Friday, 30 September 2011

Rosemary Ranch Chicken Thighs

This is one of those perfect week night supper ideas that's easy and tasty! You've gotta love a supper dish that you can easily and quickly prep in the morning while still in your jammies!!

Just because I've gone back to work part-time doesn't mean that I want to skimp on the quality or nutrition in the dishes that I serve my family. I still want to create new dishes in the kitchen but I'm a realist too and know that I don't have the time most days to do major prep work for supper. Four out of five week nights have got to be easy or prepped ahead of time so I can quickly and easily feed m'family. {Note: in certain, occasional, even rare instances -- for example .... um .... tonight -- chicken nuggets and fries will be served but only in dire circumstances (or when I'm just plum tired and didn't follow my meal plan). Don't judge.}

I was pleasantly surprised at just how tasty this chicken turned out. I wasn't expecting it to taste nasty but I didn't expect to love it so much either. This chicken was uber tasty and even got two 'This is really good, Laurie!' comments from Brad . I do so love 'yummy noises' from my peeps. I will say that there's definitely a nice subtle tang to this marinade and the aroma is divine. As soon as I opened up the Ziploc bag to give my Personal BBQer (ie Brad) the chicken thighs to grill I had to take a moment (and take another whiff) because it smelled heavenly!!! And after Brad had them grilled to perfection? They were wonderfully flavoured, juicy and tender!!

I used 12 thighs for this recipe hoping that I'd have extra chicken to use in another dish. Since we had 5 thighs leftover (two of my little humans aren't huge meat eaters) I used them in a delicious salad that I'll share with you all soon.

Rosemary Ranch Chicken Thighs
1/3 cup grapeseed oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup ranch dressing (I used Kraft Three Cheese Ranch)
3 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp white vinegar
1/4 -1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp white sugar
12 chicken thighs, boneless & skinless

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the chicken. Mix well and let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place chicken in a large Ziploc storage bag -- make sure that each thigh is opened flat before you place it in the bag so that the marinade can get all over each piece. Pour marinade into the bag and close securely. Massage the chicken to ensure that the marinade coats each thigh. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. If possible, massage the chicken every few hours to ensure that the chicken is marinated evenly. If you don't have time, don't worry about it. :)

Preheat BBQ to medium heat. Grill chicken for 8-12 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the centre and the juices run clear.

Note: As with all of my recipes, I strongly recommend using fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice. It makes a world of difference in the flavour of your dishes.

Side Dish Suggestion: Creamy Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

Inspired by:

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday!!

This has been a very successful reading week for me. Unfortunately right now I'm suffering from a weather induced migraine so I'm going to make this post short and sweet. Being a human barometer isn't all it's cracked up to be!!

This week I read a supernatural/urban fantasy ebook on my Kindle called "Along Came a Demon" which I reviewed yesterday. Not my favourite read. Next I read the fifth book in the Mary O'Reilly series by Terri Reid. I'll be reviewing that book soon so you'll have to wait and see what I thought of it.

Today I picked up "Library of the Dead" by Glenn Cooper. I cannot remember who recommended this book to me but I've had it out from the library for several weeks now. So far (I'm 100 pages in) it feels like an Alex Cross meets DaVinci Code kind of read. So far, so good!

Next up? I have "Sister" by Rosamund Lupton.

What did you read this week? Didja love it? Would you recommend it?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Along Came a Demon

Author: Linda Welch
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published:
First Line: "There's a naked woman in the garden," Jack said."

Synopsis: Tiff isn't your average female investigator. Ever since she was the victim of a violent act she's been able to see and communicate with the ghosts of people who have died violently. Not only does she deal with ghosts at her job as an investigator for the local police force in Clarion, Utah but she even lives with two ghosts.

One night Tiff sees a female ghost hanging out in her backyard. Since most ghosts hang around the place where they were killed Tiff goes out to investigate to see if she can help the woman move on. Tiff learns that the ghost had a young son who has gone missing and the police don't even know he exists. Tiff vows to find him all the while trying to elude two demons who are out to kill her.

My Thoughts: If you've been following my blog you know that I enjoy a good supernatural read. I adore Kelley Armstrong, J.K Rowling ... the list goes on. Lately I've been devouring Terri Reid's "Mary O'Reilly" series as fast as she can write them. Go Terri go!!

So, when I read the description of this kindle ebook I thought it would be right up my alley. I admit that there are a LOT of similarities with Reid's series but unfortunately this book lacked the energy, comedic relief and heart that Reid brings to her series. With so many similarities such main characters who talk to ghosts and use their abilities to help law enforcement, who acquired their abilities after a violent act etc it's hard not to compare. Welch gives the reader a different take on supernatural with a dose of urban fantasy but it just wasn't for me. I didn't like the demon aspect and didn't think falling for a demon was anywhere near romantic in my book.

Unfortunately the story didn't grab me either. It had very choppy writing which was confusing and distracting and yet it was also verbose when dealing with the descriptions of rooms and other extraneous things that weren't relevant to the story. That kind of confusion and extra detail just bogged down the momentum of the storyline. I kept reading hoping that I'd get a clearer picture of what was happening as I read on or that there'd be a big 'ta-da' moment but that never happened.

My main issue with this book is that I felt like I was reading the second or third book in a series. So many things seemed to not be explained clearly -- her past, the sudden inclusion of demons, Tiff's features (they weren't mentioned until later -- she has white blonde hair?? Didn't fit with what I had already pictured). There was also no clear picture of the violent act that caused her ability, why demons suddenly hunted Tiff and what demons are exactly etc. I had to go online to double check that this was indeed the first book. I don't like the feeling of coming in late in the conversation.

So, I'm going against the grain with this review. There were a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews for this book online which is why I bought it for my kindle. So, what am I missing here? I was looking forward to some action, romance and her roommates being used as comic relief but they were more annoying than anything.

For now I think I'll stick with Terri Reid and her supernatural series. Check back soon because I just finished reading the 5th book in that series and I'll be reviewing it soon!!

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, 26 September 2011

Meal Plan #2

Ok, week one using a meal plan went pretty well. I stuck to my meal plan each supper except for one night (Thursday - we went out for dinner). I like using a meal plan -- but I love cooking on the fly a lot more. But due to my new work schedule making meals 'willy nilly' isn't something that I have time to do anymore. I'll save my cookin' by the seat of my pants for the weekends. :)

Soooo, here goes another week of meal plans!!

Italian Meatball Soup with toasted garlic bread (forgot to pick up garlic bread so that side dish turned into bagels broiled with cheese on top. See I can still fly by the seat of my pants in the kitchen. I'm a total maverick! ;)

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Veggies & dip

Ranch Chicken (* New recipe *)
Mashed Potatoes
Green beans from m'garden

Sweet Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin (Crock Pot) (* New recipe *)
Baked Potatoes
Asparagus sauteed in balsamic & a wee bit o' butter

Breakfast for Dinner!! Pancakes, bacon, fruit & yogurt smoothies

What are some of your favourite weeknight 'gotta get a good meal on the table before we have to rush off to extracurricular activities' kind of meals'?

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Tea Rose

Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: Historical fiction / Romance
Pages: 544
Series: first book in the Rose series
Series Order: The Tea Rose (2002), The Winter Rose (2006), The Wild Rose (2010)

Synopsis: Fiona Finnegan is a teenager living in the Whitechapel section of London in the late 19th century. Fiona is from a very poor family but the love of her boyfriend Joe and their dream of marrying and owning their own business gets her through each day. When Fiona loses almost everything she holds dear she decides to leave London and heads to New York to start a new life. At first it's a difficult life but with hard work and the determination to succeed as well as the desire to avenge her family from the man who tore Fiona's world apart she makes a new life for herself.

My Thoughts: I have to begin this review by saying that I'm not a fan of romance novels. There's nothing wrong with that genre it's just not something that I'm drawn to or personally enjoy. I find them more often than not cheesy and I actually start to feel embarrassed for the characters when the cheesy quota gets too high.

I also have to stipulate that when I opened this book I was expecting a historical fiction book based in 19th century England. Unfortunately what I got was far from what I expected. The book begins as a historical fictional read (great descriptions of 19th century England), then moves into the soap opera realm (scheming rich blonde bimbo included) and then ends up in cheesy romance-land. Too many genres for my liking. I'd describe this book as 80% romance, 15% historical fiction and 5% implausibility.

While this was a very easy read I found that too many liberties were taken to help the reader stay interested in the life of Fiona Finnegan. It's one thing to experience loss and to pull oneself up by the boot straps from extreme poverty through hard work and a little luck. It's something totally different when that same person's family is touched by none other than Jack the Ripper followed by Fiona's whirlwind meteoric rise to riches by inventing not only iced tea in the American south but tea bags as well. It felt unbelievable, contrived and, quite frankly, silly. I believe I actually did quite a fantastic impression of a teenage eye roll when I read that Fiona had invented the tea bag. Wouldn't Englishmen Richard Blechynden (inventor of iced tea) and American Thomas Sullivan (inventor of the tea bag) be surprised to hear that little tidbit?! It seemed that as soon as Fiona's English feet touched New York soil she could do no wrong and her ascent into wealth and fame was fast tracked. Um, no.

The characters were cliched and not very interesting. Fiona was a woman ahead of her time and felt much more like a 21st century woman set in late 18th century England/New York. It just didn't feel right. I also don't want to guess how the story is going to unfold before I even read it. I want some twists and turns. I will admit that there was a twist right at the end that I didn't see coming and quite enjoyed but to read over 500 pages to get a shock is a lot to expect a reader to wait.

If you enjoy a formulaic, easy to predict romance novel then this book may be for you. Did I hate it? No. Did I love it. No. This book just wasn't my 'cuppa tea' {bud da ba!}. Get it? Tea?!? If this book was meant to be escapist romantic fiction then Donnelly met her objective. If she meant to write an accurate historical fiction read then I don't believe she met her mark ... by a long shot. As someone who is used to the historical fiction of Michelle Moran and other similar authors, this book just didn't compare.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday

First of all, I'd like to thank all of your kind comments and encouragement regarding me heading back to work after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. So far, I've been able to balance home life with work and have really enjoyed having my own 'thing'. Not only do I like my job but I'm totally rocking the steel-toed shoes, safety glasses and ear plugs that I need to wear to get to my office in the plant. Oh ya. I'm bringing sexy back!!

No worries on the home front either. With the schedule Brad whipped up for chores, and with he and the kids all pitching in to get stuff done, my first 2 weeks at work have been pretty smooth! With less housework on my plate I'm still able to try out new recipes (I made a tomato pesto today!) as well as keep on my reading so all is good!!

So, what HAVE I been reading? Well, this past week I finished reading "The Tea Rose" by Jennifer Donnolly. It turned out to be a very different read than I was expecting. Much more romance than epic historical fiction read that I thought it was. I'll be reviewing that book over the next couple of days.

I'm currently reading "Along Came a Demon" by Linda Welch. It's, not too shockingly, a supernatural read that I bought on my Kindle a while back. It's got a different supernatural feel to it than I'm used to. Jury is still out on this book.

Next? Well, my Fairy Bookmother gave me stacks of books again (thank you FBM!!) so I have oodles to choose from there as well as quite a few Kindle reads that I want to dive into.

What have you been reading this week? Did you love it? What do you have planned to read next week?

Monday, 19 September 2011

My Foray into the Wild Wild World of Meal Planning

Since I'm back to work I'm feeling the need to be more proactive when it comes to meal planning. Usually I'm a carefree, by-the-seat-of-my-stylish-yoga-pants kinda cook waiting to see what flavours I want to eat for supper that day. It was one of the perks of being a stay-at-home mom for so many years. I had total control over the daily supper options and could decide on a whim what to make for supper that day.

Now that I work four days/week I cannot cook on a whim if I want to eat well. And I do want to eat well! I also still have a sense of culinary adventure ... it just has to be a planned adventure. Does that make it any less adventurous?!? I'm pretty sure Indiana Jones planned some of his adventures out! ;) Ok, I'm totally a Type A 'gotta-plan-everything-out-within-an-inch-of-its-life' anal kind of person (yet still with a sense of culinary adventure!). That's my title and I'm stickin' to it! As a HUGE lover of all things to do with organizing/labelling/scheduling I'm going to give this a shot.

My current goal is to post my meal plan Sunday night to share with all of you. If I've already made the recipe before I'll post the link so you can easily find it. Sound good?

Here's to more organization in the kitchen! I'm going to sincerely and whole-heartedly try to plan out my suppers. {Note: I say this before all of my favourite shows start up this fall. If I go back to my reckless anti-meal planning ways I will blame Vampire Diaries, Amazing Race, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory. Ok, I won't blame Big Bang because I cannot, in good conscience, blame my beloved Sheldon.}

Here is what I have planned for this week:

Tuesday -- Missy Moo's choice (it's her 8th birthday!!)
** Chicken, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with homemade guacamole and loads of sour cream! Granted the birthday girl and her brothers will be opting for a simpler quesadilla.

Spaghetti with Mega Meat Sauce
Caesar Salad
Homemade bread

Meatball Sub Casserole

Friday -- Girl's Choice!!
** Missy Moo and I have a mom & daughter-only date and dinner out!!

Do you meal plan?? If so, what do you have planned for this week??

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Purse Cake with Faux Strawberry Frosting

Some people refer to this season as late summer or early fall. To my family and I we call it "Birthday Season". As I've mentioned before my family is smack dab in the middle of a three month period when all five of us celebrate our fetes. Yesterday my 'baby girl', Missy Moo, celebrated her 8th birthday with a gaggle of giggly girls at the local bowling alley. Nothing brings back youthful birthday memories like rented shoes and the sound of bowling balls bouncing down the alley!! Right?!?

My little Missy Moo is still a very girly girl (which I adore!) so when I asked her what kind of cake she'd like me to make I wasn't surprised when she asked me to bake her another purse cake. When she was 5, and we had just moved into our current house, I had baked her a cake in the shape of a purse and it must have made an impression if she wanted it again!

Note: I adore purses in all shapes and sizes. Be it a Coach purse, clutch, change purse, sling or a big hulking bag that could carry a small family. I love them all because they are a way to organize my crap beloved things that I like to keep near me on my excursions. With a love so deep as my love for all things purse I suppose me baking a purse cake (or two) was an inevitability.

Making a purse cake isn't hard. Honest! First you start with a cake mix. Yup, I used a cake mix. Call the Baking Police if you will. I have never been able to find a 'from scratch' vanilla cake that comes close to comparing with the moistness and flavour of a vanilla cake mix.

Once you've baked your two 8-inch round vanilla cakes and let them cool, the fun begins! The faux strawberry frosting is a cinch too! As I've stated before our family cannot use Wilton icing tints because they 'may contain' peanuts. This is where Kool-Aid powder comes in handy! So many flavours and it colours the frosting quite nicely too! Beware though ... a little goes a long way!

With this tasty frosting, some candies for decoration you've got yourself a mighty fine purse cake that would make Coach purse maker and a cake baker (or a cake baker holding a Coach purse) jealous! Needless to say, there was not a crumb left after the 8 little darlings got through with the cake!

Purse Cake
From: The Baking Bookworm

1 white 2-layer cake mix (461g box)
other ingredients needed to bake cake as per cake instructions (ie oil, eggs, water)

Frosting for Filling
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp milk

Faux Strawberry Frosting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp strawberry Kool-Aid powder
2 tbsp milk

Licorice & candies for decoration (I used Mike & Ikes & Smarties)

Prepare Cake:
Trace the outline of two 8-inch round cake pans on a sheet of parchment paper. Cut out the parchment circles and lay them in the cake pans. Grease parchment and set pans aside. Prepare cake mix according to package instructions. Allow cakes to cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake and remove cakes to a wire rack. Remove parchment paper from cakes. Allow cakes to completely cool.

Prepare filling icing:
In the bowl of your stand mixer (or by hand), mix shortening and butter on medium speed until mixed well. Add sifted icing sugar, one cup at a time, to the shortening mixture and mix on LOW. Add milk. If needed, add a bit more milk to get the consistency that you want. I prefer a thicker, not runny, icing on my cakes.

Build Your Purse Cake
Once your two cakes have cooled completely cut both along the diameter of each cake. I actually used a ruler to make sure my halves were equal (Type A!!) so that my halves were equal and I didn't have a dip in the middle of my purse.

Using a large bread knife, slice off the rounded top of one of the cake halves (this will help the halves fit together better). Using a spatula, spread a large dollop of the filling icing onto flat bottom of one of the cake halves. Stand this cake half on its flat cut edge on a plate or cake plate. Place the cake half that you cut to make flat against the iced cake half. With the remaining cake half, spread a dollop of icing and place it against the middle cake half. If you're a math whiz you'll notice that you have a cake half left over. Eat it along with the extra strawberry icing later on.

Note: Make sure you leave some of this white icing for decorating the purse later on. Voila! You now have the main part of your purse!

Prepare faux strawberry frosting:
You're essentially making the same frosting as the filling but we're doubling the recipe and adding some strawberry flavour. One teaspoon of Kool-Aid powder may not seem like a lot but TRUST ME. A little goes a long way!

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or by hand), mix shortening and butter on medium speed until mixed well. Add icing sugar, one cup at a time, to the shortening mixture and mix on LOW. Add Kool-Aid powder and milk. Add a bit more milk to get the consistency that you want.

Using a large flat icing spatula, spread on the strawberry frosting all over the cake until you get a fairly smooth texture. I used quite a bit to ensure that the candies would stick well. Decorate the sides of your purse with the candies.

Using the handle end of a small spoon, make two holes in the top of the cake where your licorice 'purse handle' will go. Stick the licorice ends into these holes. Using an icing bag (or just a Ziploc baggie with a very small hole cut in one corner), pipe some of the white icing along the edges of the cake or for more decoration.

Note: Frosting and filling inspired by

I've linked this recipe to:
Everyday Mom's Meals "Church Supper" linky party and


Friday, 16 September 2011

Whatcha Reading? .... er, Fridays

Ok, so I admittedly dropped the ball on my weekly "Whatcha Reading?" Wednesdays post. With starting back to work this week, a 'meet the teacher' evening and the usual chaos that ensues in a house of three kids I kind of, well ... totally and utterly forgot. It happens people, more often than I care to admit. My mind can only hold so much information before it starts omitting facts.

Currently the fall TV schedule is firmly ingrained in my cranium which means that forgetting a blog post was bound to happen. Oh yes, I do admit to getting excited when my fall TV shows start back up. I love me my Amazing Race (a show our family watches together), Vampire Diaries, the new Secret Circle, Big Bang Theory and Modern Family (I often have a lot in common with poor Claire!)! Oh yesssss!

Back to books --- So, now that you've had a couple of extra days to read I'm sure that you have oodles of books to share!! Personally, I'm still reading the mighty big "The Tea Rose" by Jennifer Donnelly. Unfortunately it's a bit of a slow read for me. It's holding my interest but not grabbing me as much as I was hoping it would. It's a novel that follows the life of Fiona Finnegan, a poor English woman and how she follows her dreams and beats the odds.

Next up? I really want to get back into my Kindle. I also have "Library of the Dead" by Glenn Cooper. Has anyone read it yet? I had reserved it at the library and can't remember who suggested it to me. Has anyone found any great mysteries or supernatural reads??

So, what have you all been reading? Did ya love it? Would you recommend it? What do you plan to read next?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Orange n' Cinnamon Streusel Muffins

I know that I've been a little MIA on the blog front in the past few days but I have good reason. This past Friday I was offered a job that I couldn't turn down. Yup, after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom I decided to get back into the work force. I have many reasons -- extra money is always good, very flexible hours (I work 4 days/week and only when the kids are in school), it's a 2 minute drive from home and it'll beef up my stagnant resume!

One of my fears of heading back to work was the added stress it would put on me. I see what my friends and family who have kids go through and, quite frankly, I don't want that. To have to do the majority of the cooking and cleaning on top of working wasn't enticing. I didn't want hectic running around trying to make supper our of a box all to rush to after school gymnastics/dance/swimming lessons. Then to come home to do laundry and prep for the following day.

Luckily, Brad came up with a solution. He is a whiz at Excel and whipped up a spreadsheet of chores and enlisted our children as well as he and I to do the chores! With a very generous increase in their allowance the kids have taken on quite a bit of the housework. We've divvied up the chores which include everything from laundry, helping to prep dinner, clean up after dinner, clean counters, dust, vacuuming/mopping, getting the mail and walking the dog! Makes my life easier and teaches them just how much work it is to run a home!

My first day was on Monday. Yup, I only had the weekend to get used to the idea but I honestly think that was a good thing. I tend to over think ... everything, quite frankly. I'm a worrier/over thinker and I totally admit it. My first day was good ... but so tiring! How can I race after three kids for 12 years and find a desk job tiring?!?! It's not like I didn't have a desk job before the kids were in school! I realize that there is a period of adjustment so we'll see how tired I am after tomorrow!

Before I went out into the wonderful world of paid work I decided to whip up some homemade muffins to send in our lunches for the week. I was feeling nostalgic about the end of my stay-at-home era and wanted to make sure that my kids had something made by mom in their lunch. Cue violins.

These muffins were a hit with our family. The orange flavour is very mild and the cinnamon compliments it very well. If you want a stronger flavour from the orange increase the zest or try adding some orange juice concentrate as well as the orange juice. One of my favourite parts of this muffin was the brown sugar/cinnamon filling. It bubbled up while they baked and gave them a little added something. Both of my boys have asked for me to make these muffins again. Awww, they still need their mommy! I hope you enjoy these muffins too!

Orange n'Cinnamon Streusel Muffins

Adapted from: (Cinnamon Streusel Orange Muffins)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
finely grated zest from one orange (approximately 2 1/2-3 tsp)
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 tsp white vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

3 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Streusel Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

Prepare muffin batter:
In a medium bowl, stir together 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup white sugar, baking powder and salt.

Juice the orange. Pour the orange juice into a measuring cup and add additional orange juice (freshly squeezed or pre-made) until it equals 1/2 cup.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, orange juice, orange zest, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.

Prepare filling:
Combine 3 tbsp brown sugar and 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Fill the muffin cups halfway with batter. Sprinkle approximately 1/2 tsp of the filling mixture onto each half-full muffin cup. Spoon more batter over the filling mixture so that the cups are two-thirds full.

Prepare streusel topping:
In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon and the softened butter to make a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle this streusel topping generously over the tops of each muffin.

Bake for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Kitchen Daughter

Author: Jael McHenry
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
First Published: April 2011
First Line: "Bad things come in threes."

Synopsis: Ginny is a 26 year old young woman who has Asperger's Syndrome. Throughout her childhood and even into adulthood Ginny has been sheltered by her well-meaning parents who wanted to give Ginny a life free from negative labels. Although she is timid in the outside world it is in the kitchen where Ginny truly feels at home. Not only is she comfortable cooking but she excels at it. It's her love of food and cooking and it's sights and smells that Ginny uses to calm herself in times of stress whether it's imagining the carmelization of onions or the smell of chocolate.

When her parents are suddenly killed Ginny's world is thrown upside-down. Her life is made even more stressful by her sister Amanda's insistence on selling the family home, the only home Ginny has even known. With all of the chaos in her life Ginny looks to her love of cooking to provide comfort and stability in her life.

While making her Nonna's soup, Ginny unexpectedly summons the ghost of her long-deceased grandmother. Given the chance to speak to her grandmother is an unexpected joy for Ginny but when Nonna gives Ginny the cryptic message, "Do no let her." Ginny is intrigued and is intent on figuring out what Nonna meant. As Ginny tries to figure out Nonna's message she unearths other family secrets long hidden.

My Thoughts: I came across this book via another book blogger, The Book Maven, on Twitter. From the synopsis on the back cover and the beautiful picture on the cover (I'm a sucker for a great cover) I decided to pick it up. I was also intrigued of the author combining a magical element with Asperger's.

"The Kitchen Daughter" is a very easy read. This is not one of those fast-paced books where the storyline and plot development takes centre stage. The story is more about the characters, their relationships and general family dynamics . The fact that it dealt with food didn't deter me either! I love how cooking and family 'tried and true' recipes are used not just for sustenance but for bonding between the generations. That is so awesome!

This book has a twinge of magic in it which I, of course, enjoyed. I'm not talking about wizards and werewolves and other paranormal fare. It's more of a quirkier, subtle magic. This book has the same magical feel as Sarah Addison Allen's "Garden Spells". I think it creates a lighter feel to a rather serious book.

Going into this book I honestly have to say that I only had a very basic understanding of Asperger's which is only due to the fact that I know two children that are affected by this syndrome. Reading more and more about Ginny's symptoms made me better understand the symptoms that I've seen firsthand (which, admittedly, I didn't realize were symptoms until reading this book). Educating myself about Asperger's is what I loved most about this book. It's an eye-opening, real account of what it's like to live with Asperger's. For days after I finished reading this book I kept thinking about Ginny, her symptoms and how she viewed and made her own way in a world that is so focused on being normal.

Don't get me wrong! While this book does focus on a young woman with Asperger's it doesn't focus solely on the syndrome. Asperger's is used more like a lens that the reader can view the world through so we can see the world through Ginny's eyes. The reader can see just how different a person with Asperger's views the world ... and is viewed by the outside world and their own family which I found fascinating. It's a story that focuses more on the negative effects of labelling, what it means to be 'normal'. A lesson we can all use, I fear.

Ginny is a great main character. She's blunt, determined and outspoken. She's endearing and you find yourself rooting for her to stand up and make it on her own even though she has family who talk down to her and unfortunately don't expect much from her.

Amanda, Ginny's sister, was a hard character to like. As a sister myself I can appreciate her fear for her sister's well-being (even if her actions weren't the best) as well as her fear for her own children. My favourite character in the book has to be Gert. While she doesn't say much in the book she was the kind, quiet fairy godmother-type character who was waiting in the wings to help Ginny and bring her through this turbulent time.

If you're a reader and cook like moi you'll appreciate the vivid descriptions of food and cooking. You'll be itching to try the recipes!! Yes, there are recipes included at the beginning of the chapters! Personally, I have my eye on making the Ribollita (bread soup).

This was a good read and one that will, no doubt, stay with me for a long time. It's a story that is less about Asperger's than it was about family dynamics, acceptance, determination, stubbornness and how labelling ourselves and others can truly limit the lives we lead. This book has given me a greater appreciation of the complexity of Asperger's Syndrome and the struggle these people have to just be viewed as 'normal'.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday!!

The kids are back in school!! Can I hear a 'whoot whoot'?!? Don't get me wrong I loved having my little darlings with me for 2+ months but I think over the past week or so we've all been needing more of a schedule. I know that I've been craving time to get things organized (I totally nest in the early fall!!). I'm also looking forward to trying new recipes and even trying my hand at some DIY crafty thangs!

This past week I read "The Kitchen Daughter" by Jael McHenry. It's a story that revolves around a young woman who has Asperger's Syndrome. It has a touch of magic and has truly vivid descriptions of food and cooking. Enough to make my mouth water! It even has several recipes included. I'll be reviewing that book soon.

I'm currently reading "The Tea Rose" by Jennifer Donnelly. I'm only 40 pages into this 550+ book but so far, so good. Filled with lost love, murder, and revenge the story focuses on the life of Fiona Finnegan in the late 1800's and spans two continents. It kind of feels like the love child of a Josephine Cox book and "Master of the Game" by Sydney Sheldon.

Next? I need to read more on my kindle so I'll have to see what I have on there when the time comes.

What are you all reading? Have you heard of any new authors?? Share, share, share and hopefully we can all find new reads!!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Pumpkin n' Ice Cream Pie

With the approach of fall I've been hankering for dishes using pumpkin, apples and cinnamon!! I'm so done with summer and it's heat and humidity! Bah humbug! Bring on the crisp mornings, the crunchy leaves, sweater weather, the thick stews and soups! Can you tell Fall is my hands down favourite season?

I just had to appease my craving for all things fall but with the heat wave we had here in my part of Ontario last week there was no way I was turning on my oven to bake a cake or cookies! So I went on the search for a fall-esque dessert that didn't heat up my kitchen.

Since apple season isn't quite here yet I opted for a dessert that featured pumpkin (which happens to be the main ingredient of my favourite dessert pie!). That got me thinking about a summery pumpkin pie ... and voila! Pumpkin meet ice cream. Ice cream meet cinnamon and her bud, nutmeg. And a new set of BFFs were born!

I gathered all of the ingredients I'd need and even had a willing helper, Boy 1 (my 11 year old) who is also a pumpkin pie addict from way back. Armed with a Ziploc and a rolling pin he was given the job of crushing the gingersnap cookies. I used a gingersnap made by Dare and Chapman's ice cream which are both made in peanut-free facilities. I wanted to give a nice shout out to Dare and Chapmans for providing safe and delicious options for people who have peanut allergies. You both make my son's life a little bit sweeter (and safer)!

Ok, my peanut-free love fest is now over. We now return you to our regularly scheduled recipe. This pie went over really well with my family which means that my kids took a look at the pie then promptly ate their suppers so they could have a taste of this pie! Oh ya, it was mighty tasty! It's a mild tasting chilly, creamy pumpkin pie .... and the gingersnap crust rocks!!

So go gather your ingredients up!! Go on! As you can see by the following picture I'm very a wee bit anal. Yes, I do label my spice jars that are already labelled but I have a good excuse! My spices are on a tiered rack so I need to be able to see the names without taking them down .... and I love my label maker. Don't judge.

Enjoy this summery/fallish treat!

Pumpkin n' Ice Cream Pie
Yield: 8-12 servings

Gingersnap Crust
1 1/2 cups (approx. 1/2 of a 350g box) Dare's 'Simple Pleasures' Spice Snaps (or other gingersnap cookies), crushed
5 tbsp butter, melted

Pumpkin Ice Cream Filling
4 cups vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
Garnish -- whipped cream, gingersnap cookies

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350F.

Place gingersnap cookies into a large Ziploc bag. Close it and using a rolling pin crush the cookies into crumbs. Crush enough cookies to make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs.

In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Mix well. Pour into a 9-inch pie shell and press it down around the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake crust for 5 minutes and cool completely.

Make Filling:
Once crust has cooled, remove ice cream from freezer and allow it to sit on the counter for 15 minutes to soften. Scoop 4 cups of ice cream into a large bowl and mix well with a spoon to remove chunks. Add white sugar, spices and pumpkin. Mix well until well combined. Pour ice cream mixture into cooled pie crust. Cover loosely with foil and freeze for several hours or overnight.

Before serving allow pie to sit on counter for 10 minutes to make cutting easier. Garnish with whipped cream or extra spice cookies.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Madame Tussaud

Author: Michelle Moran

Genre: Historical Fiction

Type: Hardcover

Pages: 464

Published: February 15, 2011

First Line: "When she walks through the door of my exhibition, everything disappears; the sound of the rain against the windows, the wax models, the customers, even the children."

Synopsis: Marie Grosholtz, who would later become Madame Tussaud, narrates this tale set during the French Revolution. This book focuses on Marie and her family between the years 1788 and 1794 while they lived in Paris and owned their wax museum, the Salon de Cire. It's in the museum, where Marie learns the detailed art of wax sculpting under the tutelage of her uncle.

Marie's skill is soon brought to the attention of the Royal family and she is hired to tutor the king's sister, Madame Elizabeth, in the art of wax modelling. Always conscious of improving her business, Marie believes this connection with the Royal family will be good for the Salon de Cire. It's through this tutoring that Marie gains access to Versailles and the decadent lifestyle of the rich but little does she know that her association with the Royal family will put her family in danger as the Reign of Terror takes over Paris.

Meanwhile, Marie's uncle offers their home as a meeting place for Robespierre, Marat and other revolutionaries who are determined to oust the royals and make a society based on equality. Soon, Marie and her family, who consider themselves 'survivialists', quickly learn how to balance between the powerful forces of the monarchy and the new regime trying to overthrow the monarchy. It's a constant struggle knowing which group to support in order to ensure their family's livelihood and safety.

Filled with political intrigue, violent images and vivid descriptions of 18th century Paris, Moran takes the reader back to a time where control of the French government kept shifting between various powerful groups, where people were murdered if they were thought to be supporting the wrong side.

My Thoughts:
Let me start off by saying that up until I read this book I didn't know much (OK, anything really) about the French Revolution. I had, of course, heard of Queen Marie Antoinette but other than remembering her famous line "Let them eat cake" (which she never said in this book), her sad fate, as well as being portrayed by Kirsten Dunst on film I didn't know much about that era. Sad but true.

When I saw that Michelle Moran had written a book about the French Revolution I knew I had to pick it up. Moran is one of those authors who I trust will write an amazing historical fiction read that will put me right in the heart of a certain era, whether it's 18th century France or ancient Egypt. She's an amazing talent that incorporates history with a riveting story.

I enjoyed the fact that Moran included many historical figures into her story including Rose Bertin (Marie Antoinette's dressmaker), the horrific and truly twisted Marquis de Sade as well as Jean-Paul Marat and Maximilien Robespierre who were prominent in spurring on the Revolution. I did know that Madame Tussaud was a real person (and not just a figurehead of the famed wax museum in London) but I had no idea she had such a prominent role in the Revolution. You learn something new everyday!

Marie Grosholtz (aka Mme Tussaud) was such a breath of fresh air compared to the other women of the time. She was independent, learned, skilled and not afraid to be without a husband. Even though Marie is considered working class Moran makes it apparent how much more independence and freedom Marie has compared to the elite such as Queen Marie Antoinette. The Queen was so sheltered and pampered that she didn't even know how to dress herself. She wasn't allowed to do anything for herself, including picking up her own tea cup. With all of their money and prestige the Queen was much more sheltered and had less choice than Marie!

Moran also clearly shows the vast differences between the poor and the elite. The extent of the extreme indulgence and waste at Versailles is astounding!! The fact that the Queen only wore these intricate, expensive dresses and shoes once then they were thrown away was nauseating ... especially when you see the poverty in which the commoners lived. When you compare the over the top extravagance that was used on a daily basis with the Royals and compare it with the fact that the masses were literally starving from a lack of flour and other foods you can see why there was an uprising.

One theme that was portrayed throughout the book was the terror and insecurity of the common and rich. It was a time when people were killed based merely on rumours and speculation. A time when no one was safe from anarchy of the massive mobs who destroyed anyone, including priests, women and children, who they thought didn't follow them blindly. We see how the mob mentality was out of control and was brutally ruthless when it handed down sentences to those who they believed weren't on the side of the Revolution. Many times Moran's descriptions of the brutal and vicious behaviour of the Revolutionaries was a little too much for me and my tender stomach. Not to mention some of the things Marie was demanded to do with her skills as a wax modeller (I won't give it away here but it ain't pretty).

One thing that I did find lacking was the romance between Marie and Henri. It was a cute relationship but was lacking passion. For such a true love I needed to see some kind of spark between them. Their love seemed very innocent and pretty much one sided. Marie didn't show nearly enough interest in poor Henri for me to believe their love was real. It was that lack of spark that made me feel excited when Marie finally met Mr Tussaud! The funny is that it wasn't until almost the end of the book (when she meets Mr Tussaud) that I realize that Marie isn't Madame Tussaud yet! Oh yaaa, I guess she does have to marry Francois Tussaud at some point! Duh!

The first 150 pages or so has a very slow pace as Moran sets up the situation and story. Don't give up! Once the stage is set the story takes off and you're immersed in the Revolution. It's a fascinating era and I loved learning more about Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI and their children. Not to mention learning that Josephine Boneparte (who went by the name Rose at that time) also had a role in the Revolution too. Makes me want to re-read the "Josephine B" series by Sandra Gulland!

I also thought it was an interesting twist to learn about the French Revolution from the eyes of a commoner and not the Royal family (as other authors have done in the past). Usually movies and books focus on Marie Antoinette but it was refreshing to see how the young Queen was viewed (and constantly criticized) by the commoners and the high society alike. Let's just say the Queen could never catch a break and was never able to make everyone happy at any one time. I actually felt sorry for her.

Although politics and history was a huge part of this book, it also focused on Marie's love of her craft as well as what it meant to be an independent woman in the 1700's. We see how much Marie gives up (marriage, children, love) all for her love of wax modelling. Marie is portrayed as a resilient spirit and a talented woman who had to endure truly horrific conditions and gruesome scenes in order to use her talent to stay alive.

Moran is a truly skilled historical fiction writer and is one of my favourite go-to authors. She writes her books with vivid detail that helps bring the reader into that time period. If you haven't picked up one of her three previous books I highly recommend them!!! I adored "Nefertiti", "The Heretic Queen" and "Cleopatra's Daughter". While I didn't love this book as much as her other three books but I did enjoy it and loved learning more about an era in time that I knew nothing about.

I recommend this book.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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