Friday, 28 September 2012

Groovy Jeans Cake

This past weekend Missy Moo celebrated her 9th birthday with a sleepover at my parents' cottage.  I know, right!  How could my baby girl be nine years old already?!?  I must have been a child bride.  Anyway, she invited four of her friends and we had planned a campfire, some crafts, a movie, a ride in the trailer behind the riding lawnmower, a hike ...  Lots to do in an 18 hour period.  Brad and I had a goal to tire them out so they sleep. :)

Unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans for our party.  She nixed the trailer ride, hike and s'mores over an open campfire idea with some pretty good wind and rain.  We then planned to do the s'mores using the wood fireplace in the cottage after supper but after seeing the energetic reaction the girls had after eating this sugary cake (and knowing that the girls weren't totally gung ho on the s'mores) we opted out of the treat. 

We had good reason to nix the extra sugary treat and it mainly had to do with our sanity.  See, about 2 minutes after the girls had eaten this 'groovy jeans' cake the sugar in said cake kicked in.  Like 'kick you in the face with a snow boot', kicked in.  O-M-G!  I have two boys so I know how energized kids can get.  Well, these 4 little girls broke the sugar-rushability scale in time and intensity.  Brad and I just looked at each other with stunned expressions and got out of the way while the girls got rid of their energy sock sliding, running around, pillow fighting ....

Once they began to morph back into their human forms again we decided to do a craft.  After being blown away by the screamed "YAH!" response to me asking if they wanted to craft (and wondering WHY in God's green earth I was going to put paint into the hands of these still hyper girls) we got to work on the craft. 

Ok, this may seem like a little bit of a lame 'craft' but the girls LOVED it!  Before the rain/wind hit we had gone for a walk along the lake and picked out various cool looking rocks and snail shells for our craft.  Oh yes, I'm sure you are all amazed at the intricate craft I had planned.  Painting up some rocks and the old homes of slimy snails.  The girls LOVED it.  Good to know that I don't have to go all fancy-schmancy all the time.

When they had finished the craft, the girls got a second wind and decided to play air hockey, foosball and flashlight hide-and-seek.  At this point Brad and I had the energy of a pair of geriatric tree slugs so we herded the girls into the bedrooms to get into their PJs and put on "Despicable Me" (or as  Missy Moo calls it "Despicital Me") to bring the energy level down before bedtime. {I honestly love this movie.  If you haven't watched it yet I highly recommend it.}

As the movie was finishing up Brad and I could see the end of the day nearing and were looking forward to sitting in front of the fire and relaxing.  It was going on 10pm, after all.  We figured that the girls would chat in bed for a half hour and then drift off into a peaceful sleep.  Ha!  We were totally deluded.  One of the girls fell fast asleep but the other three (including Missy Moo) were up until midnight.  I shuddered to think of the whinefest we (and the other parents -- sorry!) were in for on Sunday and Monday with Missy Moo because as we all know whine is the gift that keeps on givin'.

Ok enough blathering.  Here's the reason for this post.  The cake!  Not to toot my own horn but one of the hits of the par-tay was my cake.  {insert a wee toot here}  Originally I had asked Missy Moo what cake design she wanted for her party.  Knowing that I had surprised Boy 2 with his Karate Gi Cake back in July she wanted to be surprised with her cake too.  Um, ok.  The only problem was I had no idea what to make.  I was fresh out of ideas.  And knowing how much she loved her Purse Cake last year I knew I had to bring my A game. 

I knew that she wanted to watch the movie "Despicable Me" at her party so I tried to come up with a cake design of one of the minions but just couldn't find anything that looked appetizing or that my meagre skill set could accomplish.  I know that Missy Moo is girly but she's not overly frilly, if you know what I mean.  So, I knew that I wanted something girly, something tweenish and a design that would impress.  When I saw the design for the Groovy Jeans Cake on the Betty Crocker website I knew I had my cake design.  Who among us doesn't love a pair of comfy jeans, I ask you??

I'm going to write out my directions for the cake but I fear that it is a little convoluted.  If you prefer you can click on the link below and go to the Betty Crocker site where they have a great video which details how to cut the cake as well as frost/decorate it.

Groovy Jeans Cake

1 box of Betty Crocker SuperMoist cake mix (I used French Vanilla)
water, oil and eggs called for on the cake mix box
2 containers of Betty Crocker 'Rich and Creamy' vanilla frosting
yellow and blue food colours (I used a combo of Wilton paste and liquid food colourings)
1 package of candy fruit roll
various candies/gummies to decorate

Line a cake board with foil and tape the foil at the back of the board to secure it. 
Note:  My hubby cut me out a cake board from very dense (but not overly thick) fibre board and it works like a charm.  Make sure it's not so big that you can't fit it into the fridge!

Place a strip of parchment paper over the narrow width of a 9x13-inch baking pan.  You can use the overhanging parchment on both sides of the pan to help get the cake out once it's cooled.  Grease and lightly flour the parchment as well as the baking pan not covered by the parchment paper.  Set aside.

Combine cake mix, water oil and eggs according to the cake mix instructions.  Gently pour batter into the prepared pan ensuring that the batter gets into the corners of your pan nicely.  Bake according to package directions. 

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan.  VERY carefully remove cake from the pan and set it gently on your cake board.  

While your cake is cooling, tint your icing.  This is where you just have to just wing it.  The colour of your 'jeans' all depends on how much icing tint you're using.  I love Wilton paste tints but since they are not peanut-safe I usually can't use them.  BUT, since our boys were on a Scout hike all weekend and wouldn't be partaking in this cake I pulled out my tints and went to town. 

Remove 1/3 of a cup of the vanilla icing and place it in a small bowl.  This will be tinted yellow for the jean stitching.  Start with a teeny amount of food colouring.  Once it's mixed and the colour you like, you can get it ready to pipe on.  If you'd like a really easy and cheap way to pipe on your yellow stitching just use a sandwich Ziploc bag.  In order to put the icing into the bag without getting it all over your hands put the Ziploc into a glass and pull the bag over the edges of the cup.  Spoon in your icing, zip up the bag and voila!  All the icing is in the bag.  Now just cut a very small bit off one corner of the bag.  Twist the bag and your yellow icing is good to go.

Remove the remainder of the vanilla frosting from its original containers and place it into a medium bowl and tint it with blue frosting tint.  Start with a very small bit of tint.  I'm talking half of an eraser head on a pencil.  This stuff is concentrated!  You can always add more if it's too light! 

Now that your cake has had time to cool it's time to cut it.  First we want to get rid of the hump on the middle of your cake and make it flat.  Mine didn't have one so I skipped this step.  Just take a long bread knife and slice off the hump.  Turn your cake over so the underside is showing.  Now you're ready to make your jeans.

If you'd like a very clear and easily explained way to do the cutting for this cake please visit the Betty Crocker site HERE and watch the video. If you'd like to read my potentially convoluted explanations on how to do this continue reading.

Here's a picture of how I started to make my jeans.  First, cut about 1 1/2-inches off one of the longer edges of the cake and set it to the side carefully.  Take this piece and place it at the narrow end of your cake (ie. the waist of your jeans).

Note: we're not making Mom Jeans (because they are definitely NOT groovy) but we do need a little length at the top. Cut off the excess cake and eat it.  Yup. Eat it.

Place toothpicks where you'd like your (pardon the nasty word) crotch and the inner edges of your pant hems.  This will make cutting a lot easier.  Cut the inner 'crotch' triangle in half.  We'll use these to make our jeans flare a bit.

As you can see below, I got a little cocky moving my cake around and one of the legs of my jeans broke in half.

Note: Frosting hides a plethora of baking sins but if you can avoid a broken femur I'd suggest taking your time when moving your cake around.

At this point, unless you have the steady hands of a surgeon, you may want to put a narrow strip of parchment paper just under the edges of your cake. This way, if you happen to get some icing on your cake board it will land on the parchment instead of your nice, clean foil.

Once your cake has been cut into the appropriate pieces you can start putting the cake together and using frosting to 'glue' them together.  Take the two inner triangles that you cut out from the 'crotchal' area and place them on the outer edge of your pant legs to make them flare a bit. (sorry I forgot to take a pic here.  Check the Betty Crocker site if you're confused with my explanation).  Glue these pieces on with frosting.

Now it's time to put it in the fridge for 30-40 minutes. Cooling the cake makes a big difference in how frustrated you're going to get. A more dense and cool cake is much easier to frost than a soft, smooshy one. Trust me.

Once your cake is nice and cool it's time to do the all important 'crumb coat'.  This is the very thin layer of icing that will seal in all those pesky crumbs from the cut edges of your cake.  Don't skip this step.  If you don't do this you'll be fighting the crumbs the whole way and wondering what you were thinking when you decided to bake this blasted cake.  Again, trust me.

Crumb coat done, put the cake back into the fridge for another 30-60 minutes to firm up the crumb coat.  Once that's done it's time to do the final frosting coat.   Frost the cake with the remaining blue icing (I had about 1 cup leftover after I was done).  Remove the narrow strips of parchment paper (if you used them to catch excess frosting). 

Using the serrated edge of a regular kitchen knife I lightly dragged it across the blue icing to create the jean effect (you may not be able to see it in the picture).  Cut the fruit roll-up/candy leather to make the belt and decorate the cake with various candies to make it 'groovy'.  Using your baggy of yellow frosting pipe on the stitching for your jeans by making short little lines for the pockets, the fly, the stitching for your patch and the bottom edges of the pant legs.

Last step:  Enjoy!

Recipe from: Betty Crocker's 'Groovy Jeans Cake'

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Temporary Detective

Author: Joanne Sydney Lessner
Genre: Mystery
Type: Kindle ebook
Series: 1st book in the Isobel Spice mystery series
First Published: April 2012 
First Line: "Isobel Spice regarded the powerfully built, dark-skinned man behind the dest, who looked like he'd be happier thundering down a football field than despensing temporary office jobs to aspiring actors."

Synopsis:  Isobel Spice is an aspiring actress who has recently moved to NYC.  While Isobel has an excellent singing voice and acting ability, getting a gig in the city is proving to be harder than she originally thought.  In an attempt to go after her dream while still making ends meet, Isobel scours the city for a job at various temp agencies.  Unfortunately without any marketable office skills many temp agencies turn her down.

Getting more than a little nervous about her financial situation, Isobel holds nothing back while trying to sweet talk temp agent James Cooke into giving her a chance at a last minute fill-in job at a local bank.  James knows that he shouldn't be taking any risks with new recruits.  He has a lot on his own plate with being new at his own job, being a recovering alcoholic and then there's that niggling feeling he has that Isobel has a penchant for trouble.  Even with his inital misgivings about Isobel's skill he decides to give Isobel a shot at the job. 

Unfortunately, James initial bad feelings about Isobel's innate ability to find trouble are realized when she finds the body of an unlikeable secretary in a bathroom stall during a routine fire drill.  Now with the police pointing fingers in her direction, a new job to fulfill as well as getting to auditions on time Isobel has more than she can handle.

My Thoughts:  When I ordered this mystery for my Kindle I was in the mood for a cozy mystery.  Nothing too heavy and the fact that this was the first book in a new series sealed the deal. 

Here's what I liked about this book -- It was a light mystery that had an interesting premise and setting.  I loved the NYC setting and the behind-the-scenes look at auditions and call-backs etc. 

I realize that to read a cozy mystery series usually one has to suspend reality a wee bit because the protagonist keeps finding dead bodies and, honestly how often does that happen?  I'm hoping not a lot. I think that setting Isobel up as a temp worker gives the author many opportunities to put Isobel in many varied situations for the future books where she can stumble upon corpses and keep the reader interested. 

That said I think that the overall feel I got from this book was just 'meh'.  It was just an OK mystery with OK characters but nothing over the top.  There were a lot of characters with a twist or two thrown in but none of the secondary characters really stood out and there were a few times when I got confused as to which character the author was referring.

The character with the most depth had to have been James, Isobel's temp agent, who was a recovering alcoholic.  It was nice to see, amongst all of the rather blaw characters, a person who stood out from the rest.  Yes, his addiction made the storyline a little heavy at times but I think it brought a more authentic feel to James.  I also appreciated that the reader gets to have an inside view of the inner feelings of a recovering alcoholic and what they endure on a daily basis.

In contrast, I felt like I never really got to know Isobel. Yes, she's an aspiring actress with a great voice but what else?  She really fell flat for me and with this being the beginning of a series I was hoping to really click with the main character right off the bat.  Unfortunately that just didn't happen this time around.

I think the author was trying to start some romantic tension between James and Isobel but I just didn't feel it.  Nor did I really want to.  Why do we always have to have sexual tension between main characters?  In this book I would have rather more time spent on ramping up the suspense of the book than wondering will they/won't they?

Would I recommend this book?  Yes, if you're in the mood for a very light mystery.  I'm hoping that things pick up their pace in the future books because with the setting and Isobel's job prospects being so interesting this book series 'could' be a great little cozy mystery series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mandarin Orange Refrigerator Oatmeal

Do you ever have those mornings where things just don't go your way?  You know the kind of morning from hell that I'm talking about.  The kind that comes out of nowhere and slaps you upside your head. 

You never see these chaotic mornings coming, do you?  Your day starts off well.  You get up a little early to have some time to yourself before getting everyone up and at'em.  Time to cuddle with the pooch, catch up on your Pinterest addiction and read a bit.  Ahhhh.  But all that goes awry so quickly it makes your head spin.  You go from a calm and peaceful zen-like place to kids 'not hearing their alarm clock' and you're off the races dealing with a bunch of harried crazy people. 

So, your kids wake up late and when they finally make their way downstairs for breakfast you notice that one boy has only one sock on and his shirt on backwards (the kicker being that he doesn't seem to care), the other boy has bed head to rival Don King's 'do' on a bad hair day and your daughter seems to think the world will fall off it's axis because she can't find the pants that 'feel right'.  Meanwhile, the dog decides to throw up, not on the porcelain tile, but on the shag rug that you adore.  Nice.

BUT, you are a trooper and vow to get this band of misfits back on track!  During all this mayhem you've gotten four lunches made -- a balance between healthy, homemade and a little treat -- only to have hubby come down sheepishly to tell you that 'he forgot to tell you that he doesn't need a lunch today'.  You give him the squinty stink eye but you are able to show restraint and pat yourself on the back for not throwing his roast beef wrap that you just finished making in his face.  You are the epitome of self-restraint and poise {as much as a person in their fluffy bathrobe and requisite bedhead can manage}. 

After that final blip in the chaos that is your morning you pull up your big girl panties to get the job done with such organization and precision that you'd even make Sheldon Cooper impressed! 
With your hubby off to work and your little humans back on track you herd them all out the door asap so you can go back to that zen-like feeling that escaped you a mere hour before.  This is the glamour of motherhood. *sigh* 

Do you ever have insane mornings like this?  Ya, me neither. ;) But some people DO!  It's to those harried people out there where this extemely easy and portable breakfast-to-go can come in handy.  I found this recipe on another blog called The Yummy Life {you can visit that site by clicking HERE}.  This is just one of the many flavours of refrigerator oatmeal that I found on the blog and it's amazing!  The basic recipe is so easy to adapt to different tastes and it's ridiculous just how easy it is to whip up.

Your initial reaction may be 'cold oatmeal?  Blech!' but trust me.  If you're a lover of rice pudding you're gonna love this!  It's creamy with a very slight tang from the Greek yogurt and the addition of little pops of sweetness from the mandarin oranges and the spice of the nutmeg is the icing on the proverbial cake, I tell ya!

I have made it three times in the past week for a loved one who loves it.  This person, who shall remain nameless but whom I adore, has been suffering from horrible mouth/jaw pain making eating very difficult.  This is the main reason why I went on the hunt for an easy oatmeal recipe and why this recipe came in so handy.  Not only is it easy to eat but I can add in things like ground flax and protein powder to ensure that there are extra nutrients in there.

So to those of us you who are part of the harried morning folk I suggest giving this recipe a try.  If nothing else it will be one less thing that you have to deal with during those crazy 'race-out-the-door' mornings.

1/4 cup uncooked quick rolled oats
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (regular or low fat)
1 1/2 tsp ground flax seed (or dried chia seeds)
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp orange marmelade
1/4 cup canned mandarin oranges, drained and roughly chopped

In a half pint (1 cup) mason jar, add oats, milk, Greek yogurt, ground flax, nutmeg, honey and marmelade.  Put the lid on the jar tightly and shake well until combined.  Remove lid and add oranges; stir until combined.  Return lid to the jar and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.  Eat chilled.

Recipe inspired by: The Yummy Life

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Gettin' Bad in the Badlands

A few weeks ago I was chatting with the lovely Janice who is the receptionist for my hairdresser.  We were talking about doing family day trips and she mentioned a place in Ontario that I had never heard of that even her two teenagers loved.  The funny thing was, Janice wasn't referring to the mall!!  It was a place in NATURE!  You know, the place with trees, grass and animals!  Dear Janice, tell me more about this magical place in nature that has the ability to hold the interest of teens.  Seriously.  She intrigued me and now I needed to know.

You see, our family loves to go on day trips and we regularly go on hikes.  We always throw in a picnic too in order to keep everyone's blood sugar up and stop us from going bat crap crazy with each other.  This is what family outings are all about.  Time together without the disturbances of videogames, house chores etc and a healthy bloodsugar level so we can just being happy to be together.  Just the five of us, full bellies and Mother Nature.  Bliss!

So, back to the magical teen nirvana that Janice spoke about.  It's called the Cheltenham Badlands.  Oooooo, right?  Who doesn't want to get bad ass in the Badlands?  Nobody, that's who! 

I have to admit that the image that initially came to my mind when I heard the term 'Badlands' was the place that Whoopi Goldberg and her fellow hyenas in The Lion King lived.  You know, all barren, kinda creepy with skeleton heads all around.  Admit it, you thought the same thing.

Actually I wasn't that far off with my initial Disney-fied image (minus the skeleton heads thankfully).  The Badlands were really cool, especially since they were so out of place with the rest of the scenery.  Picture it if you will.  The Bookworm Family in our family loser cruiser (Honda minivan) bustling along in the morning sun.  Brad and I with requisite coffees in hand (because a caffeinated parent is a happy parent.  Truer words were never spoken.).  Our three offspring blissful in the back while we drove through beautiful countryside and I got to oogle all of the ginormous mansions on the way.  I do lurve a good house peepin', yes I do.  All of a sudden we climb this hill and voila!  There's this barren, red landscape that has these wicked deep grooves in it.  It's like they plunked Mars north of Toronto. 

Here's Missy Moo and I getting our Tyra on for the camera. 

Totally cool, right? The picture actually doesn't give the red 'soil' justice. The terracotta coloured 'soil' is actually shale. It gets it's red colour from iron oxide. The greenish-blue horizontal bands that you can see are caused by the ground water turning the red iron oxide to green oxide. {Thus ends your science lesson for the day.}

Unfortunately the shale is very delicate and easily eroded by water. It's also fairly grainy in parts which makes it slippery to walk on unless you have the hooves of a mountain goat -- which I suspect Boy 2 must have because the kid literally bounded from precipitous edge to fairly deep gullies while making his mother cringe.

The Badlands was so great that even the trees were giving us high fives!

The Badlands, though totally awesome to explore, is relatively small.  We explored it in about 90 minutes.  After that we packed up the kids even though Missy Moo wanted to stay on the 'red mountain' a little longer.  The rest of us, of little attention span, had decided that we wanted to head out and find something else to keep us occupied.  So the five of us jumped into the Loser Cruiser again.  After meandering around the area with only our GPS to help us out (see we were still bad ass and we weren't even in the Badlands anymore!) we found the Forks in the Credit Provincial Park. 

Brad and I looked at each other then turned to the kids and said,  "We realize that we just explored a natural wonder for 90 minutes, kids.  Now let's go on a 4km hike!!  Who's with us?!"  {we received only the 'woot woot' of Boy 2 and silence and squinty eyes from the other two}.  Huh.  Too bad for Missy Moo and Boy 1 because when Dad and I asked 'who's with us' it was actually rhetorical and you're coming either way!  Yay for family time! 

Yes, we went on a hike and found a pretty lake, a crumbled down silo/farm house and even a waterfall.  Oh the adventures and fun that were had!  Ok, if I'm being honest two of my spawn, by the end of the hike, wanted to throttle Brad, Boy 2 and I for our upbeat explorer chatter and our insistence on their participation on this hike.  But isn't that what family fun days are all about?!?  Dragging around at least some of your small humans and wondering what the heck we were THINKING going on a hike after climbing up and down some Badlands? 

It's all about knowing your family because in the end all five of us had a great day.  Yes, we had some minor scraps from the shale, had red dust on our clothes, stubbed a toe or two and witnessed the horror of ... a spider but all in all we had a great day.  You know how I know?  Because once we got home, fed the kids and watched the pictures and videos of the day's adventure we were all laughing and remembering the day fondly.  THAT is what a family adventure is truly about.

What are some of your favourite day trippy places??  I'd love to find more in Ontario and hear about more cool places to explore in your area!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Common Sense Has Left The Building

As this is my 700th post I thought I'd throw my usual book review or recipe post to the wind and try something new.  My reading addiction has gotten out of control lately and I'm so far behind in my book review writing that it just isn't funny anymore.  Add into the confusion my utter lack of wanting to try new recipes and blogging has suddenly become work and something that I've begun putting off instead of enjoying.  When you'd rather do laundry or mop the floor it's not a good sign in the blogging world. 

So, for this post I thought I'd take a page out of a blog I happened upon yesterday called The Spin Cycle - which you can visit HERE.  Sue is the author of this blog and after reading one of her posts via Pinterest I knew I'd be back.  Why?  Because Sue made me giggle out loud.  It seems that she and I have very similar senses of humour and I lurve that.  If you can make me chuckle I will be a total fan.  Sue humourously chats about her day with her three kids and her geriatric Weimaraner named Macy which I totally loved.  So, for this 700th post I felt like just chattin' and sharing my day.  Sounds utterly boring interesting, no?  Stay with me, people.  It gets better.

Let me share a little of what happened in the Bookworm house yesterday.  Boy 1, who is in Grade 8 and will enter into teendom next month, came home from school and informed me that his school just had a spirit day.  Who doesn't love school spirit?!  In order to earn spirit points for his class Boy 1 volunteered to do the challenge.  These points would be redeemed for a pizza party for the winning class. Yay for participation and a slice of 'zza!  Weelll, perhaps not in this instance. 

Apparently there were some girls on the student council who came up with this little gem of a competition because they had tried it at summer camp and it was 'like totally so much fun.  Totally'.  What was the competition, you ask?  Well, the participants' had one of their hands salted and then they had to see how long they could hold ice cubes in said hand.  The person who lasted the longest won the points for their class.  Sounds legit, right?  Except that no one looked into how long this competition 'should' go on for and what the side effects could be.  A little thing but kinda important as you will see. 

One thing you need to know about my boy (heck, my whole family) is that we are competitive.  Boy 1 may be packed into a wee package (we like to think that he has less verticality than his peeps) but given the chance to bring it and win his class some points he planned to go all out and get 'er done.  He got 'er done and then some!  

The first few competitors lasted about a minute.  The next few?  2 minutes.  My boy?  TWELVE minutes holding ice in his hand.  Ummm, pardon?  Ya, it was as painful as it sounds but my boy stuck it out and won the points ... and some frostbite and a very sore hand t'boot.  That would be the not so nice part of the story as you can see below.  The white stuff is mainly salt but he had blisters and frostbite as parting gifts.

Initially after looking at his poor hand I was ticked off at the school and wondered why they'd allow kids to do this silly competition (for pizza no less).  After a few minutes I then turned my attention and incredulity to my 12 year old who seemed to lack the common sense God gave a flip flop.  When asked why he wouldn't just drop the ice when his hand started to hurt he just said that he wanted to win.  *sigh*  Welcome to the family, son.

So today, during our "Meet the Teacher" BBQ we spoke with the principal and the teacher involved.  I had already spoken to the principal on the phone this morning and wasn't looking forward to an awkward chat with the teacher in a busy classroom.  After the chat with both the principal and teacher - which included their deepest apologies which we accepted - we've come to a mutual agreement that this Survivor-type competition will no longer be part of the rah-rah-sisboom-ba curriculum for school spirit.  I also verified that walking on fiery coals, swallowing shards of glass or seeing how long one can stand fire ants in ones pants will also not be included in the 'fun and spirit' that is middle school.

We're chalking this up to one of life's little lessons.  Boy 1's hand still hurts but will heal and hopefully our little flip flop has accrued a little bit more common sense in the healing process.

So, how was your day?!

Note:  If you'd like to make my day and help me celebrate 700 posts I'd love it if you'd leave me a comment so I know you're out there.  It gets lonely out here all by my lonesome!  A like on Facebook or a follow on Pinterest or Twitter wouldn't go amiss either. :)  Happy 700th posting to me! :)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Our Husband

Author: Stephanie Bond
Genre: Mystery
Type: Kindle ebook
Publisher: Martin's Press
First Published: 2000
First Line: "Dear Mr Blankenship, My name is Richard Wannamaker."

Synopsis:  After Ray Carmichael is in an accident his whole world falls apart when his three wives learn of each other.  Yes, unbeknownst to his wives Ray is a bigamist.  Beatrix is the bitter, rich and cantankerous first wife.  Natalie, the second wife, is a doctor in a small town and fills the 'good girl' role.  Finally, Ruby is the third wife who is a very young stripper with the brains and maturity of a can of tuna. 

As expected, Ray's three wives hate each other when they first meet at the hospital.  Unfortunately within minutes of the wives learning about each other Ray dies under suspicious circumstances leaving the police pointing fingers at them.  With no one else to help them the three wives band together to solve their husband's murder.

My Thoughts:  I added this little 'gem' to my Kindle cart based solely on four things.  A quick read of the synopsis, the low cost, a look at the fairly high rating it received from other readers and knowing that I had enjoyed other books by this author of the 'Blackbird Sisters' series.  Except that Stephanie Bond isn't the author of the Blackbird Sisters series, Nancy Martin is {my bad}.  Too many books and authors floating around in my cranium and not double checking my info are my excuses.

This book was touted as a 'humourous, romantic mystery' I'd have to say a resounding 'no' to all three descriptives.  Not only was it not funny but it had very little romance (unless you count having a quickie in the back of a car romantic) and the sad little mystery seemed to be added in order to give this book some kind of purpose.  Honestly, I feel a little deceived by the high ratings it received on various book sites.

It may sound like I'm being hard on this book but I'm tired of reading silliness without substance.  This had a very slow pace and didn't even have a very intriguing mystery t'boot.  I almost hate to use the term mystery because it was so unsuspenseful and was overshadowed by the silliness of the main characters and their asinine banter that I hardly focused on the mystery of who killed their husband.  Honestly, I couldn't even muster up enough energy to care who killed this guy.

Unfortunately, added to the lack of romance and mystery are the characters who are total clichés and not developed throughout the book at all.  We've got the nasty, rich, 'older' wife.  Check.  We have the nice wife whom I think readers are supposed to relate to but who comes off as a wussy doormat.  Check.  And finally, we have the ditzy airhead stripper wife in Ruby who has a penchant for reciting abstract trivia that she learns from Alex Trebeck. Check.

Was the book funny? Only the barbs and jabs at Ruby's {lack of} intellect were remotely funny. That was it for humour and making fun of the ditz got old quick.

Rounding out my reasons for not liking this book is the fact that the storyline was totally implausible.  For these three very different women to band together shortly after hating each other isn't realistic.  Women don't work that way!  We all know that women have a mental catalogue in their brains which stores all the bad crap that was done to them by others.  We don't forget ... ever.  Nor do we become besties with the women whom we hated just last week.  It would have been more realistic to have some catty fight between them than to have them quickly mend fences and work together to solve the murder of the man who kept them in the dark about each other.  Or is that just me being cynical?

Unfortunately I am now the not-so-proud owner of this digital copy of this fluff.  If you're looking for a good mystery series with some humourous bits try Nancy Martin's "Blackbird Sisters" mystery series.  I recommend giving this book a pass.

My Rating: 1/5 stars

Secret Hollows (Mary O'Reilly #7)

Author: Terri Reid
Genre: Mystery/Supernatural
Type: Kindle ebook
Series: Mary O'Reilly supernatural mystery series
Series Order: "Loose Endings" (2010), "Good Tidings (2010), "Never Forgotten (2011), "Final Call" (2011), "Darkness Exposed" (2011), "Natural Reaction (2011), "Secret Hollows" (2012)
First Published: April 2012
First Line: "The sound of his bicycle tires crunching against the gravel on the small one-lane road blended with the other sound of the country morning: cicadas humming, cardinals singing and a flock of Canada geese honking as they flew in formation overhead."

Synopsis: Timmy Beck is a typical 10 year old boy, except that Timmy died decades ago and now haunts a local lake.  Timmy was fireman Mike's childhood friend and needs help finding his killer in order to finally pass on.  As Mary, Bradley and their crew investigate further and further into the case they learn that Timmy wasn't the only boy who was murdered.

My Thoughts:  I've been hooked on this paranormal mystery series for a couple of years now.  It has a little bit of everything, including suspense, great character development, a bit of supernatural and some funny bits as well. 

Ms Reid writes a good mystery and has the ability to make me feel like I know where the larger storyline is going ... only to pull the rug out from under my feet and make the story go a totally different way.  The series does have its creepy bits but overall it's a mild mystery series.  In this book she threw in a huge shocker at the end which was so touching that it even made me tear up a bit.  Gotta love twists and shocking endings in a mystery! 

I will admit though that in some books the mystery takes a back seat to the relationships between the characters.  This is because Ms Reid manages to juggle quite a large group of characters who show up in each book and, as a reader, you get attached to them.  Mary has picked up her fair share of friends along the 7 books of this series although Ms Reid is very adept at reminding readers who is who so we never wonder who she's talking about. They are all distinct and bring their own flavour to the story

Please keep in mind that this is the kind of series that you have to read in order.  There are a couple of larger storylines which have been drawn out over the past several books (will Mary and Bradley finally marry, will they find out who his/where his daughter is ...) continue to be drawn out even in this seventh book of the series. I'm not sure how I feel about it actually. Yes, the missing daughter story is intriguing but I'm starting to be a little bored with Mary and her beau. Honestly, I always wanted her to be with another guy.  I'm hoping that some of these prolonged storylines will finally be resolved (and new ones begun) to keep the momentum of this great series high.

I think the only thing that I'd love to see change with the overall writing of this series is to omit the 'cutsie' writing which can get a overly saccharine and even seem immature at times.  Don't get me wrong, it's sweet to see Mary and Bradley talk to each other but, on the other hand, it doesn't seem as realistic to me.

If you're looking for a paranormal series which has its moments of suspense but overall it's a mild love story with wonderfully unique secondary characters then this is the series for you.   At only $2.99 each on the Kindle website these books are a steal!

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Spicy Potato Wedges

As I have informed you before I am a devote spud lover from waaaay back.  I learned this love of the spud from my dear Mom who treasures the tater just as much as I do.  Let's just say that we never say no to a potato.  Evah.  You get the picture. 

There's just something wickedly awesome about a little vegetable that can be mashed, baked, twice baked, fried, scalloped, boiled, french fried and pancaked.  The spud is so versatile and goes amazingly well with some of my favourite foods -- bacon, sour cream, bacon, green onions, cheese of any variety and good ol' bacon.

Even though I have a love bordering on obsession with the tater I do need to add to my repertoire of tater recipes once in awhile to keep things fresh and spicy between my beloved spud and I in the kitchen.  This past week I had a hankering for a spicy and crispy wedge fry so off I went in search of a recipe that was spicy enough to warm my mouth but not hot enough to make me cry at the table.  It's all about balance, my friends.  And not embarrassing yourself by shrieking in pain due to the heat of a mouthful of food.  You know what I'm talking about -- the kind of wedge fries that you can get alongside a stack of chicken wings.  

Well, the search is over.  This is IT, people!  Oh m'gravy these wedges were wickedly wonderful.  Even Boy 1 gave me kudos and asked me to make them again ... before supper was even over.  No sweeter words were ever said to a Mom who just toiled in the kitchen {sniff}.  Score one for Mom!

If you're a spicy wuss not a lover of too much heat (like me), don't worry.  I could eat a handful of these babies and not need to drink a gallon of milk to cool off my mouth.  And ... there were no tears at the table!  Yay me!  These are delightfully spicy and would make a nice side dish for sloppy joes (as pictured below), burgers, sausage on a bun ....  The list goes on and on. 

So, if you're on the lookout for a recipe to put some spice back in your relationship with the mighty tater give this recipe a try.

4 white or russet potatoes - skins on, cut lengthwise into 12 wedges (See Tip below)
approx. 1/8 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil (or just enough to coat the wedges)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne

Preheat oven to 425F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly spray with oil.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the potato wedges with the oil just until the wedges are lightly coated.

In a small bowl, combine the spices.  Mix well.  Pour over the potatoes and toss well ensuring the all of the wedges are coated nicely.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and turn over each wedge to ensure that you get crispy edges all around!  Bake wedges for another 15-20 minutes or until they are crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

Serve with ketchup, sour cream or eat 'em plain.

Tip to cut a potato into even wedges -  slice each potato lengthwise down the centre.  Take each of the halves and slice them both down the middle.  Now you'll have four pieces.  Take each of these pieces of potato and slice them into wedges again (carefully cutting from the tip of each wedge).  This will give you 8 pieces.  I actually cut each of the potato quarters into three wedges to give me 12 pieces and smaller wedges.  Your choice about how big you'd like your wedges.

If you'd prefer to see how it's done check out my good friend Gordon Ramsay's video on the subject.

Recipe Inspired by: The Yum Yum Diaries
Original recipe from: 'Man-Approved Spicy Oven Fries'

Saturday, 1 September 2012

For Matrimonial Purposes

Author: Kavita Daswani
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
First Published: June 2004
First Line: "The normal religious marriage was, and still is, arranged by the parents of the couple, after much consultation, and the study of omens, horoscopes and auspicious physical characteristics."

Synopsis: Anju is a 33 year old young woman who has been raised in a traditional Indian family in Bombay.  Unlike all of her girlfriends and female cousins, Anju isn't eager to settle down.  Unfortunately Anju's mother (and every other female she knows) isn't on the same page as Anju and insist on constantly finding suitable mates for her.

Anju dreams of moving to the US and having a life and career of her own but also feels compelled to make her parents happy and marry a 'good boy' and settle down. Stuck between two cultures Anju tries to navigate through Indian customs and her desire to be an independent woman.

My Thoughts:  I have to admit that I borrowed this book from the library because I had inadvertently bought the first book by this author (second hand) and hate it when I come into a series in the middle. 

Lately I have been enjoying reading books based in India.  After reading "Secret Daughter" by Somaya Shilpa Gowda last year (a truly wonderful read!) I've had a soft spot for books focusing on the rich culture of India.  Unfortunately, this book paled in comparison to Gowda's book.  In a word, this book is fluff.  Light and not a lot of substance.  

After reading this book I think that the author was going for a Chick Lit/cultural contrast read.  Unfortunately the storyline was very thin and didn't seem to go anywhere.  We get caught in a continuous loop of Anju's family wanting her to get married, Anju going through the motions of dating men her parents approve of, her not liking the men then feeling disappointed and sad that she cannot live up to her parents' expectations.  Her parents begin to nag her again about finding a husband and the whole loop continues on ad nauseum.  After one or two of these dates I was ready to move on or at least see Anju learn something about herself.  Sadly, this didn't happen and I started to lose interest in Anju's plight.

I think that something else that didn't help my love for this book was that I didn't care for Anju as a main character.  She was confusing and contradictory.  On the one hand she's the traditionally obedient Indian daughter who desperately wants to make her parents happy (or, more accurately, to stop them from being ashamed of her marital status) by marrying a 'good Indian boy'.  Then,  in the next breath, she becomes this fashionista who seems very shallow, fickle and pretentious.  It's this back and forth that continued throughout the novel that really started to wear on me. We don't see a lot of internal struggle within Anju or any growth towards the end of the book. Anju is just stagnant.  No one likes a stagnant main character. 

I think that if I had seen Anju struggle more as she entered into North American society I could have gotten a better feel for who Anju was and what she was feeling.  The fact that Anju didn't have many conflicts with her new and very different life in NYC was surprising since I thought that the whole point of her moving to the US was to have a 'fish out of water' experience with Anju struggling to balance her family's expectations and Anju's desires for her own life.  For some reason, Anju seemed to jump right into the high paced world of New York City and quickly gets a job involving photo shoots with famous people in high fashion clothing.  Um, really?  This sheltered young woman with a meagre education moves to New York City and easily gets a job in fashion with no experience.  Ummm, no.  I'd have to suspend reality in order to believe that that could happen and Anju was interesting enough for me to overlook this huge issue.

I suppose along with the 'fish out of water' issue I was also expecting Anju to date a bit and find out how this new, independent Anju can find a balance with the more traditional Indian Anju.  But she seemed to lose her culture as soon as her foot hit American soil which I found very disappointing.  And, with the exception of one very small encounter with an American man, really didn't seem to have any major relationship with anyone.  Isn't that what this book is supposed to be about? 

Overall, this book wasn't nearly as interesting or entertaining as I was hoping.  The characters came off as clichéd and one dimensional and I honestly don't think it does Indian culture the justice and respect that it deserves.  With the hasty ending I'd suggest giving this book a pass but highly recommend picking up "The Secret Daughter" (Gowda) if you'd love to learn about Indian culture and have a story that you can lose yourself in.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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