Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Whatcha Reading?" Wednesdays



This has been a fairly busy reading week for me. I finished "Never Forgotten" by Terri Reid. It's the third book in the Mary O'Reilly paranormal mystery series. While I enjoyed it, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two books.

Next I read "Someone Else's Son" by Sam Hayes. Sadly, I didn't love this book. It had potential but didn't have enough twists and turns or momentum for my liking.

Currently I'm reading a YA supernatural book. If you're a fan of the House of Night series by Kristin Cast and P.C Cast you'll like this book as well. It's the first book in the series and I liken it to a Hogwart's for vampires. So far, so good. I'm just over half way through.

Next? I think I'll read the second book in The Hunger Games series. I still have ROOM by Emma Donoghue on my bedside table but I need to be in the right frame of mind for the kind of book I think it is. I picture it being fairly disturbing? Am I right?

So, what has everyone been reading? Did you like it, love it or gave up on it? What are some of your summer 'gotta read' books??

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Someone Else's Son



Author: Sam Hayes

Genre: Modern Fiction

Pages: 501

First Published: 2010

First Line: "Before she knew what was happening the knife was in and out of his body."

Synopsis: Popular TV talk show host Carrie Kent's life changes instantly when she receives a call from the police telling her than her teenage son Max has been stabbed at school. After Max dies from his injuries his mother questions whether she ever really knew her only child whom she shuttled off to boarding schools and pawned off on her housekeeper while she built her media empire.

Suddenly Carrie finds that she has a lot more in common with her TV show guests than she could have ever dreamed of. She vows to find out how and why her son got killed. But with the only witness a scared and awkward teenage girl who isn't sharing what she knows, how will Carrie get the answers she needs?

My Thoughts: When I first read the synopsis of this book I thought that this was a popular premise (teen murder at school) but with a twist that the mother is a famous talk show host (picture the love child of Oprah and Jerry Springer who also is influenced by crazy Uncle Geraldo). When I started reading the book I got a very Jodi Picoult vibe from it and was hoping for the same kind of twists and turns and 'ah ha' moment that Picoult is known for. I also could have gotten this connection with Picoult because only a few months ago I read Picoult's "Nineteen Minutes" which deals with a similar teen murder. Having that book in the back of my mind (which I gave 4/5 stars) it may have coloured how I viewed this book. While "Someone Else's Son" had a lot of the same issues and teen characters as "Nineteen Minutes" it definitely didn't have Picoult's ability to grab me nor the tension that is required for this kind of read.

One of my biggest peeves of this book was that there was an abundance of smaller subplots that were either not needed for the overall storyline (Carrie's jaunt into Scotland) or the subplots that didn't feel like they were summed up properly. For example, Carrie and her ex-husband Brody's marriage and why it failed (we'll never know), Dayna's horrible mother (why is she like that?), Brody's assistant and her secret adoration of her boss (creepy but nothing comes of it) etc etc.

Plus, even though we get a glimpse into the lives of Dayna, Carrie, Max and Brody I still felt like I didn't know who they were. They were all very two-dimensional - especially Carrie who was a very cliched 'smile for the camera but get the story no matter what' TV host".

While the book deals with many highly sensitive and important issues (teen bullying, a sad lack of parental involvement and outright neglect from parents as they 'raise' their kids, divorce ...) I think that the book could have keep up the intensity and tension of the plot a lot better. I figured out two possible feasible culprits and, as the book went on, it became obvious to me who had actually killed Max.

I've read many highly acclaimed reviews of this author's other books. These reviews surprised me since I didn't love this book. But I plan to read at least one more of her books before handing down my verdict on this author.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Friday, June 24, 2011

Losing My Mind ... and Potato Salad

For the past two days I've been thinking that maybe, just maaaybe ... I'm losing my mind. It's not that this thought hasn't crossed my mind a time or two over the years but this time I have a solid reason. I've lost something and it's driving me NUTS that I can't remember where I put it. I've been known, a time or two million to be a bit of a scatterbrain. I add it to the long, long list of reasons that make me ... ME! One more reason to make me quirky and uber lovable. As you can guess, I've lost numerous things over the years which just adds to my lovability!

Occasionally, if I'm trying to do too many things at once I misplace things. I'm not talking about walking and chewing gum (I mastered that last year). It's more like when I'm baking something while talking on the phone and trying to pack the kids lunches all at the same time. It's times like that where I tend to lose things (other than my sanity). I have found the oddest items in the weirdest places when I have too much on the go. I've found my potato peeler in the freezer -- why you ask? Because, silly! I had been in the middle of helping one of the kids with school work (math, no less!) while peeling carrots for a stew and accidentally put the peeler in the freezer when I went to grab the frozen peas. It happens, right? ...... RIGHT? I cannot be alone here. [crickets]

Anyway, the reason I bring up this topic is because for the past two days I cannot find the plug for my large kitchen sink. One would think that I could just use the plug for the smaller, attached sink -- sadly, I cannot. Not with my Kindred sink, at least. They have different shaped plugs that only fit in certain sinks. Perhaps they think that I'd like to play some culinary game of "Perfection" while I try to fit the right plug in the right sink? Argh. All I know is that for the past two days I've been washing dishes in my small sink. Really small sink. I do have the dishwasher but it's amazing how often I hand wash dishes. You don't know what you have until it's gone *sniff*.

I scoured the kitchen on the Hunt for the Sink Plug to no avail. I looked in the regular spots (around the sink, in the sink, under the sink) and even resorted to looking in the Green (food) recycling bin (Ew!), the garbage and all over the kitchen but it ... was ... gone! Vanished into thin air! I even enlisted help from Brad as well as the kids (assuming that maybe, over the years, a large, silver round thing with holes in it had learned to camouflage itself in my kitchen and that only the eyes of innocent children could see it). Nope. Surprisingly, that didn't work either. That baby has disappeared!

The only plausible reasons I could come up with for losing my sink plug is that either A) Aliens took it, B) I finally got the House Elf I was wanting and he took it out of spite or C) I'm a total and utter tool and need to learn to take care of my stuff (Wow! How did my Mom get in my head!?! I'm having a flashback to my childhood!).

So, I'm chalking up this little experience to the Bermuda Triangle that is my kitchen and taking this as a way to feel empathy for my kids who misplace a LOT of things regularly. I now see that perhaps they come by their 'I can't find my ____!" honestly and genetically. I totally blame Brad for his flawed genes. Poor kids.

Note: We finally gave up on the Hunt for the Missing Sink Plug and found one that fit (after three tries at various stores). Who knew there were so many different shapes and kinds. I can only assume that I'll find the missing plug in November and probably in with my good china, my linen closet or in with the Christmas decorations. You just never know.

Instead of a post of just my whining and blathering I thought I'd flash back to one of my all-time favourite summertime comfort foods. Traditional Potato Salad!! I just made a double batch for tomorrow to celebrate my Dad's birthday. I got the recipe from my dear Mother-in-law and I LOVE it! Totally addicting and makes me think of sitting on the patio and eating BBQ'd corn & various roast beasties. Yum! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Soooo, what things do you routinely lose? What odd places have you found these lost items? Please tell me I'm not alone!!! :)

UPDATE: Yesterday Brad found the missing drain plug. No, I didn't put it in some odd place. It was right under our noses!! Like, beside the sink. The plug that I had tried to fit in the drain (and Brad tried too) but it wouldn't go in the other day? Yup. It fit yesterday. *sigh* Me thinks I'm losing my mind. I think I would have preferred it to be lost, quite frankly. I don't think I would feel like such a dolt!! ;)

Never Forgotten (A Mary O'Reilly mystery)



Author: Terri Reid

Type: Kindle ebook

Genre: supernatural/mystery

Series: Mary O'Reilly paranormal mystery

Series Order:
1. Loose Ends (2010)
2. Good Tidings (2010)
3. Not Forgotten (2011)

First Line: "The snow fell softly on the rooftops in the city of Freeport."

Synopsis: Mary O'Reilly and Police Chief Bradley Alden are settling into their new relationship when Mary is approached by the ghost of a battered woman who asks for Mary's help. Mary also learns of a curse that has plagued her small town for years. This curse has killed 12 police, fire fighters and paramedics. Now that Bradley has come down with similar symptoms Mary rushes to find out the cause of the curse. Throughout her investigations Mary also has the added stress of keeping a huge secret from Bradley.

My Thoughts: As I've mentioned in previous posts I really enjoy this series. The first two books were filled with excitement and 'edge of your seat' action. Unfortunately this book wasn't quite as good as the first two. Mary and Bradley's relationship was stagnant in this book but thankfully Rosie and Stanley's characters were much more involved and added to the plot.

I think that there wasn't much movement in Mary and Bradley's relationship because the books take place one right after the other. The second book happened over Christmas and this book picks up immediately afterwards. Personally, I prefer it if the stories are spread out a bit more. I think it helps to make things seem more believable (how much action can believably happen to one person in a matter of a month, I ask you!?!).

One of the storylines that made me excited to pick up this book was to see how Jeannine's character is finally revealed. Unfortunately, while Jeannine was involved in this book the suspense surrounding her wasn't dealt with. It's now feeling like it's being dragged out a little too much.

I also found this book a lot darker and certainly gorier than the previous books. The description of the corpse in the basement was gruesome and a little too 'out there' for me. I read that little tidbit twice because I thought I misunderstood who he was, but no. I believe I even uttered an 'ew' out loud when the corpse was described.

There might not have been as much action 'edge of your seat' scenes but there definitely a lot of storylines in this book. At times, it felt like too much was going on. Too many plots in one book sometimes will feel like you never really delve into any one storyline well. That's how it felt to me with this book. The overall theme of the book was domestic abuse and it pervaded the book in several of the plots.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the introduction of Mary's new ghost sidekick, Mike. He brings a refreshing and slight frat boy feel and energy to the book and I can't wait to see the banter and humour he'll bring to future books.

While this wasn't my favourite book in this series I'm definitely not writing off this series as a whole. This was still a good read, just not as great as the first two in the series. With a little closure with Jeannine, some more (non-corny) romance with Mary and Bradley, and the addition of Mike I'm sure the next book will pick up some of that earlier energy.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Whatcha Reading?? Wednesdays



As I mentioned on my Facebook fan page, I thought that for the summer I'd start up a weekly 'what are you reading and what did you think of it?' type of post. That way we can all find new reads for the summer (or to put on our ever growing 'to read pile'). I've found the best books from the recommendations of others.

If you haven't noticed at the left-hand side of my blog (in the What I'm Reading Now section), I'm reading (and half way through) "Someone Else's Son" by Sam Hayes. It took me at least 50 pages to get into this book but since then it's been a good, griping read. It has a very Jodi Picoult feel to it.

Next up for moi? I picked up "Room" by Emma Donoghue last week after receiving it from my Fairy Book Mother but ended up putting it down after about 20 pages. I was having a hard time reading a book that used the point of view and language of a 5 year old. I found it very distracting at the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely going to read it (after all the hoopla and praise I've heard about it) but at that point in my life (you know, last week) I wasn't wanting to read it quite yet.

I'll also start a new YA series that I accidentally found at the library this week. The first book is called "Gods of Manahattan" by Scott Mebus. It sounds like a 'Percy Jackson-type' book so I'm excited to see how that series pans out. I'm hoping to get my 9 and 11 year old boys hooked on another good series. :)

So, what did YOU read this week? Did you like it, love it, use precious hours of your life that you'll never get back? Let us know the good, bad and ugly of what you're read! Let's get this discussion started!!

Note: Sitting back and reading the book suggestions of others is great but jumping in and adding your own two cents will make this weekly posting soooo much more interesting. Don't be shy, you lurkers! Share what you're reading!! :)


Monday, June 20, 2011

Amazingly Moist Egg-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Buttercream Frosting



I do hope that everyone had a wonderful weekend celebrating our Dads and father figures and that everyone took the time to thank our mighty menfolk for all of the things they've
tolerated done for us over the years. Personally, I have quite a few things to be thankful for when it comes to my dear old Dad. Here are just a few:
- holding his tongue when my two sisters and I, in our 'know-it-all' phase as teenagers, rolled our eyes for the umpteenth time in a single day

- for teaching me how to drive a stick shift by taking me to a steep local hill to practice using the clutch properly. Even jumping out of the car to tell the people behind us 'You'd better just go around!" so I didn't bump them. (FYI: I can drive a stick quite well now!)

- for pushing me (even through my "I can't DO math!!" rants and tears) into taking Advanced Math throughout high school in order to help me get into University.

- for teaching me how to fish (and not teasing me for, at the age of 9, wearing rubber gloves to take the fish off the hook)

- for giving me a life-long love of northern Ontario. I still get excited when I see rock scattered with pines and blueberry bushes! There is no prettier place than the West Arm of Lake Nippissing or Tamagami!

- for letting me drive his sporty car to college

- for showing me the delicious wonder of bacon wrapped scallops at the age of 12 on our trip out East

- teaching me the importance of keeping in touch with friends and extended family (right on down to my 4th cousins!).

- for giving me one of my first jobs

- for instating 'traditions' for the grandkids at the cottage (ie. ice cream treat with Papa)

- for teaching me that if you catch a little fish and you blow it a kiss before you throw it back it will grow faster (this has never been proven otherwise!)

- for having his own verbiage that, until the past 10 years or so, I thought was common language that even Mr Webster would support (ie. narvies - nasty stuff, suck attack - meltdown ....)

- for having his very own salute at the cottage

- for not treating his three daughters as total princesses and teaching us how to fish, snowmobile, portage through knee-high mud ....

- for embracing my husband as a son as well as Brad's entire family

- teaching me to drive an outboard motor at the age of 10

- for never giving me a curfew
"When do I have to be home, Dad?"
"At a respectable time. I trust you'll make a good decision."
Apparently coming in at 2am at the age of 17 is NOT deemed an acceptable time. Duly noted Dad. Duly noted.


- for being the only person I know who can go to Florida or an ocean cruise and meet someone out of the blue who grew up with him in North Bay, Ont. I swear the man knows EVERYONE!!

- for taking us on a hardcore (for me) camping/portaging trip through the wilds of northern Ontario in my teens

- for always bringing chocolate bars on our ski trips so we had something to munch on while going up the ski lift

- for he and my mom driving 2 hours to bring me a full turkey dinner on my birthday while I was in 2nd year university

- for making me eat greasy bacon and runny scrambled eggs after a night of drinking and coming home too late (the lesson mentioned above about curfews had yet to be learned). This act helped me learn that I never wanted to feel that way again.

Note: I did do it again but not for a VERY long time. And I regretted it just as much that time ... and the time after that. :(

- surviving life with a houseful of women -- three daughters, a wife, a mother-in-law ... even the dog was female! That's a whole lotta estrogen!

- showing me that hard work will get you very far in life but a close family is the ultimate goal

- for being a very proud grandfather (he even put up a picture of each of his 10 grandchildren in his restaurants the day they were born). Note: my sisters and I weren't thrilled to be featured hours after giving birth but the sentiment still stands.

So to all those Dads/Grandads/Papas/Father Figures, THANKS!

Now, on to the recipe! Since we had the whole gang over at my parents' yesterday to celebrate the "Day of the Pere" I needed to bring a dessert that was free of both peanuts and eggs (my 2 year old nephew has an allergy to both and my oldest is anaphylactic to peanuts). No peanuts is second nature to me but dealing with no eggs is tricky.

So I hopped on the net and searched for a GREAT 'can't tell it's egg-free' cupcake recipe. I wanted to see my nephew's face light up at the sight of a great looking cupcake that he could safely eat.

Well, I found it! I even impressed my sister who said it's hard to find a moist egg-free cupcake recipe. Well, look no further . This was wonderfully moist and topped with my very own Orange Buttercream Frosting they were a hit! I liked them so much that I'll definitely make them again ... even if my nephew isn't here to visit! Enjoy!

Egg-Free Chocolate Cupcakes and Orange Buttercream Frosting

Recipe Inspired by: Allrecipes.com
Yield: 24 cupcakes

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups milk
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two muffin tins or line with paper liners. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), combine flour, salt, sugar, cocoa and baking soda. Mix well.

In a small bowl, combine oil, vinegar and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and mix, on low speed, until mixture resembles wet sand (or just moistened). Pour in milk and mix until batter is smooth. Batter will be quite runny.

Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared muffin tins and fill approximately 3/4 full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

NOTE: The cupcake recipe can be made dairy-free as well. Just substitute dairy free carob chips for the chocolate chips and substitute water for the milk.

Orange Buttercream Frosting
As I mentioned in my Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting, finding peanut-free icing tints is very hard, if not impossible. This frosting uses Jell-O powder and orange juice concentrate for flavour and is wonderfully fresh and tastes great with chocolate cupcakes!

Loosely Inspired by: Wilton.com

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups icing sugar, sifted (approximately 1lb)
4 tbsp orange juice concentrate
8 tbsp (or more) of orange Jell-O powder
1 tbsp milk

In the bowl of your stand mixer, 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 orange juice concentrate, Jell-O powder and milk. Add a bit more milk, if needed, to get the desired consistency.

This frosting is a medium consistency which makes it perfect to use with the Wilton #21 icing tip. Frost completely cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with Cake Mate sprinkles (Cake Mate sprinkles are peanut and egg-free). Store frosted cupcakes in fridge if not eating soon after making. Enjoy!

Note: I believe, though haven't tried it, that freezing these cupcakes would work quite well. If you try freezing them please let me know how it turns out.



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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Deadly Advice



Author: Roberta Isleib
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 377
Series: Advice Column Mystery
Series Order:
1. Deadly Advice (2007)
2. Preaching to the Corpse (2007)
3. Asking for Murder (2008)
First Published: June 2007

Synopsis: Dr Rebecca Butterman is a clinical psychologist and a weekly advice columnist for her local paper. When her young neighbour, Madeline, is found dead of an apparent suicide Rebecca, as a neighbour and psychologist, feels guilty for not seeing the signs before it was too late.

Madeline's grieving mother shows Rebecca the suicide note and swears that her daughter didn't write it. The mother asks Rebecca to look into her daughter's death. At first Rebecca is doubtful that the death was anything other than a suicide ... until she stumbles upon Madeline's secret blog of her crazy dating adventures. Rebecca soon finds herself looking deep into Madeline's secrets and putting her own life in danger.

My Thoughts: This was a book that I quickly picked up while on a library visit with my kids. I love finding new mystery series and this one, with a psychologist/advice columnist sounded like a good cozy whodunnit. I noticed when I went online that it received great ratings from other readers which is why I'm confused as to why this book just didn't grab me.

With the premise of a psychologist/advice columnist I could see this series leading to so many varied and interesting storyline possibilities. Unfortunately, I found this first book in the series really dull. The pace was too slow and, while I didn't guess the culprit right away, it wasn't a surprise at the end either.

I think my main issue with this book had to do with the main character, Dr Butterman. She just wasn't a believable psychologist whom I could picture myself asking for help. Her advice was pretty obvious which is surprising with all of the psychology verbiage put in the book. As a psych major even I got tired of the psych references after awhile.

She is supposed to be around 38 years old but her physical description, clothing, mannerisms and the way she speaks conveys more of a demeanour and picture of a woman in her 60's. I had to keep reminding myself that she was my age and not my mother's.

Sadly, the only surprise that I had in this book was the subject matter of Madeline's blog. But even that felt like it was thrown in as a shock factor more than something to cause a twist in the storyline or to propel the story further.

Overall, I just didn't connect with this book or its main character and need more suspense in my mysteries to keep me interested.

My Rating: 2/5 stars (ie meh)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting



As I mentioned in my Strawberry Lemonade Cake post, finding peanut-free icing tints is nearly impossible. That makes for some pretty blaw looking cakes in our house. Since I found out that Wilton tints weren't safe (they 'may contain' traces of peanuts) our frosting choices in our house have been vanilla and chocolate. That gets old pretty quick.

Well, not anymore!! I have found the secret to flavourful, pretty frosting. It's all about using a most secret ingredient .... Jell-O powder!! Woo hoo! Can I hear a whoop whoop from all the moms out there who are struggling to make pretty cakes for their peanut anaphylactic kids! Yes, so easy and comes in practically every colour/flavour under the sun.

This frosting is definitely sweet but it's flavour isn't overpowering and goes really well with the Strawberry Lemonade Cake I recently posted. I know that this frosting will get a lot of use at my house! As you can see by the picture above we don't go skimpy on frosting. Go big or go home is our moto!!

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
From: The Baking Bookworm

1 cup fresh strawberries, roughly chopped
8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups to 3 cups icing sugar (depending on consistency of icing), sifted
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp strawberry Jell-O powder

Puree strawberries in a blender (or food processor). Strain the puree through a fine sieve to remove the seeds and pulp. You should have about 4-5 tbsp of fresh strawberry juicy goodness. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the icing sugar and mix until smooth. Add the lemon juice and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in the strawberry puree and strawberry Jell-O powder. Mix until well combined. Frost cake or cupcakes.

Yield: 1 9x13-inch cake OR 24 cupcakes

Strawberry Lemonade Cake

With summer on the not-so-far-off horizon, I get the urge to make refreshing, fruity desserts. When I saw this recipe on another blog I knew that the combination of strawberry and lemonade was exactly what I was looking for.

Now, just because this recipe has lemonade in it don't assume that the lemonade decreases the sweetness in any way, shape or form. It ... doesn't. If you have a sweet tooth this is the cake for YOU! It's not a light and fluffy cake due to the lemonade that you drizzle over the cake but it is definitely moist and very flavourful. Top it with my very berry frosting and it is sublime!

I've posted the frosting that I devised as a separate blog post to make searching for it easier. As a mom who has a child with a severe peanut allergy, finding safe peanut-free frosting tints is really hard, if not nearly impossible. This frosting doesn't use any Wilton tints or the liquid food colouring (I just don't like it) but it is very flavourful and was a huge hit with my kids. I can't wait to try different variations as our family heads into "Birthday Season".

Enjoy!



Yield: 9x13-inch cake (OR 24 cupcakes - see Note below)
Recipe Inspired By: Pure and Yummy (Originally from Annie Eats)

Cake
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon zest (approximately the zest of one medium lemon)
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups fresh strawberries, finely chopped

Lemonade Syrup
1 cup lemonade concentrate, thawed
3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan OR line muffin tin with liners. Set aside.

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

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl), beat the butter on medium speed until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add the milk and carefully mix (you may want to do this by hand because the milk splatters a bit). Add remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended. Fold in the fresh strawberries.

Pour batter into a the prepared 9x13-inch baking pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely.

Meanwhile, whisk together the lemonade concentrate and the icing sugar in a medium bowl. Poke many holes (every inch or so) all over the top of the cake with a skewer. Pour lemonade mixture over cake, allowing it to soak in.

Frost with my delicious Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing and store in refrigerator.

NOTE: I chose to make a cake instead of cupcakes because I could just imagine the mess of pouring the lemonade over 24 little cupcakes. If you choose to go the cupcake route, place paper liners in two trays of muffin tins. Fill each muffin paper 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Continue with the directions pouring the lemonade mixture over top of each cupcake (put some parchment paper underneath your cupcakes to make clean up easier) and frost each cupcake. Store in refrigerator.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saving Money At The Food Store

With the rise in food prices I thought that I'd share some ways in which you can save some of your hard earned moola. I don't know about where you live but I've noticed over the past several months that the price of nearly everything at the food store has increased quite a bit and I'm not happy about it. A girl's gotta eat but a girl also likes to have hydro, water and some clothes on her back. With the way food prices are soaring you want to get more bang for your meagre buck!

As someone who loves to eat and cook for my family of five I need to make sure that we stay on target with our monthly budget. Sadly, we're not sitting on a mountain of cash nor do we own a chicken that lays golden eggs so keeping to our monthly budget is important. But, saving money doesn't mean that all we eat are weiners'n'beans or Kraft Dinner every night! You can make fantastic, healthy, less costly and less additive-ridden meals -- you just have to plan ahead.

Be Organized! --- This is where my Type A personality is a total benefit!! I knew there was a reason I'm so anal! This is it! I love me a nice, neat list (and get giddy when I can check off stuff) so when I came across a wonderful little app for my iPhone that listed my grocery list for me I knew it had to be mine! MINE! It is aptly (ha ha) called "Groceries" (ingenious!), is very easy to use and I think only cost me $2. I literally use it every day. I have one list for food, one for Walmart and even one for Costco -- all within the same app. That way, when I'm looking through the food store flyers or we run out of something I put it on the list right away. It's pretty hectic inside my cranium. My mind has a lot going on inside it and therefore sometimes has a knack for getting sidetracked and then .... uh, .... um .... what was I saying?!?

Make a Weekly Meal Plan --- Devise a weekly meal plan, make a food list and STICK TO IT!! Do not 'just go pick something up' at the food store. Have a plan, man! And for the love of all that is good and holy, if you are married to a man who doesn't understand how to save a buck at the food store do not send him out to pick up some bread because he'll come back with ice cream, chips and 4L of chocolate milk. Not that I have any experience with that. ;)

I like to keep my meal planning simple and tend to only plan out our suppers and lunches. Breakfasts are no brainers around here because my kids are total cereal junkies (I really should invest in General Mills for all of the Cheerios we go through in a given month). You'll save a lot if you just get what's on your list! But, you may ask, what if I see things on sale?!? By making a list, and looking at the flyers ahead of time, you'll already know what's on sale before you even head out the door!

If you're not too adventurous and want to keep things simple use a rotating meal plan. Plan 4 weeks of meals and make those same meals each month. Or, better yet? Make meals in bulk and freeze them! That makes the prep time on a daily basis next to nothing and you can save money by buying your meat in bulk packages. Win, win!

Read your Flyers & Price Match --- Do your homework and read your weekly flyers! It's makes sense/cents to do the leg work and see which food stores will price match (hello, No Frills!). Many stores don't scream it from the rooftops that they price match so you'll have to ask. They like to keep that information to their own fine selves. Once you know the ins and outs you can save a bundle! Plus, price matching at a local store will save you on the insanely high price of gas and the hassle of driving all over God's creation to save a buck or two on grapes!

Buy generic brands instead of pricier name brands when possible --- Often you can save quite a bit if you buy the store brand/no name/generic brand instead of the more expensive but more recognized name brand food. Not all food was created equally I realize. There are specific generic items that I know are just as good as the name brand but there are also generic brands that are not fit to be eaten by man nor beast. Cereal, condensed soups (used in casseroles, not for eating on their own), dry pasta and yogurt (President's Choice) are many of the items where I try to buy generic to save some coin. The more generic goods you can buy the better for your wallet!

Buy in bulk --- I do love to buy some things in bulk. Meat (ie ground beef, pork chops/tenderloin), potatoes, yellow onions and paper products like toilet paper and Kleenex can save you a bundle if you buy in bulk. The trick is to know what this stuff costs so you can compare the prices. Sometimes buying in bulk doesn't save you as much as you think.

Use store credit points --- I've been using President's Choice (used in the Loblaws/Zehrs/No Frills chains) for many years now and I adore their simple to use points programme. I thought I'd do a little experiment to see just how many points I can accrue. So from January 2011 until May 2011 I hoarded all of my PC points. I used my PC Mastercard each time I bought food, then I'd pay it off as soon as I got home. This way, I got more points on my card (you get more points for using their Mastercard) for minimal effort on my part. The result?!? Over $100 of free (yes, F-R-E-E) plants for my flower and veggie gardens! I could have used those points on pretty much anything in their store but I chose to pimp up my gardens! I'm going to continue doing this and save up my points for free food or free stuff for my kitchen. I adore free money!

Updated June 25, 2013 -- I have to add that for the past few months, when I redeem my PC Points at the food store ($90 every 6 weeks or so) I have been withdrawing the amount I just saved in cash.  This cash is then kept in the Bookworm Family Summer Fun Fund so we can have a ball together going to Niagara Falls, going out for supper etc.  I just started this saving a few months ago and with the money from our recent garage sale I've saved $495!!!  It's free money, people! My favourite kind!

Buy local, in season produce --- Buying strawberries in February in Ontario isn't the cheapest fruit option out there. Nor is it the freshest! See how fresh you feel after travelling all the way from down south!! Go with the flow of Mother Nature. Buy local produce that's in season and plan your meals accordingly.

Buying directly from the farmer is even better! The money goes directly to the people who provide the food and cuts out the middle man. Our family has recently tried buying beef directly from a farmer and have been very impressed with the better quality and the ease of having beef available in my freezer when a quick meal is needed.

Grow your own! --- A great option in these hot summer months is to grow your own! I LOVE having my very own little plot of land to grow my tomatoes, herbs, rhubarb, beans and beloved strawberries! If you have a big enough garden you can even can your excess and use it in the winter months! Plus you have the added benefit of involving your family in growing their food!

If you bake it, they will come -- Cut down on a lot of your food bill by baking your own. Granola bars, packaged brownies/cookies, cereal bars etc are really expensive. Take a half hour and whip up some muffins or your own cereal bars. Freeze some for those mornings when you're scrambling to make the kids lunches with what you have on hand.

Buy cheaper cuts of meat -- Cheaper cuts of meat is why the crockpot was created! Put a cheap blade roast in a crockpot and 8 hours later it falls apart it's soooo tender. Delish and easier on your wallet!

Now, saving money isn't all rainbows and unicorns. There are some ways
to screw it upthat are less beneficial for your wallet. Here are some of "The pitfalls" (cue scary, intense music)

Buying too much -- Just because a food is on sale doesn't mean you have to buy enough to feed your family, your neighbours and their in-laws until next year. Even canned goods have expiry dates so watch out! Saving money only happens if you use what you buy. If you end up throwing out half of the grapes you bought on sale you haven't saved any money! Just remember that it's a great idea to stock up on items you use often (ie spaghetti sauce, noodles, coffee, cheese, cereal) but I'd suggest only buying enough to get you through the next month. Chances are the store will have another sale and you can stock up again.

Shopping when you're hungry -- this is a no brainer, people! Everything looks tasty when you're hungry! Eat before you shop, stick to your list and you'll be fine!

Not storing your food properly! -- If you're not going to eat all 10lbs of ground beef that you bought today make sure you buy good quality freezer bags to freeze the rest. Label them clearly with what's in the bag (nothing worse than mystery meat!) and the date that you put it in the freezer. Have a 'first in, first out' method of using your frozen wares. I hate seeing a freezer bag of meat that is past it's 'safe to eat' date because it got lost in the abyss that is my deep freeze. Organize and all will be well.

Another great option for keeping your food fresher is by investing in some great Tupperware veggie keepers. I have to admit that I'm not a big Tupperware junkie like some people. I do have a few pieces given to me but overall I'm more of a Lock'n'Loc gal. BUT, I have been converted! About a month ago I bought two Tupperware Fridgesmart containers and have seen the light! I'm one of those people where if you tell me an item does something spectacular I'm not going to believe it until I see it! And honestly? They really do keep your veggies fresher. No more limp green onions or shrivelled up green peppers! Oh no! And strawberries?!? Don't get me started on how long they lasted! Yes, a good set of Tupperware containers can prolong the life of your produce which gives you more time to use it up OR allows you to buy more when it's on sale knowing that it'll last longer in your fridge.

I hope that these tips will help you keep more money in your pocket and save you time in the kitchen.

So, how do YOU save money at the grocery store?? Share your tips!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Peace, Love and Murder (A Bo Forrester mystery)



Author: Nancy Holzner

Type: Kindle ebook

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

First Published: Hard Cover Aug 2009/Kindle ebook April 2011

First Line: "It was Monday morning, and Carl and Ronnie were bickering in the back of my cab."

Synopsis: Bo Forrester was raised by his hippy parents on a commune in northern New York state. When he enlisted in the army his parents broke contact with him and he hasn't seen them since. Now, twenty years later, Bo has returned to Rhodes, NY hoping for a quiet life and the ability to reconnect with his parents.

Bo takes a job as a cab driver to make ends meet but his day goes from blaw to bad when, on a routine run, he finds a dead body in the trunk of his cab. All of a sudden he has cops, specifically the obsessive Deputy Trudy Hauser, who is out to prove that Bo committed the murder of the wealthy philanthropist. Bo finds himself on the run and takes matters into his own hands to prove his innocence before the cops catch up with him.

My Thoughts: This was a good read with lots of twists and turns. Bo was an interesting main character that brought an off-beat feel to this book. He has his hippy upbringing and some baggage with his parents (including his quirky name) but he seems like a believable and likable main character.

That being said I didn't connect as well as I would have liked with, Bo or Detective Trudy Hauser. Bo was a unique main character but it was his interactions with Deputy Trudy Hauser that I just didn't buy. It felt like she jumped on his case with a little too much gusto and anger. Also, her interactions with Bo, specifically later on, felt forced, abrupt and too obvious for me. I could totally predict that she'd have a change of heart ... and she did. Their relationship did distract me a bit from the overall momentum of the mystery.

BUT, I've got to say that the suspense and 'whodunnit-ness' (oh my English teachers would cringe at that word!) was really good!! I think I suspected at least 4 different people (and was adamant that they were the culprit) only to find that Holzner threw me a few curve balls to throw off my initial ideas.

Overall, this is a good start to a new series and it'll be interesting to see where the author takes Bo next.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Hunger Games



Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Type: ebook for Kindle
First Published: 2008
Series: The Hunger Games
Series Order:
1. The Hunger Games (2008)
2. Catching Fire (2009)
3. Mockingjay (2010)
First Line: "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold."
Quick Review: Brutal, compelling, unforgettable

Synopsis: The 74th annual "Hunger Games" are about to begin in Panam -- a country built on the ruins of North America. The Hunger Games were instituted by The Capitol, which rules over the 12 districts of Panam, as a way to punish its citizens for their past rebellion and as a form of brutal reality TV entertainment for its citizens.

Each of the 12 districts is required to randomly pick two tributes to compete in the Games - one male, one female - between the ages of 12 and 18 years of age. By the end of the Games only one tribute will remain. Keeping your life isn't the only motivation in winning the Games. With extreme poverty rampant in the districts, the sole winner of the games and his/her family will be given a life of luxury. Katniss Everdeen is one of the two tributes from District 12. With little more than her skill at illegal hunting and her desire to make a better life for her family, does Katniss have any chance of being the champion of the games?

My Thoughts: If I said "You've GOT to read this great futuristic book about child gladiators who fight to the death in a massive, multi-habitat coliseum in a dystopian society!" I'm sure you might enquire as to what I put in my morning java and you'd probably question my judgement as a book reviewer extraordinaire. Honestly?!? I thought the same thing when I heard all the hype about this book. That is, until I finally read "The Hunger Games"!!

I have been putting off reading this book for quite awhile. I think the main reason was the fact that the synopsis of the book turned me off. I didn't want to read about teenagers being forced to fight to the death in an attempt to get out of poverty. Not a real 'pick me up' kind of read. Plus, I was leery that this book wouldn't live up to my expectations. For months and months I've heard great reviews about this series. What if I was the odd woman out and didn't like it? It's happened to me before ("Water for Elephants", "Time Traveller's Wife" ...).

I finally gave in when I saw that the Kindle store was selling it for only $5. My cheapness curiosity won out and I threw caution to the wind and bought it. Well, I .... LOVED ... it!! I read it in a little over 2 days and had a hard time putting it down. I forced myself to do other things - you know eat, bathe, speak to my family, blink ..... But as soon as the kids were in bed (or busy doing something else) I was sneaking in some quality time with my good friend Katniss Everdeen.

I thought that I'd be turned off by the violence or the mere thought of kids fighting to the death. It's so brutal and ruthless .... but it was extremely compelling. Collins was able to show the two extremes of human behaviour. The heartlessness and brutality versus the humanity and compassion. Collins expertly showed the reader how a character like Katniss can be both.

I cannot say enough about how much I loved Katniss' character!!! Overall, Collins wrote such wonderful characters that were so well-rounded that I could easily imagine them. Katniss wasn't a meek girl, nor was she a total She-Ra (there's a little 80's cartoon trivia for ya!) 24-7. She was strong, stubborn and determined yet still had her moments of weakness, questioning her friend's motives as well as her ability ability and plain old fear.

I also think that Collins did a great job incorporating so many different subjects and themes throughout the book. Everything from mass poverty governed by a few rich, the "Big Brother" aspect, a government who rules using fear and withholding basic needs, a society addicted to reality TV ....

Some of the other aspects of this book that I loved? I lurrrved the possible love connection between Katniss and one of the main characters as well as the possible love triangle which is hinted at in the future books in the series. I loved the roller coaster ride 'edge of your seat' action ... especially the ending which left me wanting more!! More darn it! It was soooo good! You know you've read a great book when you keep thinking about the characters well after you've finished reading it.

Collins' writing was wonderfully descriptive yet didn't get too verbose describing everything. She was able to describe this futuristic place and people without losing the story's overall momentum. The book was very well paced -- especially once the Games began. But even before Katniss begins the actual games I found it very interesting how she is prepped for battle.

Needless to say, I cannot wait to see the movie. I kept picturing Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss (I had heard she had been cast to play her in the movie) and I think she'll do an amazing job. Here's hoping they stick to Collins' writing. If so, it'll be one heck of a movie!

My one weenie little 'hardly big enough to mention' issue with the book was with the name of the main male character, Peeta. For the first while I kept thinking of that the character of Peeta was a girl just based on the spelling of the name. I know. It's so minor but the name felt and looked much too feminine compared to how Collins' described the strapping Peeta. See, it was hardly worth mentioning but it did bother me a wee bit.

Overall, a fantastic read. I cannot wait to dive into the sequels. In case I was too vague in my review .... I highly recommend this book!!

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Double Chocolate Banana Snack Cake



Once again I had a group of bananas sitting on my counter gettin' all spotty. They were literally beggin' to be used up. So, before the major heat wave hit (it arrived today) I decided to bake up a batch of this really moist, chocolatey snack cake. I figured it was a win-win. I'd use up 3 large bananas and get my chocolate fix all in the same bite!

So I baked this cake quickly after school yesterday, fed the kids a quick supper then the kids and I hopped over to my parents' pool to cool off. Brad was working late and texted me to say he wouldn't be home before his evening 'meeting' (ie beer & pub grub) with his fellow Cub leaders.

When the kids and I got home I went to check on my now cooled snack cake only to find a huge piece missing. My first thought? Someone broke in and ate some cake!! Like I was part of an infamous bear family and some Goldilocks broke in when she smelled my delicious snack cake. Honestly, that was my first thought.

The Nancy Drew in me would not be appeased by merely giving up on the 'Mystery of the Missing Snack Cake' so I called Brad (who was now at a restaurant with his Cub leader cronies) and asked him if HE ate the cake. He said that he had come home after work to change before going out and that yes he had eaten the cake. He then asked if I had thought someone broke in and stolen the cake (does he know me or what?). My silence proved his theory and he (and the other leaders) had a little chuckle at my expense. Hardee har har. But hey! Sometimes my baking is good enough to steal!!! ;)

Anyhoo, if you're in the mood for a chocolatey treat that has the taste of a brownie, the texture of a moist cake with a hint of banana this is for you! Perfect for dessert or any 'just cuz' moment. But be careful, it's so good someone may try to steal a piece!

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 large bananas)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of semi-sweet OR dark chocolate chips, optional
Garnish - Powdered sugar & sliced strawberries (if desired)
Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add mashed banana, beating until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, combine instant coffee and vanilla. Add coffee mixture to the butter mixture and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Don't overmix. Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Scrape batter into an 8-inch baking pan lined with parchment paper and sprayed with cooking spray, spreading evenly. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving, if desired.

Inspired by: Cooking Light

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I, Spy?



Author: Kate Johnson
Type: Kindle ebook
Genre: Mystery/suspense
Series: 1st book in the Sophie Green Mystery series
First Published: March 2007
First Line: "Okay, I can do this."

Synopsis: Sophie Green is working in a boring job as an airline worker in England. Her life outside of work isn't much better. She spends a lot of her free time with her cat watching episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and, sadly, the closest thing to a romantic relationship Sophie has is fanaticizing over her hot Swedish co-worker. Needless to say, she needs some excitement in her life.

Suddenly Sophie finds herself in the middle of a security situation at the airport that gets noticed by a secret British government agency. They are in the midst of recruiting new spies for their agency and ask Sophie to join. Sophie is not typical spy material - she's a buxom blonde whose only knowledge of spies comes from Hollywood. Will Sophie be up to the challenge?

My Thoughts: Going into this ebook (which I bought for only a dollar) I was hoping for something along the lines of a Stephanie Plum book. Quirky, incompetent main character in a 'fish-out-of-water' type situation who is aided by even quirkier comedic secondary characters. Weeelll, that's not what I got unfortunately.

For me, a storyline can be crazy and quirky but it still has to have some thread of believability. For a bored airline worker to suddenly get offered a highly secretive and dangerous job offer as a British spy after one security issue is too far-fetched. What kind of government agency hires new recruits in this way? I shudder at the thought. She has no idea what she's doing so it's more than a little unbelievable that the fact that she thinks on her feet is the only thing keeping her in her new job as a spy.

As for the romance aspect, it was just OK. I didn't feel a lot of sparks between Luke and Sophie and I totally didn't 'get' the whole sex scene that happened right after Sophie gets hurt badly. How is that romantic in the least? It came off as silly and not romantic at all. Sadly, Sophie's closest relationship seems to be with her cat.

I've ascertained that the believability wasn't great in this book and sadly neither was the suspense or mystery. It definitely took a back seat to the romantic storyline. There was little mystery to speak of and the suspense that was involved wasn't enough for me. Keep me on the edge of my seat at least for a bit!

I did enjoy a few aspects of the book and will give the author credit for the funny, witty banter. Luke and Sophie did have a few funny jabs at each other but the scene between Luke, Sophie and Sophie's brother over the phone (a 'who's on first' routine) was quite funny. I think that my favourite character was Sophie's fellow newbie spy, MacBeth. Unfortunately he wasn't used as much as I would have liked. He could have had some great one-liners. He's the "Tank" character in this series (Tank being a huge, tough, silent guy from the Stephanie Plum series).

If you're up on your British-isms and popular culture you'll like this book too. For example, Sophie comparing herself to Stephanie Plum, a Michael J Fox early 90's movie reference, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" references etc. But if you're not well versed in Buffy (like myself who has never watched an episode) or haven't boned up on your knowledge of British culture the references fall flat quickly.

Unfortunately, the funny parts of the book couldn't make up for the overall lack of storyline and suspense that this book was sorely lacking. I'd give this book a pass.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Baked Tilapia Topped with Sun-Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Pesto



After a weekend filed with lots of swimming at my parents' pool I had a hankering for a nice, fresh meal. Nothing too taxing because, let's face it, being outside all afternoon in the pool with the kids totally whips me out! I knew that I had some tilapia in the freezer and some fresh basil in my garden so I started there. When I first bought my basil plant a few weeks ago it was a wee little thing but apparently if you stare at it long enough it will, in fact, grow faster!

With basil in hand (ok, my wee colander) I went rooting around my kitchen for ingredients to go with it. Enter in my beloved sun-dried tomatoes and goat's cheese!! Combine these three things with some fresh Parm and lemon juice and Brad and I had a great meal! Brad kept giving me 'yummy noises' and I literally got 2 thumbs up!! Yay! Brad was even thinking of different dishes that I could use this pesto in (stuffed chicken, as a spread for french loaf ....). Yes, he was that impressed with it!

Note: I wasn't going to push my luck thinking that my kids would embrace this dish. I'm not one to make a separate meal for the kids but I was too tired to play the 'just take a bite and try it' game so I quickly breaded the kids' tilapia and will save introducing them to this tangy pesto another day.

This is an easy and wonderfully tangy dish that is a perfect summer meal. I also love that it's easy to double if you have more people to feed. I hope you enjoy it!

Baked Tilapia Topped with Sun-Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Pesto

From: The Baking Bookworm

Yield: 2 servings

1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves - washed & dried well
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
2 oz goat cheese
2 large tilapia fillets

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place sun-dried tomatoes, basil and garlic into a food processor. Process until mixture is coarsely chopped. Add olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Process for 20 seconds. Add goat cheese and process until well combined. Set mixture aside.

Lightly grease a baking dish with oil. Place tilapia fillets on baking dish and bake for 6 minutes. Flip tilapia. Top each fillet with half of the pesto mixture. Return fish to the oven and bake for another 6 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Totally Tricked Out Tuna Salad Sandwiches

Now that summer has finally made an appearance I feel the need to get some good 'tried and true' easy-to-whip-up lunches & suppers in my culinary arsenal. I need these simple kinds of meals just in case the kids and I (like today) spend the entire afternoon soaking in my parents' pool. We didn't get home until an hour before supper time. Do I, after a very relaxing day in the sun, want to make a complicated supper for five people? No, not particularly. I'm exhausted and a nice, easy meal is all that I have the energy to make. This is where sandwiches and a side salad come in really handy!

Tuna salad is one of those 'recipes' (can I call it a recipe when it's 'only' tuna salad?!?) that I assumed everyone makes the same way. Growing up my Mom, Dad and Nana always made our tuna salad with sweet green relish and mayo (and possibly green onion). I come to learn, thanks to my hubby for recently enlightening me, that not all people eat tuna salad the same way. Huh. After almost 14 years of marriage and countless cans of tuna, I'm just NOW finding out that he didn't grow up eating tuna salad like I did!?! Next thing I know he'll be telling me that he loves dill pickle and peanut butter sandwiches! What? You do, Brad?! Oh MAN! You think you know a person!! ;) I thought everyone added sweet green relish to their tuna salad but I have been corrected.

I do realize that not all people enjoy all the goodies that I like in my tuna salad but I guess I assumed that relish was a staple. My bad. I also don't like my tuna salad too mushy. It's got to have some crunch (from the onion & lettuce) and I love some heat (hellllooo hot banana pepper rings!).

Tuna salad is kind of like quich and pizza -- you can easily play around with what you add to it to make it a little different depending on your mood (and what's in your fridge). I just love that it's so easy and can be made into wraps, sandwiches or as a side to a green salad. Delish and nice'n'cool for those hot afternoons and evenings when standing in front of a stove is the LAST thing you want to do!

So what goodies do you like to add to your tuna salad??

Totally Tricked Out Tuna Salad Sandwiches


From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 2 tuna sandwiches

1 (170g) can tuna, drained
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp sweet green relish
3 tbsp red onion, diced
3 tbsp finely diced celery
3 tbsp old Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
Pinch garlic powder
2 tbsp hot banana peppers, sliced & chopped
4 slices of bread

Garnish: Lettuce & Tomato slices

In a medium bowl, combine tuna, mayonnaise, relish, onion, celery, cheeses, garlic powder and hot banana peppers. Mix well. Place a large spoonful of the tuna salad on two pieces of bread. Top with garnishes, if using. Top with remaining slices of bread (it's not rocket science, people).

If not using tuna salad right away, store in refrigerator.

Note: Also try using this salad on tuna melts or on the side of a green salad.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When We Were Friends



Author: Elizabeth Joy Arnold

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Type: Paperback

Pages: 353

First Line: "In high school I came up with fifty-eight ways in which Sydney might die."

Synopsis: From the time they were 7 years old Lainey Carson and Sydney Beaumont were best friends. That all ended in high school. That's when Sydney's new popularity led her to viciously leave Lainey behind.

Now, 18 years later, Lainey is an artist who still lives at home in order to take care of her eccentric mother. One day Sydney unexpectedly shows up in Lainey's life with her infant daughter in tow. Sydney is desperate to find a safe place for her daughter who Sydney says is being abused by the father. Sydney says that Lainey is the only person she can trust her daughter with. Lainey agrees to care for the one year old for a couple of days in order to keep the baby safe.

When Sydney shows up on the evening news that night saying that her daughter was kidnapped Lainey is not sure what to do. Why would Sydney say her daughter was kidnapped? Will Lainey be arrested for the kidnapping? Lainey is forced to run away with the baby and go into hiding. Soon after leaving, Lainey befriends a man who believes Lainey to be the baby's mother who is running away from an abusive husband. He offers Lainey and the baby a place to stay. Lainey and the man quickly become close all the while Lainey is nervous that her secrets will be revealed. But does this man have dark secrets of his own?

My Thoughts: I found it difficult to figure out how I exactly felt about this book. I liked the writing style and the premise was interesting but overall it fell flat. The main problems are that the book is very predictable and the storyline and characters are highly unrealistic, unbelievable and many of the choices made by Lainey are, in my opinion, very irrational.

Quite a few things were venturing into the land of "you want me to believe what?!?". Call me a Negative Nelly but I found it hard to believe that, after almost 20 years of not speaking and literally hating each other, that Lainey would agree to take the baby of her nemesis. Why would Sydney, out of all the people she knows, pick Lainey to care for her child (unless she realizes how naive Lainey truly is)? I had a hard time believing that Lainey could go from hating Sydney for 18 years ... to helping Sydney and taking her daughter. Huh? Lainey had some reasons but I honestly don't think that her deep seated hatred of Sydney would have been swayed quiet so easily. Lainey kept being walked on by Sydney to the point where I wanted to reach into the book and knock some sense into the seemingly smart Lainey.

Sadly, even the baby wasn't believable. I don't know any one year olds who routinely sleep (or even use) an infant carrier. My kids were too big at 6 months of age! And this baby is sleeping night after night in a carseat? Um, no.

Another biggy that was hard to swallow was why the seemingly smart Lainey would go off with a total stranger she met at the side of the road? Has she never watched an episode of Law & Order or Oprah!?! In this day and age what woman would jump into a car with a baby in tow and go away to a total stranger's home in the middle of nowhere?

Add to the fact that I couldn't imagine that this stranger would jump at the chance to have not only Lainey and the baby under his roof but to ship Lainey's agoraphobic Tarot card reading mother up to live with them too. Really? The funny thing is that Lainey's mother, with her agoraphobia and other issues was the most rational person of them all! But Lainey, time and time again, dismissed her mother's advice. I love to use my imagination but there were just too many unbelievable things in this book that just didn't make sense to me.

Overall, and perhaps suprisingly after reading my review, I did like the book. Didn't love it but it was enjoyable. I liked this author's writing style and I'm willing to give her other book a shot. She had a great premise and if she stuck closer to realistic writing and added a few more twists this book could have been amazing.

My Rating: 2.5/5
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