Stir until blended. Add chicken broth and tomato paste (use a small wire whisk to mix in the tomato paste). Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add half and half and Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Add tortellini and cook until tender (5-10 minutes). Serve with fresh bread and a salad.
Note: the leftovers are almost better than eating the soup the first day. It becomes a 'stoup' (soup/stew) which is great for dipping bread into.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dear John

Author: Nicholas Sparks
Genre: Modern Fiction, Chick Lit
Pages: 335
First Line: "What does it mean to truly love another?"

Synopsis: John is an angry young man who has had a hard life. When he suddenly meets Savannah Lynn Curtis during a furlough from the army John realizes he's ready to make changes in his life. They spend a week together and fall hopelessly in love. When John has to return to the army Savannah vows to wait until John is done his tour of duty. Unfortunately 9/11 occurs pushing off the time when the lovers will reunite. When John and Savannah finally meet up again will their love have endured?

My Thoughts: The first line of this book is "What does it mean to truly love another?". Personally, I'd answer that question with: don't let someone you love read this book. It's drivel, plain and simple. I've lost 2 evenings I'll never get back. *sigh*

Why is it that 80% of the time I read a highly acclaimed book I don't like it ... not one bit?!? Is the book overhyped? Am I overly critical? Who knows. All I know is that I did not like this book in the least and wonder why those Hollywood bigwigs saw fit to make this book (out of all the books out there) into a movie. Boggles the mind.

Anyway .... I forced myself to finish this book. There are several reasons why I didn't like this book.

Reason #1: The storyline was shallow and extremely slow (if it existed at all) with a love story that just didn't seem real to me. The reader is expected to believe in love at first sight. To believe that from spending a few evenings together on a beach chatting and eating shrimp these two highly different people fall madly and hopelessly in love. From what I read I just didn't buy it. My problem is that from the beginning I thought Tim (a friend of Savannah's) and Savannah would make a better couple than her and John! Not a good way to start a love story!

Reason #2: The main characters were one-dimensional cliches. John was a macho, unfeeling tough guy not looking for love and always in 'relationships' that were doomed from the start. Savannah was the pretty Southern belle who was overly naive.

Reason #3: The storyline was very slow with a couple of minor storylines (involving coin collecting and autism) that didn't seem to fit well with the main storyline. The autism storyline seemed to be thrown in as an afterthought just because it's a hot topic, not because it was important to the story. It felt disrespectful to the issue of autism.

Reason #4: The ending. It was sooooo predictable. Sometimes that's not a negative as long as the rest of the book has been great. You almost look forward to everything falling into place. That was not the case here. The ending was filled with excessive sentimentality to make the reader cry (well, not THIS reader but others I assume cried). What happened to the characters in the end of the book didn't seem to fit with who the characters were portrayed to be. I couldn't see a naive, strongly Christian woman betraying the man she loves in the way that Savannah did.

Needless to say I don't recommend this book.




My Rating: 1/5 stars

Chocolate Chip Banana Coffeecake


This is one of my favourite quick breads/snack cakes. I originally found it on a website that featured recipes from various bed and breakfasts. Its a great way to find 'tried and true' muffin and baked goods recipes. I've actually found quite a few recipes that way. You've gotta figure that if a bed and breakfast is willing to make the recipe it's gotta be good, right?

This cake has a nice banana flavour with a layer of chocolate chip, cinnamon and brown sugar in the middle and on top. Missy Moo helped me make this cake today and decided to add white chocolate chips (as well as the standard semi-sweet variety) to 'spice things up'. Squares of this cake will be featured in the kids' lunches tomorrow at school.

Filling
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional - I omit them)
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp margarine or butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cake
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine all filling ingredients. Mix well and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine margarine and white sugar. Beat until fluffy. Stir in bananas, sour cream and eggs. Gently stir in flour, baking soda and salt.

Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of the chocolate chip filling. Spoon remaining batter over filling. Top with remaining filling.

Bake for 45 minutes or until browned and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Recipe originally from: Allaires Timbers Inn

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

It's been a busy week here in Bookworm land. We celebrated "Cub's" 11th birthday as well as my "3-th" birthday. I think his birthday hit me much harder than my own did. How on earth can I be old enough to have a child who is 11? I remember when he was first born, first walking, used to let me dress him up in clothes I picked out, used to walk beside me in a mall ... (this would be when he'd roll his eyes playfully and say "Mom!"). But I digress ...

I'm not all that into celebrating my fete. It's just not that big of a deal anymore. I think it lost it's wow factor when "Cub" was born (a mere 2 days before my birthday). Yes, I'm growing closer to the "Big 40" but it doesn't seem all that big anymore. Is that due to my old eyes becoming more myopic as I age? Perhaps. 40 is the new 60, right? If you see my parents zipping all over God's creation on their numerous vacations in their 60's you'd agree with me.

Don't get me wrong - I do enjoy getting presents (who doesn't!) and being special for the day. I think I may have enjoyed it more if, the day before my birthday, I didn't get major hip pain. Nothing like hobbling around the house the day before your birthday to make you feel old.

Before I dose myself up on ibuprofen and shuffle off to get things done around here I thought I'd share a great lasagna recipe that I made last night. It got 2 thumbs up from Brad. Our kids, who are in the "food shall not touch" camp, were less enthusiastic but did enjoy the fact that this lasagna had sausage in it instead of traditional ground beef. I did take advantage of using my rarely used food processor. It's an ingenious tool moms can use to hide nutrients (like those from spinach) and pass it off as spices. Bwah ha ha!

Sauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1lb honey garlic or Italian sausage, casings removed (see Tip below)
1 cup onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried, crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (650mL) jar tomato sauce

Filling
1 pkg frozen spinach - thawed and excess water squeezed out
1 (454g) container ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups Mozzarella or marble cheese, grated
3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
12 no-bake lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cups mozzarella or marble cheese, grated

non-stick spray

Preheat oven to 375F.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and onion; cook until sausage is cooked through and onion is transparent. Add garlic, oregano and basil. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add red pepper flakes, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Heat thoroughly and simmer for 10 minutes to blend flavours.

Meanwhile, prepare filling. In a food processor, blend together spinach and ricotta. Add 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper until mixed well.

Spread 1 1/2 cups of the sauce into the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Arrange 4 noodles over the sauce (break some noodles if needed to ensure that there are noodles over the whole surface). Drop half of the filling mixture by spoonfuls over the noodle layer. Repeat layers of sauce, noodles and filling ending with a sauce layer on top. Sprinkle Mozzarella cheese over the top.

Grease a piece of foil with non-stick spray. Cover lasagna with foil, greased side down. Transfer 9x13 pan onto a cookie sheet to catch any overflow while cooking (or you'll have to clean your oven like I did). Bake for 1 hour. Uncover carefully. Increase temperature to 400F and bake an additional 20 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Tip: For this recipe I used 1lb of honey garlic sausage that we had left over from the previous night. This recipe is a good way of not only using leftovers but taking advantage of buying in bulk. Buy the large 'club pack' of sausages. You can have BBQ'd sausages one night then a couple of nights later (or the next night, like us) make this lasagna to eat right away or freeze it for later use. Win, win!

If you're using leftover sausage, just add them at the same time as the spices. Don't worry about taking off the casing either. Just chop them up into bite-sized pieces.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Need Your Input: Book Club Recommendations

In a couple of weeks I'll be hosting the second meeting of my new book club. At the end of said meeting I'll be picking the next book we'll read. I'd like to have your input about what I should pick.

Here is a gander into the internal dialogue in my cranium on this subject. Do I:

A) pick a book that I've read in the past (I'm talking 10+ years ago) that I LOVED which is pretty mainstream historical fiction that they'll most likely love

B) pick a book that I've read in the past and LOVED but is of a genre that most people in the book club (I'm assuming) haven't tried yet (ie supernatural). I'm hoping to introduce a genre that many people (including myself several years ago) assumed they wouldn't like.

** I don't mind re-reading either book from A or B

C) pick a book that none of us have read but I've heard from reliable sources that it's an amazing 'hard to put down' read

Here are the books that I've been thinking of picking from the categories above:
A) "Stones from the River" by Ursula Hegi
B) "Bitten" by Kelley Armstrong (supernatural/Canadian)
C) "Still Missing" by Chevy Stevens

So, what do you think? Pick a tried and true or something new? Look, I'm a poet!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Turkey'n' Stuffin' Burgers


Last weekend, during Turkeypalooza (also known as our Canadian Thanksgiving festivities), Brad's extended family came to our house for lunch. Since we all had just had a full turkey dinner with all the fixin's the previous day we were aiming for something a little lighter and easier for our celebration.

My SIL (sister-in-law) brought turkey burgers for us to grill up for lunch. Now, in our house we're more into ground beef than ground poultry but these burgers have definitely made me see ground turkey in a new light. These burgers had a nice consistency and a great taste due to the stuffing mix. I loved eating them on ciabatta buns with gravy, cranberry sauce and a special sauce SIL brought that was a combo of cream cheese and cranberries mixed together. Yum!

Try using ciabatta buns instead of normal hamburger buns because they're a little denser and don't soak up all the yummy toppings like a traditional hamburger bun tends to do. I liked the burger so much I had another the next day!

Recipe Originally From: Allrecipes.com

1/4 cup butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
3lbs ground turkey breast
1 (6oz) pkg chicken-flavoured dry bread stuffing mix
2 eggs
16 chiabata buns, split
1 jar turkey gravy
1 (16oz) can whole cranberry sauce
whipped cream cheese

Preheat BBQ to medium heat and lightly oil grill.

Heat butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Cook onion and celery until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Place cooked onion and celery in large bowl with the ground turkey, stuffing mix and eggs. Mix thoroughly to combine. Form the mixture into 16 patties.

Note: Unlike hamburger patties these patties will not change shape while cooking so make them even in size.

Grill the turkey burgers on the preheated BBQ until no longer pink in the centre and the juices run clear, about 5 minutes per side. Insert a thermometer into the centre of a patty. The thermometer should read at least 165F (74C).

Meanwhile, heat up the gravy and set aside.

Place each patty on a bun and top with warm gravy, cranberry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream cheese (or try mixing up the whipped cream cheese with a bit of the cranberry sauce like my SIL did!).

Note: My SIL omitted the onion and celery in her recipe. Leave them out if you're not a fan.



Jinx

Author: Meg Cabot
Genre: Young Adult/Supernatural
Pages: 262
Published: 2007
First Line: "The thing is, my luck's always been rotten."

Synopsis: Just because trouble and mayhem follow her doesn't mean Jean Honeychurch has to agree or like her nickname, Jinx. After Jinx creates havoc in her small Iowa hometown she's sent to New York City to live with her aunt's family until things die down a bit at home. Unfortunately, Jinx learns that her bad luck has followed her to NYC. Her cousin, Tory, is definitely not happy to have Jinx living with her family and tries to keep her dark secret from being exposed.

My Thoughts:
I liked this book for the light, fluffy read that it was. If you're looking for a gripping supernatural read, this isn't it. It's more of a light-hearted Gossip Girl meets a wee bit of the supernatural. I admit that there is a supernatural element ... but it's barely there. The storyline is fairly predictable (even the shocking secret isn't all that eye popping) but the story flows well and it's a nice read for a rainy afternoon.

My biggest beef about this book is that the characters are too cliched and one-dimensional. Cabot needs to liven up her cast of characters a bit. Jinx is a little too 'farm fresh' and goody two shoes (even her name Jean Honeychurch is so very cutsie). Then there's cousin Tory who is the raving, self-centred be-otch out for blood ... Personally I'd like to see more character development to keep me interested and feel like there's some closure to the story.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Easy Peasy Ball'o' Cheesy Cheeseball


Hope the title wasn't too cheesy! ;)

I'm a little slow on the posting of my Thanksgiving Day recipes. This week has been crazy and I think I was still in a turkey and pumpkin pie induced stupor. This year I managed finagel bringing appetizers and desserts to the two festivities that we attended and hosted. Apps and dessert are my favourite things to bring to a function so I was in my glory!

This cheeseball is a new recipe that I tried out but I also brought my homemade tried-and-true Sundried Tomato Basil Pesto and put it over creamy goat cheese. It ... was ... divine!! I had to remind myself to share with everyone else. Definitely give that combo a try.

For our Thanksgiving celebrations with my side of the family I made this recipe and brought a couple of humongous cheeseballs. I have never made them before even though I do enjoy a nice ball'o'cheese once in awhile. They went over really well (especially with Brad who loved them).

I only made two cheeseballs but next time I think I'll portion it to make four instead since they were a little on the large side. Nicely seasoned, these were really easy to make. If you have a stand mixer use it. Makes life much easier. Another tip is to use the sharpest, tangiest cheddar you can find to give your cheeseball the zing it requires.

2 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1/2 tbsp hot pepper sauce
1 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)

Place finely chopped pecans (if using) in a shallow dish and set aside.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), mix the cream cheese until smooth. Add the cheddar cheese and mix until just combined. Add all of the seasonings and sauces to the cheese mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.

With lightly greased hands, portion the cheese mixture into 2-4 balls (depending on how large you want your cheeseballs). Roll each portion into a ball.

If you're coating in pecans: Hold a cheeseball in one hand over the dish of pecans. With the other hand press the pecans into the cheeseball, rotating it as you go. The excess pecans will fall back into the dish to be used on the next cheeseball.

Cover each cheeseball with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Freeze extras by putting each plastic wrapped cheeseball into a freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible and freeze until needed.

Recipe From: www.mykitchencafe.blogspot.com

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oh what an evening!



Wednesday morning my dearest Brad texts me and asks if I want to go to the Bell Celebrity Gala again this year. We had gone last year and I had a ball! So I asked when it would take place and Brad informs me that it was the next day. O-k. Mad rush to find a gown, shoes, jewellery, pashmina .... It all worked out and I didn't freak out. Amazing for a A person like moi.

This being my second time at the Bell Celebrity Gala I kind of knew what to expect. As you come off the escalator there are a bunch of papparazzi (really! we have them in Canada too) snapping pictures of the beautiful, famous people. I've heard that it is the biggest celebrity event in Canada and there were definitely a lot of Canadian talent there to support a good cause. Lots of famous faces milling about and, if you're lucky, you can get autographs and pictures.

Bell puts this fancy shindig on once per year to sponsor a charity. Last year it was Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and this year (as well as the next 5 years) the donations will go towards CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). Over 1.2 million dollars was raised last night and it was a great night. Our national treasure, and Olympic medalist, Clara Hughes gave a small speech because this charity is near and dear to her heart. Lots of entertainment (I don't believe my hearing has recovered yet) including live bands like Down with Webster, Faber Drive, Fefe Dobson, Jully Black plus a few great numbers from the musical "Rock of Ages" (which were awesome!). Add to that a fashion show of pouty, long-legged beautiful people and it was a great night.

This year we had a celebrity at our table. We had "Mad Dog" from the Mad Dog and Billie Toronto radio show who was a great guy. I recognized him but sadly, I don't listen to his show since I'm not a big radio person. At the table next to us was Steven Page (former lead singer of the Bare Naked Ladies) and who should come to say hi but Ed Robertson, the current lead singer of BNL (see a picture of him and I above)! I also saw Stephen Sabados and Chris Hyndman (hosts of the Stephen and Chris talk show), Jeannie Beker (fashion icon), David Usher, Sofia Milos (CSI Miami), stars from Corner Gas ...

A tonne of Raptors, Argonauts, Blue Jays and numerous hockey players were there as well. I'm not a big sports person but apparently Theo Fleury was there as well as Paul Henderson (he of the infamous jersey).

Overall a great night. Wish I would have met more celebs but I did get a wonderful surprise by running into, quite unexpectedly, two of my former university roommates - Ang and Vicky! How cool is that!?! Last year Vicky attended too so she and I stalked Kurt Browning until we got a picture with him. We didn't totally scare him off because he was there again this year.

Now, running on a mere 5 hours of sleep I am going to take it easy for a bit.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Easily Amused

Author: Karen McQuestion
Genre: Chick Lit
Type: e-book (read on Kindle for iPhone)
Published: September 21, 2010
First Line: "When I saw a group of my neighbors clustered on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Cho's house, I was sure they were talking about me."

Synopsis: Lola Watson is content with her life. She has a good job, good friends and has recently inherited her great-aunt May's spacious Victorian home. Unfortunately, the home is on a street where neighbours are overly 'neighbourly' and love to get into each other's business ... including Lola's. Personally, Lola would love to be left alone which is probably why Lola still hasn't found Mr Right. When her best friend Hubert suddenly breaks up with his girlfriend and needs a place to stay Lola, grudgingly, allows him to stay with her until he gets back on his feet.

Lola's life is further in turmoil when her annoying and self-absorbed younger sister Mindy announces that she's changed her wedding date to take place on Lola's upcoming 30th birthday. Lola sees through Mindy's plan to embarass her at the wedding. Lola's friend Piper comes up with a plan for Lola to announce a fake engagement at the wedding to thwart Mindy's plans. Piper introduces Lola to Ryan Moriarty who seems like the perfect guy. Will Lola fall for Ryan and finally find someone to fall in love with? Is Ryan too good to be true? This is a book about taking the time to stop and look around you to see if what you've been looking for has been there the whole time (cue "Wizard of Oz" theme).

My Thoughts:
This is another book that I just happened upon (don't you just love that!?). I was perusing amazon.com's kindle selection and decided to buy this book. Am I ever glad I did. It's a great light read with a bit of romance and some humour thrown in too. It reminded me quite a bit of what it would be like to live on Wisteria Lane from "Desperate Housewives" but with less debachery and cleavage.

I enjoyed the characters as a whole and would have even loved to have seen more from the quirky assortment of nosy neighbours. The ending wasn't a big shocker and you could see it a mile away but it didn't distract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Here's an interesting little trivia fact: When I went on Ms McQuestion's blog I was amazed to find out that she got herself published on Amazon.com after numerous tries the 'old fashioned way' of slogging it to publishers. Very cool! Kind of like those singers (Colbie Caillat) who put themselves on YouTube to get their big break.

This was also the first time that I found myself really connecting with the main character. I was surprised to find how many things Lola and I had in common. Like Lola I'm a self-proclaimed Type A person who doesn't do well with surprises and needs a lot of transition time when something new is introduced. I'm fairly sarcastic and usually a 'glass is half empty' kind of gal - sad but true. There were just certain phrases and thoughts that Lola had that I thought "I've said that exact thing!!" For example, I hate it when I call someone who has Caller ID and they just dive into the conversation. No 'hello' ... they just assume everyone has Caller ID and knows who's calling. Hate that! I also adore movie previews and judge people too quickly.

Unlike Lola, I have always seen the importance of getting to know neighbours. It makes your neighbourhood feel more like a home when you can walk outside and chat with someone or ask for help and know that others have your back.

I only have two Wee Moos (little baby beefs) about this book. First, I didn't love the name choice for Lola's best friend Hubert. So many other name choices out there. Why Hubert?? It just didn't jive with the best friend of Lola's that I was imagining in my head.

Secondly, the whole 'who is this Ryan guy really?' thing could have been played out more and had a much bigger 'aha' moment. It also would have been nice to have a more complete ending .... unless McQuestion is planning a sequel and left the reader hanging? I hope that's the case because I plan to read more from this author.

I recommend picking up this book if you want a light read. I enjoyed McQuestion's narrative voice and her humour comes through well. The romance was nice and not sickeningly sweet. A great way to pass a rainy afternoon.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Die for You

Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 345
First Line: "A light snow falls, slowly coating the deep-red rooftops of Prague."

Synopsis: Isabel Raine had a great life. A successful career as a novelist, wonderful husband and a close extended family. Then suddenly one morning her husband, Marcus, disappears without a trace. She tries to track him down at his office where she is attacked and doesn't wake up until police detectives arrive on the scene and question her about some murders. Unable to give up on her husband she attempts to track him down putting her life in more and more jeopardy. As she pieces things together she learns that the 5 years she was married to her husband were a total lie and begins to wonder exactly whom she married.

My Thoughts: I didn't love this book. It started off with a good premise but didn't give me enough suspense throughout the book. I actually put the book down, read another book, then came back to finish off the last 40 pages or so hoping that Ms Unger would pick up the pace and end off with a bang. Sadly, she didn't.

One of my biggest beefs was the fact that I didn't understand why the author included so many little subplots in the book. There were literally three that didn't need to be included for this story to flow. Did she not have enough fodder for a full length suspense novel? Why is the death of her father, the problems in her sister's marriage pertinent to the turmoil that Isabel is living through? Why do I care if one of the police detective's marriage disintegrated? Why???? I just didn't get it. Their inclusion in the storyline was more of a distraction to me than bonus storylines.

Another gripe of mine is that in several places I found it hard to determine who was speaking. It was just line after line of dialogue and it was hard to piece together the conversation. Don't make me work so hard, Ms Unger! I don't want to have to disect each page to figure out who said what.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. I have heard that "Beautiful Lies" by Unger is a great read. Unfortunately I picked up this book first.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hot Cheesy Mushroom Dip


I hope that all of my fellow Canadians enjoyed our Thanksgiving weekend. We had amazingly warm, sunny weather and we took full advantage of it. My weekend was filled with lots of cooking, family and even more food!! We were able to get together with both sides of the family and see all 9 of my nieces and nephews so by the end of the weekend we were all exhausted (and full!).

I made this dip when we got together with my side of the family. It went over really well with the adults (the 10 grandchildren are still wary of mushrooms) and is a wonderfully rich dip. It takes a little while to make (and a lot of mushrooms) but it's well worth it. Served with crackers or slices of baguette it's divine!

The picture above is what the dip looks like before baking. I had to make it ahead of time in order to bring it to the cottage for our first fete. In the chaos of the day I didn't get a chance to take a post baking pic. Enjoy!

Recipe originally from: Closet Cooking

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1 pound mushrooms (cleaned and sliced) - I used a mixture of button and cremini
2 garlic cloves, chopped -- original recipe only called for one
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh, chopped)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup white wine (or broth)
1 (4oz) package cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup mozzarella, grated (I used marble)
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350F.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet. Add onion and cook until it starts to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until they start to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and thyme; saute until fragrant - about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the wine to the mushroom mixture and deglaze the pan. Cook until the wine has evaporated.

Puree half of the mushroom mixture in a food processor. Mix the mushrooms, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Place in a baking dish.

Bake dip for 20-40 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown on top.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Potato recipe clean up!!

Anyone who knows me well knows that my ultimate, hands-down favourite food in the universe is the potato. Mmmmm, the Tater, the Apple of the Earth, The Mightly Spud!!! Mashed, baked, fried, scalloped, perogied (?) ... so many ways to prepare them and so many things you can add to them!! Their versatility is endless!

I get this love of the spud honestly. My mother is a total addict as well. In fact, on one of her birthdays many years ago my father made her 7 kinds of potatoes. Ahhhh, now that's what I call romance!! I've learned to make potato dishes from the best! I figure my dear mother is the Queen of Tater and I'm a mere Duchess of Spud!! Does that make Brad Mr Potato Head? I never was good with geneology. ;)

Wayyyy back last fall I decided to post my favourite potato recipes because I'm a total spud addict. Unfortunately that made it hard for people to search for specific potato recipes so I've done some housekeeping (or is that blogkeeping) and posted each recipe individually. I figure many of these recipes could come in handy for this weekend's Thanksgiving Day feasts!

You can search down on the right side bar for Potato which will list the recipes. Here are some easy links as well. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Mashed Taters With All The Fixin's
Scalloped Potatoes
Mashed Potato Casserole
Lazy Perogie Casserole
Cottage Potatoes

Mashed Taters with All the Fixin's!!

By now you're probably getting the feeling that I like potatoes. You'd be right in that assumption! Add in some onion, bacon and cheese and I'm in heaven! I get this potato addiction honestly from my mother.

Servings: 4

4 large potatoes - peeled and diced
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/3 cup onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon, diced
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated (divided)
3 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Boil potatoes in salted water until tender. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add green pepper and onion; saute until tender-crisp. Add mushrooms and bacon; saute until bacon is cooked through. Drain any excess fat. Set aside

Drain potatoes and mash in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, milk and vegetable/bacon mixture. Pour potato mixture into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheddar cheese. Bake until heated through (approximately 20 minutes). Serve immediately.



Scalloped Potatoes

This is one of my comfort foods. Served with baked ham or sausages it's delicious! In order to save time, instead of using a knife to cut the potatoes invest in a mandolin. I have one from my Pampered Chef days and it's so useful for this kind of thing. Four potatoes would literally take me a couple of minutes to slice.

4 potatoes - peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 onion, chopped
1 (10 1/2 oz) can condensed Cream of Mushroom and Garlic condensed soup
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350F. In a lightly greased shallow baking dish, arrange a thin layer of potatoes, then a thin layer of onion. Sprinkle with cheese. Repeat layers until potatoes, onions and cheese are used up. Spoon soup over the final layer of cheese. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Mashed Potato Casserole

Every family has their holiday favourites and this is definitely a staple around our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. This dish can easily be made ahead of time making the holidays slightly less chaotic for the cook in your house.

8 large potatoes (approximately 5lbs)
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp butter (divided)
1 cup sour cream

Peel and cook potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain and mash until smooth. Add 1 tbsp of butter and the remaining ingredients to the mashed potatoes. Beat until light and fluffy. Let cool slightly and place in a large casserole dish. Dot with the remaining 1 tbsp butter.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove from fridge 1 hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 350F. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Lazy Perogie Casserole

This is a very easy make-ahead potato dish. Personally, I think that perogies are heavenly bundles of goodness. Potato and cheese married in a pasta pocket then accompanied by sour cream?!? It's a carb addicts DREAM! Oh the different things you can stuff into them ... various cheeses, bacon, onion ... OH MY! Perfection, I tell ya!

This is an easy way to get my perogie fix and it serves a family gathering too. You can change it up with bacon etc if you'd like. This is the basic version.

15 lasagna noodles, not oven ready variety
2 cups Cottage Cheese
1 egg
1/4 tsp onion salt
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups mashed potatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup butter
1 cup onion, grated
sour cream - garnish

Preheat oven to 350F. Cook noodles in salted water and drain.

Line the bottom of a greased 9x13-inch baking pan with half of the noodles. Mix cottage cheese, egg and onion salt together; spread over noodles. In the same bowl, mix cheddar cheese with the potatoes, salt and pepper. Put another layer of noodles on top of the cottage cheese layer in the pan. Spread cheddar cheese mixture over noodles.

Melt butter in a frying pan and saute the onions until they are transparent and soft. Pour over the casserole. Cover.

If you're not going to use the casserole immediately put in fridge until ready to cook. Follow cooking instructions below. You will have to increase the cooking time a bit.

If you're going to use the casserole right away, bake it for 30 minutes or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with sour cream.

Cottage Potatoes

This is a wonderfully tangy sidedish to bring to a potluck or if you're having a large crowd at home. It's perfect for so many reasons: A) you can make it ahead of time, B) it's simple to make, C) it's an economical side dish and D) it tastes great (even the leftovers!). Serve with ham and baked beans. Delish!

2lbs hashbrowns, frozen
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 can (10 1/2oz) condensed Cream of Chicken soup
1/2 onion, diced
2 cups sour cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Place in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Bake for 1 hour.

Tip: If making this dish ahead of time just mix all the ingredients together and pop it in the fridge until it's needed. Don't change the 1 hour baking time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Double Berry Bran Muffins

This is a muffin that is not only good for you but tastes good too. I'm one of those people who truly enjoys the taste of a good bran muffin ...especially a fruity bran muffin. Originally I had used 1 1/4 cups of frozen blueberries but I decreased the amount here because it was almost too much berry for my tastes. As you can see in the picture above the one muffin is a little lopsided because the bottom side of that muffin was all berry!

9 year old Karate Guy told me that I HAD to put this recipe on my blog because he loved them so much. Gotta love that! I just have to make sure that he doesn't eat too many of these muffins or there may be consequences that he didn't expect!

I have mentioned in the past that I'm a fresh cranberry hoarder. I proudly admit that my deep freeze has bags and bags of fresh cranberries for use in muffins, loafs etc all year long. Many people don't realize that you can freeze these little beauties. I also love to freeze them because it makes chopping them up a breeze. Carefully, using a sharp knife, slice each cranberry in half (or quarters). If you have a Pampered Chef Chopper it's even easier to do. Get all your frustrations out on the berries!

Personally, I love to heat these muffins a bit and put some butter on them while I sip a coffee. Oh look at that! That's what I'm doing right now!

1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup frozen cranberries, chopped
1 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line muffin tin and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together wheat bran and milk. Set aside and let stand for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together sour cream, egg, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat in bran mixture. Sift together: all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt. Gently stir into bran mixture until just blended.

Gently fold in cranberries and blueberries. Scoop into muffin tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean (ie no batter - with that many berries you'll definitely have berry on your toothpick!).

Remove muffins from tin and cool on a rack. Store in an air-tight container or freeze for later use.

Weekly Reading Poll

I've been busy over the past week reading and have posted all of the books I've finished. It's been a hit and miss week but overall some good reads. I was impressed with myself that I have stayed away from the libraries that I frequent (I put myself on a Library Time-Out) so that I could read the books that I own instead of always putting them on the back burner.

This coming week I may try reading "A Prayer for Owen Meanie". I've read "Cider House Rules" by the same author and liked it but didn't love it. I've heard nothing but praise for little Owen so I'm hoping it will be a good read. I also would like to re-read "Bitten" by Kelley Armstrong since it's been awhile since I read her first book in her "Women of the Underworld" series.

So what are you all reading? Found any new authors that are amazing?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Allegra Fairweather: Paranormal Investigator

Author: Janni Nell
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Type: e-book (Kindle for iPhone app used)
First Published: June 2010
First Line: "My name is Allegra Fairweather and I'm a paranormal investigator."


Synopsis: Allegra Fairweather solves paranormal mysteries all over the world. She's not a typical 'ghostbuster' though. Standing over six feet tall with spiky red hair, a kick butt attitude and a big toe that senses paranormal activity ... she's in a league all her own! She also is helped by her sexy guardian angel she has nicknamed, Casper. Despite his nickname, this Casper is not a cute ghost but a tall handsome warrior who, as a soldier in the second century A.D did a lot of horrible things. "The Powers that Be" have sent him to be Allegra's guardian angel to make up for his past crimes. His job is to protect her when she's in mortal danger (which is a lot of the time).


In this first book by author Janni Nell, Allegra has been summoned to a small Scottish town of Loch Furness, to look at an ominous flower that the residents fear is evil. Shortly after Allegra arrives the town hears the banshee wail and two men are found dead. After their bodies are 'misplaced' Allegra is determined to figure out why they died ... and where they went. Along the way she meets a ticked off 300 year old ghost and even manages to alienate herself with the townsfolk. All in a day's work for Allegra!


My Thoughts: I have to be honest, I kind of happened upon this book. I was surfing for new e-books to buy for my iPhone and saw this book. It had a supernatural element (yay), it had good reviews (more yay) and it was really cheap (super yay!) ... so I bought it. Thankfully I did because really enjoy this book. It's a lighter-type mystery with an interesting paranormal slant but I think it was the relationship between Allegra and Casper that will get me reading the second book in the series. It's the type of relationship that has a more romantic feel because if they ever 'scratch the itch' it'll be the end of their relationship forever.

I do admit that it was a little slow to take off but I think that's because it's the first book in the series and the author had to do a lot of set up before she could jump into the mystery. It's got a nice quirky factor with Allegra's paranormal seeking toe and I love the banter she has with Casper.

There are not a lot of secondary characters that I can see becoming regulars in the series since Allegra globe-trots around the world. I'm interested to see how things will pan out for Allegra and who else she'll meet along the way.

My one little gripe is that when Casper was first introduced it did make me wonder if I was reading the second book in the series. It felt like the author assumed a little too much and had the reader trying to play catch-up in regards to who Casper is and his relationship with Allegra.

If you're looking for a nice, easy read give this one a try.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars



Balsamic Marmelade-Glazed Chicken Thighs

I'm always on the look out for stove-top meals. I love freeing up my oven for other uses such as sides or, more specifically, tasty apple crisps that bake whilst we supp on the main portion of the meal. The cinnamony goodness reminds the children what awaits them if they finish eating my delicious main course. But I digress. This is an easy dish that looks fancy. Served with a baked potato and some asparagus and you've got a great meal.

I also used this opportunity to harvest some of my rosemary from my garden (which, truth be told, was pretty meagre). I do suggest chopping up the rosemary if you have persons in your homes who don't like seeing 'pine needles' in their food. You still get the wonderful flavour from the herb but less whines at the table.

This is also a more economical dish because it uses chicken thighs. Chicken thighs (and dark meat in general) tend to get a bad rap and I'm not sure why. I find them much more juicy and tender than the much more expensive chicken breasts. I like to buy large packages of chicken thighs (usually from Costco) then divide them up into 8-10 chicken thighs for various recipes. Pop the well-labelled freezer bags (there's that Type A thing again) into my freezer's meat basket (yes, I have a designated meat basket -- Type A!!) and I'm good for several chicken dishes with only one trip to the food store!

Adapted from: Rachael Ray's "Orange Balsamic Chicken with Pecans and Sage Butter Pasta"
Servings: 2-4

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary (approximately 2 tsp), chopped (see Note below)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup orange marmelade
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, pour olive oil and swish around to coat the pan. Season chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add to skillet -- making sure to open up each thigh so they can cook evenly. Sprinkle rosemary on top of the chicken pieces and cook until chicken is crispy and brown (and no longer pink inside) -- approximately 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a dish and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, whisk balsamic and marmelade together in the skillet that was used for the chicken. Scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet (it's not gross, it's flavour!!) and mix well with the balsamic and marmelade mixture. Lower heat and simmer for 1 minute. Return chicken to skillet and coat with the sauce. Serve chicken pieces onto plates, pouring extra glaze over each chicken piece. Sprinkle chicken liberally with fresh Parmesan.

Note: You can use dried rosemary, just decrease the amount to 3/4 tsp.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Author: Rhoda Janzen
Genre: Autobiography
Pages: 272
First Line: "The year I turned forty-three was the year I realized I should have never taken my Mennonite genes for granted."
Published: April 2010

Synopsis: Rhoda Janzen describes to the reader how she felt reuniting with her Mennonite family and roots after living in the modern world as a secular academic for the past two decades. Her recent divorce gives her the push needed to go back home to her family to get the healing she requires. This memoire is describes how she now sees her Mennonite upbringing through new eyes.

My Thoughts: I picked up this book as part of my very first book club. From the title alone I was expecting a humourous look into a woman's life who grew up Mennonite but who, as an adult, lived in the modern world. As someone who lives near a Mennonite community I thought that this would be right up my alley and maybe I'd get some insight (hopefully humourous) into what it's like to be raised Mennonite and come back into the fold after a long absense in the living in the modern world. Weeeelll, I was mistaken in my assumptions. Like "they" say 'assuming makes an ass out of you and me'.

Sadly, this book wasn't want I thought it would be. Were there parts that were laugh out loud funny? Definitely!! Unfortunately those situations were far and few between. The first third of the book was quite funny and enjoyable ... but it went downhill from there.

Did I learn more about what it would be like to grow up Mennonite? Not at all. This partly stems from me assuming from the title that Janzen grew up 'old-order' Mennonite (buggies, no electricity ...) which she didn't. This fact didn't make the cultural differences as drastic as I thought they'd be.

The discrepancy between what I assumed and what was written is also due to the fact that I thought that the Mennonite part of the story (hence the title) would be more central to the storyline but it really wasn't. Her parents weren't all that different to many more traditional/old school parents out there. Sadly, I also didn't get the feeling that she respected her heritage or was proud of being Mennonite.

Another beef? Ginormous verbage (aka huge honkin' words!!). Janzen is a highly educated woman (love that!) who could put Mr Webster to shame. She uses huge words that 90% of the population don't use on a yearly basis let alone daily basis. I had to keep looking up words then go "Oh, she could have just used ___ instead!". She almost seemed to be showing off with her word knowledge. "I'll take 'Words No One Uses' for $1000, Alex!".

Sadly, I didn't particularly love the main character (aka author)'s voice. You can have a troubled and flawed character but Rhoda wasn't all that likeable. She reminded me of Lilith from "Frazier" fame. Really cold, unfeeling and detached from what was happening to her. This woman lived through terrible things in her life. From a horrible accident and the resulting complications to losing her husband ... yet she never really tells the reader how she felt during those incidents. She just glosses over them and continues on in her disjointed narrative (which, quite honestly, got really confusing. She jumped around from past to present so often I had a hard time figuring out what period in time she was talking about). Maybe she wanted to keep things light and humourous? Not sure.

Janzen is telling her story and I hope other readers understand that she is, by no means, representing Mennonites as a whole. Overall, I didn't get the impression that she truly respects where she came from. I don't recommend this book.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies


This recipe comes from one of my "gals" who I lovingly refer to as Lizzie Lou. She's one of the most positive and happy people you'll ever meet -- even in her current 8 month pregnant state. I figure it's because she makes herself these tasty little morsels to get through the tough times of raising 2.4 kids.
These cookies are 'melt in your mouth' good with a kick of chocolate to bring on the happiness. Great for after school treats ... or to treat yourself when you've made it through a rather exhausting day of crying, whining and temper tantrums .. and that all happens even before you even pick up your kids from school!! ;)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in chocolate chips. Roll or scoop dough into walnut-sized balls (I used a small melon-baller). Place balls on greased cookie sheets 1-1/2-inches apart and flatten slightly. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove cookies to a cooling rack.

Yield: 2 dozen


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