Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Angel of Blythe Hall

Author: Darci Hannah
Pages: 512
First Published: July 2011
Genre: Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Romance
First Line: "Like a tenacious weed, the memory of that sunny spring eleven years ago, in the year of our Lord 1481, still haunts the recesses of my mind."

Synopsis: Prepared to lay claim to her family’s magnificent ancestral fortress in the Scottish border country, Lady Isabeau Blythe is determined to restore her noble family’s good name and reclaim these stunning, strife-torn lands. But even the headstrong Isabeau’s firm sense of reality is shaken by the inexplicable allure of Blythe Hall, an entrancing castle haunted by dark secrets—and otherworldly creatures of light and desire.

Isabeau’s arrival sets in motion an epic power struggle: a ferocious fight for Scotland, her family, and her heart. Taunted and tempted by a sinister rogue knight, Sir George, who covets her land and her love, and trapped in the madness of her charismatic brother, Julius, who seeks power of unearthly origin, Isabeau can only surrender to the wild visions of the remarkable man she inexplicably longs for. With a bloodthirsty army amassing outside her gates, Isabeau summons help from Gabriel, the elusive man of her dreams. But does this alluring man possess the secrets of the castle and her destiny? (Synopsis from

My Thoughts: When I read the synopsis of the book I was intrigued.  Truth be told I picked up this book at the library based on the picture on the front, the description on the back cover and the fact that it was set in Scotland.  Mmmm, men in kilts!
Unfortunately, the description and what I read in the book didn't mesh.  Yes, it followed the general synopsis but it took an odd turn.  I began the book thinking it was going to be a Scottish border tale.  You know the kind.   Strong men on horseback in kilts defending their country while falling in love with the strong-minded woman who has just entered his life.  I've read more than my fair share of that kind 'historical fiction with a splash of romance' and there's a reason why.  I like them.  They're not hard to follow, they have decent storylines and who among us doesn't melt at the thought of a Scottish brogue.  {**Mmmmmmelt**}

Unfortunately (or is it surprisingly?) what I got wasn't a good old romp along the Scottish border but a historical fiction/paranormal romance with a pretty cheesy aftertaste.  I love a good cheese ... just not in my romances. 

For the romance aspect there was no lead up to Isabeau's romance with Gabriel.  It's so sudden and unexplained that it was hard to buy.  One minute she doesn't believe this guy is real and literally the next day she can't keep her hands off him.  Not buying it.  Ease me into the romance!  I have to believe it if I'm going to buy it.

I think what surprised me the most was how the mystical/paranormal element of the story didn't mesh with the historical part of the book.  It felt like the book started like a historical fiction read but then this mystical angel element was added and it threw it all off balance.  When this mystical element was first introduced I had to reread a passage because I thought I was mistaken about where the author was going with the storyline.

Overall, just an ok read.  Let's just say that I was never on the edge of my seat with suspense.   The characters were clichéd, rather dull and everyone was just too darn gorgeous.  I think it would have been better if the author would have stuck to one or two genres.  Adding the third genre made the book confusing and took a lot of the momentum from what would have been a good read.   

 My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake

This was a wonderful weekend.  Why, you ask?  Not only did we get some family time together but we got some time apart.  Yes, I can attest to the fact that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.  My 12 year old was camping in Adirondacks (a wooden structure with three walls) with his Scout troop and my parents had the other two offspring at the cottage with a few of their cousins.  Perfection!   Why did Brad and I pawn off our spawn to various people?  We had our work Christmas party to attend.  We've been going to this party for 18 years but this was the first year that I've been an employee and can be included in the draws for prizes. 

Little did I know but I would leave the par-tay with not only a $50 gift certificate for supper but .... a 32G iPad2 with Wifi!!!  SCORE!!  My hands were shaking I was so thrilled!  This is one of those gadgets that I always wanted to own (I even put it on my Christmas wish list -- 'wish' being the operative word) but never truly thought I'd own one.  They're $650+ each!! 

Needless to say I kept repeating over and over to Brad "I cannot believe I OWN an iPad2!!!".  Then a couple of people asked if I was going to give it to my kids.  I'm pretty sure that I looked at them like they had three heads.  Give this to my mini humans?  Are you mental???  No way!  It's MY Precious! I live a small and sheltered life.  This is how I get my jollies.  So tomorrow I pick up my prize when I go into work and I may be posting my Meal Plan Monday post from my iPad.  *swoon*

Anyway, back to the post at hand!  Today was a horribly wet, dreary and cold day.  The kind of day you just want to hunker down and bake something, play some board games and perhaps read a bit.  And that's exactly what I did.  Ten year old Karate Guy had a 'buffer friend' over (I refer to a friend as a 'buffer' because they tend to stop my kids from fighting/arguing/causing me stress).  Generally buffer children make the afternoon go by perfectly.  If they play their cards right they could also be a taste tester for various baked goods at the Bookworm household. 

To take advantage of the peace and bad weather I decided to use up a bag of 11 McIntosh apples that I had hanging around.   These apples, although tasty, well ..... let's just say these apples would not win any 'pretty apple' beauty contests.   You know the kind.  They may have some dings, an off-centre core or some bad spots.  But honestly.  Who are we to judge?  Which one of us walks around without a ding or misshapen body part?  At least these misshapen oddball apples can be transformed into something wonderful like a cake or muffin.  My jiggly bits?  Not so much.  But I digress ....  these apples, while not perty, still tasted mighty fine.  Especially when they're paired with brown sugar and spices!

This is an easy cake to whip up for a brunch, kids' snacks or 'just because'.  I did increase the apple amount a wee bit which made me increase the baking time a bit and gave me less of a cake-like texture and a much softer, squishier 'cake'.  When I bake an apple treat I want to taste the apple.  Nothing worse than a blaw baked good. :(

Needless to say, I have only a third of the cake left.  I kept having 'just one more bite' {repeatedly}and I gave my parents' a couple of pieces to give them strength after having 5 of their 10 grandchildren stay overnight last night.  I hope you enjoy this treat as much as we did. 

1/2 cup shortening (I used Crisco)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream

5 medium apples - peeled, cored & chopped into small pieces (approx. 3 cups)

1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

3 tbsp butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 350F.  Set oven rack to second lowest level.  Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl), cream shortening and white sugar until combined.  Add eggs and vanilla; mix until combined and smooth.

In a medium bowl, sift together: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the shortening mixture alternating with the sour cream.
Gently fold in apples.

Prepare filling/topping: in a small bowl, combine nuts (if using), brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add butter and combine with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Top with half of the filling mixture.  Spoon remaining batter over the filling (it may not stretch that far but that's OK).  Top with remaining topping mixture.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Serve warm (or cold). 

Recipe Inspired by:

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Accidental Hero

Author: Matt Myklusch
Pages: 470
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Paperback
Series: 1st book in the Jack Blank series
Series Order:
  • The Accidental Hero (2010)
  • The Secret War (2011)
  • The End of Infinity (Aug 2012)
Previously Published as: Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation

Synopsis:  Jack Blank is living at the depressing and horrible St. Barnaby's Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten and Lost.  Not only does he not have any friends but he doesn't even know his full name or how he came to live at St Barnaby's.  He spends his days getting picked on by teachers and bullies alike and is usually in trouble because bad things happen when he's around.  His only solace are the comic books that he's secretly stashed away and returns to time and again to take his mind off his bleak life. 

One day Jack is suddenly attacked by a robot that closely ressembles one of the characters in his comic books.  Jack surprises himself by defeating the robot.  Shortly afterwards he is approached by an emissary promising to take Jack away to a place where all imaginative thoughts and ideas come from called the Imagine Nation. 

The Imagine Nation is a special place full of superheros, ninjas, aliens, robots and cool futuristic gadgets.  It's also the only place where there are people who can help Jack harness his very unique abilities.  Unfortunately, soon after arriving Jack learns that he's infected with a deadly alien virus that sends fear throughout the population leaving Jack to feel, once again, like an outcast.  Jack soon learns that his immunity to the virus, which has killed thousands of people in the past, is only one of his super abilities. 

When Revile, the evil alien who terrorized the Imagine Nation in the past resurfaces Jack must discover his past as well as master his newfound powers if he's going to be able to fight against Revile and save the Imagine Nation and the entire world.

My Thoughts:
I picked up this book for my 10 and 12 year old sons strickly based on the title, a quick look at the description and the book cover.  I'm always on the lookout for new reads for my kids.  My boys are particularly adept at judging a book based solely on the front cover so I knew that this book would get their attention.  Plus they adore book series so this was a no brainer. 

So there I was dashing through the brand new library to find my kids some new reads.  OK, truth be told I took about an hour in the new local library full of deliciously brand new reads and I admit that I was literally giddy!!  I was flyin' my Book Nerd flag high and proud that day!  Anyway as soon as I picked up this book I thought my boys would love it.  And they did. 

They loved it so much that they inhaled the first and second books within a couple of days and my 10 year old went out and bought The Secret War with his own money!  They whipped through those two books only to find out from the author (via twitter - how cool is that!?) that the third book won't be out until next August!  Patience, my boys.  I have no doubt that they'll reread both books a couple of times before the next book comes out!

Not only did my boys love this book but I enjoyed it too.  My kids love it when we read the same book.  I love it because we sit down and chat about the book and I'm often surprised at how much detail they remember that my old brain forgets! 

It's no wonder that my boys loved this book.  It's a very imaginative read full of ningas, superheros, magic, robts, technology etc.  It's a world that's vividly described to the reader where, in any given day, you'd find superheros battling it out in the streets.  Where you have androids, humans and aliens living in the same world.  A world which is divided into several distinct areas -- each with their own specific population (my favourite part was Cognito - where people go to disappear.  Get it?  They disappear in Cognito!).

While on the surface Jack's life somewhat mimics my beloved Harry Potter, Myklusch quickly differentiates Jack from Harry.  While both boys are orphans, are rejected by those around them, have odd 'magical' things that they can't explain happen when they're upset and are then whisked off to a place where people understand them .... Myklusch clearly shows the reader that Jack is 'his own man' complete with his own issues and adventures.  What Myklusch and Rowling both have in common is
the ability to vividly create a fantastical world and make it believable as well as creating a main character that the reader can easily get behind and root for.

One of the things that I didn't love about this book was at several points a Yoda-type character paraphrases some famous people who he's met in an attempt to teach Jack.  Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of young adults (like my sons) would know who this character is referring to.  If I'm being honest there was at least one quote that I wasn't sure of who the original author was.  While I appreciate the points that the author was trying to teach (ie "Be the change you want to see in the world", "Knowledge is power.") I'm not sure that having the character throwing in quotes was the way to go.

This book also introduces the reader to several interesting secondary characters as well. I just hope that the reader gets to know them better in future books.  I realize that, as a first book, the author has to introduce not only the characters but this fantastical new world.  I would just love more back story about the characters that surround Jack.  Skerren's past was mentioned but I would have loved to have Skerren describe what happened to him to make him so jaded.

One of my favourite parts of the book were the intense fighting scenes. By 'intense' I don't mean gruesome and bloody. There was one scene between Jack and some robots which was great and full of action and suspense. This Mom of three was on the edge of her seat. More of that in future books, please!! 

Overall, a good start to the series.  My boys have already told me that "The Secret War" is 'even better!" than "The Accidental Hero" so I'm itching to continue on with this series.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of comic books, Rick Riordan's 'Percy Jackson' series, Rowling's 'Harry Potter", superheros -- or anyone with a great imagination.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Coming Clean & Meal Plan #9

As a food blogger it's natural that I want to put my best 'meal' forward.   I want my blog to showcase my favourite recipes in a pretty little blog package.  While I don't blog daily I do spend typically 1-2 hours making each post {hopefully} interesting.  But when I see all of these fantastic, fancy food blogs and start comparing it to my little slice of the blog universe I get that anxious 'gotta be as good as their blog' kind of feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Not a good feeling. 

It's hard for me not to compare my wee blog when you see these amazing, fancy delicacies these food bloggers whip up!  I'm no newbie in the kitchen but I'm definitely not a 'fancy schmancy' kind of cook.  The gorgeous pictures, the oodles of followers and the sponsors, the professionally designed blog ... it's so hard not to compare!  And don't even get me started on the DIY home decor blogs!!  So inspirational that they're pretty intimidating at times.  Jealousy has raised her nasty head!  Never a good thing.

One of my favourite home decorating blogs (The Thrifty Decor Chick) wrote a wonderful post that put it all in perspective.  Reading her post gave me a virtual slap upside the head and brought me back down to reality.  I adore blogging and although it is a lot of work I truly love it I knew that I was putting a lot of undue stress on myself. 

I thought that in order to decrease some more of the stress I put myself under I'd 'come clean' to you all.  Ooooo.  I know what you're thinking.  The Baking Bookworm has some hidden, deep, dark secret.  No, I'm not a huge hoarder.  And no, Justin Bieber didn't father any of my children.  If you're waiting for some kind of huge revelation you may be less than shocked. ;)
I am coming clean about what I sometimes feed my family.  I don't want to give everyone the wrong impression that I only make 'right from scratch/been in the kitchen all day' kind of meals -- because I don't.  In my perfect world I'd love to have the time and energy to make huge meals --- but sometimes chicken fingers and fries that are ready in 20 minutes are pretty enticing too.  Not to mention that occasionally I do crave a Pogo dipped in mustard with a side of fries!
I do adore cooking (most of the time) but I will admit that it can sometimes be stressful thinking up new recipes each week and shopping for those meals.  For me, cooking should be fun and not taxing on my sanity.  This is why I want everyone to know that were you to look in my basement deep freeze you'd see that I keep a stock of ...... wait for it ..... dark secret coming  ......  Deliscio frozen pizzas,  frozen fries, chicken burgers, Eggo waffles and chicken fingers.  My name is Laurie and I sometimes serve and enjoy Deep Freeze Cuisine.  There I admitted it.   Phew!  Not only do we partake of this 'cuisine' occasionally but my kids hail me as a hero when I announce that we're having chicken nuggets and fries.  "Yay, we don't have to eat roasted root veggies and marinated pork tenderloin!  Mom's awesome!".   I'll take those Mom Points, kids!  Thanks!

Those 'quick to the table' kind of meals, while admittedly not the healthiest option, can save the day for those times when I don't have time to make the planned meal.  Or those {knock on wood} rare times when I'm sick and Brad can pop something easy in the oven after work that the kids will eagerly eat.  Brad's a good cook but when you have three starving kids who are so hungry that their blood sugar is plummeting making them plan a revolt, throwing a couple of 'zzas in the oven to appease them can be a sanity saver.  It could, in fact, save you from being drawn and quartered by mini humans.

Why do I put so much stress on myself?  I don't know.  It's a gift ... and probably has something to do with my Type A 'gotta be organized/prepared 24/7' kind of mindset.  The Psych major in me knows this isn't productive but the Type A part of me shoves a proverbial newly baked cranberry scone in the Psych major's mouth to shut her up promptly. 

Last week I didn't follow my meal plan ... at all.  Nope.  Not one iota and it honestly threw me off my cookin' mojo.   While Brad was in Chicago on business the kids and I threw healthy cooking out the window and sowed down on some easy fare for a few days ... and we had a great time.  So starting this week I'm learning to not feel like I have to do it all.  It's OK to cook a pizza that has a dough that .... wasn't ... made by my .... hands.  It's ok to send my kids to school with {breathe Laurie} store bought cookies. 

My point is that most of us will occasionally choose a quick meal over a three course, from scratch 'good for you' meal.  And that's OK.  Hopefully a night off in the kitchen, a bunch of accrued Mom Points in my pocket will help me get my cookin' mojo back (so I stay on my meal plan this week!!) and decrease some of the stress I put on myself!

So here's my Meal Plan for this week!!

Sausage and Spinach Lasagna
Caesar Salad

Lasagna leftovers!

Crab Cakes
Homemade  Oven Fries
Green Beans

Cranberry Pork Roast (slow cooker)
Mashed Potatoes
Ginger Sweet Potato Butternut Puree {NEW RECIPE}

Spaghetti with Mega Meat Sauce (frozen from last month)

Pumpkin Macaroni & Cheese {NEW RECIPE}

Work Christmas Party! Prime Rib buffet here I come!!

So there's my plan for this week! What do you all have lined up?  I know that my American followers will be knee deep in turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce -- oh my!!  Totally jealous!

If you've made it this far in this giant post hats off to you -- you're awesome!  I hope you enjoy the recipes and book reviews that I have planned this week!  My blog is not fancy but it does come from my heart.  I may not have professional photos of my creations (or understand my new camera) but with the help of my mini camera crew (ie. my kids holding up a piece of white bristol board as the 'backdrop' for my pictures 'just so' to catch the right light) I'll continue trying to take pretty pictures.  Along with my family's willing bellies to try out my new recipes and my kids and YOU letting me know of great new reads I'll continue to feel good about my little slice of blogdom.
My hope is that you come to visit my blog {often!} for some culinary inspiration  and to find and share good reads!  I hope that my blog feels welcoming and you feel comfortable sharing your favourite reads and leaving some comments to let me know you're popped by. 

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Creamy Bacon & Blue Cheese Pasta

Today was my day off so I decided to whip up a big meal complete with a loaf of crusty bread.  Ok, if I'm honest I wanted a rich pasta dish as an excuse to eat a loaf of homemade crusty bread.  If I'm going to help eat a loaf of bread I might as well throw in a pasta dish too, right?  This pasta dish features an ingredient that, until a last week, I didn't know I liked.  In fact, I was pretty sure I didn't like it.

Over the past six months my taste buds have been surprising me.  Not only have I become besties with my former nemesis, Goat Cheese, but now I've found a new love.  This new love is creamy, tangy, and has a strong flavour.  It gets a bad rap for being a little mouldy and for some reason I don't just love it -- I LUUUURVE it!  Yes, it's Blue Cheese!  The first time I tried fresh blue cheese (waaaay back -- I'm talking last week) I had to talk myself out of thinking about what the blue veins were.  Mind over matter, Laurie.  You can do it.  Don't worry about the mould.  Man, was it good!

When I decided to make a pasta dish today I knew that I wanted a rosée sauce but needed to jazz it up a bit.  So off to the store I went in seach of my new favourite cheese.  I'm going to toot my own horn and say that this was a mighty fine dish!  The smell of the bacon and blue cheese alone got me all excited (I live but a sheltered life).

I was excited about this dish but I had to play my cards right if I wanted a nice family meal where my spawn didn't revolt at the sound of blue cheese hitting their tongues.  I was pretty sure that if 12 year old Cub saw the blue cheese container on the counter he'd send out the alert to his siblings that there was 'mould' in the pasta.  After doing his Grade 2 science fair project on mould (and seeing what it can do to a piece of bread and a strawberry -- and how mould doesn't effect a Twinkie - ew!) he's not so eager to eat a cheese that prominently showcases it.  I can understand Food Baggage.  Parsnips and I are still at war with each other.  But that's a whole other story.  I digress ... so to bypass this issue I served the kids their pasta before adding in the blue cheese.  Score one for Mom!

But Satan must have broken out the snowboots because hell surely had to have frozen over.  Missy Moo came over and asked for seconds before I had even sat down to eat.  The girl eats like a bird and she's asking for seconds!  Unheard of!  Once I picked my fine self up off the kitchen floor I gave her seconds ... with blue cheese in it.  Bwa ha ha. She gobbled that serving up too!  She didn't even flinch when I told her (after she ate it, of course) that there was blue cheese in her refill.  I didn't even get to gross her out??  Where's the fun in that?!?

My ever escaping point is that this recipe is a definite keeper.  Not only is it super easy and a great weeknight meal but it was really tasty.  It's creamy with a slight smokiness from the bacon and the tanginess of the blue cheese.  Divine!

1lb farfalle (bowtie) pasta
8 slices of bacon, diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups small button mushrooms
3 tbsp cooking sherry
28oz can of tomato sauce
1 cup half-and-half creamer
2tbsp sour cream (mine were heaping)
3/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled

To taste -- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish -- fresh basil, blue cheese

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat sauté bacon until it begins to brown.  Add onion and sauté until onion becomes soft.  Add button mushrooms and continue to cook for 3 more minutes.

Drain the excess bacon grease from the skillet.  Add the sherry to the skillet and deglaze the pan (this means scrape all of the brown bits off the bottom of the pan to keep those flavours in your sauce, not in your dirty dishwater!).  Allow mixture to cook for 3 minutes. 

Cook farfalle pasta according to package directions (mine took about 11 minutes). 

Meanwhile, add spaghetti sauce to the skillet and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally.  Add the half-and-half creamer, sour cream (I used full fat sour cream -- anything less than full fat is not, in my opinion, sour cream), blue cheese and salt and pepper.  Gently mix until blue cheese has melted.

Drain pasta.  If not using immediately, add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil to stop the pasta from sticking to itself.

Spoon pasta onto plates and pour spoonfuls of sauce over top.  This sauce is rich so a little goes a long way.  Garnish with extra crumbles of blue cheese, fine strips of fresh basil or parsley.  Serve with a green salad and fresh bread.

Linked to: Mom on Time Out's "Taking Time Out Thursday #5"

Monday, 14 November 2011

Meal Plan #9

Here's my meal plan for this week.  I'm trying a few new recipes as you can see.  The recipe that I'm excited about the most is the Tikka Masala.  I really have never eaten Indian food (unless you count that one meal at my friend Fawzia's house waaaay back in Grade 10) and I'm eager to try it.  I'm not a huge fan of the smell of curry so when I saw that this dish didn't use curry I thought it would be an easy way to ease into Indian food.  Plus, the fact that it cooks in the crockpot makes it pretty much foolproof *fingers crossed*.

I've also included a delicious soup that I've only made once!!  How did that happen?  I'll tell you ... because I'm so busy trying new recipes that I sometimes forget about the ones that I made awhile ago. 

And, of course, since Brad wasn't home for supper tonight I decided to let the kids pick.  Did they ask for roast beef and all the fixin's?  Homemade lasagna?  Shepherd's Pie?   No, they wanted chicken fingers and fries.  *sigh*

I hope you all have a wonderful week in your kitchens.  What do you have planned for your suppers this week?  Have you found any new recipes that are keepers??

Monday (Kids Choice)
Chicken Fingers & fries
Raw veggies & dip

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Green Salad

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala (NEW RECIPE)
Steamed Broccoli

Thursday --
Bacon, Tomato & Basil Bisque
Homemade Crusty Loaf (NEW RECIPE)

Penne with Creamy Tomato Sauce and Grilled Chicken (NEW RECIPE)
Lemony Caesar Salad


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore

I know that you thought I had foresaken my blog.  It's been 5 days that I've been MIA and, quite honestly, I don't have a major reason except that I'm plain tuckered out.  Yup.  This bookworm just didn't have any get up and go after a busy few days.  Between work, a karate tournament, reading a great book, getting sidetracked in the wonderfully addicting world of Pinterest  and trying new recipes I've been one busy Bookworm.  But I'm back and I have a great recipe to share!

You all know that I'm always on the lookout for easy crockpot meals.  There's nothing better than walking in the house and supper's waiting for you!  One of the best things about crockpots is that their recipes are usually pretty easy to put together.  I prepped this recipe while still in my ultra sexy fleece monkey jammies and sipping my morning java before getting the kids up for school.  {Note: nothing says sexy like a woman with bed head in pink monkey jammies.}  Seriously, all you need is about 15 minutes and you've got supper on like Donkey Kong!  The hardest part of this recipe is remembering how to spell 'cacciatore'.  Honestly, it's so simple!

I found this recipe on another blog but, as usual, I wanted to give it the old Bookworm spin.  I thought I'd jazz it up by adding 6 Italian sausages along with the chicken.  I was so excited to add another layer of flavour but the joke was on me.  All of the flavour was sucked out of the sausage (that I had squeezed out of the casings) so when you bit into a chunk of sausage ... it had no flavour whatsoever.  Not very appetizing.  Even the kids weren't impressed.  Everyone's a critic!  Lesson learned. Next time maybe I'll add cooked sausage towards the end of the 8 hours.  We'll see.  Even without the sausage it was a mighty fine meal!  Just don't forget to add the red wine -- that definitely adds a much fuller bodied taste to the dish (plus then you get to drink the rest of the bottle over supper!). 

This is one of those meals that fill you up and keep you warm the rest of the night.  It's also a meal that I could see serving to a crowd -- it's a pretty dish and makes a tonne!  But even if you're not serving a hoard o'people after a day of tobogganing or skiing this is a great meal -- that can last two suppers.  

I know what you're thinking -- two meals with 15 minutes of prep??  Can it be true, Laurie?  Yes, it can! (why do I feel like I'm suddenly on an infomercial?)  When we made this dish we had loads leftover so we added our leftover rice (we always go whole hog on making rice) to the leftover cacciatore so two days later we had a Chicken Cacciatore Rice Casserole (which Brad and I loved just as much!).  Two meals for the price (and effort) of one.  Love it!

With winter threatening us with cold winds and lots of snow I think this meal will be the perfect addition to my winter meal plan repertoire!  Enjoy!

Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore
9 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
1 can mushrooms, drained
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (5oz) can tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken stock (or water)
1/3 cup dry red wine
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
salt, pepper and dried red pepper flakes - to taste

Serve with: rice, egg noodles

Sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken thighs.  Lightly spray the ceramic liner of the crockpot with cooking spray.  Place chicken into the crockpot (ensure that the thighs are opened up and lay as flat as possible).  Add green pepper, onion, carrots, mushrooms, garlic and bay leaf.  Pour canned tomatoes over chicken and vegetables.
In a small bowl, combine tomato paste, chickens tock, wine and balsamic vinegar; mix well.  Pour over chicken. 

Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours or until chicken is tender (mine fell apart it was so tender!).  Remove bay leaf and discard.
Dissolve cornstarch in the 2 tbsp of water.  Pour cornstarch mixture into the crockpot.  Add spinach to crockpot; gently mix.  Increase temperature of crockpot to HIGH for 20 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken.  Add additional salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired.

Serve over rice or egg noodles.
Yield: 8-10 large servings

Inspired by:

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday

What an utterly exhausting day!  I went on a field trip with Missy Moo's Grade 3 class to our local pioneer village.  "You're going to a pioneer village, Missy Moo?"  Count this mom in!  I'm all for getting my Laura Ingalls on! 

Is it odd that I enjoyed the field trip so much more than the kids?  Who doesn't love seeing an old historic home of a local family, a merchantile, blacksmith, farm, weaver etc etc??  Let's just say the day would only have been better if Nelly Ohlsson herself had walked out of the merchantile and yelled at me!

It was such an interesting and eye opening day.  To see just how much work it took for those first settlers to do their daily work!  Let's just say that after seeing how it took 8 hours to heat up the brick oven in order to make the 13 loaves of bread for the 17 children in the house .... I went home and hugged my two bread machines (and my womb that only housed 3 kids)!!  Michelle Duggar has nothing on the woman of that house long ago!

So after a day in the rain with a bunch of 8 year olds, a quick trip to do some Christmas shopping I have just enough energy to see what you're all up to reading-wise.

I had a busy week of reading.  I finished "Bad Boy Jack" by Jospehine Cox and read "Bossypants" by Tina Fey (click on the links to see those reviews).  I've also just started "The Accidental Hero" by Matt Myklusch (a book that both of my boys have raved about).

What have you been reading this week?  What books are your kids reading??

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Author: Tina Fey
Genre: Autobiography/Humour

Pages: 342
Type: Hardcover
First Published: 2011
First Line: "Welcome Friend, Congratulations on your purchase of this American-made genuine book"

Synopsis: Tina Fey is best known for her comedy sketches on the infamous and LONG running Saturday Night Live as well as being the leading lady and head honcho at her own show '30 Rock'.  In this book Tina takes readers on a humourous ride back to her childhood growing up in Philadelphia. From her awkward teen years to her years at Second City and as a major star of SNL Fey shows readers glimpses into her professional and personal lives.

My ThoughtsAt the risk of sounding like a crazy, disturbed celebrity stalker I'd just like to say that after reading this book I totally think Tina Fey and I could hang and be Besties. Oh yes. She's hilarious and I adore her self-deprecating sense of humour.   While her writing style won't win her a Pultitzer, it isn't forced and you can easily picture Tina saying the words as you read them. That's what I look for in a memoire. I need to hear the person's voice to make it more authentic.

As expected Fey's sense of humour shines through. I literally laughed out loud in several parts and I found myself re-reading sections just so I could continue giggling uncontrollably. Note: Giggling by yourself at home is fantastic but doing it in a car by yourself while waiting to pick up your kids may not be viewed as normal behaviour. Word to the wise. Throughout the book Fey's humour seem to come out of nowhere and hit you when you least expect it. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon or two. Awesome!

One of my favourite parts of the book were definitely the letters she wrote to certain fans who were less than favourable in their letters to her. Needless to say I kept re-reading her responses over and over just to get another laugh. There, I just re-read them again. Hil-ar! Another favourite was how she brings her trademark dry humour to deal with other issues like her breastfeeding issues (she shows how she dealt with 'Teat Nazis' -- I could totally relate!) and competitive mothering.

Don't get me wrong, this book isn't all laughs and chuckles. Tina deals with many issues honestly and candidly. For example, the life of a working mother --that no matter how much you love your job juggling home life and a career is extremely hard work. Her feelings of being a woman in a man's working world as well as how she felt about being bashed by some for her impersonation of Sarah Palin.

Even though we're Besties now I do have some things that I wasn't fond of in Tina's book. At times the flow of the book seemed slow and the storyline became random dashing back and forth a bit too much for my liking. The slowest part for me dealt with the rehashing of transcripts from SNL and 30 Rock. I found that I enjoyed the SNL transcripts because I had actually seen and remembered those sketches but didn't really enjoy the 30 Rock references (I haven't seen the show yet). But I'm nothing if not easily distracted so when Tina would throw out a really funny line I forgave her. Because that's what Besties do.

One thing that I was surprised that she didn't tackle was how she got her famous scar on her face. She only hinted at how she got it and never really delved into it. I didn't need a blow by blow but the way she phrased it left me wondering if she was joking about how she got the scar or if the reason she gave was real.

My final beef was that the pictures in the book are extremely dark and hard to see. Get Picassa, Tina! Lighten up those pictures of you looking awkward in your youth!!

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this light memoire. While it was definitely enjoyable and laugh-out-loud in many spots I refer to it as a 'light memoire' because it feels like Tina is still very guarded about who she really is. I got the feeling that she was hiding a little behind the jokes. I respect her need to keep some things private, I do. But if you're reading this book to get the nitty gritty on her deep feelings then this might not be the read for you. If you want to get the gist of what life was like for Tina growing up and making it in comedy with loads of funny moments of her dry wit thrown in for good measure? Pick up this book. I read it in a little over 2 days during a very busy weekend to boot.

Tina comes off as a very down-to-earth kinda gal who is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She portrays herself as imperfect and doesn't put on airs or start naming names of all of the famous people she's met. She shows readers that she's a hard working mom who is grateful for the things she's accomplished and for her family. She seems like she's been able to balance celebrity and family very well. I would recommend this book to Tina Fey fans as well as people who want to get a sneak peek into what all this Fey talk is about.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 7 November 2011

Tortellini Casserole with Bacon & Spinach in a Creamy Lemon Sauce

This is a dish that I made on my day off last week.  I was channelling Martha Stewart and decided to use my free afternoon to whip up a homemade meal for my family.  I made this casserole as well as a homemade round loaf of bread which was deeelish (and will be posted soon).   Nothing gets my kids to try a new dish like the bribery of freshly baked carbohydrates!

Not only was this casserole a really tasty dish but it was really easy to whip up.  See I didn't just spend an afternoon cooking in the kitchen.  I also had my optometrist appointment in between bread baking/casserole making.  Multi-tasking at it's best!  This dish was so easy that I was able to do it while my eyes were dilated by my eye doc.  Is that not a horrible feeling?  I couldn't focus on anything up close!  But who needs to read the recipe, right? 

Luckly my stars aligned or someone was looking out for me because the meal turned out really well.  This dish was a hit with people over 5 feet tall in our house.  My kids are getting savvy now and don't really believe me anymore when I try to pass off spinach as 'seasoning'.  Or perhaps I'm just getting lazy and didn't want to chop up the spinach really fine.  No biggy.  More for the adults!   

Tortellini Casserole with Bacon & Spinach
in a Creamy Lemon Sauce

12 oz bag fresh cheese tortellini (find them in the deli section)
6 slices bacon, chopped (I use kitchen scissors to cut the bacon)
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
3/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/8 tsp fresh black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dry basil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 medium lemon
2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach - stems removed and chopped (I used baby spinach)
1 Roma tomato -- seeded and chopped
3/4 cup Mozzarella or Marble cheese, grated (divided)
3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (divided)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add tortellini and cook according to package instructions.  If tortellini is done before your sauce, drain the tortellini and rinse them with cold water to stop them from cooking.  Drain them again and add a wee bit of olive oil to stop them from sticking to themselves.  Set them aside until you're ready.

In a large, deep skillet, cook bacon on medium heat until crispy.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain off fat.  Reserve 2 tbsp of bacon fat in the skillet.  Add onions to the pan and cook until softened.  Add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes or until fragrant.  Add flour to pan and cook for 1 minute.  Slowly add the milk and continue to stir.  Using a spoon, scrape off the browned bits from the bottom of the pan (it's not gross, it's flavour!).  Whisk mixture until smooth.  Add salt, pepper, basil and red pepper flakes.  Bring sauce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, use a microplane to finely zest the lemon.  Cut the lemon in half and juice it.  Add 2 tsp of zest and 1 tbsp of lemon juice to the sauce.  Continue to stir until sauce has thickened.  Remove from heat.

Add tortellini to the sauce in the skillet. 

Reserve 2 tbsp of the bacon and add the rest to the pasta.  Add spinach,  tomato, 1/2 cup of Mozzarella and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Stir to combine.  Pour pasta into a 9x9-inch baking dish.  Sprinkle with remaining cheeses.  Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with reserved bacon.  Serve hot.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Recipe Inspired By:

Linked to:

Meal Plan #8

When I started meal planning my weekly suppers two months ago I honestly didn't think I'd stay with it as much as I have.  I'm a total Type A personality but when it came to making suppers I liked to choose what we ate the morning of.  My taste buds led the way and I willingly followed.  Not anymore!

Now that I've had a chance to play around with meal planning I have to say that I'm quite enjoying it.  Not only do we not waste as much food as we used to (too many leftovers sat in our fridge just biding their time until they were put in the Green Bin) but I'm also finding that I'm spending less per week on food!  How awesome is that?!?

Now, I will admit that I don't stick 100% to my meal plan.  Depending on how exhausted I am (or any other number of factors) I switch things around a bit.  Like last Friday.  I was utterly pooped and didn't want to make meatloaf ... so I didn't.  I am nothing if not a maverick.  We had a quick 'breakfast for supper' meal and it was fantastic.  The kids thought I was amazing for giving them the meal that they always crave.  Three cheers for Maternal Exhaustion!

The point of the meal plan is to make my life easier and more organized and I'm pretty sure that if we're not there yet at least we're well on the road.  Here's what I have planned for this week.

MONDAY -- Supper at my Parents!!
Pork Side Ribs
Mashed Potatoes
Carrots & Turnip Mash
Tomato Soup Cake -- a delicious and easy spice cake!

Chicken, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Avocado Sour Cream
Note: chicken was BBQ'd Sunday night to save time
Raw Veggies and Dip

Taco Lasagna

Saucy Meatloaf
Mashed Spuds
Acorn Squash with brown sugar (with a side order of Progeny Dissension thrown in for good measure)

Tilapia Peach Packets (NEW RECIPE)
Roasted Spuds
Steamed Broccoli


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bad Boy Jack

Author: Josephine Cox
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 632
First Published: 2002
First Line: "Mary's heart was pounding as she hurried down the country lane."

Synopsis: When Robert Sullivan is left on his own to raise his three year old daughter Nancy and seven year old son Jack he knows he's in over his head.  He decides to leave his children on the steps of an orphanage hoping to give his children a better life.  Soon after leaving his children he changes his mind but as he races back to the orphanage he is the victim of a terrible accident.   Unable to retrieve the children, Nancy and Jack are placed in Galloway Children's home which is a brutal and uncaring place.

All on their own Jack vows to protect his little sister but with his quick temper he soon earns himself a bad reputation.  Shortly after their arrival the callous and money hungry head of the children's home sends the Sullivan children to separate homes -- Jack to a family farm while Nancy is sold to the highest bidder.

During his many years of recovery from his debilitating accident Robert dreams of seeing his children again.  With so many years that have passed will he be able to find out where his children have been placed?  Will they want anything to do with him or will his cowardly actions so many years ago prevent them from having any kind of relationship?

My Thoughts:  Josephine Cox is one of those authors who writes a good easy read.  One of those comforting reads that are a little predictable but you enjoy them all the same.  Her books tend to be set in late 1800's England and have engaging characters and storylines filled with tragedy, misdeeds  and family issues.

While I liked this book for the easy read that it was, it wasn't my favourite Josephine Cox book.  The story had a lot of great topics (abandonment, murder, adoption, betrayal, tragedy ...) but wasn't as great as I had hoped.  It was overly predictable and the ending was much too abrupt.   I like the end of a book to wind down and play out, not to have it shoved at me like the author just wanted to be done with it. 

Predictability isn't necessarily a negative.  Sometimes I like it when I kind of know how things will end but it's usually accompanied by a few twists and turns.  It felt like the lives of the characters were too nicely tied up for my liking. Everyone seemed to get exactly what and whom they wanted in the end. How nice. {insert sarcasm here}. 

What made it hard for me to keep interested was there were four different storylines to follow. Cox did a great job at helping the reader remember who was who and the flow of the storylines was well done. What I wasn't fond of is that with so many different storylines it was hard for me to really get to know any one character really well. No character was given enough time in the book for the reader to really get to know them or even root for them.

I can't complain too much because I actually received this book free.  A cereal company was giving away books a couple of years ago so I jumped on that old bandwagon whole heartedly!  Free books?  Count me in!  When I saw that one of the choices was a Josephine Cox book I was excited.  I thought that "Bad Boy Jack" had an interesting premise and I'm always interested in new reads. 

While this was not my favourite Josephine Cox book I'm still a fan of her work.  If you're looking for a great read check out her "Lovers & Liars" or "Born to Serve".

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, 3 November 2011

'Frexican' Roasted Potatoes

You may be wondering why this delicious looking side dish is called Frexican Roasted Potatoes.  It kind of sounds like a bad word but trust me, it's all good!!!  'Frexican' is the word that I came up with to describe a dish that combines the wonderful flavour of Dijon mustard (Bonjour, France!) and pairs it with the spiciness of cumin & cayenne (Hola, Mexico!) and makes them work together beautifully on my Canadian plate, eh!  It's like a mini United Nations on my dinner table!

This side dish is so good that I've made it three times in less than 2 weeks!  THREE!  Not only that but the first night I made them 10 year old Karate Guy saw that Brad was helping himself to seconds and promptly asked his dad to save him some.  Karate Guy -- formerly known as the boy who hated spuds -- wanted seconds of potatoes.   The potatoes even had the skins ON and he still gobbled them up!  They are that good.  I even made them for my Mother-in-Law who came over on Hallowe'en and she said 'Oh Laurie.  These are really good!".  Awesome Sauce! :)

There are two ways that you can slice these potatoes.  I only had small potatoes left when I made this dish on Hallowe'en (when I took the above pic) so I had to cube the potatoes.  The second way I made them was to cut the potatoes into thick slices.  Karate Guy LOVED them this way because they had more 'crispy area' plus being that they have large surfaces (unlike a cube) you tend to not have to fiddle with them as much to ensure that all sides crisp up nicely.

Another useful tidbit ... the crunchy bits that are left on the foil are delish!!  So when you're cleaning up the kitchen you can have another little taste!  I hope you enjoy this side dish as much as we do.  This is well on it's way to becoming one of my 'go-to' side dishes.  Enjoy!

8 medium potatoes - unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes OR large (1/4-inch) thick slices
1/3 cup olive or grapeseed oil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp cayenne powder (or more if you like it spicy)
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sea salt
to taste -- freshly ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 lime - juiced

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine oil, oregano, cumin, sea salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne and Dijon mustard.  Whisk until well combined.

Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Pour oil mixture over potatoes and toss until they are well coated.  Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast potatoes for 45-60 minutes, turning them half way through so they can brown on both sides.  Potatoes should be tender inside with crispy brown edges.

Remove potatoes from the oven and sprinkle with the juice from 1/2 of the lime.  Depending on your tastes, add more salt, pepper and the juice from the other half of the lime.  Serve immediately.

Recipe Inspired By: The Nourishing Gourmet

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday!

So what has everyone been reading this week?  If you've been following my new posts you'll know that I read a Mary Higgins Clark book called "I'll Walk Alone" ... and didn't like it very much.  Apparently Ms Clark's earlier works are a lot better than her later books so I'm willing to give her another shot.  This book just didn't match with my expectations.

I'm currently reading (and almost finished) "Bad Boy Jack" by Josephine Cox.  She's one of my go-to authors if I want an easy read set in England.  Usually her books are set in the late 1800's-early 1900's.  They have interesting characters and move at a good pace. 

Next up?  I have no idea.  I have so many books on my bookshelves that are calling to me.  For example, "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audry Niffenegger which I had tried reading years ago but couldn't get past a grown man spying on a child.  Since I've heard so many great things about this book I feel like I should give it another shot.  I also have "One Day" by David Nicholls (which was made into a move with Anne Hathaway as well as "The Castaways" by Elin Hilderbrand (an author that I haven't read before but have seen quite a bit in bookstores).  But I also really want to re-read "The Winter's Sea" by Susanna Kearsley.  So many books, so little time.

What do you suggest I read?  What are you all reading now??  Have you found any new authors, series??

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I'll Walk Alone

Author: Mary Higgins Clark
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Pages: 337
Type: Hardcover
First Line: "Father Aiden O'Brien was hearing confessions in the lower church of St. Francis of Assisi on West Thirty-first Street in Manhattan."

Synopsis:  Alexandra "Zan" Moreland has lived through every mother's worst nightmare -- her 3 year old son, Matthew, was abucted.  Now 2 years later Zan has exhausted all of her resources in order to find her son.  When an unexpected clue comes to light it gives Zan hope that she'll find her son.  Suddenly, the clue points a finger at none other than Zan herself as the main suspect in her son's disappearance.  At the same time Zan learns that someone is trying to destroy her personally and professionally.   Will Zan finally be able to get her son back?

My Thoughts:  First off I just want to say that this is my second time reading a Mary Higgins Clark book ... and the second time that I haven't enjoyed it.  What am I missing?  Isn't she like the female Sidney Sheldon or James Patterson?  Doesn't she have oodles of mysteries on store shelves?  Where is the suspense?  Where are the amazing characters?  I was hoping for a 'can't put this book down for nothin' type feel.  Sadly, I was disappointed.

This book was just ok.  That's as much kudos as I can muster.  The storyline was slow, the characters were one-dimensional and there just wasn't enough oomph and suspense.  I didn't particularly like the main character, Zan Moreland.  She's really wishy-washy -- strong one moment then weak and questioning her sanity the next.  Is she strong? Is she losing her mind?   Honestly, I really didn't care by the middle of the book. And why did Zan jump on the 'Zan is crazy' bandwagon so quickly?? Seemed odd that she just gives up on herself. 

Another odd thing with the book was that the synopsis didn't match with the main storyline.  The book's synopsis focuses on the identity theft angle when really the vast majority of the story focuses on the missing child, not the identity theft.  See?  Odd.

Also, the mystery part of the book wasn't inspired and it was pretty clear 'who dunnit'.  Although I didn't guess the 'bad guy' until closer to the end it was obvious who it wasn't.  The author was pointing too many fingers (and probably even her toes) towards two characters in particular which would lead a well-read mystery lover to assume that that isn't the 'bad guy'. I like me lots of twists and turns in a mystery.  Make me figure it out on my own. Don't spoon feed me red herrings. It's insulting.

Plus, Clark's reasons for making this character the 'bad guy' were too simplistic and really didn't amount to much.  I wanted some huge back story as to why he became evil.  Sadly that wasn't given.  He was just 'a bad guy'. 

When I picked up this book I didn't realize that some of the characters were from previous books.  It was aluded to that Alvirah Meehan and her husband were returning characters.  Normally I really don't like coming into a series half way but Clark handled it well.  It was mentioned a few times but I didn't get the feeling like I was missing out on knowing the previous storyline.

One of the biggest issues I have with this book is how Clark attempted to increase the suspense by showing just how closely the mystery of the missing boy could have been solved.  At least I think increasing suspense is why she did it.  For example, Alvirah's phone rings and on the other end of the line is her old friend who has breaking news about the missing boy.  If only Alvirah had picked up the phone instead of letting the machine pick it up the mystery would have been solved.   There were a few instances like that and it got annoying because you just knew that the character wasn't going to actually get the much needed information.  Plus, if it weren't for the fact that the police work was so shoddy the mystery would have been wrapped up years before.  The fact that two old biddies and a elderly priest figure out the mystery before a bunch of cops leads me to believe that the NYPD aren't itching to pick up this book.  It was a bunch of 'If only, if only, if only'.  I need substance in a book not a "Three's Company" type silliness.

Lastly, the romance was a forced and abrupt and, quite honestly, wasn't needed.   It came out of nowhere and was unbelievable.   I just couldn't believe that a highly successful (and let's not forget gorgeous) guy would stick his neck out that much for a woman he just met ... and who has a LOT of baggage.  I'm talking she probably owns the entire emotional Louis Vuitton collection. 

This book was a quick read but didn't meet my expections.  I'm willing to pick up another book by this author to figure out what all the hype is about.  Did I just pick two of her less than stellar books??  Can anyone suggest a great read from Mary Higgins Clark??

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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