Monday, 30 May 2011

Easy Marinated Pork Loin Chops

Now that summer is finally making an appearance (it's a balmy 26C here in Ontario!!!) it's time to break out more BBQ recipes. The BBQ is a glorious invention that can cook anything from corn-on-the cob, steaks and salmon fillets to baked potatoes, grilled asparagus and chicken with beer cans stuck up their butts. The glory that is the BBQ (or Grill for my American friends) has many benefits. Here are some of my favourites:

1. The BBQ makes supper clean-up easier because the main mess stays outside.

2. The BBQ doesn't heat up your house unnecessarily in the summer, unlike your oven.

3. We use our BBQ year round. Yes, through rain, sleet, snow and hail husband Brad at the BBQ will prevail!

4. I don't BBQ so that leaves the responsibility of grilling all the various beasties and side dishes to my beloved Brad which makes mealtime easier for yours truly.

Win, win, win, WIN!

Who wants to heat up their oven and house unnecessarily by baking supper when you can throw some grub on the BBQ and make clean up really easy too?!?! Our BBQ is big enough that I can get an entire meal on there!!

In our house, Brad is king of the grill. 'All hail the Grill Master!'. I can totally attest to the fact that he's amazing at BBQing. He should be -- he apprenticed with one of the best. When my sisters and I started dating our husbands waaay back when the earth was still cooling my Dad instructed his future sons-in-law (who, of course, were still in the 'gotta impress the future father-in-law' phase) that they were going to be his BBQ Apprentices. This apprenticeship would last for over a decade -- meaning that my dad could sit back, instruct his sons-in-laws in the wonder that is the BBQ and relax. See, I come by my 'pawn off the grilling work' genetically. I do have to hand it to my Dad though. All three guys are excellent BBQers!! I'm sure they'll pass on their knowledge once our kids get old enough to learn about BBQing. And so continues the great circle of life.

Now, you may be wondering if I can BBQ food well? That's a tricky question. If I say 'yes' then I'll be expected to BBQ from here on out. CAN I grill food? Technically, yes. Will I be as good at it as Brad? Nope. The more important question would be ... do I want to BBQ? Not particularly, no.

So I'll plead ignorance like I do with using the lawnmower and snow blower and let Brad rule the grill. For example: Brad tried to show me how to run the snow blower last year but I kept 'getting confused'. "Do I pull this lever next, hon? What was that first thing I had to do again?". Brad totally clued in after he had to explain the same thing to me three times (he knows I'm not a total idiot, I only resemble one at times) but he also got my point that I like to visit the land of Ignorance at times when I just don't want to do something. Did I set back the women's movement a bit? Nah. Guys have been using the Ignorance Excuse for decades, nay centuries. "Can I put a navy shirt in with the whites, hon?". I'm just trying it out for my own fine self and evening up the playing field for women kind.

Now for the recipe du jour. This is a dish that I've made twice over the past month and it jazzes up plain old pork loin chops into something a lot more guest worthy. I think next time I go to freeze some pork chops for later use I'll whip up this marinade and add it to the chops just before I freeze them in one of my trusty and indispensable Ziploc freezer bags. That way the meat will be marinating while it thaws. Which makes dinner even EASIER for little old me. If only I could use my powers of cunning BBQ intelligence for the greater good. Bwa ha ha!

1/2 cup vegetable OR grapeseed oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-6 pork loin chops (1-inch thick)

Combine marinade ingredients. Place pork chops in a resealable bag. Pour marinade over chops and marinate for 4-8 hours in the fridge.
Preheat BBQ to medium heat. Grill pork chops, turning occasionally, for 20-25 minutes or until juices run clear. Discard marinade.

Recipe Inspired by:

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Good Tidings (a Mary O'Reilly paranormal mystery)

Author: Terri Reid
Genre: Supernatural/mystery
Type: Kindle e-book (only)
Series: 2nd book in the Mary O'Reilly Paranormal Mystery series
Series Order: ** Read in order **
1. Loose Ends (2010)
2. Good Tidings (2010)
3. Never Forgotten (2011)

First Line: "Black Friday - the official opening of the Holiday Shopping Season and Patrice Marcum is stuck in the middle of her local superstore with a crying infant, a near hysterical desire to just abandon the diapers and milk she desperately needs, and the snowstorm of the century dumping a half-foot of snow on the parking lot outside."

Synopsis: Patrice Marcum is done her Christmas shopping for the day and just wants to get home with her crying infant. Unfortunately, there's a huge winter storm dumping snow everywhere. Not wanting to take her 3 month old son out into the storm she accepts help from a kind elderly woman and a store clerk who offer to watch the baby while Patrice gets the car. When she returns she realizes that her baby is gone.

Mary O'Reilly is a paranormal investigator who is in the middle of getting her office in the Christmas spirit when the ghost of 6 year old boy named Joey Marcum contacts her. He asks Mary for her help in locating his baby brother who was just kidnapped.

Mary turns to her friend Police Chief Bradley Alden for help with the case. Mary soon learns that she must go to her hometown of Chicago to follow a lead. While there she enlists the help of her family to find the baby before it's too late.

My Thoughts: This series has hooked me and become a favourite. It's one of those series that has it all -- budding romance (without being too syrupy), suspense, action and humour. I read the first book in the series ("Loose Ends") a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I enjoyed this book even more. The author has a great knack for juggling the romance with the suspense and humour which, for this fairly picky reader, is not an easy thing to do.

I will say that in both books I did figure out 'who dunnit' about half way through but that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. It's seeing how Mary solves the crime and her relationships with other characters that makes this series stand out. That being said, I would love it if the author could keep the reader in suspense longer in future books. I do love a mystery with lots of twists and turns that makes me keep trying to figure out who the 'bad guy' is.

That's not to say that there isn't a great amount of tension and 'edge of your seat' action towards the end! Yowza! Reid creates a wonderfully intense final scene that kept me on the edge of my seat!! I sat there wide-eyed forcing myself not to skip ahead to find out if Mary would be OK.

Reid is also great at letting Mary and Bradley's relationship progress at a nice pace. Not one of those 'hop into bed/bodice ripper' type reads (I'm not a fan of those) nor is it so slow that the reader loses interest. She gives readers just enough of a tease and new information regarding Bradley's missing wife to make me want to run out (ok, order on my Kindle wirelessly) the third book in the series. Truth be told .... I've already bought the third book in this series but I'm actually holding off reading it for a bit because I know that it's the last book in the series available (so far) and I don't want to be finished with the series within 2 weeks! With Reid's knack of cliff hangers it'll drive me nuts not being able to dive into the next book!

In this book Reid introduces us to new secondary characters. I loves me some great secondary characters! Good authors use them to progress the story or bring a good dose of humour to lighten the mood in an otherwise serious book. In this book we get to meet Mary's large Irish family. I love seeing their banter, specifically how her brothers interact (aka interrogate) Bradley to make sure he has the best intentions for their sister.

Joey (the 6 year old ghost) was a great character that brought a wonderful innocence and sentimentality to the book. Since he's a 'special kind' of ghost I'm hoping that he is brought back in future books to help Mary. Finally, one of my favourite characters never even uttered a word in the book. He was a big, smelly, shaggy .... ghost dog. Yup, in his own way he stole the show for me and brought a good dose of humour to the book.

Overall, I loved this book. If you're looking for a great weekend read, this is it (but start with Loose Ends!!). The Mary O'Reilly books are not overly long and are fast-paced enough that you wish they were just a bit longer (and that Terri Reid wrote even faster than she already does!!). :)

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Strawberry & Banana Yogurt Loaf

Over the past few weeks I have entered into the wide and wonderful world of Twitter. It's not something I ever thought I'd do but at the urge of one of my blog followers I gave it a go. So far I've found a lot of great blogs to follow concerning cooking, books and home decor. And, quite frankly, I think it's kind of cool to follow celeb Twitter accounts.

I found this recipe via Twitter on a blog called From the Little Yellow Kitchen. I did tweak it a wee bit but one of the tweaks was due to me not reading the recipe properly. I had mistakenly put the 1/4 cup of white sugar in with the flour mixture. Why did I do that? Probably because Nate Berkus (with his perfect hair and incredible cuteness) was telling me how to accessorize a room properly while I was mixing this loaf up. He likes to chat while I bake. It's how we roll. So, I added another 1/4 cup of white sugar to the butter mixture (where it was supposed to be added) and it came out loverly!! I also added some cinnamon sugar to the top because, quite frankly, cinnamon sugar on top of muffins and quick breads makes the world a better place.

This was also my first time using Greek yogurt. I know what you're thinking! She's never used Greek yogurt before?!? Was that crazy Canuck born under a rock? The simple answer is no (my mom can confirm it). I have heard of the wonders that is Greek yogurt and I can attest to the fact that it is quite yummy. I also love that it gave this loaf a nice tang. I'm looking forward to finding more recipes that use it. Perhaps some appetizers?!?

Back to this tasty loaf ... it's nice and moist and combines the very complimentary flavours of strawberry and banana together. Plus you have the added benefit of using this recipe to whittle down your ripe banana population lurking in your freezer. You know what I'm talking about. Don't we all have dozens of frozen, black bananas in our freezers? No? Just me? I'm actually starting to think that my ripe bananas are procreating in my freezer. Some sub-zero par-tay is happening in amongst my frozen peas and ice packs! How else can I explain how I got 23 bananas in my freezer?!? Yes that's TWENTY-THREE bananas in my kitchen fridge freezer? "Hi. My name is Laurie and I'm a blackened banana hoarder." Me thinks it's time to thin the herd.

Strawberry & Banana Yogurt Loaf
Inspired by:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup strawberries, finely diced
1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Cinnamon Sugar
1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the bottom of an 8x5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together: flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Combine and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl), combine melted butter and 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix on medium speed to combine. Add mashed bananas, egg, yogurt and vanilla. Mix until just combined.

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix slowly (don't overbeat or your bread may not come out as light).

In a small bowl, toss diced strawberries with the 1 tbsp flour (this will help them to not sink to the bottom of your loaf). Fold strawberries gently into the batter. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Mix cinnamon sugar ingredients together (that would be the cinnamon and, you guessed it, the sugar). Sprinkle over the loaf.

Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Grapefruit & Strawberry Salad with Honey Poppyseed Dressing

I hope my fellow Canadians enjoyed a fabulous Victoria Day weekend (or as it's more commonly called "May 2-4"). Around here we had pretty perfect weather. A bit of rain each day followed by 23C+ sunny weather which was perfect for making my new, BIG flower garden in the backyard. It felt even bigger when you consider that Brad and I ripped up the grass, picked out an inordinate amount of rocks, tilled the soil and planted a tonne of plants all in 3 days. We ... were ... pooped! But it's going to look oh so pretty once my plants start perkin' up and blooming.

It's weekends like this that I know that summer is finally coming! The weather is gorgeous, the flowers are bloomin' .... and I have my yearly hankerin' for a cold MGD (that's a Molson Genuine Draft beer for you non-Canucks!). Normally I am so NOT a beer drinker (I prefer a nice glass of vino) but, after 4 hours of gardening in the sun, I actually drank an entire beer .... while it was cold! Yes, summer is here people! I didn't leave any nasty warm beer in the bottle. Let the summer festivities commence!

I started off my gardening extravaganza on Saturday wearing delightful green gardening gloves in case I got dirt under my nails or came across any nasty bugs which may (ok, will) make me scream like a little girl. By the end of the three days there I was in the rain, on my knees in the dirt, sans gloves dividing and planting my beloved perennials. Gardening isn't glamourous but I do find it fulfilling!

We didn't spend all our weekend up to our armpits in dirt and worms. We had movies and games with the kids and managed to drive out to my parents' cottage (a mere 15 minutes away -- we're totally spoiled) and enjoyed a boat ride and BBQ on the deck. Delightful!

As this deliciously warm summer weather seems to be staying I get in my 'gotta find new salad recipes' thang. I love fresh salads in the summer to go along with all the beasties we cook up on the BBQ. I have found another salad that I love!

A couple of weeks ago one of my besties came for a visit and offered to bring a homemade salad for our lunch. I am never one to pass up a free lunch so I whole-heartedly agreed! Along she came with a delightfully sweet salad topped with fruit. I loves me a green salad with fruit!! It was a lovely, refreshing salad that was perfect for the sunny day that we had.

Since then I've made this salad for my own personal lunch three times. Along with some homemade herb bread it is a perfect lunch! What I love is that you can tweak this salad and add ingredients according to your own personal tastes. I like to add sunflower seeds and marble cheese cubes to my salads (feta would be great too!).

I personally don't use poppyseeds in my dressing because they are always attracted to the spaces in between my teeth which then make me very self conscious that they'll pop up (even after brushing) at a most inopportune time. Nothing like giving someone a million dollar smile ... with poppyseeds scattered in your mouth. Nice. If you don't have this irrational fear of the mighty poppyseed then, by all means, add them in!

If you're in the mood for a salad with the lovely sour taste of grapefruit paired with the sweetness of strawberries and honey dressing then this is it! This is a great, easy and impressive salad for summer!

Grapefruit & Strawberry Salad with Honey Poppyseed Dressing
1 head Romaine lettuce - chopped
1 ruby red grapefruit - sectioned (see How-To video here)
1/2 cup red onion, sliced
1 cup strawberries, hulled & sliced
2/3 cup marble cheese - cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, shelled

Honey Poppyseed Dressing
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup extra light olive oil OR grapeseed oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp prepared yellow mustard (or mustard of your choice)
1 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

Place all dressing ingredients in a sealed container and shake until contents are evenly combined.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Lost Hero

Author: Rick Riordan

Genre: Young Adult

Series: Heroes of Olympus

Series Order:
1. "The Lost Hero" (2010)
2. "Son of Neptune" (fall 2011)

Type: Hardcover

Pages: 576

First Published: October 2010

First Line: "Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day."

Synopsis: This first book in a new series by Rick Riordan (author of the highly popular Percy Jackson series) introduces readers to a new group of demigods.

When 15 year old Jason wakes up on a bus with no memory of who he is or why he's on a bus from a wilderness school for troubled kids he knows that things aren't going to go well. He has absolutely no memory that he has a best friend let alone that Leo (the kid who cannot keep still) is that friend. Nor does he remember that Piper is his girlfriend or who he is.

Things go from bad to worse for Jason when on a field trip to the Grand Canyon his class has an unexpected and dangerous encounter with evil storm spirits. Jason, Leo and Piper are quickly whisked away to Camp Half-Blood and informed that one of their parents is a god which makes the three teens demigods.

Shortly after arriving at the camp, with little time to get used to the whole idea of being a demigod, Jason and his friends hear rumours that Zeus has closed Mount Olympus and that someone has kidnapped and imprisoned one of the goddesses. They are soon informed that they are three of the seven demigods named in the Great Prophecy that was uttered by the oracle in "The Last Olympian" (5th book in the Percy Jackson series). Add in the fact that there's a demigod hero who has suddenly gone missing and things are not looking good for these new heroes.

My Thoughts: After loving the Percy Jackson series I was excited to hear that he had written the first book of a Percy Jackson spin-off series. I really loved reading about mythology (See Dad! That university mythology course DID come in handy!!) and having great discussions with my 9 and 11 year old boys over various Greek gods! How cool is that!?!?!

After weeks of my 9 year old asking me to read "The Lost Hero" (which he says he loved more than Percy Jackson) I finally found time in my busy reading schedule and picked it up. I think part of me was concerned that Riordan would be able to put out another great series so soon after Percy Jackson (and his Red Pyramid series which I have yet to start reading).

While I did enjoy this book it wasn't nearly as 'hard to put down' as the Percy series for me. Don't get me wrong I did enjoy it but it was definitely lacking .... something. I just can't put my finger on what exactly.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the story is told from the viewpoint of Jason, Piper and Leo. That's a lot of different viewpoints in one story making it hard to get to know any one character really well. Those three characters also come into the story with a LOT of baggage which is discussed throughout the book. Their inner struggles/family issues/loss does play a role in defining who they are but I felt like it took over a bit too much.

I LOVED that some characters from the Percy Jackson series (Annabeth, Chiron, Rachel ...) were incorporated into this new series. Riordan was able to give fans of the older series a taste of "Percy Jackson" characters while letting these new characters take hold of this new quest.

That being said I did think that it would have been nice not to have so many similarities between the Percy series and this series. Both concern demigods (2 boys and 1 girl). Both have main characters who didn't realize they were demigods until in their teens (and who found out while on school trips). There's romance between the main male character and the main female character etc. But, I do have to say that those similarities, while glaring in the first few chapters, were forgotten as the book took off on its own storyline.

Riordan also brings his well-written comic relief to this series as well with great secondary characters (specifically the satyr Gleeson). This humour helps to carry the sometimes confusing storyline (but that may be because I'm not as knowledgeable of Roman gods).

My favourite part of the book was definitely the cliff hanger. It made me wish that the second book in this series was out NOW! Sadly I'm going to have to wait until the fall of 2011 like everyone else when "The Son of Neptune" comes out. So I'm going to give this first book in the series a good grade because it was a good read and set up a (hopefully) stellar second book which will hopefully bring back even more Percy characters!

Note: I strongly recommend reading the Percy Jackson series before reading this series. There are a lot of connections and future plot lines will be much easier to understand once you have the proper background.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mini Vacay

I'm baaaack! For the past 2 days my family and I were on a mini vacation at Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls. My parents were very generous this past Christmas and gave each of their 10 grandchildren a one night stay at Great Wolf Lodge! They think (and they're right) that the kids have so many toys and well, crap, that they don't need more so they'd rather give them an experience instead. After waiting until we had time and until everyone was healthy (that was a feat!) we finally made it! Visiting GWL for the first time was definitely an experience. A great one!

It was our first foray into the wonderfully wet world of the Wolf (say that 10 times fast!). We've been to Disney twice in the past and experienced truly stellar customer service and GWL was right up there. Not only are they extremely aware and competent to deal with serious food allergies but everyone from the maintenance staff to the waitresses to the water slide operators were extremely helpful and went out of their way to make our stay better and easier. They were always asking if we were having a good time and just generally uber friendly and happy. I don't know what they put in the water there but gimme some of it!!

Let me start by saying that I'm not an overly adventurous person. I don't like heights (OK, I HATE them) and although in my youth I did a few roller coasters at Canada's Wonderland I'm not overly excited to put my body in a situation where either I scream out in utter fear or just plain embarrass my kids. That being said I did go on ALL of the water slides at GWL (including the Vortex which really reminds me of swishing around a toilet bowl since you spin around then are dumped out the bottom).

If you have the chance to go I highly recommend the Niagara Falls slide which is part roller-coaster, part water slide. It was awesome and I must have went on it 15 times! I think that I did accrue some of the highly coveted 'Mom is pretty cool' points by hitting the slides with my kids time and time again. Truth be told, those points didn't start accruing until after the first time I went down the Niagara Falls ride with both of my sons because I kind of screamed a bit (a lot) going down the first time and threatened them with a meal full of brussel sprouts when I saw the first hill. It wasn't a proud Mom moment but I made up for it quickly. :)

What was even better was that, since we went mid-week, there were no lines! I HATE spending good, hard earned money waiting in lines! I'd rather pull my kids out of school for 2 days and spend the time on the rides than waiting in a line with a bunch of strangers. I think there were only a handful of times when we had about 5 people ahead of us in line. Because there were no lines there was also no pausing and resting while waiting for a ride. This means that climbing up the 67 steps to the first level of slides and the 89 steps to the taller slides (YES, I had time to count them!) was exhausting but at least I got some cardio work out too, right? I was hoping that I'd come home with the thighs of a 15 year old after that workout ... sadly, no. :(

We didn't just stay in the water park either. The kids were given a free craft (see Karate Guy with his pillow case) and a free stuffed animal to take home. The room was great (the kids had their own 'cabin' within our room) so that upped the 'cool' factor compared to a regular hotel room.

So, what did I take away from this mini vacay?

1. Two days in a water park kicked my family's butt! We ... were ... exhausted!!
2. I do indeed get giddy when I see a baked potato bar at the buffet
3. There are people on this earth who can be uber happy and know what true customer service is
4. my kids don't take advantage of all-you-can-eat buffets (they only went up TWICE?!?!)
5. I have the upper arm strength of a gnat (Note to Self: don't get in a race with your 11 year old where the goal is to move as fast as you can across various floating/moving things while hanging onto a rope above your head if you don't want to have very painful arms 2 days later. Duly noted.)
6. You can have good tasting food in a buffet (bbq'd salmon and tilapia with a sun-dried tomato and spinach sauce?!?! Delish!)
6. Time with my family is totally priceless

Like I mentioned above we had a great time but came home utterly exhausted last night! The kids wanted a day off school today to recuperate from their holiday. Um, no. Back to school my lovelies so I can get back to my schedule and prepare for the upcoming Victoria Day (ie. "May 2-4") holiday this weekend! Time with you was priceless and amazing ... but so is peace and quiet after a truly amazing, yet exhausting couple of days.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence

Author: Gavin de Becker

Genre: Self-Help

Type: Hardcover

Pages: 322

Published: 1997

First Line: "He had probably been watching her for awhile."

Synopsis: Gavin de Becker is a leading expert on predicting violent behaviour. He is also no stranger to violence being raised in a violent home himself. Now he runs a highly successful risk assessment firms in the US working with corporations, police, FBI and famous Hollywood stars.

In this book de Becker shows his readers that by fine tuning their instincts and 'gut feelings' they can avoid situations that can be life-threatening. Our instinct is constantly running in the background of our minds picking up subtle details of our environment and others around us which gives us the feeling of fear when we're in danger. Unfortunately, many of us discount that instinctive fear for rational reasons instead of tuning in to why we have that sense of fear in the first place.

My Thoughts: Get ready for my longest book review yet. It's a doozy. Go grab a coffee or tea. Go on. I'll wait. {whistling the tune from 'Jeopardy'} Ok, here we go ....

After seeing de Becker on (I think) Nate Berkus' show (or was it Oprah?) I was intrigued by the premise of his book. As a psych major I've always been fascinated by the human mind and how we use (or don't use) it.

This book was an interesting look into how humans deal with fear and violence. People intuitively evaluate other people and situations constantly but it's only brought into our consciousness if there is a reason. De Becker believes that people need to respect and use their survival instinct. When we feel that something's not right there's probably a reason for that feeling and we shouldn't just ignore it. We need to trust our intuition/gut instinct/6th sense (whatever you want to call it) instead of dismissing it for various reasons. What's also amazing is that out of all living things, humans choose not to explore and often ignore our own survival signals! We actually ignore our natural response.

That's not to say that de Becker wants us to fear everything around us. When we use gut instinct appropriately, and not excessively, to assess the situation our fear stops immediately. If we fear everything then how are we to recognize a true signal of fear when it's important? Fear is meant to only last a very short time which means that excessive or enduring fear is detrimental and can have power over us greatly limiting our lives.

De Becker goes on to talk about worrying and that section struck a chord with me. I am a self-proclaimed worrier. It's what I do. Some people knit or paint for a hobby, I worry. But de Becker showed me how useless worrying is. I have admittedly used worry to protect myself against future disappointment. I'm a total 'what if-er'!! I use it to prepare myself 'in case' something bad happens. Almost like a 'knock on wood' deal with fate. What a waste of my time and energy. Worrying is a choice and a 'fear we manufacture' which is not constructive. Huh.

De Becker gives three great tips for dealing with worry:

1. When you feel fear, listen.
2. When you don't feel fear, don't manufacture it.
3. If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why.

De Becker lists several survival instincts which I found fascinating (and was one of my favourite parts of the book). This may seem long-winded but I found it fascinating and added it in here so that I can refer back to these points in the future. Bear with me or skip down a bit. :)

Forced Teaming -- is the intentional projection of a shared experience between the stranger and the victim. It gets the victim to see the aggressor as having something in common with them and therefore can cause the victim to not perceive the stranger as a threat.

Charm & Niceness -- used to compel or control a person. Just because a person seems nice doesn't mean they are nice. We need to realize (and help our kids realize) that niceness doesn't equal goodness"

Too Many Details -- when people are truthful they don't feel doubted so they don't feel the need to elaborate and give excessive details. The stranger uses the details to distract us from what's really happening ... the con.

Typecasting -- slightly insulting or labelling a person a certain way (ie "You're a snob so you probably won't take the time to talk to me.") hoping that the victim will prove that opinion is wrong (ie keep talking to the stranger).

Loan Sharking -- ie. the stranger wants to 'help' you bring your bags to your apartment so that you'll feel indebted to him which makes it hard to say 'no' to him when he undoubtedly will ask for a much bigger favour from the victim

Unsolicited Promise -- the stranger will promise something to the victim (ie "I'll just drop the bags in your doorway and go. Promise.") We must remember that promises don't equal guarantees. A stranger will promise something because he's still trying to convince the victim of his intentions. The fact that the victim still has some doubts means their survival instinct is active!! Always be suspicious of an unsolicited promise!

Discounting the word "NO" -- "No" is a complete sentence and must never be negotiated. If a person ignores 'no' they're trying to control the other person. If you give in after saying 'no' you open the door to the person trying to set up ways to control you even more

One of de Becker's points that struck me was his comment on how women are constantly considering their safety and in fear of their general safety while men don't normally deal with that kind of (almost) daily fear. I've wondered that too so I asked Brad - my expert on all things male. I asked "Would you ever feel that your safety was at risk walking down the street in the dark (we're in total suburbia) or walking in an underground parking garage by yourself"? His answer was 'No, never'. For me? Definitely. Is the risk great that someone would hurt me while walking the dog at night? No. Would I ever choose to walk in a parking garage by myself? Definitely not. Is my concern valid or real? Yes. As a woman I was raised to always be aware of my surroundings ... men just aren't tuned into that fear like women are.

From a young age women are (I'm making a generalization here) taught to be 'nice', not to offend others and to 'please' people. This tactic is totally wrong and potentially dangerous. It's OK to not accept help from a man if you don't feel comfortable. Like I mentioned above, "No." is a full sentence and we shouldn't feel the need to stand there are justify our reasons for saying no. If I offend a man who innocently offers to help me bring my bags to my car in an underground garage that's OK. If he's a nice guy he'll probably understand. Even if he walks away in a huff, that's OK because my safety is paramount to me, not his slighted feelings. Plus a nice guy probably wouldn't approach a woman in that situation. If he's a violent guy and I've forcefully said "No" then I've shown him that I'm not someone to be messed with and hopefully avoided a dangerous situation.

De Becker also discusses our other basic instincts. Fear is not the only basic instinct (although it is the instinct with the greatest urgency). We also have instincts of : apprehension, suspicion, doubt, gut feelings, hunches, curiosity and humour. De Becker goes into detail describing the various levels of intuition so that we can recognize them and learn to use them.

While I did enjoy this book I did have some issues with it as well. The middle of the book, which dealt more with business and employees, I didn't find nearly as interesting for me. I also didn't relate with the large section on how Hollywood-type people deal with stalkers or unwanted attention from fans. I thought the book was going to focus more on how to teach yourself to look for clues to avoid trouble with others who mean us harm. That wasn't the case. While the book was very interesting it did have a psychology text feel to it and did get bogged down in the middle.

Also, I was a little let down when the book didn't go into as much detail on 'how to' as I was hoping. I was looking for more ways to protect myself and my family or ways to weed out the criminals from the normal folk. That being said, I obviously did enjoy a good chunk of this book, I learned a lot and would recommend this book.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions & Goat Cheese

I've been meaning to post a book review for the past couple of days but I've been putting it off for a couple of reasons. First, I keep finding really tasty recipes that I want to share with all of you and secondly I'm still struggling to get through the book that I'm supposed to review next. It's not that I don't like the book but it's more of a self-help book that feels like one of my old psychology texts (interesting but not a page turner). I will finish it in the next few days (it's due back at the library soon) so there will be more 'bookworm' to this blog soon instead of just the 'baking' aspect!

So, in order to flex my procrastinating muscle a bit I've decided to post a recipe I made today. Around here it was a cold and very wet day ... perfect for spending time in the kitchen. I made Monster Cookies (they were just OK so they didn't make the cut) and these oh so creamy, tangy and sweet taters. Oh yes, these were delish!

They took a bit more time but were well worth it and were divine with the Crispy Parmesan Breaded Tilapia I was also serving. These taters were so creamy and I loved the tanginess of the goat cheese paired with the sweetness of the caramelized onions (which were mixed into the potatoes as well as dolloped on top!!!). If you asked my three kids what they thought of these potatoes you'd get a very different review. They were sceptical from the get go when they saw caramelized onions mixed among their mashed potatoes (Brad and I kept the garnish onions for ourselves, we're not crazy!!). Like I've said before my kids are firmly in the 'different foods shall not touch' camp whereas I like to walk on the wild side and mix it up (literally).

Each of my offspring did try the potatoes each with varying degrees of dislike. Everything from upturned nose to desperately trying not to touch the dreaded onion amongst the potatoes to grabbing their milk quickly to wash the wee bit of spud down. It's moments like this when I'm surrounded by all this loving support that gives me the energy and drive to do what I do.

Seriously, I remember being a kid (waaaay back) and not being thrilled with what my mom had slaved away in the kitchen making. Let me just say that Picky Eater Karma sucks!! I've already asked my Mom to call off the karma police more than once. "I'm sorry I complained over and over again about eating brussel sprouts and liver when I was a kid! Call of the food karma, puleeeze!!!".

Weeellll, I'm still hoping their tastebuds will come around in the very near future when they'll be begging me to make my goat cheese mashed potatoes instead of begging me to make Kraft Dinner for supper. A girl can dream, can't she? ;)

Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese

Inspired By:

Yield: 4-6 servings

4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 tbsp olive oil (I used grapeseed oil)
1.5lbs yellow onions (approximately 2 large onions), thinly sliced
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp white sugar
3 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1.5 cups half and half creamer
3 ounces goat cheese
black pepper and salt -- to taste

Make caramelized onions --- In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp of butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and stir to coat the onions in the butter and oil. Add 1/4 tsp salt and the white sugar, stirring frequently until onions are golden brown and caramelized -- approximately 30 minutes. If the onions become too dried out add a little bit of water to the onions and deglaze the pan (ie. scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan -- it's flavour, not gross!!). Set onions aside.

Meanwhile, place potatoes in a large pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender -- approximately 30 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, in a medium saucepan heat the remaining 2 tbsp butter, garlic, bay leaf and half and half creamer. Do not allow the creamer mixture to boil.

Drain potatoes and mash. Remove bay leaf from creamer mixture. Gently add some of the creamer mixture to the mashed potatoes a little at a time and mix well. You may not need to use all of the creamer mixture.

Set aside some of the caramelized onions for garnish. Stir the remaining onions into the mashed potatoes. Gently mix the goat cheese into the potatoes and combine well. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with reserved caramelized onions. Serve hot.

Note: I halved this recipe since it was just Brad and I (and the kids) and we still had one full helping leftover. This recipe stated that these potatoes are wonderful reheated as well. I'll find that out tomorrow (if I can beat Brad to the leftovers!! He loved these as much as I did!).

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Lemon Pound Cake Loaf

There are certain recipes/dishes that I'm extra picky about. These select dishes have a certain somethin' somethin' (that's a technical cooking term) that I need to taste in order for them to pass my most stringent testing (ie I gotta love them and NEED to make them again). Lemon loaf is definitely one of them.

I adore the smell and taste of fresh lemons. Here again (along with Parmesan and basil) is where fresh is always better! That bottled 'lemon juice' doesn't remotely taste like the real thing and you don't get the added benefit or flavour from fresh lemon zest!!

Lemons are something that I always have in my fridge because they're so versatile. I use them in marinades, salad dressings, cookies, icings .... So it should come as no surprise that I'm picky about what it means to have a perfect lemon loaf. I personally need (yes, require) a lemon loaf to have the right balance of sour and sweet. I LOVE having a sugar and lemon crusty topping on it too (that's one of the best parts, right?!?). There should also be no question that a perfect lemon loaf could not be used as a boat anchor. It's gotta be light!! This one totally fits the bill.

I made this loaf yesterday afternoon in preparation for the kids' after school snack and for their lunches today. I literally had to slice off the pieces needed for the kids' lunches today to ensure that we didn't inhale it yesterday.

Bookworm Family Tidbit: My family and I are fully aware (and don't care) that we have no ability to deny ourselves yummy treats ... and we're ok with that.

This loaf was sublime. It was tangy and sweet; it was light (almost too light -- could be hard to slice at times) with a wonderfully crunchy/sugary/lemony topping. I loved that the ingredients are all things that I have on hand (which may not be good for my thighs or wee Grinch Belly as we approach swim suit season). Go on! Make this loaf and try not to eat it all!

1 large lemon
2/3 cup milk
1 tbsp lemon juice OR white vinegar
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Glaze Ingredients
3 tbsp lemon juice (obtained from lemon in loaf ingredients)
3/4 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the bottom of a 9x5-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Zest entire lemon (I use a microplaner for very fine zest). Cut lemon in half and juice it. Measure out 3 tbsp of lemon juice and set aside for glaze.

In a small bowl combine milk and 1 tbsp lemon juice (if you were able to get more than 3 tbsp from the one lemon. If not use vinegar). Set milk mixture aside. You're now making 'homemade buttermilk').

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.

In a large bowl, beat butter and white sugar together until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla and milk. Add flour mixture and gently combine. Do not over mix or you'll have dense bread.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. The top of the loaf will look moist and cracked -- that's good!

Meanwhile, prepare glaze: In a small bowl, combine 3 tbsp of lemon juice with 3/4 cup sifted icing sugar.

Using a wooden skewer (or something similar) poke holes all over the top of the warm loaf (go about half way through the loaf). Drizzle glaze over loaf and allow loaf to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the outside edge of the loaf tin then turn loaf out onto a cooling rack (turn it right-side up immediately) .

Last but not least ... try not to eat it all before the kids get home from school. I dare you!

Inspired by:

Monday, 9 May 2011

Moist Mandarin Orange Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Icing

I hope all of the Moms out there enjoyed their Mother's Day yesterday. We had absolutely stellar weather here!! This year and last year my Mother's Day was a bit different. For some reason a HUGE Scout jamboree (we're talking 5000 Canadian and American Scouts) is planned each year on Mother's Day weekend in Dorchester, Ontario. This year Brad and my 11 year old went leaving myself, Missy Moo and 9 year old Karate Guy to hold down the fort.

The three of us had a grand time of library hopping, bike riding, skipping contests, movies and eating forbidden peanut products while my peanut allergic 11 year old was at camp (Missy Moo and I have a hankering for Reece Peanut Butter cups which we indulge in when he's safely away from home).

Even though this Mother's Day weekend was odd not having everyone here I didn't feel like I missed out on the extra attention. I got "Happy Mother's Day" from both kids first thing in the morning then seven year old Missy Moo made me a card, a picture of herself (framed with popsicle sticks & fake flowers) and made me breakfast in bed (a bowl of Cheerios). I did notice that she saved the Captain Crunch (a treat in our house) for herself and Karate Guy but I let that slide. Karate Guy and Missy Moo helped to make my Mother's Day a great day!

Once the men folk returned mid afternoon all smelly, sweaty and exhausted from camp they were required to quickly shower, start laundry (I do NOT touch Cub/Scout camping laundry, they do it themselves) then wait on my mother-in-law and myself and make use feel like the queens that we are. It's the law, right? My mom and dad are currently away down south so we had a quick Mother's Day celebration in my driveway just before they left!

Anyway, once Brad and "Cub" were presentable again we sat down to a nice feast of ribs, BBQ'd spuds, homemade Crusty Rosemary Bread ( I think I'm addicted to it) and this wonderfully light cake.

I'm not a total food snob who refuses to use a mix here or there. Cake mixes do make some amazingly light and moist cakes. I love adding extras to make it special. This cake had a nice colour and the citrus flavours were mild. I'm sure you could increase the orange zest if you wanted more oomph. This cake would be great for a baby/bridal shower, Easter or 'just cuz'!

A belated happy Mother's Day to all those moms out there!!

Moist Mandarin Orange Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Icing

Cake recipe inspired by (via Christine's Pantry)

2 (15oz) cans mandarin oranges
1 (515g) box of lemon cake mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil

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

Drain one can of mandarin oranges keeping the juice in a small bowl. Set juices aside. Drain other can of mandarin oranges and discard it's juices. Place both cans of mandarin orange segments into a medium bowl. With your pastry cutter mash oranges.

Add oranges, reserved juice, cake mix, eggs and oil to the bowl of your stand mixer (or large bowl). Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake completely.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe inspired by

2-3 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
8oz pkg cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
3 cups icing sugar
orange peel curls for garnish

Wash orange well. Using a microplaner zest orange (I zested the entire orange). Cut orange in half and juice it.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, orange zest and orange juice until creamy. Beat in icing sugar until blended and smooth. Spread over completely cooled cake. Garnish with curls of orange peel.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Loose Ends: A Mary O'Reilly Paranormal Mystery

Author: Terri Reid

Type: E-book (Kindle)

Genre: Supernatural/Mystery

Series: Mary O'Reilly Paranormal Mystery series

Series Order:
1. "Loose Ends" (2010)
2. "Good Tidings" (2010)

First Line: "Galena, Illinois - 1980's: The candidate stood at the front of the ballroom a few feet behind the podium on a makeshift stage."

Synopsis: Mary O'Reilly's life drastically changed when she was shot and killed in the line of duty ... then came back to life. After that near death experience Mary was left with the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Now ghosts seek her out in order for her to help them pass through to the other side. Using the skills she learned in her former job as a Chicago cop as well as her new abilities, Mary has started her own investigative company specializing in solving mysteries involving the dearly departed. One of Mary's biggest difficulties is convincing the living (especially the new, handsome police chief Bradley Alden) that she's not crazy for (apparently) speaking to herself and talking about ghosts.

In this first book of the series, Mary is approached by a Senator to look into the death of a young woman who died in the Senator's pool 24 years ago. This young woman is now haunting the Senator and his wife. Initially listed as an accident Mary soon learns that the woman was murdered. As Mary uncovers more information about the woman's death she unearths a connection between that murder and the disappearance years before of several young girls.

My Thoughts: A paranormal romance novel with not a vampire or werewolf to be seen!?!?! What a novel idea!! I thought that this was a great first book by Terri Reid. I love that she got this book published via Amazon (instead of a traditional publisher) -- how cool is that, I ask you?!

This is a great first book and a promising start to a new series. It had a bit of romance, good humour and a suspenseful mystery with enough twists and turns to keep me interested (I finished it in 2 days!). I really liked the idea that Mary could speak to and see ghosts and think that this ability will lead to many diverse storylines.

Mary was an interesting main character. She's a strong woman but she also shows such compassion for the ghosts who were asking for her help. She has a good sense of humour (she'd have to have one with the ghost of a dead Civil War veteran living in her basement!) and the sexual chemistry between Mary and Bradley was interesting especially since Bradley is unavailable ... or is he? I can see his mysterious wife being part of future books to add a nice twist to the romance angle.

Despite some truly chilling scenes the book doesn't get bogged down in the macabre of dealing with ghosts and dead bodies. The storyline flows well and the ending wasn't obvious (at least to me). The secondary characters, specifically Rosie and Stanley, were cute but I would prefer them to be included more and offer more of a comic relief or quirkiness. I love me some quirky secondary characters!!

Side Note: I think this premise and cast of characters would make a great TV series (if the Hollywood powers that be stayed close to Reid's vision)!

My only issue with this book is that it was very poorly edited. We're talking paragraphs issues all over the place making it difficult at times to know who is talking. Seeing as I only spent 99 cents on this book I'm not going to have a hissy fit but as a Type A person those kind of things bug me. I'm hoping that Kindle gets that worked out because I look forward to reading many more books from this author.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

One of those days ....

You ever have 'one of those days'? Up until a certain point things are going well then all of a sudden something happens to change it all. That was my day today. It started off well -- the sun was out, the kids went off to school without any rushing around/craziness, I had a wonderful tea, chat and thrifting expedition with one of my favourite gals .... then something happened to put a wrench in my good day. I hate that!!

As I was making myself a chicken quesadilla for lunch (complete with homemade guacamole) I had a mishap of sorts. I was chopping up some green onion when the knife slipped and it sliced into my fine self. My lovely index finger to be exact. I wasn't looking to increase my protein in my quesadilla with a piece of digit but perhaps fate had a different idea.

It was one of those moments when you see what you did but can't quite wrap your brain around it. A split second later it hit me and I put my finger under cold water then wrapped it in a cloth and held it above my head (not sure if that's proper procedure but that's what I did). In the meantime my brain caught up and started thinking about what I did and what I saw (the side of my fingernail sliced and bleeding) and I went full-out into my fraidy-cat, yellow-bellied wimp mode. It wasn't pretty and included a lot of 'oh crap' and 'no, no, no, NO!'.

You may think that getting squeemish over a bit of blood and a sliced nail makes me a total wuss .... and you'd be right! I may come from 3 generations of registered nurses (my great grandmother, my nana and my mom) but the medical 'don't mind seeing blood and needles' legacy ended with yours truly. I'm a total wuss and get lightheaded just thinking of blood and needles so when I took a gander at my bleeding finger with the sliced nail I got light-headed and felt the blood drain from my head.

Picture it if you will. There I was with my finger in the air and my head towards my knees. Ahhh, my medical matriarchs would be so proud! I did manage to call Brad (out of an important business meeting -- eeks!) and he came home to A) make sure I hadn't passed out and conked my noggin' (I've fainted before with this stuff) and B)to bandage me up and see if I needed to go to the ER for stitches. No stitches needed just some bandages on my pride.

Ahhh well. I took the night off from cooking and got to gross out my kids with my finger so it wasn't a total waste of a day. It could have been much worse and I'm thankful that I wasn't hurt more but I'm pretty sure any hope of being a world famous hand model can never be a reality for yours truly. I won't be able to compete for Canada's Next Top Hand Model *sigh*.

For those who have a penchant for all things gross (and because I had time to kill this afternoon) I've included a picture because if I can gross out more than just my kids it would make my day better!

AKA "The Wussy Blogger"

Monday, 2 May 2011

A Cottage By The Sea

Author: Ciji Ware

Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural

Type: ebook for Kindle

First Published: June 2010

First Line: "In Blythe Barton Stowe's considered opinion, justice would have been better served if the earthquake fault that ran under the Los Angeles County Courthouse had simply cracked open and swallowed her husband's vulgar white stretch limousine, passenger and all."

Synopsis: When Hollywood production designer, Blythe Barton Stowe finds her famous producer husband in bed with her sister she quickly divorces him. To get away from the media storm she decides to move to the Cornish coast of England where her family is rumoured to be from. She rents a quaint cottage from the owner of Barton Hall, Lucas Teague.

Blythe finds herself intrigued by his family tree which hangs in his home and is surprised to learn that a woman with her name is on the family tree. As she touches the framed family tree she is taken back in time to when her rumoured namesake, Blythe Barton lived. While taking a peek into the past Blythe learns long hidden family secrets.

My Thoughts: This was a hard book to review. There were times in the book where I enjoyed it. Then there were times when it plodded along. I think overall I felt that this book was OK but felt like the author could have done a lot more with the storylines and pushed things just a bit further with respect to the connections between the past and present. It's definitely not an edge of your seat read but there were some good moments (specifically when Blythe finally confronts her younger sister) but overall the read fell flat.

One of my favourite things about this book were the beautiful descriptions of the Cornish coast of England. Maybe I got swept up in all things British because Will and Kate's wedding was happening as I was reading but, honestly, England (and Scotland) are at the top of my list of places to visit next so reading a great description of a place I want to visit was wonderful.

That being said, there were a lot of things that I didn't love about this book. The supernatural element was too convoluted and unbelievable. I still don't totally understand the whole DNA explanation of the supernatural element. I finally just glossed over those paragraphs because they didn't make any sense to me. It felt like the author was throwing in too many reasons for the supernatural element and it ended up being confusing. I realize that we're talking about supernatural stuff but it still has to have a thread of believability to keep the story grounded. For example, I loved Diana Gabaldon's standing stones idea of a way to go through time. This one just didn't seem as believable with a mere saying of a name and touching some glass. Um, no.

The characters were good but typical. I'm not sure how I feel about the main character Blythe. I love that she's this strong woman but I had trouble connecting this strong, successful, smart Hollywood production designer with the totally cliched country girl from Wyoming who used rodeo lingo to get her point across. Perhaps the author was trying for a 'fish out of water' storyline to make Blythe as opposite to her English neighbours as possible? Who knows. What was annoying was that Blythe kept hearing words of wisdom from her recently deceased Grandma that were more like "Hee Haw quotes from the farm" telling her what to do in times of trouble. They were totally hokey and distracted from the overall story.

I was also hoping for a big romantic love story between Blythe and her English gent but it was more like horny Hollywood gal meets horny Cornish lord. Bring on the bodices to be ripped!

Finally, the epilogue was ridiculously excessive and went into far too much detail. A nice synopsis of what happened to the characters is what I need. Not a blow by blow description of their business etc.

Overall this was just a passable read. Thankfully I got this ebook for my Kindle either free or close to it. If you're looking for amazing historical fiction with a touch of supernatural/time travel please try Susanna Kearsley (a wonderful Canadian author) or Diana Gabaldon's highly popular "Outlander" series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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