Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Karate Gi Cake

This past weekend was Boy 2's 11th birthday.  Hard to believe it's been that long since the day he was born!  What you all need to know about Boy 2 is that he's an awesome kid with a big heart, a great belly laugh, he's an AVID reader, a Star Wars & mythology buff and he gives ridiculously awesome hugs.  Ya, he's pretty great. 

Something else you should know is that one of the things he loves to do is study karate.  He's been studying for 3 years now and will soon be testing for his blue belt.  That's no small feat!  We are a big martial arts family (Boy 1 is in Tae Kwon Do) and I love how martial arts instill a sense of respect, honour and commitment with their students using a firm but fair hand.

Knowing that Boy 2 loves karate I went on the hunt for a cake that would put a smile on his face on his special day.  The only problem?  My idea of a 'easy to make yet impressive' cake is much different than the cake designs that I was finding on-line.  First of all, I give HUGE kudos to all of the professional cake makers out there.  You are true artists!  There are some professional cakes that I saw that seem to defy nature and look much too good to eat.  My cakes?  Um, no.  They're a simpler kind of cake that you'll have no issue schnorffing down!

It took quite some time on-line but I love m'boy so I kept searching until I found an idea that I could actually make with my limited cake decorating skills.  I found the recipe on Parents.com and armed only with my fantastic personality, my stubborn attitude and my basic Wilton cake decorating tools this is what I came up with.  A cake in the shape of a Gi (karate training uniform).

Oh ya.  Total mom points.  It may not be fancy but I think it's pretty cute. :)  Plus, I didn't have to use fondant (our family definitely aren't fans of the fondant).  It's pretty and all but we just don't love its texture or lack of flavour.  For us, flavour has to come first so we use regular old icing and it gets the job done.

So if you have a special someone who is a marital artist or even just a fan of a fat panda named Po you've gotta give this cake a try.  If I can do it, so can you!

Karate Gi Cake

Recipe Inspired by: Parenting.com

1 2-layer (515g) white cake mix
ingredients to make cake mix (usually eggs, water and oil)
16oz container of vanilla icing
tube of black decorating icing (I used Wilton)
tube of red decorating icing
green candy fruit leather

Prepare your cake batter according to the package directions.  Prep your 9x13-inch baking pan by spraying it well with cooking spray and dust very lightly with flour.  We want to ensure that our cake easily comes out of the pan.

Bake the cake according to the package directions.  Allow it to cool on a wire rack until it is cool to the touch (about 30 minutes).  Run a knife around the edges of the cake and CAREFULLY invert the cake pan over the wire rack.  Turn cake right-side up immediately and allow it to continue cooling.

Meanwhile, get your cake board ready.  I don't have anything fancy that I use for a cake board.  A couple of years ago my sweet hubby cut me a thin fibre board to use for my larger cakes.  All I do is wrap it in foil and tape the foil in place from underneath. Presto chango! You have a 'serving tray'. 

Carefully lay your cooled cake in the middle of your board ensuring that you line up the cake so that the sleeves of your Gi will fit on the board.  Obviously I didn't do that with my cake.  Live and learn. 

Now we're ready to start cutting!  Grab a large bread knife and, if you're a totally anal geek like me, a measuring tape.  You'll need to cut off the top three inches of the cake (we'll use this 3x9-inch strip to make the sleeves).

Now, in the middle of that cut edge on the main part of the cake cut a triangle.  This will be the neckline of the Gi.  Eat the triangle of cake you just cut out.  Do it.

Next, take the 3x9-inch strip that you just cut off and cut it in half on a diagonal.  Take one of these diagonal pieces and flip it (see picture below) and place it one one side of the 'body'.  

Place the second diagonal piece on the other side of the body. If the arms are a little higher than the body of the shirt just slice off a very narrow strip of cake from the back of the sleeve.  You can eat that too, if you want.  We'll refer to that as 'clean-up'.  Now it's looking like a shirt! 

Cut thin strips (2-3 inches wide) of parchment paper and lay them under the edges of your cake. This is important for presentation purposes because these strips will catch the excess icing that you invariably get on your board.  You don't want to put one large piece under your cake because you'll never get it out from under the cake without damaging your masterpiece!  Neva evah!

Brush off any loose crumbs from your work area.  Now we can start to decorate the cake.  First we're going to cover the entire cake with a thin coat of icing to seal in any loose crumbs.  Once that's done carefully put on a thicker coat of icing ensuring that the cake is covered.  Try to make this a smooth as you can.  I used a large icing spatula (from Pampered Chef) to smooth the icing.

Cut your green fruit leather -- or whatever colour you choose for your obi (belt) -- and place one strip on the right side of the torso and one on the left having them meet in the middle.  If your leather isn't long enough to go right around the sides of the cake cut some more and add it onto the side of the cake.  Take another fruit leather and cut it in half to form the folded parts of the belt.

Note: the fruit leather that I used was from Dollarama.  Yup, the good old dollar store.  It was the only candy fruit leather I could find that was in a solid green colour.

Using the black icing (and your Wilton #4 icing tip) draw on the edges of the gi sleeves, collar and emblem.  Use the red icing to complete the emblem (I just mimmicked the emblem from Boy 2's karate dojo) using the same icing tip.

Voila!  You're done!

I've linked this recipe to the following parties:
       A LIttle Nosh     Mandy‘s Recipe Box

Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Clash of Kings

Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 730
Type: Hardcover
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire
Series Order:
  1. A Game of Thrones (1996)
  2. A Clash of Kings (1998)
  3. A Storm of Swords (2000)
  4. A Feast for Crows (2005)
  5. A Dance with Dragons (2011)
  6. The Winds of Winter (2012)
First Line: ""The maester stood on the windswept balcony outside his chambers."
Synopsis:  The battle for the throne continues in this second book of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  The seven kingdoms of the land have been thrown into civil war with five people vying for the throne.  The crown may rest on young King Joffrey's head but Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon and Stannis Baratheon all have their own claims to that throne.  Dany, the daughter of the Dragon King, is also on her way back to overthrow the usurpers for her father's rightful throne.

My Thoughts:  First off, I apologize for the lackluster synopsis for this book.  It was hard to describe what exactly happened and I'll get to why a little later on.

When I read the first book in this mega hit series, A Game of Thrones - see my review HERE, about a month ago I was amazed at how immersed I was into this very large book.  The characters were vivid, the storylines complex.  Yes, it was more detailed than I was used to but the storyline and wonderful characters kept me going.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same for this book.  Not even close.  The characters, especially my dear evil Tyrion, weren't nearly as interesting and the overall feel of the book was repetitive and heavy.  Really heavy because this book got very bogged down in details.  Personally I can do without too much explanation of who is related to whom, what tapestries were hanging in whose hall and seeing an inexhaustible parade of minor lords and dukes entering into the fray.  Being inundated with excessive description and truly boring conversations between some characters had me wondering "Do I really need to know this?"  It wasn't just the conversations either.  Sometimes at the end of a chapter I was left wondering what Martin was trying to convey to me with that chapter since there didn't seem to be much point to it except to describe the garb a group of lords were wearing. 

Unfortunately this book also felt like a repetition of A Game of Thrones (hence the lackluster synopsis above).  We're still fighting over the same throne, Arya is still on her own, Dany is still on her way back etc etc.  Nothing really changed all that much which didn't bode well for me wanting to stick it out to see what happened.

It was after chapters and chapters of those seemingly mundane moments that, even though I was interested to see what would happen next in the overall story, I gave up.  Honestly, I'm not one to give up on a book easily.  I was on page 475 for goodness sake but seeing that it took me 2 weeks to get to that point and I had another 225 pages to go I just couldn't do it.  I threw in the proverbial towel and here's why ...

I think that this time around his alternating points of view in each chapter got to me.  I'm not talking about two or three main characters telling the story.  I'm talking about NINE.  Nine different characters had their own stories to tell but the sheer number of storylines made it confusing.  There were certain storylines (like Arya's) that really intrigued me but then I'd get to the end of her chapter and have to read a snorefest involving Catelyn and wait another five chapters to see what happened to Arya.  The changes in points of view really hindered the momentum of this already slow book.

At the end of the first book I was thinking that it was pretty cool to have the storyline continue into the next book.  Now, after reading (and giving up on) this second book I've changed my mind.  I've decided that this book's storyline is like the Energizer Bunny in that it keeps going and going and going.  I've decided that I like a book that has some closure.  The big quest that links the books can continue (like Frodo and his ring, Harry trying to defeat Voldemort) but I like an ending to each book in a series.  This one long drawn out drama is too much for me.

I have decided to not read the rest of this series and I am going to do something I just don't do.  I'm going to watch the Game of Thrones HBO miniseries (which I have on hold at the library) in order to see what happens.  I'm hoping that I'll get the gist of the books but not spend weeks reading books that just don't hold my interest.  I feel like I'm cheating but it's that miniseries that got me interested in reading this book series in the first place. 

My Rating: 0 (I didn't finish it)

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Ramen Broccoli Slaw

You may know them as Ramen noodles or you may refer to them as Mister.  Mr Noodles, that is.  Either way most of us have eaten tonnes of these crinkly noodles in our lifetimes since they are a staple in the lives of poor university students.  Whether we didn't have time to food shop because we were studying so very hard (um, sure) or we were just plain broke (that's more like it) these little packages of slurpy, squiggly goodness are a common occurrence in any campus housing.  

I still vividly remember sucking back packages of these little guys while chatting with my friends.  While I don't think I've eaten any since I graduated, this recipe gave me the opportunity to eat them in a different way.  Yes, we're eating Ramen noodles in a more mature way by pairing them with a healthy (and rather large) dose of broccoli slaw instead of merely a can of Diet Coke like we did back in the day.

I came across this dish a few weeks ago at a family function that my parents hosted at their cottage.  When I say 'family function' I mean we had a whole whack load of people over.  With our family we always have a 'Go big or go home' mentality!  We had my Mom's favourite cousin Steve, his wife Jeannie, their two daughters and 4 grandkids ... plus my sisters, brothers-in-law, our 10 kids and 3 dogs.  What can I say, we're a bunch of breeders!  With all those people you'd think it would be utter chaos and madness but it was a great time with lots of laughs.  Nothing like reconnecting with the extended family!  We come from good stock.

Anyway, one of the dishes that Jeannie brought was this amazing salad.  Now, I've eated broccoli slaw before and it was just ok.  I didn't, quite frankly, understand what the big to-do was all about regarding julienned broccoli stalks.  It's just broccoli in a different shape, people!  Nothing to write home about -- just kind of blaw.  Who likes blaw slaw?  No one, that's who.  And then I ate Jeannie's salad and saw the flaw in my view of blaw broccoli slaw.

Jeannie's dressing as well as the additions of all the delicious fixin's took the salad up another notch on the flavour scale.  So much so that my 3 year old nephew and 5 year old niece had PILES of it on their plates which they quickly went to work on and finished.  Unheard of!  Needless to say there was no leftovers of this salad after our families got into it.  That's a good dish in my book.

So if you want to infuse a little bit of sass into your broccoli slaw give this salad a try.  Perfect for a weekend BBQ or an easy side for a delicious picnic lunch on the beach!

1 (900g) bag of broccoli slaw (I used all but about 2 cups of the slaw)
1 1/2 cups Craisins
1 cup sunflower seeds (see note below for peanut-free options)
1 cup toasted almonds, sliced (see note below for peanut-free options)
1 1/2 cups green onions, chopped
2 Ramen Noodle/Mr Noodle (beef flavour) packages

3/4 cup grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
1 cup pure Maple syrup (Aunt Jemima does not belong in this salad!)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 packets of the Ramen noodle seasoning
salt and pepper - to taste

Place broccoli slaw, Craisins, sunflower seeds, almonds and green onions into a large bowl.

Remove seasoning packets from each of the Ramen Noodle packages.  Place noodles into a large Ziploc bag and crush them with either your hand (if you're buff like me) or a rolling pin.  Set aside to use as a garnish.

Prepare dressing: combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl.  Mix well. 

Pour dressing over broccoli slaw approximately 2 hours before you will be serving the salad in order for the flavours to blend.  Just before serving sprinkle the crushed Ramen noodles over the top of the salad and toss.

Note for those of you who have a peanut allergic person in your families:
Finding safe options for sunflower seeds or tree nuts that haven't been cross-contaminated with peanuts can be very difficult.  I suggest looking into the Spitz brand sunflower seeds and the Blue Diamond Almonds.  Here in Canada they are the only peanut-free option we have (that I know of).  If anyone knows of other options PLEASE let me know. :)

Note:  You can easily half this recipe if you aren't feeding a tonne of people or double it if you have a family that rivals the Duggars.

I've linked this recipe to the following parties:

Something Swanky

    A LIttle Nosh   Somewhat Simple

Sunday, 22 July 2012

White Witch

Author: Trish Milburn
Genre: Supernatural / Young Adult
Type: ebook from NetGalley
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Series: 1st book in The Coven series
Series Order: 1) White Witch  2) Bane  3) Magick (out Sept 2012) 
First Published: March 1, 2012
First Line: "The guy makes his way down the side of the road, near my hiding spot."

Synopsis: Jax Pherson just wants to live a normal life but that's something she can't do within her family.  Jax comes from one of the most powerful dark covens in the USA who deliberately use their power for personal gain and to enslave humans. Jax wholeheartedly disagrees with her coven as did her mother who was murdered in front of Jax' eyes for trying to take Jax away from the dark magic.

Even though the phrase "No one quits the family and lives to tell about it" has been engrained in Jax (as well as the other young witches of her coven) she decides to commit the gravest of sins and leave her coven.  After a lot of planning Jax escapes her family home in Miami and heads to a small town in North Carolina in an attempt to live a normal life free from dark magic.  Knowing that using her powers is the equivalent to placing a homing beacon over her head which will give her whereabouts to her coven Jax decides to live a life without magic.  This also means that Jax will constantly be denying the strong force of dark magic within her. 

Jax quickly settles into life in a small town, enrolling in high school, finding a few friends and even a cute guy who has piqued her interest.  Unfortunately Jax is always aware that her coven, lead by her own father, are searching for her and ready to bring her to justice.  Will they catch up to her before she has a chance at a normal life? 

My Thoughts:  I have read a lot of Young Adult Supernatural reads and I have to admit that this book has a refreshing new take on the typical witch story.  Lately witches have taken on more of a 'good witch' role in books and movies.  I have no beefs with the Hermione Grangers of the witchy world (I lurve me some HP!!) but this new (or is it old?) take on being a ruthless witch was intriguing. 

I liked the fact that Jax's coven is portrayed as truly evil, dark magic wielding thugs.  The fact that Jax' own father is hell bent on killing his own daughter brought a whole new subterranean view of parenting.  This dark family history (a magical mafia, if you will) clearly helps the reader see why Jax had to leave her family but I will admit that I wished that I was given a better view of life within that coven to get a better understanding of what Jax had to live with.  I realize it was bad but more of a back story would have been nice.

The main storyline line focuses on how Jax deals with fitting in to a normal life.  The girl just wants to go to high school and have the drama of a normal teen.  I get that but will admit that I had to suspend reality a wee bit if I was going to believe that a 16 year old could so easily buy a camper van, drive several states away and set up house without anyone wondering why she's on her own.  And I was ok with that.  The fact that Jax has the ability to mind control was enough of a reason to help me get over the legalities.

Jax was a good main character who may be 'model gorgeous' (oh the woes of the uber pretty) but holds her own as she deals with the lot she's been given.  She has her ruthless dad and her coven out to kill her, a raging dark force within her always trying to get out, learning that the guy she's fallen for has been brought up to kill her kind.   The girl has a lot on her plate.  It's a lot to soak in as a reader but it doesn't come off as too much.  Seeing Jax blend into Baker's Gap and the regular issues of attending high school (including dealing with a typical Mean Girl) helped me see a vulnerability in Jax that made me like her even more.

If I had a couple of wee beefs about the book its that the overall feel of the book was really rushed.  Jax moves to this town, immediately makes a new BFF in Toni (whom I really liked), finds a cute guy whom she quickly becomes infatuated with ... all within a week.   Making a new bestie and dating a cute guy didn't bother me but how fast she fell for Keller (and him for her) all within a week bordered on the unbelievable.  I think Keller and Jax were supposed to have a romance but to me it felt more like infatuation/lust due to the short period of time they had to get to know each other.  I'm hoping to see their bond/relationship grow more in the upcoming books and be less obsessive.

My second beef is the fact that the main action of the book didn't come until the end.  It was a great 'edge of your seat' action scene but I would have loved a bit more magical duelling (or at least seeing what kind of power Jax possesses) throughout the book a bit more.  Honestly it just made me want to keep on reading Bane (the second book in the series) to keep up the momentum.

Lastly, it's a small beef -- a wee 'moo' if you will -- but if you aren't a Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fan you may feel a little out of the loop like I did.  There are quite a few Buffy quotes used throughout the book which went right over my head.  Am I the only person not really familiar with this series?  I had just barely enough of a working knowledge of the series to get the basic point but kept feeling like I was falling short of getting the true meaning.

Overall this book was a really good start to a new trilogy.  It has good characters, a great premise and I'm looking forward to seeing how Jax learns to use her dark power to battle her former coven.  I recommend this series to fans of P.C and Kristin Cast's "House of Night" series.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Net Galley and the publisher, Bell Bridge Books, for providing me with a complimentary Advanced Reading Copy in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Chameleon (Rippler #2)

Author: Cidney Swanson
Genre: Supernatural / Young Adult
Type: e-book for Kindle
First Published: September 2011
Published By: Williams Press
Series Order: Rippler (June 2011), Chameleon (Sept 2011), Unfurl (2012)
First Line: "Excerpted from my Father's Brilliant Journal by Helga Gottlieb -- Killing Kathryn Ruiz and her daughter Samantha seemed a simple assignment."

Synopsis: Samantha Ruiz seems like the typical American teenager ... if you overlook her quirky ability to literally disappear.  Add in the fact that her best friend is not speaking to her, she's trying to learn more about Rippling and she's unsure about her relationship with Will ... oh, and a mad scientist is hunting her down, and you can see that Sam's life is more stressful than the typical teen.

When Will, Sam and Will's sister, Mickie, are given the opportunity to travel to France on a school trip they take advantage of the situation and set up a meeting with Will and Mickie's mysterious benefactor Sir Walter.  Under the guidance of Sir Walter, Sam and Will are able to learn more about what being a Rippler entails and are given a clearer picture of what evil forces they are up against.
My Thoughts:  This is the second book in the Rippler series.  Typically, I've found that the second book in a series tends to wane a bit for me.  I've already been introduced to the setting and characters so the subsequent books need to bring their 'A games' when it comes to the plot/twists to keep me interested. 

I'm happy to report that Chameleon didn't fall into the 'sophomore blues' category.  The first book in the series, Rippler, was used to introduce us to the characters and plot but Chameleon can be aptly described as the book where 'the plot thickens'. Ms Swason wastes no time in jumping right into the storyline and delving into the sinister storyline involving rippler syndrome as well as further developing the main characters.

The main characters could have easily gotten stuck in a rut and not further developed but I found all of the main characters to be very well-rounded and believable.  Sam begins to see herself as much more capable and stronger than she originally thought.  And while I didn't love Will in the first book, I was happy to see that in Chameleon he held his ground with Sam, Mickie and the quirky Sir Walter.  I even enjoyed the chemistry between two of the teens.  It wasn't written as a saccharine teen romance (as some teen romances are apt to be) and I appreciated the fact that it didn't take over the book or detract from the suspense of the main storyline.

As for Sir Walter?  I found him to be a wonderful addition to the fairly young cast of characters.  He brings a knowledgeable, yet not infallible, great (great, great??) uncle kind of character who helps the teens learn more about what it's like to be a Rippler/Chameleon.  He's old school but not stodgy and he quickly became one of my favourite characters. 

One of the aspects of this series that I continue to enjoy are the short blurbs at the beginning of each chapter where the villains recount, via journal entries/letters, what's going on inside their heads.  It gives the reader a very unique opportunity to get a peek inside the mind of the villain while not giving too much away.  The reader is also given a better understanding of why the villains are after Sam before Sam even knows.

Ms Swanson has the rare ability to successfully develop her characters, plot and keep the suspense on high throughout her story.  If you're looking for a new brand of YA supernatural read I highly recommend picking up Rippler.  I'm really looking forward to reading the final book in this unique YA supernatural trilogy.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: I received a complimentary e-book copy of this book directly from the author.  All opinions expressed in my review are uniquely my own.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Creamy Horseradish Garlic Sauce

A couple of years ago I threw a party for Brad's birthday.  Since it was a big day for my man and he's a big ol' carnivore I made Shredded Beef Sandwiches for the party and it was a success.  Tender beef on crusty rolls topped with fried onions and peppers.  Divine, right?  The only thing that was lacking was the store-bought flavoured mayonnaise that we used as a condiment for the sandwiches.  It was OK (garlic flavoured, I believe) but nothing to write home about.

Now there's something you need to know about me.  I adore horseradish - the hotter, the better.  Brad and I love a dollop in our Caesar's, in our seafood dip and, of course, with prime rib.  In fact, I recently tried a white cheddar infused with horseradish and I was over the moon, people!  There's just something about the tang of horseradish and the chance of the sudden burst of heat going right up my nose that draws me in every time.  I'd be yelling "Oh man, it BURNS!" one minute but in the next breath saying "That was SO good!  Give me another bite!"  Don't try to understand my love of the radish de horse.  I'm an enigma wrapped in a mysterious horseradish laden kaiser.

Anyway, I made another pulled beef roast a couple of weeks ago but wanted to spice things up a bit.  This is where this sauce comes in.  I found the original recipe on Allrecipes.com and with a couple of wee changes (upping the horseradish for one!) it rocks!  It has a wonderfully creamy texture with a hint of heat and a nice spice.  Delish! 
Along with some sautéed onions, mushrooms and peppers and a slice of cheese our pulled beef sammies were delectable!!  I cannot wait to try this sauce with a veggie tray or even to top some BBQ'd salmon steaks!!

1/2 cup sour cream (I used 14% fat sour cream)
2 tbsp mayonnaise ( I used low fat)
2 tbsp prepared horseradish
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 dried dill weed
1/4 tsp garlic powder

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.  Cover and place in refrigerator for at least a couple of hours to allow flavours to blend. 

Spread liberally on both sides of a kaiser roll.  Load the roll up with warm pulled beef, sautéed mushrooms, onions and green peppers.  Top with a slice of Swiss or Pepper Jack cheese.  Return unused sauce to the refrigerator.  Inhale your sandwich.

Recipe Inspired by: Allrecipes.com

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Born at Midnight

Author: C.C. Hunter
Genre: YA/Supernatural
Type: Paperback
Pages: 398
Series: 1st book in the Shadow Falls series
ISBN-10: 0312624670
ISBN-13: 978-0312624675
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
First Published: March 29, 2011
First Line: "This isn't funny!" her father yelled."

SynopsisSometimes your life can change if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sixteen year old Kylie Galen learns this lesson the hard way when her parents find her at a party and accuse her of drug use.  They decide to send her off to a camp called Shadow Falls that helps troubled youth.  Unfortunately Kylie soon learns that the other youth at the camp are more than just 'troubled'.  It's at Shadow Falls camp that werewolves, fairies, shapeshifters, vampires and witches are sent to be trained so that they can learn to function in the real world.

This change of scenery with supernaturals isn't the only problem that's been plaguing Kylie.  Her parents have suddenly decided to separate, her grandmother recently died, she just broke up with her boyfriend , she regularly has extreme night terrors where she wakes up screaming and, for some reason, she keeps seeing the ghost of a dead soldier.  Now she's stuck in the middle of nowhere with the camp leaders and other campers insisting that Kylie is one of them.  Kylie remains adamant that there has been some kind of mistake.  How could be a freak like them?  To make matters even more complicated Kylie has two guys at the camp that have piqued her interest.  Derek, who is half fae and Lucas, a werewolf, whom Kylie had a very negative experience with in childhood.

My Thoughts:  I have to admit that I had a tough time reviewing this book.  I didn't love it but I didn't hate it either.  I think it falls somewhere in the 'forgettable' pile unfortunately. From the book description I had a lot of hope that this would be a great new series but it just never really took off.  Here's a run-down of my take on this book:

Kylie wasn't a great protagonist nor was she the worst but she also won't be memorable.  She starts off as this self-righteous pretty girl whose favourite thing to do is to judge others based on their looks - specifically how 'slutty' they look.  Words used to describe a girl who had sex were "screw toy, slut and whore".  May I introduce Mrs Judgy Judgerson!   So when Kylie's parents suddenly send her off to a special camp for wayward teens based on basically circumstantial evidence Kylie gets a little of her own medicine.  That said the reason that her parents gave for sending her off felt silly, abrupt and forced.

Judging aside, Kylie is fairly likeable and even a little meek when she first goes to camp.  But it's the way Kylie is so adamant that she's not a supernatural grated on me very quickly. This is a girl who sees a bloodied-up soldier GHOST regularly and yet she still doesn't believe that she's more than human?   I cannot count how many times I've seen ghosts pop out of nowhere.  Oh wait, yes I can.  ZERO!  That's not 'normal', Kylie!  The camp leader continually trying to convince Kylie of her special powers got on my last nerve too.  It was just too repetitive and bogged down the momentum of the storyline.

The other characters were ok if not a little clichéd -- from the hot, sensitive Derek to the 'bad boy' (who really wasn't that bad) Lucas, to the dark, brooding and sarcastic roommate, Della (although she was my favourite character) we had all of the clichéd characters covered.  Sadly these secondary characters didn't add to the storyline.

Call me a picky reader but there are certain things that I like and others that I'm not fond of. I tend to like books that are somewhat similar to other books that I've loved in the past.   I guess I'm hoping to snag another great read.  For example, I liked the fact that this book was set in a boarding school/camp for 'special' teens (a la Percy Jackson) and I love that it had a supernatural element (shout out to Harry Potter, Kelley Armstrong ...). But when one mimics a great book series one has to bring her A-game and this book just didn't cut it and became a poor imitation by not bringing anything new to the table.  So to recap: I like books that are similar ... but not too similar.  I don't try to understand my book love.  The bookworm wants what the bookworm wants.

While the book jacket description of the book enticed me to pick it up sadly the book didn't deliver.  The storyline was very hectic and all over the place yet didn't go anywhere. Kind of like riding a wonky, busted up stationary bike. It's this 'ain't going anywhere' repetitive rut that got in the way of the general pace of the book.  We've got Kylie's roommates Della and Miranda fight constantly.  Check.  Creepy little peeping Tom guy keeps on a'peepin on the girls.  Check.  Kylie keeps believing she's just a normal gal and not a supernatural.  Check!  Kylie is torn between three hot guys.  Check, check and check!

No doubt there's a lot of stuff going on in this book.  It's a lot of different storylines but I never got the feeling that anything (whether it's her roommates' family issues or Kylie's love life) was really dealt with in depth or even resolved at the end of the book. So much time was wasted going over and over the same issues that it negatively affected the oomph of the storyline and made me lose focus.

This book is filled with the typical teenage angst but also deals with a lot of issues relating to sex. I will give I give the author credit for not shying away from talking about premarital sex, STD's, teenage pregnancy etc but the way it was done felt like more of a lecture from your Grade 6 gym teacher or an 80's Afterschool Special. 

I mentioned above that Kylie has three guys vying for her attention.  Oh the woes of youth (that I never had).  Sadly, I didn't buy the love triangle. It seemed like an add on (or an homage to Twilight) and it was obvious from the get-go who Kylie would choose. One minute Kylie hates one of the guys then the next minute she can't stop thinking about him. Add in the fact that Kylie can't stop thinking of her ex-boyfriend and now there's three guys that Kylie is obsessing over. For a book which takes on a very chaste tone in the beginning (I'm not saying that as a negative) this foursome seems a little at odds with the original feel. Kylie goes from being a girl who cherishes her chastity to, a couple of weeks later, making out with every boy who has an interest in her.  Actually I could have done without the Twilight-esque love trian ... um, square.  I picked up this book because I thought it was going to be more of a teenage girl's journey to find her supernatural self ... not who Kylie will pick to be her boyfriend. I've had enough of supernatural love triangles for awhile.

The supernatural element wasn't in the forefront of the storyline as much as I would have liked.  It seemed like it took a back seat to all of the teenage angst which is not what I was expecting.  There were werewolves, fairies, vampires and shapeshifters but their extraordinary powers were overshadowed by the buff bodies of teenage guys and who was the better kisser. 

As for the big ending?  It had a very 'let's throw in this adventure at the last minute' feel to it. Nothing was even hinted at during the bulk of the book but then all of a sudden there's this new storyline that's introduced in the last 50 pages. Come again?  Even the big 'bad guys vs good guys' faceoff at the end of the book was very lackluster and over before I could even get into it.
Needless to say this wasn't a favourite book of mine.  While it had it's moments "Born at Midnight" will not stay with me and will be relegated into the 'I vaguely remember that book' vault in my brain.   

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Happy belated Canada Day to my fellow Canucks.  Our beloved country is now 145 years AWESOME!  Nothin' says "Happy Canada Day, EH?" like a bunch of Canucks wearing their red and white proudly while drinking a cold Canadian lakeside.  Am I right?  Our family was lucky to be invited, yet again, to two Canada Day festivities.  My parents host a huge shin dig at their cottage and our good friends A & B have hosted a fete for 10 years now.  That's a lot of partying goin' on!

Being Canadian is truly awesome and I mean that sincerely.  We may be overly humble but I honestly think we need to toot our old horns a bit more.  We're not just a bunch of humourous people who can rock a snowboot and love talking about the weather!  We've brought more to the world than just the Biebs, Roots wear, good beer and Gretzky!  I love the fact that:
  • we put poutine on the map
  • we use 'eh' to mean so many things
  • people from around the world like and respect us
  • we have wicked sense of humour but are still very humble
  • we love popping 'U's into various words (humour, flavour ...)
  • we get a kick out of making fun of ourselves and our politicians are good sports about being teased on Canadian TV. 
  • I love that we know the importance of a good donut
  • we invented basketball and Superman. 
  • And the next time you see a Canadian you can thank your lucky stars that your pants aren't falling down because we invented the zipper too! 
So many things to be proud of! So much for that quiet Canadian humility, eh?!  Ok, enough Canadian pride.  Let's get back to the recipe at hand. 

I made this appetizer (as well as my Jalapeno Popper Dip) to bring to A & B's party.  Unfortunately I was not able to stay and enjoy said dip that evening because I quickly learned that my beloved quinoa (which I had eaten at the first party) and my stomach are no longer on good terms.  There was a veritable smack down happening in my stomach on Canada Day.  So not cool or patriotic of my stomach!  After perusing the internet in the wee hours of the morning (after a few hours of nastiness) I learned that even though some people can enjoy quinoa several times with no ill effects all of a sudden their bodies can revolt and chaos ensues (or was that spews?).  So b'bye to quinoa.  It was good while it lasted.  Parting is definitely sweet sorrow.

Since I had to leave the second festivities early (sorry for the TMI above) I didn't get to share this appetizer with our friends (who were much too full from supper).  While I do think that they would have enjoyed this dip Brad, Boy 1 and I took advantage of the situation the following day and ate this dip and it was ... de-lish!  Oh yes.  Brad kept saying how good this dip was and how perfectly it was spiced.  Speak on, my love.  Speak on!  While I do admit to being a wuss in the spiciness department I have to say that this dip was the perfect balance between hot/spicy and flavour.  My mouth was humming but I was in no way dousing my mouth with water with my eyes watering and crying for sweet relief.  It was just a great dip for an afternoon poolside.

I found this original recipe on Allrecipes.com but tweaked it to suit my own tastes.  First of all the original recipe called for canned chicken.  Um, no.  The mere thought of canned chicken makes me gag a wee bit. Tuna in a can I'm ok with but chicken or ham? I just cannot stomach.  Instead I had Brad grill up a couple of small chicken breasts the night before.  The BBQ flavour and the texture of fresh chicken, to me, made a big difference.

I'll also state that I strongly suggest using Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce.  We've tried a couple of other 'Buffalo Chicken' sauces but they pale in comparison to Frank's.  Frank's got this sauce thing down, people!  No one compares, just sayin'.

So whether you're Canadian or not, give this dip a try at your next par-tay or 'just cuz' occasion.  You'll be happy you did, eh?

2 small chicken breasts - BBQ'd and diced
3/4 cup Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
16oz cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes (I always use reduced fat)
1/2 cup Blue cheese salad dressing
1/2 cup Ranch salad dressing
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Garnish: crumbled blue cheese (optional)
Serve with: scoop nacho chips

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the cooked chicken and the hot sauce.  Add creamed cheese cubes and mix until well blended.  Add salad dressings and cheddar cheese and combine well.

Pour into a baking dish.  Place into the refrigerator for later use or preheat the oven to 350F and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the dip is heated through.  Serve with scoop nacho chips.

Inspired by: Buffalo Chicken Dip

Yield: 12 servings

Notes: This recipe can easily be halved if you don't have a big crowd.  Next time I think I'll use 1 cup of Blue Cheese dressing and leave out the Ranch dressing.

I've linked this recipe to: A Little Nosh's 'Tastetastic Thursday'

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