Sunday, July 31, 2011

Opal Fire



I hope all of my fellow Canadians have enjoyed their Victoria Day long weekend so far! Here in Ontario (at least where I am) we had spectacular weather! To add to this glorious weekend filled with cottage life I also got to see the last Harry Potter movie, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2". It's something that my boys and I have wanted to see together for soooo long. I know the movie has been out since July 15th but I knew I'd wait to see it. I'm not normally the kind of person who has to see a movie on opening night. I don't love crowds of people and, if I'm honest, I wanted to hold off enjoying the final movie for a bit. Put off the inevitable farewell, I guess you'd say.

I've got to admit that I was more than a little sad to see the series end. While munching on some pub grub after the movie I got all nostalgic with my sons about the series (who, after reading all 7 books and seeing all the movies are almost as HP literate as I!). Add to the fact that we saw the movie today, on Harry Potter's birthday, and you can be fairly certain that I'm flying my Harry Potter freak flag high and proud today!!! If you haven't read my Ode to Harry Potter you can find it here.

Now back to the book at hand!! To go along with all things magical I thought I'd write up the review for a book I read last week. It was a book that I came across via Frugal Ereader site that sounded right up my alley. Quirky characters, mystery with a hint of romance and a supernatural element. Count me in!! Here's my thoughts on this ebook that I bought for my kindle.

Title: Opal Fire
Author: Barbra Annino
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Type: ebook (kindle)
Series: 1st book in the Stacy Justice mystery series
First Published: March 2011
First Line: "You might say everything was fine until the fire."

Synopsis: Stacy Justice has had her fair share of trouble in her life. Her father's death, her mother unexpectedly leaving and Stacy's grandmother and great aunts trying to get Stacy to embrace her witchcraft - something that Stacy hasn't used since she was a young teenager.

Stacey not only comes from a family of quirky witches but also has a very colourful Italian side of the family to deal with too. Years before Stacy moved away from the small town she grew up in and has only recently moved back. Unfortunately her troubles seem to greet her when she moves back to town to become a reporter for the local paper.

One evening Stacy's cousin Cinnamon's bar, the Black Opal, catches on fire. Stacy, her Great Dane, Thor and Cinnamon barely make it out alive. When Cinnamon is blamed for the arson and a sinister old secret is revealed Stacy knows she has to do whatever it takes to save her cousin - which may even include tapping into her long ignored supernatural arsenal. Even with the discouragement of her boyfriend (who is the local police chief) Stacy digs deeper and deeper into the mysterious fire. The closer Stacy gets to revealing the true culprit, the more her life is threatened.

My Thoughts: This book touched on many of the things that make a book enjoyable for me. Quirky yet believable characters, humour, mystery and a titch of supernatural.

Annino has created a believable small town setting filled with likeable and engaging characters. Stacy definitely has a 'Stephanie Plum-esque' feel to her with her knack of getting into trouble, having two men vying for her affections and a strong personality. She is also backed up by a strong group of secondary characters each of whom help propel the story along or add a well-timed comedic element.

I really enjoyed the humourous side of this book - specifically Stacy's very peculiar great aunts and her colourful Italian side of the family. Stacy, as well as Cinnamon, have their own fair share of humourous lines including one that had me chuckling to myself {"His voice was chipper. Cinnamon hated chipper. She wrapped Chipper up in duct tape, pounded nails into it and used it to beat the crap out of Perky." Haven't we all had days like that?!?}

One of the things that surprised me about this book was the type of magic used and how much magic was incorporated into the story. For the type of magic I was expecting more along the lines of spells and wand wielding (a la Harry Potter) but this was more of a subdued, natural, Wiccan-style magic. But that assumption was totally on me. My brain has been somewhat pickled in all things Potter for the past 10 years but I'm open to learning about other forms of magic and liked seeing how Wiccan magic was used instead.

There also wasn't as much magic as I was expecting but since Stacy hasn't truly embraced her magical side I can see why it wasn't a major factor in this book. I look forward to seeing how the supernatural element is used in future books

One of my favourite parts of the book was definitely the ending! Oh my! I didn't see it coming and actually said, out loud, 'Oh, c'mon!!' because now I have to wait to see where the author takes the story! You gotta love an author who leaves you wanting more!

If I was pressed to say a few negatives regarding this book I'd have say that I found there were quite a lot of characters introduced which, at times, made it hard for me to keep track of who was who.

I also found Stacy's carte blanche access to typically off-limits law enforcement areas a little unbelievable. For example, getting a detailed report from the coroner regarding a body that was unearthed. Stacy is only a reporter and not associated (only romantically, anyway) with law enforcement.

Overall, a very good start to a new series. I hope the humour and quirkiness of the characters continues and I can't wait to see where the surprise ending takes Stacy in the next book!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black Forest Brownies



Everyone has a few recipes that are their favourite 'tried and true' signature dishes. You know what I'm talking about. The recipes that you can almost make by heart. The recipes that are much loved, much used and get rave reviews everytime.

One of my favourite dessert recipes is my Black Forest Brownies. It's one of those desserts that's easy to make but really impresses at the same time. Win-win! Plus, it doesn't hurt that Black Forest Cake is my favourite cake in the whole world! Black Forest Cake is delicious but these brownies give you the same flavours ... with a lot less work.

I whipped up a batch of these bad boys yesterday in order to celebrate Brad and 10 year old Karate Guy's birthdays. FYI: My family is currently smack dab in the middle of birthday season. From July to October all 5 of us have our birthdays to celebrate so it's a really busy time. The par-tay never ends around here!! Brad and Karate Guy's birthdays are 2 days apart (Cub and I are two days apart in October and Missy Moo holds down the birthday fort in September) so our celebrations tend to be really close together.

This causes Cake Overload which is why this recipe comes in handy! I know what you're thinking - "There's not much difference between chocolate cake and brownies, Laurie!" But you're wrong. There IS a big difference. Brownies are chewy (or, at least in my world, they have to be) and are so good they don't require icing to sweeten them up. To me, cake just seems too sweet but a brownie is just right. I don't even try to understand the enigma which is my stomach, I just go with the flow.

I've been using this recipe since I was a tween! Waaay back when the earth was still cooling I was making this dessert for my loved ones. It's actually a combination of two different recipes. The brownie recipe came from a cookbook I got as a child called "Let Me in the Kitchen" by Susan Mendelson -- which I adore but is unfortunately out of print now. These are hands down my favourite brownies! Chewy and rich without being too sweet. I'm picky, what can I say.

The topping combines a layer of sweetened cream cheese which is then topped with cherry pie filling. Oh ya baby! These are soooo good. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Black Forest Brownies
Yield: 12 servings

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup walnut pieces (optional)

Topping
1/3 cup whipping cream, whipped
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 can cherry pie filling
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease only the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside. (FYI: greasing the sides can make it difficult for the rising brownie to grab hold of the sides of the dish as it bakes resulting in thinner, denser brownies).

Melt butter. Add white sugar, brown sugar and cocoa to the melted butter. Blend well.

Break eggs into a small bowl and beat with a fork. Add to the sugar/butter mixture and mix well.

Add flour, baking powder, vanilla and walnut pieces (if using). Mix until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the brownies comes out clean. Cool completely.

Prepare topping:

Chill a medium bowl and beaters from your electric mixer in the fridge. Pour whipping cream into the chilled bowl and beat with chilled beaters until soft peaks form.

In a medium bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Fold in whipped cream. Spread cream cheese mixture over cooled brownies. Top with cherry pie filling. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Drizzle melted chocolate over dessert before serving (if desired). Keep leftovers (if there are any) in the fridge.

Brownie Recipe by: "Let Me in the Kitchen" by Susan Mendelson (pg 69)
Topping Recipe by: E.D Smith pie filling

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One Deadly Sin

Author: Annie Solomon
Genre: Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 394
First Published:2009
First Line: "She came at night, creeping into town like a shade."

Synopsis: Edie Swann returns to her hometown for the first time since her childhood with one thing on her mind ... revenge. Her goal is to get payback for her father's suspicious death that happened decades earlier. Equipped with only a list of local suspects she slowly and quietly taunts each of them into thinking that he's being targeted for the murder.

Holt Drennen is a single father and the sheriff of the small town and is inexplicably drawn to Edie, a woman who is unlike any woman he's ever known. Instead of the cookie-cutter women his mother throws at him Edie is a breath of fresh air with her Harley, black leather, tattoos and attitude.

Unfortunately, soon after meeting Edie the men she's secretly taunting begin dying one by one. Slowly Holt realizes that the evidence point to Edie being the culprit in these sudden and unexpected deaths. Now Holt is stuck between believing the woman he loves and keeping his town safe. Will Edie and Holt be able to clear her name before the murderer strikes again ... will Edie being the next target?

My Thoughts: Overall, this was a decent read. The writing was good and there was suspense but it wasn't a 'hard to put down read'.

The revenge storyline was interesting and was what intrigued me when I saw the book at the library. Unfortunately, the story wasn't as intense as I was expecting. Yes, there were twists and turns but Edie's plan of sending her suspects a symbol to make them shake in their boots enough to confess to her father's death decades before is, in a word, naive. Why would a smart woman think that after decades of time that a trinket would cause someone, who until now has gotten away with murder, to suddenly confess. It just didn't make sense to me.

While I liked the main characters I didn't find their 'love' connection believable. They seemed too different from each other and fell in love much too suddenly for my liking. The reader is expected to believe that after brief 'encounter' Edie and Holt are suddenly soul mates. I needed a bit more history between the characters before I could believe their love.

That said, overall it was a decent read. Enough twists and turns to keep it interesting and the characters, while a little clichéd, were interesting. The ending was a little lackluster. A good mystery for me is one where I have several suspects that I keep tossing around in my head as the culprit. With this book I felt like the murderer came out of nowhere. The murderer was such a tertiary character that it felt odd when s/he was named as the murderer. Not a 'can't put down' kind of book but a decent beach read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday

I thought I'd quickly jot down what I've been reading this past week. Today has been one of those hectic 'can't remember if I even sat down' kind of days. A day filled with baking (Black Forest Brownies!!! Recipe to be posted later this week!), house cleaning, swimming with 9 kids and two other moms plus hosting a birthday party for Brad and 10 year old Karate Guy. I am pooped!

With all this going on I thought I'd finally sit down and write up my "Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday post! This week has been a slow reading week for me. I finished "One Deadly Sin" by Annie Solomon (review will be posted tomorrow) and I'm just over half way through "Opal Fire" (the first book in the Stacy Justice supernatural mystery series). So far, so good with "Opal Fire". It's a light mystery but it doesn't have as much supernatural element as I was expecting ... especially when the main character is a witch.


Next? "ROOM" by Emma Donoghue. I've been putting off this book long enough. I'm not the last person on the planet to read this book (but close!). After that, I picked up a book called "Mistress of Rome" by Kate Quinn that I saw at the library. Sounds like an amazing read! I haven't read a great ancient historical fiction read in quite awhile. Not sure why since I adore that era!!


So.... what has everyone been reading this week? Did ya love it? Was it not for you? What are you reading next?? Have you heard any buzz on other books that you'd like to share??

Monday, July 25, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Apple Crisp



When Brad and I built my vegetable/herb garden last year one of the plants I was excited to have was rhubarb! I hadn't had fresh home grown rhubarb since I was a teenager. Honestly, back then it was just a massive plant that grew like a weed that I totally took for granted. What was I thinking!?!?!

So, last year one of the first plants I got for my beloved veggie/herb garden was a mighty, mighty rhubarb. All last summer I watched to see if this little clump of a plant would grow. I was told by my friend Allison (who is a rhubarb grower from way back) to 'just leave it alone the first year then only pick lightly the second year'. So I did what I was told and let the rhubarb be (doing what I'm told is a rare occurrence but I did it nonetheless).

That first year my little plant went from a small green plant bursting with potential to a small, dark clump formerly known as vegetation. Even though I watered it religiously and may have even given it pep talks in case it wasn't growing due to low self-esteem. I was grasping at straws here trying to encourage this little guy to grow!! For the love of all that is good and holy I just wanted some RHUBARB from my own garden!! Even with all my whining care and love I got no rhubarb last year. *cue Pity Party violins*

Alas, I was not ready to give up on my rhubarb yet! Allison told me that it takes 2-3 years for a rhubarb plant to really get producing. So, in my way of thinking I figured I'd give it this summer to get it together (I'm nothing if not impatient and lacking in basic math skills). Give me some fruit or hit the road, Jack! One can only wait not so patiently for so long! I wanted fresh rhubarb!!

Apparently my threats and whining (or perhaps it was Mother Nature and some extra time?) worked! This summer is a different story!! However it happened I now have an abundance of rhubarb this year (but I'm not going whole hog and harvesting too much or my plant will apparently not like it). So many rules for such a sour plant!! Such a diva!

So, when I looked out my window this summer and saw that I had quite a few stalks that should be pulled I admit that I did get more than a little giddy ... and I may have done a little happy dance. I'm a total rhubarb geek ... or would that be 'Reek'? -- no, we'll stick with rhubarb junkie.

But I digress ... with this flourishing plant I made Strawberry Rhubarb Oatmeal Squares in June and had a hankering for more rhubarb yesterday. Picture it if you will: there I was barefoot in my garden pulling out 5 stalks (as well as some ripe strawberries) ... but I had no recipe. Then I thought of one of my favourite desserts, Apple Crisp, and some light bulbs started going off in my noggin (or maybe it was sunstroke?) and I pictured a delicious fruity crisp on the menu! With my strawberries and rhubarb I could make one heck of a dessert! Unfortunately I needed some more fruit to fill the dish so I added a few MacIntosh apples that were just begging to join the party that was my Crisp.


Together they were a delicious combination! Who doesn't love the crunchiness of the oats/brown sugar topping paired with the softness of the baked fruit. Oh good gravy it was G-O-O-D ... good!

Needless to say, less than 24 hours later the crisp is no more. In our house, we have no ability to stop ourselves from eating yummy treats and can literally find a million reasons as to why we deserve to eat 'just one spoonful more'. We're a sad, sad bunch. And I will never, not even under extreme duress, ever admit to sneaking downstairs last night for another taste (ok, dish) of this crisp. No one was the wiser. She who grows the rhubarb, controls the world!! Bwa ha ha!

Strawberry Rhubarb Apple Crisp
From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 6 servings

2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 MacIntosh apples - peeled, cored, and sliced into halves
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup white sugar

Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick oats
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, combine fruit. Add cornstarch and white sugar and mix well until fruit is coated. Pour fruit mixture into a 9x9-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add butter; using two knives or a pastry blender combine butter with the topping ingredients until it becomes coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping over fruit.

Bake for 30 minutes or until fruit is soft. Serve while warm with vanilla ice cream.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Catching Fire



Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult
Series: 2nd book in The Hunger Games series (read in order)
Series Order: The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009), Mockingjay (2010)
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published: 2009
First Line: "I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air."

Synopsis: After winning the 74th annual Hunger Games Katniss and Peeta return home to more attention than they ever expected. Their unique and creative way of winning the Games has caused quite a stir in the 12 districts. So much so that there are rumours of rebellion breaking out in several districts. Suddenly Katniss finds herself thrust into the position of the primary symbol of the rebellion which unfortunately doesn't go unnoticed by President Snow who wasn't happy with how Katniss upset the Games.

After a brief and unexpected visit from President Snow Katniss is made aware of how her actions have put those she loves in danger ... especially if she and Peeta don't continue to convincingly show their 'love' for each other to the public while on their Victory Tour of the Districts.

Soon after their tour a special Hunger Games is announced. Since it is the 75th Games there is a special Games planned called a quarter Quell. But this time around the Capital has changed things and have chosen previous winners of the Hunger Games to compete. Now Katniss finds herself competing against competitors who are beloved by the people in the Districts. Competitors who range in age from 14 to 80 years old! Can Katniss and Peeta survive another round of the Games or will their luck run out?

My Thoughts: After reading the riveting first book in this series, "The Hunger Games" (see my review for that book here), I couldn't wait to keep reading about Katniss and see what happens next. Unfortunately, "Catching Fire" didn't have the heat of the first book and just fizzled for this reader.

Regrettably, this book suffers from Middle Book Syndrome. MBS afflicts many second books in a series where the second book is merely a segue in-between the first and last book of a trilogy. "Catching Fire" didn't feel like it was a book that could stand on its own but was more like a teaser for book three. Also, the fact that it seemed to regurgitate the first book didn't help matters either. It was much too similar and not nearly enough non-stop action as in "The Hunger Games".

In modern terms this book could be called "Hunger Games: All-Stars". You know what I'm talking about. Like when "Survivor" or "Big Brother" bring back past contestants to play the game again. The only problem is it's not CBS who's running this show but Panem's Capital. With a country on the brink of all-out rebellion, I wasn't sure why the Capitol would want to bring back beloved District heroes into a new Game. Wouldn't having the populace see their infamous and beloved heroes killed create even more anger and hatred towards the Capitol thereby increasing the rioting?? It just didn't make sense.

Another reason this book didn't grip me is because the tributes weren't on their own but banded into groups from the start. At times it felt more like Survivor with all of the alliance wheeling and dealing and the 'can I trust him or her not to stab me in the back later?" kind of thing. The book focused more on that type of head game than the basic struggle for food/water/safety like in the first book.

I also found the description of the arena confusing this time around. I reread the author's description a few times and finally gave up trying to picture it in my mind and kept reading. It isn't until later that I understood the design of the arena. I'm the kind of person who, when I read, have a mental picture in my head. It's those pictures that tend to stick with me long after I've read the book. Not being able to clearly picture what the arena looked like didn't help me jump into this book.

Then there was the lacklustre 'love triangle'. In the first book I was definitely rooting for Peeta and Katniss. He was this strong, silent type who was totally devoted to a girl who, quite frankly, didn't treat him as well as she should have. In this book, Peeta still comes off as a devoted and sweet guy ... but after awhile you either want him to catch a break and get the girl or man up and tell this whiny, controlling girl off. Am I the only one who felt this way?

I think, after two books, Peeta almost seemed too good to be true. He's the character that everyone is supposed to root for because he's just so darn trusting and so in love with a girl who, for quite awhile, would have killed him in a heartbeat for most of the first book. Now, suddenly, Katniss has a change of heart, loves him and wants to save him over herself.

Plus, how can there be a love triangle when one of the people in said triangle has no lines in the book and doesn't even make an appearance (except in a rehash made by Katniss?). It's more like a Love Line since we never see the other guy! We have to take Katniss' word and recollection for her feelings for Gale instead of seeing her experience them. Big difference! With Gale barely being in this book there definitely wasn't the intensity in the love triangle compared to the first book.

Katniss' character seemed to change a lot too. In the first book she was tough and could handle pretty much anything that was thrown at her. In "Catching Fire" she seems to be much more manipulative which leaves me wondering why such a good guy like Peeta could be so in love with her. She was, in a word, annoying (and whiny). Ok, that's three words but you get my point. She wasn't this tough 'gonna survive no matter what' kind of girl this time around. But perhaps if I was thrown into a Survivor-type game with 'Boston Rob' I'd feel a bit whiny too (totally in awe of Rob!) but a little ticked off and whiny too!

But I digress ....

While there were some tense situations experienced by the Tributes their struggles weren't nearly as surprising and just felt like they were thrown in for shock value. They didn't have nearly the impact as the first book. I felt like the issues the Games threw at the competitors just got in the way of the storyline and I wanted the author to just get on with telling the story. Not a good sign.

I think that with a second book in a trilogy authors really have to bring their A game to keep the storyline going, keep up the momentum as well as the intensity so that readers feel that they 'have to' keep reading. There has to be something new and vibrant with the second book in a trilogy - sadly this wasn't the case with this book.

When you add in the very abrupt ending that seemed to come out of nowhere I just didn't love this book. My biggest concern is that I've heard that the first and second books are the best in the series which doesn't leave me with a 'gotta get my hands on the last book' feeling with this series :(

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Ice Cream



I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM!!

In order to beat this excessive heat wave that's been hitting my part of Canada (it's 40C (104F) with the humidity and it's only 10am!!) my kids and I wanted to find a refreshing treat to make. So off we went to find a recipe for my new ice cream maker. Yes, I have finally jumped on the homemade ice cream bandwagon!! Last week I was lucky enough to find a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker at a local liquidator (for a substantial discount too!).

Soon after buying this machine (I'm talking later that same day) I had my first foray into ice cream making -- Oreo Cookie Ice Cream! In all of my excitement to make this ice cream I didn't take into account that my kitchen had a temperature of 27C and that the ice cream maker bowl wasn't frozen enough (takes 6-22 hours in the freezer and we did the minimum). Can you tell we were a bit excited??? Those two temperature issues caused the ice cream to be more like slush cream so we popped it in the freezer for a couple of hours. With that little change it was delightful!!

One of the main reasons that I bought an ice cream maker was so that my 11 year old could finally eat ice cream with loads of goodies in it. I'm talking about cookie dough, brownies etc. With his peanut allergy going to "31 Flavours" or Marble Slab Creamery-type places is a definite no-no. The risk is much too high for cross-contamination with other nut products. This is where a home ice cream maker comes in very handy!!

There are several options out there for these machines but the only two I really looked at were the Cuisinart and the Kitchen Aid attachment. Since I found the Cuisinart version first that's the one I got and I love it!

Yesterday, I decided to delve into the banana graveyard which is my fridge freezer and use up some of my stash. In my world using fruit helps to negate the guilty feelings of eating ice cream at 11 in the morning!! I found a recipe online and, of course, tweaked it to within an inch of its life. The recipe called for using room temperature bananas. My first thought was why use room temperature bananas when A) I have tonnes in my freezer and B) I want to make something COLD!

My second thought was of the delicious adult-only bevvie that Brad has made me in the past ... the very yummy Chocolate Monkey! He uses a frozen banana in this delicious drink so I opted for that too. Doing this helped keep the temperature of the ice cream mixture nice and cold. I also had our A/C on this time so my kitchen wasn't stuffy and hot and I added some chopped up chocolate chips (chocolate makes everything better, right?).

I think all the changes I made to this recipe worked out really well. The results? Really creamy, natural banana flavour with a hint of chocolate. If you don't want the crunchiness of the chocolate chips you could opt for Oreo cookie crumbs instead. And the best part of making homemade ice cream is that it only takes about half an hour. That's good news for my very impatient stomach ... fairly bad news for my thighs and posterior. :s

I hope everyone is keeping cool in this weather!!

Banana Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Ice Cream Maker Time: Approximately 25-30 minutes
Makes: 1 1/2 quarts

Servings: Ten 1/2 cup servings

3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 - 4 ripe medium bananas, semi-frozen
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips, chopped

Let bananas thaw on the counter for 10 minutes. Remove skins and place in blender. The bananas should still be pretty frozen. The slight thaw just helps to get the skins off. Blend well until smooth. Add milk, sugar and nutmeg and blend.

Pour banana mixture into a large bowl. Add heavy cream and vanilla and mix. Pour immediately into thoroughly frozen bowl of ice cream maker. Mix in ice cream maker for 25 minutes. Add chopped chocolate chips. Mix for another 5 minutes or until ice cream is thick. Serve immediately.

If using room temperature bananas
Mix milk, sugar, and nutmeg until sugar dissolves (a wire whisk or hand mixer works well).

Mash or puree bananas until the bananas are pureed well. Stir bananas into milk mixture.

For best freezing results, chill banana/milk mixture for at least 1 hour.
Add whipping cream and vanilla. Stir well. Pour mixture into ice cream maker.
Churn about 25-30 minutes or according to manufacturer's instructions.

NOTE: I take the bowl for my ice cream maker out of my deep freeze right before I need it. The colder you keep the bowl the better. I also keep my bowl in my deep freeze (inside a plastic bag as per the instructions) so it's always ready to go in case I have an ice cream emergency!

Inspired by: Banana Ice Cream (http://www.serving-ice-cream.com)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Whatcha Reading?!?" Wednesday



I hope everyone is successful at keeping cool this week! I can't remember when we've had such a long stint of truly H-O-T weather in southern Ontario! Yes, it does get quite hot here in the summer but this is ridiculous!!

So, I hope you've been able to find a pool to swim in to beat the heat and managed to bring a book along to read in the shade! I've spent the better part of 2 weeks soaking in my parents' pool which, just due to the heat, has a temperature of 92F!!!! Yup, a mere 6 degrees lower than their hot tub. Not quite as refreshing as one would like but beggers (ie ME) can't be choosers, right?

This past week I finished reading "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins. It's the second book in the Hunger Games series. Like the first book it was a quick read. I'll be posting that book review either today or tomorrow

I'm almost finished reading "One Deadly Sin" by Annie Solomon. It's a suspense read and is pretty good.

Next? I have a humourous mystery series I'd like to start on my Kindle but my oldest son is currently borrowing dear old mom's Kindle to read "The Hunger Games". If not that book, then I'll pick up ROOM by Emma Donoghue which has received rave reviews from everyone I've talked to. The topic has me a little leery but the overall kudos for this book have outweighed my squeemishness.

So, what are you all reading? Did you love it? Hate it? Would you recommend it?


Monday, July 18, 2011

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

A couple of weeks ago Brad and I took the kids to the beach for some sun and surf (can the shores of Lake Erie be considered 'surf'??). On our treks to the beach we always bring lots of sand toys, floaty things for the water and a cooler filled with food for a crowd.

There's a little tidbit of info about me that you should know. I inherited the "make waaay too much food for family occasions" gene from my dear Mom which means that we always have more than enough food for us, neighbours and strangers on the street. For our beach trip we packed wraps, loads of watermelon, grapes, strawberries and veggies, cheese strings and a bag of chips (to balance all the nutritious foods). A happy Bookworm clan is a well fed Bookworm clan whose blood sugar levels stay nice and high! You don't want to hang with us if our blood sugar levels drop. It's not pretty.

I had also made several hard boiled eggs but forgot them at home {Side note: I also inherited the "prepare at least one dish then forget to serve it" gene from my Mom. Love you Mom!!}. There we were on the beach {my lily white skin like a friendly beacon to our American neighbours to the south} when we had a hankering for some eggs. Brad hunted in the cooler for said eggs only for me to go 'Ohhh, ya. I think I forgot them in the fridge at home.' Ya think?!? My ability to state the obvious as well as my keen sense of perception are truly astonishing! Needless to say we enjoyed the hard boiled eggs when we got home from the beach.

Part of our feast on the beach included this pasta salad. Nothin' says summer like a cool and tasty pasta salad!! The kids chose not to partake of this dish (more for B and I) which is too bad because it was delicious! The cheese tortellini in this dish gave it that extra added oomph which we loved and I plan to add them to more pasta salads in the future.

The Greek Salad Dressing that I used is from my mom's recipe trove. This is one of her highly used and highly acclaimed recipes that we use for everything from salads, to marinating meats. It's really, really good and she gets compliments on it all the time.

As you can see in the picture my salami is sliced. I chose the easier route and bought a package of salami instead of going to another food store for their deli counter. In hindsight, I would have preferred having small cubes of salami instead of the slices which just stuck to each other.

Overall, this is a tasty and easy lunch idea or side dish for some grilled meat and can be tweaked according to your own personal tastes. Enjoy!!



Mediterranean Pasta Salad
From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 6 servings

Greek Salad Dressing
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup olive or grapeseed oil

1/2 pkg (350g) cheese tortellini
2 cups farfalle pasta
1/2 cup orange pepper, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 English cucumber, diced
15 cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 (6oz) jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup Genoa salami (regular or spicy) or pepperoni, cubed
1/2 cup Kalamata olives or black olive slices (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 cup Mozzarella cheese, cubed
garnish - parsley


Combine salad dressing ingredients and shake well. Allow dressing to sit for 1 hour on the counter. Refrigerate remaining dressing if you won't be using it all for this dish.

Cook cheese tortellini and farfalle pasta according to package instructions.

In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients, except Mozzarella cheese cubes, and mix well. Pour dressing (I used about 3/4 cup but think it could have used more) over salad ingredients. Let salad sit in the fridge for at least a few hours before serving so the flavours can blend.

Just before serving, mix salad well and add Mozzarella cheese cubes and parsley, if desired. Keep leftovers in the fridge.

Note: Don't add the Mozzarella cheese until just before serving because the liquid from the dressing will make the cheese sweaty and kinda gross.

Linked to: Cast Party Wednesday and Somewhat Simple

Friday, July 15, 2011

Good-Bye, Harry Potter

Happy Harry Potter Day! It's probably not officially HP Day but since the final movie has finally been released into theatres in Canada today I thought it appropriate to showcase one of, in my humble opinion, the biggest, most creative and addicting series of all time.

I am very proud to call myself a Harry Potter geek and have to admit to being a little sad that the whole HP experience is over now. I felt the same way when I read the final book which felt like I was saying good bye to an old friend. That's the mark of an extraordinary book. The characters stay with you for a long, long time and you're willing to re-read the books over and over (I've read HP four times).

If it weren't for JK Rowling, I may not have got the jumpstart I needed to get back into reading. I've been a reader since I was a child but when I started having kids my free time dwindled and the time I would have spent reading was now used to entertain, feed, change, wipe noses and, quite frankly, sleep! That all changed when one of my brothers-in-law, who taught grade 7 at the time, told me about a book series that his students were reading and couldn't stop talking about. He had recently read it and loved it so he suggested it to me. That's not to say that I stopped feeding, caring for my kids and wiping their snotty noses, I just made reading a priority in my life again and took time in the evenings to read once my little darlings were asleep.

When my brother-in-law first proposed that I read Harry Potter I thought it was a crazy idea. Me? A mom of 2 (at that time) reading a book kids were into? I don't think so. I'm too much of a savvy, cultured, experienced reader to pick up a book about magic, house elves,
Quidditch, patronuses, Death Eaters and pesky nargles. Ha! Apparently not. I devoured the first book and went on to read the entire series practically one right after the other. I just couldn't get enough of the 'boy who lived'.

One of the things that I love about Harry Potter is that my boys have embraced the series and it's something that we love to talk about together (7 year old "Missy Moo" hasn't jumped on the HP bandwagon as of yet). The boys (including Brad) and I watch the movies together and play HP Scene-It (although to date I have rarely been beaten. Mom's still got game!) and quiz each other on magical terms and spells.

To see my boys, back when they were only 8 to 11 years old reading these 300-750 page books was awesome! Together we learned about a fantastical, magical world filled with dragons, spells, people changing into animals, flying brooms, pictures that have people moving in them, Hippogriffs, a three headed dog, giant spiders, house elves ..... the list goes on and on! Rowling created a world that was so captivating that children and adults alike were addicted to the same books. How often has that happened?


It's no surprise that this book series has spawned a hugely successful movie franchise, a theme park, it's own vernacular and made JK Rowling a woman richer than the Queen of England! The reason? The simple fact that this was no ordinary book series.

Rowling has the unique ability to make readers vividly see the world she's created within their own imaginations. She describes it in great detail but in such an interesting way that you can't help but want to read more and more about this special world within our world. She also has the unique ability to make her characters believable. She was able to successfully give voice to the 11-17 year old Hogwarts students without sounding silly or unbelievable. That is definitely something that not all authors are capable of.

There is a sense of wonder with these books which is truly captivating. I love the fact that the books take place in modern times and that the magical world has been living along side the Muggle (non-magic) world -- we Muggles just didn't realize it. How cool is that!?! I was also intrigued by the fact that Harry is this famous wizard but never knew he was famous until he was introduced back into the world of magic at age 11. For his first eleven years, before he got his letter from "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry", he was just a meek boy who was regularly berated and treated abysmally by the only family he had - his aunt, uncle and cousin, Dudley. As Harry learns about this new magical world we, the reader, learn along with him. Suddenly perfect strangers know who he is and are in awe of something he did years before that no other wizard was able to do.

With my love of all things Potter I have to admit that I'm still a bit surprised when I meet people who have never read the HP books. I know to each their own but its one of those series you just want everyone to read so they 'get it'. Some people just haven't picked them up, then there are others who are adamant that they're not going to read them. "I'm not going to jump on that silly bandwagon". Not sure why some people write off the series before reading it. Okey dokey. More room for me on the HP bandwagon!



I'm also surprised that some people never read the books and only watched the HP movies. I happen to sleep with one of the people in that group. For clarification, it's YOU, Brad. No worries. ;) While the movies are amazing and pretty darn accurate to the books I HIGHLY recommend, if you haven't already, reading the entire series. So many smaller storylines had to be omitted from the movies or they'd have to make each movie 6 hours long and provide dinner and a pillow. Plus, the books go into more detail and clearly explain some of the more confusing, detailed storylines (ie the horcruxes and Deathly Hallows). If Brad had read the books before we saw each of the movies (it was one of our annual date nights) then I wouldn't have had to give him a crash course in Potter-speak/storyline info after some of the later movies.


Some people don't read the books because they think they're too dark and evil. Yes, there are dark parts and scary creatures but there are dark parts in many books. Rowling didn't add the darker aspects of the books (Voldemort, Death Eaters, Dementors ...) just for the sake of shock value. When you really look at the series its actually about the power of love. It shows how love can conquer all - even the darkest evil. Plus, without some evil the books would have been boring. Yes, the books are filled with loss, people are hurt and some die. I like the fact that not everyone survives. It's more realistic and believable.

The reader also sees how Harry stands up for what's right no matter what. We see the importance and power of friendship, the strength of character one needs to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The power and enduring quality of a mother's love. The ability of a boy who was put down throughout his loveless childhood only to find love years later and build a new family - not made of blood relatives but of friends and people who respect him. The view that all creatures should be treated equally and not enslaved to serve more powerful beings. The fact that it's much easier to give in to a stronger, darker power and so much harder to stand up for what is right. The view that no one is infallible, not even our parents or mentors. That we may wrongly misjudge others. So many life lessons packed into one series.


It's with a little sadness and a bit of nostalgia for me and millions of others HP fans as we see the final movie in the franchise this summer. Good-bye Harry, Ron and Hermione. Good-bye Professors Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall and Dumbledore. Good-bye Weasley family, Neville, Dobby, Hedwig, Hogwarts,{good riddance to Voldemort} and to the wonderfully magical world created by Ms Rowling.

To J.K Rowling I have but two words for your amazing skill as a writer. In the unforgettable words of Ronald Weasley your series was "Bloody brilliant!!". Cheers to you Ms Rowling for an amazing work of literature and to a woman who did what some may call the impossible. Ms Rowling, your incredible story was able to get millions of adults and children to shut off their Game Boys, PSPs, Wiis and other technology for awhile to get lost in a book together.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Other Twin



Author: Katherine Stone
Pages: 297
Genre: Modern Fiction
First Published: 2003
First Line: "You're not going to marry her!"

Synopsis: On a rainy night Claire Forrester, her beloved husband and in-laws are in a car accident that leaves Clarie's husband and parents dead and Claire in early labour.

Thirty years later, Claire's daughter Paige is a talented doctor who goes above and beyond to help her cancer patients to the detriment of her personal life. Gwen St James, a make-up artist at a local TV station, is asked by Claire to come into the hospital to make over one of her patients who has been ravaged by cancer. Paige and Gwen both feel a connection between them and become close friends quickly. Meanwhile, Claire starts to have flashbacks to the night of the accident and can't quite help feeling that she's about to unlock some dark family secrets that her subconscious has kept from her for the past 30 years.

My Thoughts: This was one of those books that I picked up merely based on a quick glance of the book cover. I was in the library looking for a book to take to the beach. I wanted a Sydney Sheldon-type read filled with delicious deception, back-stabbing and loads of twists ... and the occasional Alexis Carrington-esque cat fight wouldn't go unappreciated either. In other words, I wanted a perfect beach read.

Sadly, this book just didn't measure up. I finished it but barely. The overall storyline that was described on the book jacket sounded intriguing but the writing just didn't cut it for me.

First of all, there were quite a few characters but I never felt like I got to know any of them even though, throughout the book, the author continually spoon fed the reader characters' inner thoughts. A character would be speaking but, at the same time, their inner thoughts were printed in italics. Not needed if the writing was better. Kind of like ....

"Hi Paige! I can't believe I just bumped into you here!" I hope she doesn't think I've been waiting around for her!.

That kind of thing. I don't need to be spoon fed character's thoughts. It just comes off as annoying.

There was also the added confusion about who was who. I had a hard time remembering which stunningly handsome man went with which utterly gorgeous woman. Everyone was just so darn pretty that no one really stood out and that made my gag reflex start to tingle just a bit. The author couldn't throw in an average gal who may wear Spanx and perhaps a guy without a great tan, a cleft or a dimple??

The people and the storylines in this book worked out too perfectly for me and felt contrived and utterly unbelievable. First of all, the happenstance meeting of several of the characters that then turned into long-lost relationships is too out there to be plausible. There's fate and then there's 'Oh pullleeeze!".

There were also a plethora of subplots going on (what is with me picking books lately with oodles of superfluous subplots?!?) which just made the overall storyline feel too convoluted and I ended up not really caring about any storyline. Add to the fact that there was an overabundance of issues being dealt with and it got really drawn-out and complicated when it didn't have to be. For example, this book deals with postpartum depression, kidney disease, organ donors, neglect/child abuse .... Too much goin' on!!

The final straw (which happened right at the end --- SPOILER ALERT!!)
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is when both twins get pregnant and announce their pregnancies to their mother at the same time. Oh ... come ... on!! Really!?! That little gem felt like something out of a Sweet Valley High book. Don't get me wrong, I loved Sweet Valley High .... when I was 12 years old. I'm much too jaded now to believe that all these connections and revelations 'just happen'.

This was an intriguing storyline but, unfortunately, was poorly executed. I felt totally let down and a little ticked that the book wasn't nearly as good as the write up on the book jacket made it out to be

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Whatcha Reading??' Wednesday





It has been a slow week of reading for little old me. I'm still reading "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins. It's the second book in The Hunger Games series. I'm enjoying it but finding it hard to find time to blog, read and catch up on household stuff in the evenings once my mini humans are tucked into bed. I'm 80% finished reading it on my Kindle so I should be finished with it in the next day or two.



Next? I have a pile of library books that have been staring me down for the past 2-3 weeks (thank you on-line library renewal system!!). I may picke up "One Deadly Sin" by Annie Solomon
or perhaps one of the 61+ ebooks that I have on my Kindle.

So, what have you been reading this past week? Did you like it, love it or was it just not your thang?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Parmesan Basil Orzo



As I've mentioned before I am a HUGE carb addict. Add some Parmesan, fresh basil and garlic and I'm a goner. This very easy side dish is perfect for those days (albeit far and few between) when you're just not in the mood for a spud. *gasp!* Yes, I said it. I've been tiring of my beloved spud lately and I've been on the lookout for a different kind of side dish to accompany the fish, chicken, pork or beef we eat at supper.

Enter orzo. For those of you not familiar with this little guy, orzo is a rice shaped pasta whose name means "barley" in Italian. Just because orzo resembles rice do not mistake it for rice if you're omitting gluten from your diet. It is made from durum semolina wheat which is an especially hard type of wheat. This 'hardness' makes orzo perfect for use in soups, baked casseroles, stuffed peppers etc since it doesn't get mushy and retains it's shape. Orzo is a very popular ingredient in Italian, Middle Eastern and Greek cooking.

My Parmesan Basil Orzo is super simple to make and it uses items that are fairly typical in an average kitchen. This is one of those dishes where I like to get all of my ingredients measured out and put in little dishes on the counter. That way throwing this dish together is a snap AND I get the added benefit of pretending that I'm on a cooking show. Did I just say that out loud?? Ok, I admit that my Type A personality loves to see all of the ingredients lined up ready to go. And, if I'm being honest, I so do love tossing in the ingredients with a jaunty snap of the wrist!! Who doesn't like to think of themselves as having their own cooking show? Anyone? Ok, it's just me but my dog thinks my on-air personality is stellar!

Back to the recipe ... honestly, this recipe is super simple and tastes sooooo good! The tanginess of the fresh Parmesan, the freshness of the basil and the undeniably yummy hit of garlic is awesomeness squared!! Plus you can pair it with any meat making this side dish so versatile.

Note to those of us who have kids who are not rice lovers: You may have a hard time convincing your kids that orzo is in fact a pasta, not a rice. My kids are still sceptical of my explaination but I guess I had it coming since I routinely pass off finely chopped spinach as 'seasoning' and pass off hidden sweet potato in cheesy mashed potatoes. I hope your family loves this dish as much as 80% of my family does (this stat does not include Karate Guy who is adamant that orzo is secretly a rice). :)

Parmesan Basil Orzo
From: The Baking Bookworm
Servings: 4 servings

3 tbsp butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
15oz water
2 tsp chicken bouillon powder (optional)
3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil leaves to garnish

In a large pot, melt butter. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add orzo and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

In a small bowl, combine water and chicken bouillon powder, if using. Pour into pot, cover and bring to boil. Once mixture is boiling lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until orzo is tender. Add Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup basil and salt & pepper. Serve immediately and garnish with extra fresh basil, if desired.



Somewhat Simple

Sunday, July 10, 2011

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Those of you who know me well know that I get bored easily. For the past couple of months I'd been finding that my wee blog was a bit boring and much too dark. Ultimately I'd love the whole page done by a professional blog designer but for now I just played around in Blogger and lightened things up a bit. Whatcha think?

Evernight



After a 4 day hiatus I am back. Thought I left you for parts unknown, didn't you?!! Nah. I've just been acclimating myself to having my offspring (and Brad) home for the past week. After 10 months of having the house to myself during the week it's a little odd having little humans running around again 24/7! After numerous afternoons swimmin' in my parents pool, a game of mini golf, trip to the beach and a lovely dinner out in Toronto with my old high school friends I'm back people!

Due to the sudden increase in family time I've been stockpiling my book reviews. "Evernight" is a book that I finished reading about a week ago.

Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Young Adult / Supernatural
Pages: 329
First Published: 2008
First Line: "It was the first day of school, which meant it was my last chance to escape."

Synopsis: Sixteen year old Bianca is not happy when her parents suddenly decide to uproot her and send her to an elite boarding school where they have accepted positions as professors. Right from the start Bianca feels like an outcast and set apart from the other students who appear to be ultra rich and gorgeous.

Soon after arriving Bianca meets Lucas Ross. They have an instant connection and a mutual feeling of being outcasts at this strange school. Bianca and Lucas' bond intensifies quickly but will Bianca risk everything and tell Lucas Evernight's secret? Does Lucas have a secret of his own?

My Thoughts: Let me start by saying that in reading the back cover of this book I got the feeling that the author was a big fan of P.C and Kristin Cast's "House of Night" series, the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series (series that I liked, ADORED and really liked - in that order) and she decided to write a book joining all of the themes together. Good premise but sadly, for me, it just didn't work.

First of all, I want to mention that I don't have a heart of stone and that I do enjoy a nice believable romance between characters. But I didn't buy the 'instant connection' between Bianca and Lucas at all. Their relationship felt unbelievable and forced from the beginning like the author was desperately trying to show the reader that Bianca and Lucas were in love. As a reader I don't want to be told, I want to be shown through actions and language. That just didn't happen here. I think the main problem is that I honestly didn't see what Bianca found attractive about him. He was ... a wanker. Yup. Broody, complained and was trying too hard to be the rebel.

I also thought the way Lucas and Bianca meet is extremely odd and in no way (to my thinking) romantic. Bianca runs away from Evernight into the misty and creepy forest (isn't that always the way?) where she sees a guy (Lucas) who creeps her out (ahhh, l'amour). She takes off running to get away from Creepy Guy Lucas. Lucas runs after her and tackles her to the ground. When she asks why he's chasing her he replies that he started running after her because he thought someone else was chasing her and wanted to protect her. What?!? And this is the basis for their undying love? I ... don't ... think so. If some guy tackles me in a misty, uber creepy woods I'm not going to get up and think "Well, hello there handsome!". It would be more like "Get OFF me!" with a knee to the groin. Apparently love hits people different ways.

After their *sigh and blush* romantic meeting, Bianca goes all 'desperate and needy' searching around for Lucas the next day (and several days after) at school. Women's movement please take two steps back. What is with tween authors and their need to make teen girls all needy, clingy and stalkerish!?!? The guy tackled you Bianca!! Perhaps if another guy pile drived her she'd be his forever? Who knows.

The funny thing is, it was Lucas' romantic competition for Bianca's affections that I was more drawn to. Not only does Balthazar have a really cool name but he was tall, dark and handsome!! I kept hoping that she'd get some sense knocked into her and go for Balthazar instead. How bad is that for a romantic novel??

Note: At this point in the book I was highly doubting that this book was for me but I persevered! I'm nothing if not too lazy to pick up another book dedicated to reading.

There are a couple of twists in the book. The first left me feeling confused (see my comments below) but the second was pretty good. Unfortunately the second twist didn't happen until nearly the end of the book. When I got to that twist I thought "OK, now the book's going to take off" ... but it didn't. I don't think the author used it to its full extent.

Now for my comments on that confusing first twist. At the beginning of the book Bianca is shown to be clueless and naive ... then all of a sudden the author does a HUGE reveal and suddenly the reader realizes that Bianca has been 'in the know' about Evernight and what happens there the whole time. What?!? I literally thought I had dozed off and skipped a big chunk of the book. How could I miss that?? All this time she complained about feeling like an outsider ... it was utter bologna!! She totally knew! The bigger issue is that the book is written in the first person which felt like I, the reader, was misled the first third of the book. If it's written in Bianca's voice how could she not know what was going on ... then suddenly know? Confused? Join the club. We've got shirts made up and everything.

Another issue that I had with this book is that the author focused too much on just Bianca and Lucas. In my humble opinion, secondary characters were needed to develop the story. Unfortunately, Bianca's friend Raquel, studly Balthazar or the humourous Vic weren't used to the storyline's advantage and were pretty much ignored by the end of the book. I was hoping for some big, gothic intense mystery (along with a bit of romance perhaps) but with the story focusing pretty much on the not-so-believable relationship between the two teens the story fell flat quickly.

On a positive note I'm very thankful that this was a book that I picked up at the library and that I didn't buy it on my Kindle or in paper form. There are future books in the series but, quite frankly, I don't want to know what happens to Bianca and Lucas. I'm giving the rest of this series a pass.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Whatcha Reading?" Wednesdays



Now that Canada Day (and July 4th for my American friends) is behind us summer is officially ON! With all three of my mini me's at home full-time for the next 10 weeks it's going to be interesting to see just how much reading I'll get done. We are definitely a busy family (my husband always lovingly refers to me as "The Stay-at-Home Mom Who's Never Home"). Yup, me of little attention span needs to get out and DO things or I get bored. During these busy summer weeks I find that I tend to only get reading time if I get up earlier than the kids (so NOT happening!) or stay up late into the night reading (a much more common occurence).

We here in Ontario are just finishing our first full week of summer vay-cay and it's been a busy week already! Canada Day festivities, sleepovers, 7km bike rides (even before my morning COFFEE! That's dedication, people!) and an amazing trip to the beach! Lake Erie was great yesterday and the Bookworm Family had a fabulous time relaxing, building monster sand castles, catching some waves and yes, even reading a bit on the beach!!



As for my reading this past week? Well, it was a little hit and miss for me. Definitely nothing I'd write home about, unfortunately. I picked up "Evernight" by Claudia Gray. It's a Young Adult (YA) novel that is very reminicent of the "House of Night" series by P.C and Kristin Cast since the story revolves around a residential school for vampires. Think of a Vampire Hogwarts. It was just OK for me. I'll post it's review shortly.

After that book I picked up "The Other Twin" by Katherine Stone. It sounded like a good beach read (I even brought it to the beach yesterday) and sounded like a sinfully good Sydney Sheldon-type romp into the world of secrets, betrayal and scandal. Oooooo. Unfortunately it didn't have the twists and turns that I was hoping for. This review will also be posted as soon as possible. I've been focusing on recipes lately (and hangin' with the family since Brad is off this week so blogging has been put lower on the list of priorities).

Late last night I picked up "Catching Fire" which is the second book in The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I've been looking forward to catching up with Catniss Everdeen and see where the author takes the story. "The Hunger Games" was an absolutely fabulous read. A perfect summer read!

So, what has everyone been reading. Reading Roll Call time! What did you think of the books you read? Would you recommend them? Also, what books would you highly recommend for others to read this summer?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs & Sun-Dried Tomatoes



As promised in my last post here is the appetizer that I brought to our Canada Day celebration this year. At this annual party that our friends host, guests bring various desserts, salads and appetizers to share with each other.

In past years I never would have even considered bringing a dish with goat cheese in it. I remember last Canada Day thinking that goat cheese tasted like burnt plastic - not an appetizing taste! I know what you're thinking and no, I have never cooked up some Lego or gnawed on a Barbie but that was the after taste that I was left with each time I attempted to like goat cheese. This year something changed and I've had a smouldering love affair with goat cheese. Oh yes, people! Goat cheese got it's sexy back and I'm finding it really hard to resist!

So now I'm totally crushing on goat cheese and try to find various ways to incorporate it into our meals. When I was asked to bring something for the party I immediately thought I could kill two birds with one stone. I'd satisfy the goat cheese beast that dwells within me AND get to think up a new recipe for the blog. Win, win!

Well, this was a hit at the party. There's not many better things for a food blogger than to hear praise over a recipe you've made. Just as the guests started to dig into this appetizer I had to grab a bit for myself in order to get a picture for the blog. Priorities!! This photo will not win awards because there I was on the edge of a group of people with a slice of baguette smothered in this spread trying to hold it with one hand while taking a picture with my little 'point and shoot' camera in the other. This is the glamour and glitz behind the scenes at food blogging people. ;)

Needless to say I had to hold myself back from eating it all up but I'm glad that the other adults (the kids would only schnorff down plain baguette pieces) really enjoyed it as well. I think serving this tangy spread with homemade baguettes was the icing on the proverbial cake. I love the chewiness of the bread and the tanginess of the spread. Plus, making baguettes is easy ... when you have a bread maker! With the stores being closed on Canada Day I couldn't get a fresh baguette and since one of my kids is allergic to peanuts buying bread from bakeries is a risky business due to cross-contamination. Hence, the FOUR homemade baguettes that I brought to the party! Needless to say, there was nothing left of my appetizer. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

UPDATE (6 hours after writing the 1st draft of this post): I think I have a problem. I made this appetizer again today (July 3rd) -- you know, 2 days after making it for Canada Day -- for a get together with my extended family. How much is too much goat cheese consumption?!? My poor basil plant looks like it has mange for goodness sake!! I'll start to cut back on my goat cheese intake if I start to 'baaaaa' or chew on aluminum cans. Until then I'm happily addicted to this tangy cheese. :)

Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
From: The Baking Bookworm

300g package of goat cheese
olive or grapeseed oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1/4 cup black olives, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp hot chili pepper flakes
1/2 tsp black pepper
Fresh baguettes - sliced into 1-inch pieces

Lazy Method of Roasting Garlic: Add garlic to a small skillet. Add enough oil to just cover the garlic. Sauté on very low temperature until garlic becomes very pale yellow colour (this will take about 8-10 minutes). Remove from heat and allow garlic to cool completely before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine basil, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, rosemary, hot chili pepper flakes, black pepper and cooled garlic. Add enough oil to make the herb mixture moist. Mix well. Let mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour (or in the fridge for up to 1 day). This will help the flavours blend together.

Spread goat cheese into a pie plate or other microwave-safe dish. Goat cheese should be approximately 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Spoon herb mixture over the goat cheese and spread evenly. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until just warmed.

Garnish with extra basil, olives or sun-dried tomatoes, if desired.

Serve with fresh baguette slices and try not to inhale in all before your guests get a bite. This dish is addictive!!

This recipe has been included in the following Linky Parties :

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Oatmeal Squares



I hope all of my fellow Canadians had an amazing Canada Day yesterday!! Canada has a lot to be thankful for and the world has a lot to thank us for!! Yes! We Canadians need to show more pride and wave our flag because we're pretty amazing! Without Canadians and our fine minds and inventions the world would be a very different place.

Picture it if you dare! The world would be filled with saggy chested women with their pants falling down because Canadians invented not only the zipper (1913) but the push-up bra (1964)! Oh yes! We also helped humanity by discovering insulin back in 1921 (thank you Drs Banting and Best!) and inventing the telephone so that girls everywhere could talk about the perfection that is Mr Justin Beiber (who hails from Stratford, Ontario).

And let's not forget how boring rainy afternoons would be without Pictionary (1986) and Trivia Pursuit (1982), 5 pin bowling (1909) and IMAX movies (1968) featuring the very much Canadian SUPERMAN! Yes, he is not American as most people believe, he's a Canadian creation!

Without Canadians there would be no basketball (1892), lacrosse (1600's) or snowmobiles. The entertainment field would be totally different. There would be no Pamela Anderson, Jim Carrey, Bare Naked Ladies, Michael J Fox, Tragically Hip, Kim Cattrall, Michael Buble, Catherine O'Hara, Corey Monteith (GLEE!), Monty Hall, Eugene Levy, Mike Myers, Sandra Oh, Anna Paquin, William Shatner! Oh the horror!!

So as you sit back and enjoy your Caesar (1969) (aka Bloody Mary for non-Canadians) and your Standard Time (thank you Sir Sandford Fleming - 1879) I hope that you've enjoyed this little history lesson on how Canadians have made the world a better place.

As for how my family and I celebrated Canada's 144th birthday?! We had absolutely perfect weather while partying (for the 9th year in a row) at our friends' house with a bunch of great people. You'd think that having 19 adults and 17 kids in one backyard would be total chaos but it was a ball! So much great food, lovely bevvies and happy kids makes for a great day. Add to that some fireworks and it was perfection!

I brought a cake as well as an appetizer with homemade French sticks that I whipped up myself for the occasion. With my new love of all things goat cheese I wanted to make a spread that used it. Wellll, it was a hit! Lots of 'yummy noises' coming from the other people which just made my day that much better! I will definitely post that recipe (which used loads of my fresh herbs) in the next day or two. Promise!

But first I just had to post this delicious recipe that I made on Thursday to celebrate the last day of school for my kids. I wanted a square that used the strawberries and the rhubarb from my very own garden.



This was the first time I've harvested any rhubarb so I was pretty excited. There's nothing like growing your own food. I swear it even tastes better knowing that I grew the fruit that went into this dish!

Well, let me tell you how amazing my kitchen smelled when I was stewing up the strawberries and rhubarb! A-mazing! I was thinking of all kinds of dishes I could use this with (including poured over vanilla ice cream!). There is a nice drizzle that you can add to the top of these squares. I didn't because, quite frankly, I forgot. But the drizzle would make these squares quite pretty.

Perfect for lunches, snacks or 'just cuz' I hope you enjoy these easy squares.

Strawberry Rhubarb Oatmeal Squares
Recipe Inspired by: Land'o'Lakes

1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cups white sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup icing sugar
1 to 2 tbsp milk

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

Prepare filling -- In a 2 quart saucepan combine rhubarb, strawberries and lemon juice. Cover and cook over medium heat until fruit is soft (approximately 8-12 minutes), stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add to the fruit mixture and continue cooking for 1 minute, stirring constantly until mixture begins to boil. Continue boiling mixture for 1 minute until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare crust -- in a large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, baking soda and salt. Combine with a pastry blender (or two knives) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the mixture for the topping. Pour remaining mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish and pat it down. Pour fruit mixture evenly over the base crust. Sprinkle reserved crumb mixture over fruit mixture.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Make drizzle -- in a small bowl, sift icing sugar. Add milk and mix until smooth. With a spoon, drizzle this mixture over the completely cooled bars. Cut and serve.


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