Wednesday, August 31, 2011

'Whatcha Reading' Wednesday!



I cannot believe that this is the last week of summer vacation. In years past, it seems like the summer lasts forever but this year it whizzed by! Due to all of our activities, summer camps, trips to the beach etc it should come as no surprise that my reading has taken a back seat to our summer'o' family fun. Truth be told, I also haven't had too much energy to even try new recipes.

After a busy, yet relaxing, summer I think we're all ready for things to get back on schedule. I know I'm looking forward to quiet days to plan great meals and baked treats as well as having time to peruse the library at my leisure for new reads! I honestly think that my kids are looking forward to (but won't admit) going back to school.

This past week was definitely a slow reading week for me. I'm still reading "Madame Tussaud" by Michelle Moran. It's a historical fiction read set in France in the late 1700's during the French Revolution. The whole Marie Antoinette 'Let them eat cake!' era. Sadly (or is it embarassingly) I don't know much about that time so I'm enjoying learning something new. I like how Moran takes a figure from an era and writes a story from her point of view.

Up next? I have a few books from the library that I'll be reading before I pick up my Kindle (unless Terri Reid finishes her next Mary O'Reilly e-book in which case I'll read that book next. Hint, hint to Terri!!). Like most people all of a sudden I get all of my library holds in at the same time which leaves me either scrambling to read them all within the 2-3 week load period OR deciding how much I'm willing to pay in fines if I'm a bit late. I have a few choices for my next read ...

"The Kitchen Daughter" by Jael McHenry
"By Fire, By Water" by Mitchell James Kaplan
"The Tea Rose" by Jennifer Donnelly

Has anyone read any of these books? What do you think I should read next?

What have you been reading this past week? What is on your 'to be read' pile to read next??

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crispy Smashed & Loaded Potatoes



As you all know I'm a potato fanatic! I'm obsessed with the spud! When you're a tater addict like moi you've eaten them in so many different ways. Bottom line? It takes a lot to impress me. Wellll, let me tell YOU! This dish impressed me and made me almost giddy with the tater love!

With the title including the words 'smashed' and 'loaded' you may have thought there was some kind of alcohol in this dish but if you were hoping for a little par-tay with some spuds you'd be mistaken. These spuds are smashed because you squish them and loaded because they taste like the best loaded potato skins you've ever had! Crispy spuds, sour cream, green onions, cheese and bacon -- Oh m'gravy!!

Not only did I love it (with all those toppings how could I not?!?) but my two boys, Boy 1 and Boy 2 (who typically hate potatoes unless they're in French fried or chip forms) LOVED these spuds! Missy Moo (who loves a good potato) didn't care for them. Say what?!? Did someone switch my kids? I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone (for those youngsters who may read my blog The Twilight Zone is a old TV show that shouldn't get confused with the Twilight series that showcases the pale and brooding deliciousness that you all love in Edward Cullen - I'm firmly on Team Jacob). ;)

Back to my point ... it was so odd to have my boys gush over these potatoes. Don't get me wrong, I loved the 'Yummy Noises' I got from them but it just confused me since they are typical Tater Haters! When Boy 2 asked me to make this dish again the next night I had to pick my jaw up off the floor! He said they were amazing because they tasted like potato chips. I thought they rocked because they tasted like potato skins with all the fixin's! :) He says Pota-toe. I say Po-tah-to.

However we say it these were a hit with me and my men folk. I've already made them twice this week (I didn't get great pictures the first time because I was just too excited to eat them. Bad food blogger!!!). Not only are they easy to make but you also get the added benefit of smashing something! See, cooking is cathartic!!

I hold out the hope that 7 year old Missy Moo will jump on board the Crispy Smashed & Loaded Potato train next time! I hope that you and yours enjoy this great side dish!

Crispy Smashed & Loaded Potatoes

1 1/2 lbs small white potatoes (or baby red potatoes) -- approximately 2-inches in diameter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
Garnish - sour cream

Preheat oven to 450F.

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add 1 tsp salt to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.

Place a dish towel folded in half on your counter. Remove one potato from the pot with a slotted spoon and place on the tea towel. Using another tea towel folded in half (or in quarters if it's still too hot for your hands) flatten the potato with the palm of your hand until it's approximately 1/2-inch in thickness.



Some of the potato may break off but no worries! We'll use those pieces too. Smash each potato using this technique.

Line a cookie sheet (possibly two cookie sheets) with aluminum foil. Pour approximately 1-2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil onto the foil and spread around evenly with a brush. Lay smashed potatoes in a single layer on the cookie sheet(s). Fluff up the tops a bit with a fork (this will give you more nooks and crannies to get crispy!). Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Gently and evenly brush a little more oil over the tops of the potatoes.

Roast potatoes for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Using a spatula, carefully turn each potato over and continue to roast for another 10-20 minutes. Serve potatoes immediately. Garnish with bacon, shredded Cheddar cheese, green onion and sour cream. Enjoy!

Note: Try boiling and smashing the potatoes a few hours ahead of time if you're making a big batch or short on time. Store them in the fridge on the foil lined (and greased) cookie sheets until needed. Before roasting them ensure that there is enough oil under the potatoes (to ensure browning). Roast them according to the directions above.

From: The Baking Bookworm

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Before I Go To Sleep



Author: S.J. Watson

Genre: Suspense

Type: Trade Paperback

Pages: 358

First Published: 2011

First Line: "The bedroom is strange."

Synopsis: Christine wakes up every morning not knowing where she is or why she's lying beside a man she doesn't know. She doesn't know what year it is, who her family is, or recognize the middle-aged face she sees in the mirror each morning. Every day her husband Ben must explain that due to an accident, which happened over 20 years ago, Christine lost the ability to keep memories for more than one day.

Every morning, after Ben goes off to work, she receives a call from a neurologist called Dr Nash who explains that he's been working with Christine without Ben's knowledge. Dr Nash tells Christine to go read the journal she hides in a shoebox in her closet. It's through reading and writing in this journal each and every day that Christine can 'remember' what has happened to her over the past several weeks. For weeks now she's been writing in the journal documenting what has been happening to her in her daily life hoping that somehow she can piece her life back together and begin to form memories again.

As she reads her journal Christine starts to see discrepancies in the explanations Ben gives her for her accident, why they never had children etc. The closer she gets to the truth, the closer she gets to learning that she's been in the dark the whole time and doesn't know who she can truly trust.

My Thoughts: I picked up this book based on the recommendation from a few people. I was told that this book was hard to put down and a nail biter. I sort of agree with the whole nail biter thing. It was definitely a nail biter (even though I guessed what was going on) ... but it didn't get intense until page 300.

Before page 300 it was a very slow go that plodded along repetitively reliving every day with Christine waking up not knowing who she is and struggling to piece things together. Since the story is told only from Christine's point of view the reader is kind of stuck with Christine's lack of memory and forced to rehash everything each and every morning.

Honestly, I really struggled to read this book in the beginning which is why it took me a week to read it (which is much longer than it normally takes me to read a 350 page book). This book felt like it was a sleeper kind of a book and then this huge gush of intensity complete with a huge 'ta-da' moment at the end. I would have preferred more twists and turns throughout the book to keep me guessing what was really happening.

That said, I did find that the storyline was fairly predictable but with small scope of Christine's world and the number of people she was in contact with being so few you can see why it was fairly easy to guess what was going on.

My take on this book? It was just an OK read. I personally don't believe that all of the hype surrounding this book was truly justified.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Portabellini Mushrooms Stuffed with Basil, Tomato, Bacon & Goat Cheese



Right now mushrooms are pretty popular around here. Not only do they house adorable little blue guys (and girl) on the big screen but around here Brad and I really enjoy eating them too! We love them on pizza, over steak, in salads, in soups ... the list is, quite honestly, endless. So it should come as no surprise that for the past week or so Brad and I have been on a HUGE mushroom kick. We've been making dishes that include button mushrooms, portabello as well as it's little cousin the portabellini! Fungus never tasted so GOOD!!

Sadly, not all of the people in our house are happy about this mushroom phase. I'm not going to name names but it's the three people who all call me Mom. 'Nuff said. I think if I serve one more dish featuring fungus they will indeed mount a revolt!

With this being the last mushroom dish that I'll make for a bit (gotta keep my peeps somewhat happy!) I thought I'd share this dish with you all. This is a dish I whipped up because A) I had a hankering for goat cheese, B) my plum tomato and basil plants were humongous and C) because I wanted the taste of bacon without being tempted to eat a half a pound of bacon in one sitting.

This is where this appetizer/side dish comes in! I got my goat cheese and bacon itches scratched and used up the bounty from my garden!! Yay me! I have to admit that I've actually made this dish twice in 5 days. I told you we were in a mushroom phase!! That's a lot of fungus in one week, my friends! The first time I made it I used goat cheese. OH-EM-GEEE! They were delicious! The soft goat cheese not only tasted heavenly but also helped to hold the mixture together.

NOTE: I am NOT happy with the picture that I've attached to this post. It doesn't do this dish justice but I was in such a hurry to eat one of these mushrooms that I quickly took a picture and sowed down. Not the most 'food bloggery' thing do to but it is what it is. When I make this dish again (and I will!) I'll try to have more self control. :s

Tonight we had my Mother-in-Law over for supper. We started dinner with an appetizer (my Double Tomato Balsamic Bruschetta -- I TOLD you we had a plethora of tomatoes!!). I made my stuffed mushrooms as a side dish but changed it a bit and used crumbled feta instead of goat cheese and it was mouth-watering too! It had more of a bruschetta texture so the filling was a little messier -- not a big issue for us. The best thing? I impressed my wonderful MIL! Oh ya! Gotta love kudos from my MIL! (I say that honestly without an ounce of sarcasm. I love my MIL!).

I do have to say that my obsession with the mighty mushroom may have to take a hiatus though. Too much of a good thing and all that! Until I get the urge to inhale fungus again (give me a week or so) I leave you with this recipe. Enjoy!

Portabellini Mushrooms Stuffed with Basil, Tomato, Bacon & Goat Cheese
From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 6 servings

3 tbsp olive oil or grapeseed oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
6 slices of bacon
1 small onion, chopped
2 large plum tomatoes - seeded and chopped
1 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup goat cheese OR 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 portabellini mushrooms - wiped and stems removed

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Set aside.

In a small dish, combine 3 tbsp olive oil and 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

Cook bacon and drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon. Remove all but 2 tbsp of the bacon grease from the pan. Add onion to pan and cook until the onion has softened.

Combine bacon, onion, plum tomatoes, basil, goat cheese, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.

Brush balsamic/oil mixture over each mushroom. Set mushrooms on prepared baking sheet, gill side down. Bake mushrooms for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully flip mushrooms over. Baste with balsamic and oil mixture again. Bake for another 5 minutes.

Remove mushrooms from the oven and fill with the tomato mixture. Return mushrooms to the oven and cook for another 5 minutes or until heated through. Serve immediately.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesdays



It's that time again!! I hope you've had a great week reading. I spent most of last week reading "Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J Watson. I'll be reviewing that book tomorrow so I'll leave you in a teeny bit of suspense.

This morning I started "Madame Tussaud" by one of my favourite historical fiction authors, Michelle Moran. She has an incredible way of describing France (and it's revolution) in the late 1700's. It's like I can picture being there! I love her style of writing and she has a great ability to always keep me wanting more! If you haven't read her other books (ie Nefertiti or The Heretic Queen) I encourage you to pick them up!!

Next book for me? I have "Mockingjay" (the third book in The Hunger Games) that my oldest son just finished. I loved the first book in the series, wasn't impressed by the second so it'll be interesting to see what I think of the third. "Boy 1" said that he liked the third book more than the second. How cool is it that I can 'talk books' with my 11 year old son?!?!

After that, I plan to read either an ebook or "The Kitchen Daughter" by Jael McHenry. Has anyone read this book? I think it was recommended by another book blogger on Twitter.

Soooo, what did you read last week? What are you planning on reading this week?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lovely Lemon Squares



I have a big confession. I've had a HUGE crush on lemon for quite awhile now. What's not to love?!? I always have at least 2 fresh lemons in my fridge and I guarantee that you will NEVER EVER see a bottle of that {gasp!} bottled 'lemon juice' in my fridge!! That stuff doesn't taste like the real thing in the slightest. I can't be the only person who thinks that, right?!!

All I know is that I love the smell of fresh lemon zest/juice whether it's in a salad dressing, cookies, cakes or swimming in some iced tea. Lemons are so fresh and get a pretty bad rap for being sour when they really spruce up dishes. Plus, who has the will power to walk by a lemon meringue pie without wanting a piece (or two)?!?!

A couple weeks ago I saw a big bag of lemons on sale (I am nothing if not a frugal shopper!) and I knew that they must be mine! When I got home with my 8 lemons I plopped them in my Tupperware produce container. I LOVE these containers because of the simple fact that they keep produce alive longer in my fridge (which is no mean feat!). Even with my miracle containers I needed to find a dish to use my lemons asap. So, I went online in the search for a truly stellar lemon square.

To me, the perfect lemon square will balance the sourness and tang of the lemon with the sweetness of the base and the powdered sugar on top. Our family of five are all avid (or is that rabid?) lemon meringue pie lovers so I knew that I had some pretty picky and knowledgeable customers to please when it came to a lemon dessert. These squares definitely make the cut! Not only were they super easy but they were delicious! A square of these babies with a dollop of vanilla ice cream would be heaven!

I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com but it barely resembles the original recipe. That's because I didn't follow the original recipe!! Oh no! I am a maverick in the kitchen. Spirited with a spatula! A rebel with a rolling pin!! You get the idea. Instead of following the recipe I made the changes (as well as a couple of tweaks of my own) that was suggested by a woman named Paige who reviewed the recipe. Ok, so what I did wasn't very revolutionary but you'll forgive me when you taste these squares (which are very addicting!!). Give these squares a try. They're the perfect end to a summer meal.

Lovely Lemon Squares
Yield: 24 squares

Base
3/4 cup icing sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 315F (not 350F, three fifteen!!). Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

Combine all of the base ingredients and combine well with a pastry blender. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and gently pat down. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until base is slightly golden brown. Increase oven temperature to 350F.

Lemon Layer
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup lemon zest, loosely packed (I used the zest from 4 lemons)
3/4 cup - 1 cup fresh lemon juice (I used the juice from 4 lemons which equalled 3/4 cup)
Garnish - icing sugar

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add white sugar, baking powder, flour, lemon zest and lemon juice; mix until just combined. Pour over baked crust. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle with sifted icing sugar just before serving. Store remaining squares in a covered container on the counter.

Inspired by: Allrecipes.com (poster: Paige)

Note: If you don't finish all of these squares in one sitting, you'll have to reapply the sifted icing sugar before serving them again. The icing sugar 'disappears' not too long after applied.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Girl in the Garden



Author: Kamala Nair
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 305
First Line: "By the time you read this I will be flying over the Atlantic on my way to India."

Synopsis: Rahkee Singh is engaged to be married but knows that she must deal with her haunting past before she can commit to her future husband. Rahkee leaves her fiancé with her engagement ring and a letter explaining why she feels she must travel to her family's ancestral home in Kerala, India.

Rahkee has not been back to her family home in rural India since the summer she was ten years old. It was during that summer that her unstable mother whisked her away from her comfortable, yet lonely, suburban Minnesota life to her family's village in India. Ten year old Rahkee was hoping that a trip back to India would help her mother restore her mood and answer some questions about her family.

The main part of the book is Rahkee telling what happened during this visit as she meets her extended family and enjoys exploring this new place with her cousins. But Rahkee also learns that there are many family secrets - secrets that she is eager to solve. For example, who wrote the letters to her mother which instigated this trip? Why was her mother so eager to leave her family home so many years ago? Is there really an evil demon hiding in the jungle as her cousins purport? Why is there such a change in her mother's demeanour and actions towards her?

Rahkee decides to figure out what exactly is going on with her mother and embarks on a quest to learn some of the secrets her family has kept long hidden ... specifically why there is a walled up garden in the middle of the jungle behind the family home.

Rahkee vows to find out what is behind the wall and learn why her family is so adamant to keep her away from it. At the end of a tumultuous summer, Rahkee leaves Kerala and returns to America with her own set of secrets. Will Rahkee be able to bury her past demons in time to get married? Will her family problems continue for another generation?

My Thoughts: This was a good first novel by Kamala Nair. The writing is good and very descriptive when showing the reader what life is like in rural India. Nair also gives the reader insight into the workings of a multi-generational Indian family. That was all quite interesting but, for some reason, I just couldn't get excited about this book. It had loads of secrets and the build up of tension was good but unfortunately there was no major reveal that was just around the literary corner and the resolve at the end fell very flat for me and just petered out.

I think part of my issue with not loving this book was that it was a pretty tragic tale and had an overall depressing feel to it that really never let up. Not every book has to be rainbows and unicorns but a little light at the end of the tunnel is kind of nice. Here's this lonely ten year old girl who is shipped off to her extended family for the summer only to have her mother treat her horribly. Chitra, Rahkee's mother, has horribly neglectful behaviour towards her daughter once she arrives in India which brought out the Mama Bear in me. I couldn't fathom treating my children as horribly as Chitra did or for Chitra to allow her sister to treat Rahkee so negatively. I felt helpless as a reader and I wanted so desperately for Rahkee to have someone, anyone, help her while she was in India but the poor child only had her cousin to support her.

Seeing the entire book through Rahkee's eyes was interesting but often I found myself comparing how Rahkee thought and spoke with my ten year old and she felt much older than her ten years. I would have loved to get more insight into the other family members' feelings (specifically Rahkee's cousins and Aunt Sadhana) to add another dimension to the story. As it is, I didn't feel like I got the whole picture of what was going on since I was only able to view things through Rahkee. I would have loved to know what Aunt Sadhana was thinking!!

Some of the characters were too one-dimensional. Dev, a business partner of the family, was this completely creepy, evil guy with a stutter. I half expected him to cackle when he entered a room while twirling his moustache. He was given no redeeming qualities which made him feel more like a caricature. I like my bad guys to have a bit of good guy, however hidden, inside them (a la Snape from Harry Potter).

Then there was one major issue that was alluded to but never resolved. I kept waiting and waiting for the author to confirm it ... but that never happened! Argh! And it would have been a juicy tidbit to build the story on!

********************* SPOILER ALERT BELOW *********************






I think the reason that Prem and Chitra lived together as just friends for the remainder of their lives is because they found out, much too late, that they were ot only Tulasi's parents but that they were actually half brother and sister. Can you say "Flowers in the Attic"?? It would have been better, in my opinion, to open up that can of worms in the novel and use it more to add some spice to the story.



******************* END OF SPOILER *************************************

It also would have been nice to see more of Rahkee and Tulasi's relationship. I was told by the author that they spent a lot of time together but I didn't get to actually see the bond form so I just didn't feel their connection. I also would have loved to see how Rahkee deals with this new information about her family once she returns home to the USA and how it affects her life with (or without) her fiancé.

I feel like I've totally poo poo'd this book but I honestly did like it. It just wasn't as great as I was hoping. I think I also was assuming it would be as wonderful and riveting as "Secret Daughter" by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (a book that I adored). "The Girl in the Garden" is the author's first book and I'm interested to see what other books she's going to come up with in the future.

My Rating: 3/5 stars


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday



This past week I read and finished "The Girl in the Garden" by Kamala Nair. It was an interesting read. I'll be posting a review of this book once I get my head around what I want to write. It was good but not amazing.

I'm currently reading "Before I Go To Sleep" which is the much talked about book by S.J Watson. I've heard a lot of hype surrounding this book which is about a woman who has a very rare form of amnesia where she can only hold memories for one day. It's pegged as a suspenseful read. So far I'm about 100 pages into it and it's good but I'm hoping the momentum (and suspense) picks up.

Next? I'm not sure. I have a book about Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran that I have borrowed from the library but I also have a tonne of ebooks on my Kindle.

What did you read this past week? Would you recommend it? What's on your 'to be read' pile?

Egg-Free Blueberry Muffins



This week my youngest sister, "Jules", came home for a visit with her family to spend some quality time with us. Having all 10 grandkids together is always a treat ... and loud! Her youngest, my nephew "S", is only 2 1/2 years old and has severe allergies to peanuts and egg. I'm used to peanut allergies because of my oldest but baking without eggs is fairly new territory for Aunt Laurie.

I'm tired of making Rice Krispie squares and no bake cookies for the kids just because they're an easy egg-free option. Truth be told, I think no bake cookies are kind of gross in texture, I've never been a huge fan of Rice Krispie squares and I wanted to BAKE something. I was looking for a treat that was more filling than a Rice Krispie square (and less sugary). Something for the kids to munch on after an afternoon of swimming in Nanny & Papa's pool. With a little ingenuity and finger crossing I came up with this recipe.

You'll notice that I use sour cream as well as cottage cheese for these muffins. Normally, I'd just use sour cream but alas I didn't have enough in my fridge. I scoured my kitchen for a substitute because I really wanted to bake something (and didn't have the forethought to actually double check that I had all the ingredients I needed!). Then I spied a container of cottage cheese. *light bulb moment* I knew that if the kids saw chunks of in amongst the blueberries that it would NOT go over well and they might revolt. But I also knew that the cottage cheese would give the added moisture and a bit of tang. To solve my problem of the chunks'o'cheese I popped all the wet ingredients in my trust 30 year old blender and voila! Presto chango I had a sour cream substitute!

These muffins are light, flavourful and moist. Plus the cinnamon sugar topping is always a hit! The best thing? I couldn't tell they were egg-less! Score one for Aunt Laurie! I'm looking forward to using this recipe as a base and trying different fruit, chocolate chip options for the future. Enjoy!

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Topping
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

Place melted butter, milk, sour cream, cottage cheese and vanilla into a blender. Blend until smooth.

Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and gently mix just until combined. Gently fold in blueberries. Don't overmix or you'll get dense muffins!!!

Using a large melon baller or ice cream scoop, divide batter equally between 12 muffin cups. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the tops of the muffins are golden brown.

Topping
Combine white sugar and cinnamon. Dip or brush each warm muffin with melted butter and then dip into cinnamon sugar. Allow muffins to cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Note: You can use 1 cup of sour cream in place of the 1/2 cup of sour cream & 1/2 cup cottage cheese.

From: The Baking Bookworm

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Peaches & Cream Dessert



For some reason my stomach has a really good memory. I may not be able to remember my kids names all the time, remember where I put my car keys or remember what I was going to say next ..... uh, um .... oh ya, but my stomach makes up for my lack of memory. I call it "Gastronomical Recall".

If I have a truly stellar and memorable dish that I eat at a certain occasion my stomach will remember it fondly for years to come. Gastronomical Recall then leads to huge cravings which will only be sated by making said dish. Once I make the dish again I fondly remember the occasion where I first ate that dish. It's a vicious and delicious circle!

Case in point. Twelve years ago, during my first baby shower for Boy 1 at our cottage up north, my dear mom made this dessert. It was a hit with all the lovely ladies that attended my fete! It's so good that I've made it every summer since. It's extremely easy to make and perfect for a summer dinner on the patio.

It's not a heavy cake but has this tanginess about it (from the cake mix base) that I love! I will admit that it isn't a 'from scratch' kind of dessert. It does have a cake mix, canned peaches in it (as well as frozen whipped topping -- you could use fresh whipped topping if you want) but sometimes you just have to use the boxed mixes just 'cuz! This is definitely one of those cases!

I will caution you though. Make sure you invite some family or friends over when you make this dessert. If you don't you and your hubby will probably end up eating the rest of this dessert in the evening while watching TV. Just a hunch I have and not based on personal experience ... well, maybe just a little.

Peaches & Cream Dessert

Servings: 12

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 (18.5oz) pkg yellow or white cake mix (2 layer variety)
2 egg yolks
2 cups sour cream
1 (28oz) can slice peaches, drained
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 (8oz) container of frozen whipped topping, thawed

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, cut the butter into the dry cake mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Gently pat into a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Patting this mixture too firmly will make it hard to serve later on. Set dish aside.

Set aside 6-8 peach slices for garnish. Chop the remaining peach slices into approximately 1/2-inch pieces.



In another bowl, beat the egg yolks; add the sour cream and mix well. Stir in chopped pieces of peaches into sour cream mixture. Spread mixture over the crust; sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until edges begin to brown (cake will appear cracked - see picture #4 above).

Cool completely on a wire rack. Spread thawed whipped topping over cooled cake; garnish with reserved peach slices. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat.

Recipe from: Quick Cooking magazine (sample edition) - pg 6


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Linked to: Delightful Order's 'Delightfully Inspiring Thursday' and


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Final Call



Author: Terri Reid
Type: Kindle ebook
Genre: supernatural/mystery
Series: 4th book in the Mary O'Reilly mystery series
Series Order: "Loose Ends", "Good Tidings", "Never Forgotten" (read in order)
First Published: 2011
First Line: "Idiots!"

Synopsis: Mary O'Reilly was a tough Chicago cop until the day she was shot and killed. Given the choice to 'follow the Light' or return to her life with a special gift - she chose the latter. Her special gift? The ability to see and speak with ghosts. Using her new gift as well as the skills she honed as a Chicago cop she now runs her own investigation firm where she helps both the living and the dearly departed.

In "Final Call", Mary is asked to help two ghosts -- preacher Hezekiah Johnson as well as diva and actress Faye McMullen. Hezekiah died from a sudden heart attack and needs help figuring out how to move on and allow his family to move on without him. Faye McMullen's body was found in a theatre after yet another stressful play practice with the very rude and outspoken Faye who brings the word Diva to a whole new level.

Unfortunately, finding Faye's killer is going to prove to be difficult for Mary since Faye was a self-centred, egotistical woman who was bent on bullying and berating everyone in her path -- which leaves practically a whole town as suspects.

Added to Mary's stress is the tension she feels from keeping a huge secret from her boyfriend Chief of police Bradley Alden. Will Mary be given the go ahead to reveal what she knows? Will it destroy their relationship?

My Thoughts: I'm a big fan of this ebook series and I think that author Terri Reid hits another home run with this book. Not only was it really hard to put down but I read it in less than ONE day! Unheard of! And no, I did not neglect my children, fail to eat or socialize with people ... but every other minute was taken up with this book! You know you're reading a great book when you try to sneak off for even a couple of minutes to read just a couple more pages!

Like the other books in the series Final Call is filled with very likable and believable characters. Mary is a wonderful main character. She's strong, flawed, funny, sympathetic and brave. Great characteristics for a main character! The seriousness of the mystery is nicely balanced by the banter between characters and the relationship 'stuff' happening between Mary and Bradley.

I will admit that this book, the fourth in the series, is a lot less mystery and mainly deals with Mary and Bradley's relationship stress. Truth be told, the mystery part of the story was just ok (I guessed who dunnit right from the start actually) but the rest of the book made up for it. After waiting for a couple of books for Bradley to learn the secret Mary's been hiding I was much more interested to get more closure with that aspect of the book than reading about the mystery.

Reid brings back some great secondary characters (Stanley, Rosie and my beloved Mike). Mike the fireman ghost is, hands down, my favourite character in the series. He brings a great cool factor and his banter with Mary is hilarious and left me giggling to myself in a few spots. I get the feeling there's going to be a love triangle between Mary, Bradley and Mike ... I'm just not sure how that would happen since Mike is a ghost. Hmmmm.

I do hope that Mary's brother Sean makes an appearance in future books because he also brings a great comedic element the series and the way he interacts with his little sister is both funny and endearing. This book also introduces us to a new male character and possible future love interest to add to Mary's relationship stress (and my enjoyment -- especially since he has a wicked Scottish brogue *sigh*). I love me a man in a kilt!! Plus, his addition to the ongoing storyline makes for a great cliffhanger!

My one little issue with this book was that part way through there was this odd formatting issue during a eulogy. The minister's words are HUGE, massive!! Either the minister is screaming the eulogy (highly unlikely) or the book just needs some last minute editing. The text size goes back to normal after the eulogy but it was odd that the font was so big. An easily fixed issue, just odd.

I highly recommend this series if you're looking for a light mystery filled with great characters that keeps you wanting, no needing, to read the next book. The books are extremely well priced in the Kindle store ($2.99 each). I can't wait to see what happens in the fifth book!

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mediterranean Hummus



I'm sure we've all heard of a little dish called hummus. The scrumptious spread made of chickpeas, garlic, sesame, lemon juice and olive oil. It may be mighty tasty but, let's face it -- it definitely won't win any beauty contests. Truth be told hummus kind of resembles something you may have scraped off your shoe but I'm here to say that this is one of those instances where you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Hummus may not be pretty but it's definitely delicious!

Not only does hummus have a great texture and taste wicked good but it's also pretty good for you. It's high in fibre (which helps slow down digestion) it also helps to keep blood sugar levels from being elevated too quickly. The chickpeas contain iron and magnesium (which help keep our energy levels up) and are also high in protein and considered a 'good' carb. You've gotta love a 'good' carb! Plus, garlic has long been touted as great for cancer prevention, warding off colds, fighting infection and even used in heart disease prevention! After reading all of the benefits of hummus I wonder why I haven't been eating it all my life!

Honestly, this is the first time I've ever made hummus. Sure, I've eaten it in the past (my friend Lisa made a wonderful hummus with curry and a touch of honey last month which was delish!) but I've never tried to make it myself. Until now! With the help of my trusty 14 year old food processor I whipped up a batch of hummus in no time at all!

Before we get to the recipe let me just preface by saying that this is definitely not a traditional hummus. As usual I've made changes to suit my tastes which include: adding black beans as well as chickpeas, omitting the tahini and adding a few extra flavours to make it more 'Mediterranean' (ie sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic, basil, rosemary and kalamata olives). Due to some of these changes the colour of my 'hummus' is quite a bit darker.

Honestly, I don't care if it's considered authentic or not because I love it!! Love it, I say! Not only did I eat it for lunch two days in a row by dipping small whole wheat pitas in it but I also made a mini pizza using this hummus as the 'sauce' topped with diced tomato from my garden, caramelized onions and a bit of shredded marble cheese. Fab-u-lous!! I could also see using it in sandwiches, wraps and as a base for pinwheels. Oh the fun my new best friend Hummus and I will have!!! Enjoy!!

Mediterranean Hummus
From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 12 servings

1 (19oz) can garbanzo beans, reserve 1/2 cup of the water then drain & rinse beans
1 (19oz) can black beans, drained & rinsed
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil) - drained and chopped
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup olive or grapeseed oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or juice from 1 small lemon)
salt and pepper to taste

Puree all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Add some of the reserved chickpea water to get the right consistency.

Note: I strongly suggest that you chop the kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes well before adding them to the food processor. I just threw them in with the rest of the ingredients but soon found out that they were merely getting a nice ride in my processor instead of getting chopped up. If you don't want to fish out the olives and large chunks of sun-dried tomatoes mid-spin, chop 'em up.



Linked to: I {heart} Naptime

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Whatcha Reading?" Wednesdays




Phew! I still have just over an hour to get my Whatcha Reading? Wednesday post in!! Soooo, what books have kept you up at night because you just couldn't put them down? Have you heard of any other great reads you'd like to share?

I've had a good week. I finished "Mistress of Rome" by Kate Quinn as well as the fourth book in the Mary O'Reilly paranormal mystery series by Terri Reid called "Final Call" (which I really enjoyed and will post a review soon). Let's just say that "Final Call" was so good that I read it in less than a day. I was up until 2am finishing it!! A great ebook series!

Currently I'm reading "The Girl in the Garden" by Kamala Nair. She had me hooked from the get go! I'm about 60 pages into it and I really love the pace of the book, the mystery involved as well as the author's voice. It feels very similar to Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (and not just due to the fact that they both deal with women in Indian culture).

Next? I'm going to read "Before I Go To Sleep" by S.J Watson. I've heard nothing but wonderful things about this book so I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chicken, Bacon & Black Bean Quesadillas



Last week I posted my Grilled Rosemary Balsamic Chicken Thighs recipe and promised a new, awesome recipe that uses the leftover chicken. Well, here it is!! Leftovers never tasted so good! It's not fancy but man was it deeeelish!

Making this dish with the leftover chicken thighs made this meal very easy to whip together. It was a lot quicker since all I was really doing was reheating the chicken, adding some spice and some veggies. I love getting Brad to BBQ a batch of meat like this chicken which I then use for another meal within the next couple of days. Less energy + less time prepping/cooking = happy me. Don't ya just love math?!?

These quesadillas were a slam dunk! Not only did Brad and I inhale them but Boy 1 ate all of his, Boy 2 took his time (he was a little sceptical in the beginning that a quesadilla which contained more than cheese could taste good) but he ate his quesadillas too! Two down, one to go. Drum roll please. Is it possible that I could make a meal where *gasp!* all three of my kids eat it without any complaints? Is it possible that a meal containing leftovers, onions and bell peppers could satisfy all of my spawn? Weeellll, Missy Moo looked at her cheese, bean and bacon filled quesadilla then looked at me and said "There's more than just cheese in this quesadilla, right?". Yes, baby girl you are correct. She just sighed and ate around the black beans and red peppers. It might not be an energetic, high five, thumbs up but I'll take it!! Score one for Mom!! Can I hear a whoot whoot?!?

Honestly, these were really, really good. I loved the smoky flavour that the bacon gave to the quesadilla, I loved that I was using leftovers and getting my kids to eat some veg at the same time. Plus, topped with my beloved full fat sour cream (is there any other kind?!) I was in heaven! I hope you enjoy these as much as we did.

Tip: I'm also thinking that you could toss this chicken, bacon and bean mixture on top of some nacho chips, throw some cheese on it and bake it for a wicked good nacho tray.

1 tbsp olive oil or grapeseed oil
6 cooked chicken thighs (or 2 large, cooked chicken breasts), chopped finely
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp oregano
to taste salt & pepper
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped finely
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed
6 bacon slices, cooked and chopped finely
oil for frying
2 cups Cheddar or marble cheese, grated
8-10 large tortillas
Garnish - sour cream and salsa

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the chicken, chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper and onion. Cook until red pepper and onion are softened. Add black beans and bacon to the chicken mixture. Mix well.

Heat an electric griddle to medium heat. Brush griddle with grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil). Place two tortillas on the griddle. Sprinkle one half of each tortilla with a bit of cheese. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of the meat mixture onto one half of each tortillas and sprinkle with a bit more cheese (this will help keep the toppings from falling all over the place when you flip the tortilla). Fold over the other sides of the tortillas (you'll now have two half quesadillas). Brush tops of folded tortillas with a bit of oil. When bottom of the tortillas is browned, carefully flip over and brown the other side. Serve immediately or place in a warm oven until ready to serve.

NOTE IF YOU'RE USING UNCOOKED CHICKEN - Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of grapeseed oil (or olive oil) and saute the chicken pieces until they're browned. Add chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper and onion. Follow the rest of the instructions above.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Mistress of Rome



Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 466
First Published: 2010
First Line: "I opened my wrist with one firm stroke of the knife, watching with interest as the blood leaped out of the vein."

Synopsis: "Mistress of Rome" tells the stories of two girls in first century Rome. Thea is a young Jewish slave who is bought for a spoiled and spiteful Roman teenager, Lepida Pollia. Even though the two 14 year old girls come from very different backgrounds they soon find themselves vying for the attention and affection of Arius the Barbarian, the newest and most lethal Gladiator in Rome.

As Thea and Arius become closer, Lepida becomes more and more infuriated and finds a way to separate the lovers just as Thea begins to finally find happiness with the gladiator. Lepida sells Thea to a slave owner far away leaving Thea with no possible way to get back to Arius. For years Thea tries to piece her life back together by becoming a popular singer for Roman aristocrats.

Meanwhile, Lepida is stuck in a loveless marriage to a much older man who she only views as a stepping stone in her goal for more fortune and popularity among Roman high society. Lepida sets her sights high ... on the Emperor of Rome, Domitian. Unfortunately for Lepida, she learns that Thea has beaten her to the Emperor and has become his mistress. Regrettably, Thea soon learns that being the Mistress of Rome has a very serious downside.

My Thoughts: This was one of those 'Oooo, pretty cover' kind of books that I picked up at the library. I was hankering for a historical fiction read and ancient Rome seemed like a great place to read about especially since Brad and I took a trip to Rome four years ago (which we LOVED!!!).

This was Kate Quinn's debut novel and I have to say that I was pretty impressed. She weaves a fictional story around historical facts (Masada massacre, Emperor Domitian and other characters) creating an interesting and vibrant story.

Her descriptions of clothing, architecture and culture of the time are so vivid it's easy to picture what life was like back in first century Rome. But be warned, this isn't a book for the faint of heart. Her descriptions of gladiatorial fights, brutal activities that passed for 'entertainment' back then, animal abuse and other atrocities inflicted on people of the time are just as vivid!! If you don't have a strong stomach for blood and cruelty you may want to skim over several parts.

I'd categorize this book as a 'good indulgent summer read'. It's got suspense, intrigue, a bit of politics and romance as well as deception, backstabbing (sometimes literally) and the beauty of first century Rome. This book has a good pace, kept me interested and towards the end was hard to put down. There were a lot of characters but they were described clearly so that I could keep track of them throughout the book (plus there was a handy reference at the back of the book).

The book was told from the various points of view of several of the main characters. At times this could be a little confusing causing me to have to skip back several pages to remember which character was 'talking'. I also had a bit of a beef with the character of Lepida. She was very one dimensional and was portrayed as the clichéd 'spoiled little rich girl who everyone hates but always gets her way'. The woman had absolutely no redeeming qualities ... not a one. It would have been nice to make her a little more believable and realistic by showing another, softer side to her.

My main issue with this book had to do with some of the language used. I'm not talking about dropping 'F-bombs' or other cursing. I'm talking about using language that is too modern for the era the book was written. Several times throughout the book a boy named Vix used terms that I could imagine a 13 year old boy using today. For example, at one point Vix yells "Better hope your luck changes, Lady Lepida," he shouted. "Or you're screwed, screwed, screwed!". Another time he yelled "Jeez!". Now, I admit that I wasn't walking around in 91 A.D. nor do I have a degree in Roman history but I'm pretty sure that people of that era didn't say "you're screwed". It just didn't mesh with the time and that kind of thing bothers me. There were other colloquial sayings that were thrown in here and there throughout the book that gave me the same feeling.

Another issue that kept popping up in my head as I read was Arius' track record as a Gladiator extraordinaire. I realize that Arius was 'da man' in that he was one heck of a Gladiator. But his track record for wins (we're talking 8 years of winning in gladiatorial fights that always ended in the death of all but one gladiator) was too unbelievable. In all those years, in all those fights, with all those skilled gladiators, he was never killed? Even when pitted against 6 men at once? Too farfetched for this reader.

Overall, this was a good escapist read for the weekend. If you're looking for a book to lose yourself in for awhile filled with the beauty that is Rome give this a try.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Creamy Rosemary Mashed Potatoes


As the self-proclaimed world's biggest fan of the mighty potato I'm always on the lookout for new potato recipes. I have loads of tater recipes already so when I go looking for a new recipe it's got to have something special. A certain 'je ne sais quoi' if you will to jazz up my favourite veg!

In the past few weeks the rosemary plant that I've been growing in my home veggie garden is flourishing (ie. HUGE!!!). It was so big this past week that I had to think of some new recipes to use up my bounty. And thus the marriage between spud and a pretty little gal named Rosemary began.

This past Tuesday I made Grilled Rosemary Balsamic Chicken Thighs and needed a side dish to go along with it. You'll see that in the chicken post that the thigh is sitting on top of these potatoes!! One would think that two dishes featuring rosemary may cause Rosemary Overload, but no! Both dishes had great flavour but not overwhelming. Well, I've gotta tell you that these potatoes were deeelish! Rich due to the Parmesan and cream cheese with a hint of rosemary!

The kicker is that they're even better when you reheat them the next evening! So I hear. Strictly hypothetical speaking, of course, but .... say it's 10pm and you're so famished from trying to be 'good' and not eating anything after dinner that your stomach aches so much that you just HAVE to eat something or you'll be awake aallllll night. With no food in your stomach and nothing better to do you do the only thing you can think of. Chat with your husband (who is trying to sleep) about really mundane things and after 45 minutes of this chatter your husband keeps sighing and muttering under his breath something about 'Why me?", zipping it and working in the morning.

See, if that person, who shall remain nameless and hypothetical, had eaten a little bit of these potatoes (like she did the following night) she would have made her stomach happy and, in turn, made her husband happy. Spuds are miracle foods, I tell ya! They can even help marriages! Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So, if you're in the mood for a rich, creamy side dish with a hint of rosemary give these a try. Your spouse will thank you for it.

Creamy Rosemary Mashed Potatoes



Yield: 6 servings

2lbs white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 oz plain cream cheese
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
to taste - salt and pepper

Place potatoes and garlic cloves in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, approximately 30 minutes. Drain.

Return potatoes to the pot and add butter, cream cheese, Parmesan and sour cream. Mash well until there are no lumps (I always mash by hand. Using an electric mixer at too high a speed can cause mashed potato glue - yuck!).

Add enough milk so that potatoes aren't too thick (I used just over 1/4 cup). Add fresh rosemary and salt & pepper. Serve hot.

Note: Next time I think I'll try making this dish a day ahead then reheating it in the oven. This allows the flavours time to blend together and less work right before supper. A little extra milk may have to be added if the potatoes are a little thick after sitting.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Grilled Rosemary Balsamic Chicken Thighs

This past Tuesday I needed to plan an excursion with my mini peeps. We've been hanging around the house and my parents' pool due to the ridiculous heat we Ontarians have been experiencing. All that family bonding time is a beautiful, beautiful thi ... frankly, we were going stir crazy and the nattering was driving me crazy. We needed a change of scenery!!! Fast! So I planned a mini/half day trip.

A little back story (stay with me). Due to the fact that my oldest has a severe peanut allergy there are several things that he's never been able to experience.
One of those is eating ice cream from an ice cream shop. You know, picking 'cone or cup', choosing the flavour of ice cream ... the whole bit. For most people it's something that's a fairly regular treat -- not if you have a peanut allergy. He, at 11 years of age, has never had ice cream in a restaurant or ice cream shop (a la 31 Flavours/Marble Slab) because we could never find a safe (ie no peanut/tree nut or 'may contains') ice cream option. Well no more! We have a local organic dairy that makes all their own ice cream/fro yo on sight ... and it's nut free!!

You should have seen "Cub" pickin' out his chocolate mint ice cream. It was awesome! Needless to say we bought some more for home and plan to go back again after sampling their DELICIOUS pumpkin ice cream. Oh man it was G-O-O-D good!

Anyway, back to my point. In order to go on said trip with my pal Kelly and her small humans I needed to have an easy dinner prepped so we didn't solely eat ice cream for supper. I suppose an 'ice cream only' supper was an option but I didn't think I'd have the energy to peel three kids off the ceilings after their sugar high. Enter in an easy, marinated chicken thigh recipe.

Who among us doesn't like to have dinner prepped at 9am?!? I know, right?!? Does it not make you feel like a superhero for getting ahead of the game!?! Me too!! {plus I could totally pull off wearing a cape and Wonder Woman boots! But I digress ....}. This marinade was super easy, quick, used the fresh rosemary plant that is taking over a corner of my garden and tasted delicious! Win, win, win, WIN!

I marinated 2 pounds of chicken thighs so I'd have leftovers for the next night (cue superhero theme AGAIN!) and had the chicken marinating all day while I was enjoying some blueberry ice cream and chatting all things girly with Kelly! Heaven!

HEADS UP: I'll definitely be posting the recipe that I made with the leftover chicken very soon. It was another keeper. I'll keep you posted!

Grilled Rosemary Balsamic Chicken Thighs



Inspired by: Pink Parsley's Grilled Rosemary Chicken Thighs (originally Southern Living, September 2008)

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp honey
2 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 lemon

In a small bowl, combine garlic, oil, Dijon, honey, balsamic, salt and rosemary. Combine well.

Place chicken thighs in a large Ziploc storage bag. Pour marinade over chicken - making sure all chicken pieces are coated in the marinade. Marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours (up to 24 hours). If possible, every couple of hours flip the bag to ensure all of the thighs get covered equally with the marinade.

Heat grill to medium heat. Grill thighs for 5-7 minutes on each side or until an internal temperature has reached 165F. Remove thighs from grill and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Seal the chicken inside the foil and let sit for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the juice from the half lemon over the chicken before serving.

Serve with Creamy Garlic Rosemary Mashed Potatoes (recipe to be posted soon! -- aka culinary cliffhanger!!).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

'Whatcha Reading?' Wednesday



I hope everyone has had a very fruitful book filled week of reading!!! As I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook I finally read ROOM by Emma Donoghue. It was a good read but was one of the longest and most difficult book reviews I've done. There were great parts of the book and parts I didn't totally love.

I'm currently about a third of the way through "Mistress of Rome" by Kate Quinn. I picked this book up at the library solely based on it's picture (oooo, pretty!!) and the title. It's been awhile since I've had a great historical fiction read in front of me. So far, I'm loving it! Set in the first century Rome it's got suspense, vivid descriptions, love, betrayal ... all wrapped up in a nicely flowing story!

Next up for me? Who knows. I have "The Boy in the Moon" by Ian Brown as well as "The Princess of Nowhere" by Prince Lorenzo Borghese (another of my 'oooo, pretty cover' picks) or I could choose "The Girl in the Garden" by Kamala Nair (a book recommended by another book blogger on Twitter). Has anyone read any of these books? Which would you recommend?

What are you all reading!?!? Share, share!! :) Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

ROOM



Author: Emma Donoghue
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 321
First Published: 2010
First Line: "Today, I'm five."

Synopsis: Jack is a five year old boy who is adored by his mom. He's inquisitive, sensitive, loving, smart ... and has never seen the outside world. His world consists of a 11x11 foot room that is equipped with only a bathroom, bed, table and meagre cooking equipment. A skylight and a television are the only ways Jack can view the outside world.

To Jack, Room is his entire world. To his Ma, a 27 year old woman who was abducted at the age of 19 by a mad man, this sound proof shed is her prison. Ma is totally devoted to her son and helps to create as normal of a childhood as possible. Armed with only a few books, her imagination, stories and television she teaches Jack everything she knows. She does this all on her own and for the love of her son.

It's through Jack's eyes and with his voice that Donoghue shows the reader what life is like for a boy whose entire world exists between four walls. A boy who doesn't realize that the outside world exists. We see how Jack uses his imagination, his natural naiveté and what he sees on TV to understand his small world.

My Thoughts: I've had this book in my possession for at least 2 months after my Fairy Bookmother graciously gave me her copy. I'd heard a lot of positive things about ROOM but when I read the cover and learned that the story was about an abducted young woman who has to raise her young son confined to one room I wasn't gung ho to read it. Not the kind of light reading a mom of three wants to typically read ... at least not this mom.

After numerous people kept hounding me recommending ROOM I finally picked it up -- only to find that Jack's 'voice' really bothered me. I love five year olds they're cool peeps and all but after 20 pages I wasn't sure that I wanted to read an entire story told in the voice and vocab of a kindergartener. The ROOM proponents told me to keep at it. I put the book down because I wasn't in the right frame of mind to keep reading it and I wanted to give ROOM a fair chance. So back on my "To Be Read" shelf it went for a few weeks.

Late last week I picked it up again. I read the initial 20 pages again and kept going ...and going ... and going. I really had a hard time putting the book down! Who knew!?! Ok, all those people hounding me to keep reading ROOM did, but you get my point! After I got used to Jack's dialogue (note it still bothered me but I got used to it) I got immersed into Jack's small world.

The first part of ROOM is a story about strength, ingenuity, love, bravery and the power of imagination. It shows that even when evil lurks everywhere we can still find a way to love and stay true to who we are.

Jack and Ma have created a world all their own. Jack's love for inanimate objects like Plant, Table and Remote is endearing as he includes them as part of his family. To him Room is home and his entire world ... all he knows. To his mother, it's a place of horror that she dreams of escaping from. Jack doesn't understand why Ma would ever want to leave Room. He loves his toilet paper castle, reading his favourite books over and over and looking forward to their Sunday Treat that Old Nick gives them.

The book obviously deals with a horrible situation so I expected some kind of abuse. I didn't realize how hard it would be to read about the abuse Ma suffered through the eyes of her child. At the age of five, Jack doesn't understand the extent of the abuse his mother endures regularly. He only knows that he must be put into the wardrobe each night before Old Nick came to 'squeak the bed' with Ma. It's that kind of innocence that readers will either find horrific or may soften the blow of the abuse because the abuse is alluded to with such innocence. Since Ma sheltered her son from as much of the abuse as she could we the reader only view the abuse according to how Jack experiences it.

SPOILER ALERT (Don't read further if you don't want a big spoiler!) >>>>>>






It's hard to write a review without giving away one of the major things that happens in the book - their escape. I was on the edge of my seat as they made their escape!!! Unfortunately, shortly after their escape is where the story slowed down considerably for me. This part of the book focuses on Ma and Jack being thrown into a media frenzy and aftermath of their ordeal all the while trying to get their bearings in this 'new' world.

The way Jack viewed, described and experienced the Outside was, and this is in no way a negative about Jack, how I'd picture an alien experiencing our world if visiting for the first time. How would it react to a car horn, an escalator, high fiving someone, seeing the seasons change? These are the things that Jack never experienced within Room.

Jack also had to get used to just being a kid. He was so used to his Ma's schedule for eating, sleeping, playing, TV time that the freedom he was given after escaping was terrifying for him. He struggled with so many things that we take for granted. Depth perception, new foods, dealing with other people, playing with other children, sun exposure on his skin and eyes, understanding colloquial expressions (ie "That a boy!" --- of course I'm a boy! or "Give me 5" -- No, I want to keep my fingers for me!). So many things that we deal with daily which became huge obstacles for a five year old boy.

Seeing how Jack experienced the world was interesting but after awhile I wanted the book to pick up the momentum again. The beginning of the book was interesting due to the fact that was got to see Jack's world, the middle exhilarating due to the escape but his introduction into the real world just didn't have as much oomph as I would have liked.

Overall, this was a good read but I do have some things that bothered me. Again, I have to say that the five year old 'dialect' bugged me. It was so disjointed and grammatically off that it almost took away from the book. When I picked up the book the second time I was ready for that kind of 'voice' but I still found it really annoying. It would have been nice to break up the toddler speak with some of Ma's personal observations.

Also, some of Jack's observations seemed a little too mature for a 5 year old to perceive and his vocabulary and understanding seemed to change. At times he's very simplistic (and more age appropriate) but in the next page he's using these huge words and complex ideas that he understands easily. I realize that Ma spent a lot of her time teaching her son as much as she could so maybe it's for that reason that his grammar and vocabulary irked me. If she's teaching him all about animals, plants, math etc ... why not correct his grammar? Or am I being too picky here?

Overall, I enjoyed this read which surprised me due to its topic. I found it original, thought provoking, touching, at times scary and inspiring. It's seeing the kidnapping and confinement through the eyes of a child which makes this book stand out.

ROOM was a hard book to read for the disturbing images it put into my mind but it is also the story that focuses on the innocent spirit of children. It's a story of Ma's loss of her freedom and family but it's also a story of her resilience and love for her son. It's a story that shows the stark contrast between the world's darkest side of humanity while, at the same time, showing us the most innocent, compassionate side.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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