Friday, 30 November 2012

Parenting Post : "But everyone else has ..."

The following post is written for my Fairy Bookmother, Jen.  As my regular blog readers may remember Jen is my friend who would, every now and then, show up at my door with an armful of books that she liked and thought I'd enjoy.  It's for this reason that I dubbed her my "Fairy Bookmother". 

Not only was Jen an avid reader and loved to cook but she could decorate beautiful cookies for school holiday celebrations that put my meagre talents to shame.  She was a devoted, and much loved, mother and wife. 

It is with great sadness that I tell you that earlier this week, at the age of only 40, Jen suddenly passed away.  This news hit me like a tonne of bricks.  I've known Jen since we were 16 years old.  We lost touch over the years but reconnected four years ago and found out that we had a lot in common.

Jen has always been one of the biggest supporters of my little blog.  I would often write my more humourous blog posts hoping to get a comment on the blog (or in person) from Jen because Jen knew funny.  She was a riot and I loved her oh-so-sarcastic sense of humour.  She'd tease me for using terms like 'you bet your sweet bippy' (because apparently only 80 year olds use that term lol) and she encouraged me to keep at the blog when I thought of giving it all up.

Jen, this post is for you because even though this week I truly don't feel like smiling, I know that you'd appreciate this post.  Actually, I wrote it several days ago hoping to get a smile or comment out of you.

Will I miss you, Jen?  You bet your sweet bippy I will. 


As most of you know I'm now a mom to a teenager.  This is a bold new world that Brad and I are embarking on.  All we have to aid us is Brad's patience of a saint, my stubbornness and Mother Bear devotion and some pretty awesome parents that we watched raise us into the people we are today.  They did a pretty bang up job! :) 

Lately we've been hearing a lot of the same kind of sentences coming from our oldest son (ever since Boy 1 started middle school actually).  These sentences are: "When can I get a ...."  or "But everyone else has ..."  You can end those sentences with the following:
  • Smart Phone
  • no bedtime
  • no chores
  • unlimited screen time
  • TVs and game consoles in their rooms 
The endings for those sentences are, seemingly and sadly, endless.

How do Brad and I handle this type of question?  With 13 years of parenting experience under our belts you're probably waiting for a gem of a response in line with all of those wise parenting books, right?  You'll be waiting a little longer for a gem of wisdom because I've only read about three parenting books in my life.  I've been too busy parenting to read up on parenting.  Sad but true.

When I hear those sentences come out of my small human's mouth as well as little gems like "But 'so-and-so' got their own smart phone and didn't even have to pay for it themselves!  All they had to do was ask and their parents gave it to them." I respond in the following way ...

{said in an over-the-top valley girl voice} "O-M-G, Boy 1.  'So-and-so's parents are like so totally awesome and WAAAY more cool than YOUR parents.  Your parents totally suck if they're not going to buy you a smart phone just for being your own fabulous self.  How could your parents ask you to pay for your iTouch and half of your laptop???  They have their priorities out of whack.  Like, totally." {finish with a fake gum smack} 

OK, I will admit that my family is reknowned for our sarcastic wit and humour so I know that Boy 1 gets where I'm coming from.  Does he enjoy hearing my wicked awesome Valley Girl impression in a sarcastic tone?  A little (because he is my child and my impression is pretty darn good, I must say).  But he gets my point.

See, Brad and I hold firm to the following parenting ideal -- kids need to be raised so that when they venture out into the big wide world at the end of their teens they'll be ready and able to 'swim' on their own.  As I've said to Boy 1 (as well as the other small humans who dwell with me), you will be prepared when you leave home.  I promise you that. 

My kids already know how to cook/bake basic dishes, clean, use a debit card, do their own banking, do their own laundry (ok, nine year old Missy Moo needs help with laundry and banking but she gets the gist).  They know and understand how long it takes to earn enough money (whether that's from babysitting or doing chores) to buy something that they really, really want.  They no longer ask for everything when we go out to the mall because they get their own allowance and know that if they want something they can, by all means, spend their own money on it. 

Side note:  It's funny how the kids no longer want to buy something when they know it'll come out of their bank account and not mine.  

Brad and I know that if the kids spend their own hard earned money that they'll take care of their beloved iTouches/laptops etc.  This strategy, so far, is working.  Having a stake in something makes you care.  Period.  The end.

Where did I learn this enlightened tidbit of parenting knowledge?  My parents, of course.  My parents are financially well off but, unlike some people believe, they don't believe in hand outs.  Would they be there if we needed help financially?  Yes, most definitely.  But as my dear old dad likes to say 'struggling gives you character'.  Over the years I've felt like I've got character up the old wazoo (nice image) but I got his point.  Struggling makes you stronger and helps you appreciate what you have so much more because you've worked together as a couple (or on your own) to get over the bumps in the road to get there. 

Case in point - My parents made my two sisters and I pay for half of our University/college educations.  Why, when they could afford to pay the whole amount?  Because when you just spent thousands and thousands of your own hard earned money that you made slingin' burgers you do your darndest to get the best grades you can because you don't want to pay for an extra year of university. No, you definitely don't.  Did I get the best grades in my entire academic career while in university and college?  Yes ... I ... did.

Am I poo-pooing other parenting strategies that give children everything their hearts desire with little to no accountability?  Maybe a little, if I'm being honest.  Ok, more than a little.  You know why?  Because it makes teaching my kids that working hard for something will pay off in the end a LOT harder when they see Suzy take her 'totally old iPhone 4' and smash it against a wall to break it because she knows her parents will buy her the new iPhone 5.  A frighteningly true (and oh-so-maddening) story.

In my own opinion, what do I think these parents are teaching their kids?  That all you need to do is smile and ask for something and you'll get it.  But the problem with that train of thought is ... the world doesn't work that way.  No one is going to give you a job just because you asked for it (if that were the case I would have asked Guy Fieri for his job a LONG time ago).  No one is going to give you a huge discount on a new car just because you smiled pretty. No one is going to do your laundry each week for you because you asked them to do it (otherwise I'd have a shirtless Ian Somerhalder doing MY laundry!).  That's not how the big old world works.

I'm just hoping that my kids get the whole 'struggling builds character' thing before I lose my ever lovin' mind answering again and again the age-old question of 'why can't you buy me a cell phone like everyone else's parents?'  Here's to Brad and I continuing to have the strength of our convictions.  Here's to our kids being that much more prepared and appreciative for the struggle they worked through in order to get the prizes at the end. 

I don't want to raise spoiled kids.  Brad and I totally believe that if we can hold true and guide the kids through the bumps and struggles that are a given in learning to stand on their own, that these three kids will become strong, independent and even more awesome (than they already are) young adults.  That is my goal as a parent ... and to have a whole lot of fun along the way.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Egg-Free Kitchen Sink Cookies

I hope that all of my American followers had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.  Like all of you, I spent the better part of my weekend amongst my extended family.  We got together (all 10 grandchildren, my sisters, brothers-in-law and my parents) this weekend to see a local rendition of "Annie" at a local theatre.  We are a veritable force to be reckoned with when we all go out together.  It was a great time (I think even the boys liked the play although didn't love all the 'girly' singing).  I'm not ashamed to say that I knew all of the words to the songs being an Annie fan from waaaay back.

On Saturday night we all went to my parents' house for Saturday supper.  Our regular chaos ensued!  Since we're all Carb Addicts I was asked to bake some bread (read as 'obscene amounts of bread') so I brought two large loaves of my favourite bread (Garlic and Herb Topped Rosemary Bread). 

I also figured I'd bring some cookies for the kids that were safe for all of the little ankle biters.  See, one of my kids (Boy 1) and one of my nephews (S) are allergic to peanuts but Nephew S is also almost outgrown his egg allergy. Almost.  Not wanting to be the Aunt to test if he's 100% outgrown his allergy I opted to bake some egg-free cookies.  No one wants to stab a four-year-old with an Epi Pen if you don't absolutely have to, right?

I scoured the internet for 5 minutes and found this recipe.  It was a hit with the youngin's and the more mature faction.  Half the cookies were snuck, nabbed and nibbled before we even had supper.  There is no greater praise, I tell ya!  The goal of these cookies was to make an allergen safe yet truly yummy cookie.  I double-dog-dare-you to tell that these cookies are egg-free.  That's right, I'm pullin' out the big guns now.  I double-dog-dare you!  Not only does the base cookie have a great texture and flavour but all of the salty and sweet add-ins truly make this cookie stellar!

Granted, I did feel a little odd chopping up potato chips and pretzels for cookies but my love of all things salty and sweet took over and I got over my initial feelings. Plus, I got to purge my pantry all in the name of baking.  A win-win if there ever was one.

Egg-Free Kitchen Sink Cookies
Yield: 3 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 cups baking add-ins (chocolate chips, coconut, Craisins, raisins ...)
2-3 cups snack food add-ins (potato chips, pretzels, crushed Smarties, crushed Oreo cookies, sunflower seeds ...)
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 tsp vanilla

Note:  For my add-ins I used the following: 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup Craisins, 1 cup chopped Ruffles potato chips, 1 cup chopped Rolled Gold pretzels, 6 chopped Oreo cookies.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda and salt together.  Set aside.

Get your add-ins ready.  Crush some potato chips, chop up some pretzels and Oreos.  Go to town scouring your pantry for yummy things to throw into these cookies.  Toss them into a big old bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl), combine softened butter, white sugar, brown sugar, softened cream cheese and vanilla.  Slowly add in flour mixture and gently mix until just combined.

Fold baking and snack add-ins.  Using a large melon baller, drop cookie dough approximately 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten each cookie dough mound slightly (I used the bottom of a measuring cup).

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to stay on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Please Note: the add-ins that I used are peanut and egg-free in Canada.  PLEASE, if you're making these cookies for an allergic person, check the labels each and every time.  Companies in different countries label and produce their products differently and labelling can change without notice.

Inspired by: The Art of Dessert's 'Crazy Delicious Egg-Free Cookies'

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Keowee Valley

Author: Katherine Scott Crawford
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: complimentary Kindle ebook copy via NetGalley
Published by: Bell Bridge Books
First Published: September 27, 2012
First Line: "My story begins before the fall, in that Indian summer time when the hills are tipped with oncoming gold, and the light hangs just above the trees, dotting the Blue Ridge with gilded freckles."

Synopsis: It's 1768 and Elspbeth Quincy "Quinn" MacFadden is a 25 year old woman living in Charleston, North Carolina.  Orphaned at a young age she has been raised by her grandfather along with her cousin Owen.  Quinn has been given everything most girls would dream of but Quinn longs for more.

When she is told that her cousin, Owen has been kidnapped by natives she vows to do everything within her power to find him.  Against her grandfather's wishes she travels to the edge of the frontier to search for her cousin and, if truth be told, to gain some independence and go on the adventure that she's been craving.  

She makes her way to the Blue Ridge Mountains and begins to set up her own homestead and await the arrival of a native tracker who can help her find her cousin.  Jackson Wolfe, a half Cherokee, half Irish young man, is a tracker who knows the area well.  When he arrives and assures her that he can find her cousin and negotiate his freedom from the Iroquois.

Jack and Quinn begin an adventure that will put them in danger as they attempt to free her cousin.  As the war looms, Jack must make an important decision.  Does he accept the position as native translator with the British Army or follow his heart and go against the King, committing treason?

Set in the vivid backdrop of the American frontier this book is full of adventure, romance and memorable characters.

My Thoughts:  I must admit that I was impressed, and more than a little surprised, that this was Katherine Scott Crawford's debut novel.  This is a well-written novel full of adventure and romance all set in one of my favourite historical settings.

That said, as I started reading this book I began to see many similarities between this book and one of my all-time favourite historical fiction series, "Into the Wilderness" by Sara Donati.   Since I adored "Into the Wilderness" I knew that Ms Scott Crawford had her work cut out for her if she wanted to impress me.  While the era she chose, the storyline and even her main characters were quite similar to the other series I'm happy to report that Keowee Valley holds its own and brings with it a new take on adventure/romance reads.   

One of the things that struck me from the get-go is that the writing is so descriptive and vivid making it easy for me to picture exactly what it was like in the frontier.  The storyline combines action and interesting characters that you want to root for.

The characters were interesting if not a little 'too good to be true'. Quinn is a very independent, feisty young woman who was able to set up her own homestead with little to no issues (which I found a little hard to believe). Seeing her struggle with her independence would have made me enjoy her character even more.   I loved the 'voice' she gave to the book and seeing the new world through her eyes was interesting.

Similarly, Jack is the perfect guy. The body of a Greek god, smart, brave ... a little hard to imagine such a perfect guy.  But I was OK with that because he did make for a good male lead and I enjoyed seeing his internal struggle with being stuck between the two worlds he lives in.

As many of you know I'm not a big romance reader.  I honestly think it's a very hard genre to get 'right'.  And by 'right' I mean not dripping with cheesy love scenes or saccharine prose.  I feel all icky and honestly uncomfortable when reading 'bodice rippers' where the sexual escapades take centre stage relegating the actual storyline to the literary fringes.  "Keowee Valley" balances the sweet romance (without the cheesy love scenes - just aptly placed love scenes) with the adventure and pace of the main storyline.  While Jack and Quinn's romance happened fairly suddenly it's a believable relationship.  Would I have preferred for them to have time to grow their relationship a little slower?  Maybe.  I do love me some 'will they/won't they?' between main characters to build up that lovely tension between two strong characters.

One of my favourite parts of the book (while sadly brief) was seeing more about life in a Cherokee village. Seeing their view of the impending war was interesting as was how they felt at being labeled 'savages' when they, in their daily lives, were a more peaceful (not to mention more sanitary) people who gave their woman much more freedom and respect than the white population.

All in all, Katherine Scott Crawford has impressed me with her debut novel.  She has successfully combined the drama of this historical period with romance and some 'edge of your seat' scenarios.  Keowee Valley ends with some unanswered questions leaving me to believe (and hope) that this is the first book in a series. I do love ending a book and not wanting it to stop.  For me, that's the mark of a good read.  I look forward to seeing more from this author.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Bell Bridge Books, Katherine Scott Crawford and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Map of Lost Memories

Author: Kim Fay
Genre: Historical FIction, Adventure
Type: NetGalley Advanced Reading Copy
First Published: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Ballantine Books
First Line: "At the far end of the apartment, a row of shutters opened onto a balcony overlooking the swayback oofs of Shanghai."

Synopsis:   Set in the 1920's 'The Map of Lost Memories' focuses on Irene Blum, a museum assistant in Seattle, Washington who feels angry and unappreciated at not being recognized for her contributions at work.  Irene is determined to prove to her male peers that they made a mistake passing her over for a promotion.  In order to do so, she needs to make a rare archaelogical discovery and bring fame to their small museum.

When her mentor, Henry Simms, provides Irene with rare maps and offers to bankroll an expedition to Cambodia to find the lost copper scrolls of the Khmer dynasty in Cambodia, Irene knows she has found a way to make her museum take notice of her skill. 

The Khmer people were famous for building the stunning Angkor Wat temple set deep in the jungles of Cambodia and these lost scrolls are said to document how and why this civilization suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.  Irene is determined to find the scrolls before Mr Simms succombs from the cancer that is ravaging his body so that they can share in the acclaim as well as their love of Cambodia.

Irene arrives in Indochina and begins to build a team of people to accompany her.  Simone, the Communist temple robber/drug addict who knows her way around the jungles of Cambodia and Marc, the secretive night club owner who has the connections Irene will need to begin her quest.  Unfortunately she soon realizes that each of the people in her team have their own agendas for finding the lost scrolls.

My ThoughtsIt is evident that Ms Fay has a love of Cambodia and has made it the star of this book. There are beautiful descriptions of the scenery, the people and the culture.   What initially drew me to this book was the book's description which made it sound like an Indiana Jones-type adventure read. I figured I'd learn more about a culture I know little about and be entertained by a race to find archealogical relics deep in the Cambodian jungles.   I did learn more about Cambodia but unfortunately, there was a lot less adventure than I was hoping for.  I wasn't expecting giant rolling boulders chasing down a whip wielding Irene per se but I was expecting more adventure than I got.

I think part of the issue is that a large part of the book was used to show how Irene puts her group together in Indochina.  Their actual time scouring the jungles is relegated to the end of the book which went against my initial assumptions.  I wanted her to jump into the jungle and get going pretty much from the get go. It felt like we were stuck in Shanghai for much too long and since the action was all towards the end of the book I felt that the book's pace lagged for me. 

Finally, I found the numerous serendipitous connections between the characters (past and present) forced, convenient and too unlikely to actually happen. Everyone seemed to be connected and it came off as unbelievable.

This was the first book by this author and I will say that I was very impressed with her writing style.   Unfortunately this book never truly drew me in except to provide me with truly vivid descriptions of the beauty of Cambodia, its culture and history.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Ms Fay and Ballantine Books for providing me with this complimentary Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Greek Chicken Marinade

This is one of those recipes that my family raved about but somehow it got lost in the bowels of my brain.  It was being tossed around in my cranium along with my ability to do long division and knowing the location of my car keys and cell phone.  It was that lost.  But luckily I somehow remembered where I had found this recipe and voila!  I'm here to share it with you!

Admittedly, I can be a bit scatterbrained at the best of times.  But I have the lame excuse that it's been a few months since I made this recipe.  I made it this past August when I had one of my dear university friends Ang and Scott and their kids over for the day.  I wanted an easy meal that was tasty and fresh but didn't force me to be stuck in the kitchen prepping and cooking.  I wanted more time for chatting and swimmin'.  There is nothing better than catching up with old friends and feeling like you pick up where you left off even if it's been a year since you last saw each other.  That is my own personal bliss. 

I decided to serve Greek chicken, Greek pitas, Greek salad and my beloved tzatziki sauce.  Mmmm, tzatziki!  You tangy, creamy uber yummy sauce that I could pretty much eat with anything.  Well, this dish was a hit with adults as well as my oldest son (aka The Carnivore) who ate more of the chicken than I did.  Not only did it have a wonderful tangy taste but the chicken was tender.  Needless to say, that day there were no leftovers.  When I made this dish again about a month ago I knew what to expect and made more.  Lots more! 

But this time I did things a little differently.  I marinated the chicken pieces but instead of only letting them marinate for a few hours that day I cut up my chicken, tossed it in the marinade ... then froze them for a future hectic week night supper.  It's a win-win situation because you prep ahead of time and, as the chicken thaws in the fridge, it marinates a little bit more.  I do so love having freezer meals at the ready.

This time around I also made extra, knowing that Boy 1 would hoover the chicken and knowing that this chicken, even when cold, would make for wicked Greek wraps for Brad and Boy 1 making my morning 'what am I making for lunches?!?' chaos a little easier on me.

Needless to say, this recipe will become a staple in my grillin' repertoire.  Enjoy!  Opa!

1/3 cup olive or grapeseed oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix all of the ingredients, minus the chicken breasts, in a small bowl.

Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. 

Note: If possible, partially freeze the chicken by placing it in the freezer for about an hour.  Partially frozen chicken is much easier to cut.

Place chicken pieces into a large Ziploc bag.  Pour marinade over chicken and massage chicken to ensure that all of the pieces are coated.  Plus, who doesn't enjoy a nice massage?  Place the bag of marinated chicken into the fridge for 4-6 hours (or overnight). 

One More Note:  You can also freeze this chicken (soaking in the marinade) for a future meal.  As the chicken pieces thaw they will marinate in the delicious flavours and make for an easy meal.

When chicken has marinated, place the pieces on several large metal skewers.  We bought ours at a local appliance store and love how they are angled.  This angle helps keep the chicken on the skewer and the metal helps to bring the heat right into the chicken.  

Grill the chicken on a lightly greased BBQ over medium-high heat, turning the chicken skewers occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink and reaches an internal temperature of 165F. 

Serve with Greek pitas, tzatziki and a fresh Greek salad.

Recipe Inspired From: The Black Peppercorn

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian, YA
Type: Kindle ebook
Series: 2nd book in the Divergent series
First Published: May 2012
First Line: "I wake with his name in my mouth."

SPOILER ALERTS: In order to effectively review this book I've had to include spoilers from the first book in this series, Divergent, as well as Insurgent.  If you haven't read either book already you may want to skip this review. 

Synopsis: 'Insurgent' picks up immediately where 'Divergent' left off where the balance of power has suddenly shifted in Tris' world.  Now the Erudite and Dauntless factions have banded together to rid the world of the Abnegation.

Tris, Four and their friends have fled their Dauntless residence and have found brief safety with both the Amity and Candor factions.  Unfortunately, it has become known that both Tris and Four are Divergent (possessing more than one trait) which puts large targets on their backs since it's known that Divergents are immune to the Erudite's mind controlling serum.  It's this serum which the Erudite are determined to use to take over the world. 

Before they can complete their plan the Erudite must capture some Divergents to work out a new serum that will be effective on all of the population, including the Divergent.  The Erudite have set their sights on capturing Tris.  If the Erudite are successful it would ensure the Erudite's ultimate control.  Armed with their small group of friends, as well as some people from their pasts, Tris and Four attempt to stop the Erudite's plan.

My Thoughts:  In a word, Insurgent was frustrating.  I hate saying it but that's how I felt while reading it.  After reading and enjoying Divergent I was excited to see where Roth would take the story and see what would happen to Tris and Four. Unfortunately Insurgent was much more lackluster and, at times, just plain confusing. 

This book picks up right where Divergent left off -- there is absolutely no recap to remind the reader so you may, like me, be a little lost as you try to remember what happened.  It had only been about 4 months since I had read Divergent but even so I had a hard time remembering the storyline and some of the secondary characters.  Lucky for me I have two other people in my house who had also read Divergent -- two lads who have a much better memory than their dear old mom.

Here's a list of reasons why I didn't jump on the proverbial Insurgent bandwagon: 

1. Tris quickly became my least favourite character in the book -- Not a good sign when you don't like the main character.  In Insurgent she becomes too vulnerable to be a good protagonist.  She's lost her spark and the fight in her is long gone ... as well as her basic common sense apparently.  The girl makes a bunch of rash, stupid decisions without thinking of their consequences and that just didn't jive with the Tris I knew from Divergent.  

In Divergent, Tris goes from being this meek, young woman who becomes a strong, 'hold her own' kinda gal.  In Insurgent, Tris seems to regress and 'rewuss'.  She forgets her strengths, gives up and pretty much just has a death wish.  Some of her decisions made me just shake my head.  Plus she has a 'suck attack' (my Dad's term for a pouty meltdown) for a good portion of the book.  Not ideal protagonist behaviour. 

Personally, I couldn't muster enough energy to get behind this sudden change in her character.  Yes, she's lost a lot but she broods for so long and gives up that you just want to give her a 'brain duster' and say 'Put your big girl panties on and smarten up! You've got a war to win!'.  If she doesn't have any fight left in her how is the reader supposed to muster up enough interest to care what happens to her?

Something else that bugged me about Tris is that she is supposed to be Divergent so why, in this book, is she so focused on only her Dauntless characteristics? She keeps making stupid decisions (which, for some reason, keep turning out in her favour) and she doesn't stop for a minute to think things through. Where is the Erudite side of Tris??

2. Other more interesting characters weren't used to their full potential -- I was actually hoping that Tris' parents (particularly her Mom) would be brought into the story more.  I was very disheartened when they were eliminated from the story so early on.  I think adding her Mom to the storyline and giving the reader a chance to learn why she changed factions could have added a whole other dimension to understanding this world that Roth has created.

3. Tris and Four's relationship -- In Divergent I could see that they were attracted to each other.  You saw their relationship emerge and grow and it made sense.  But in Insurgent it feels contrived.  They've gone from young love to crusty old married couple who just bicker at each other.  Picture Archie and Edith Bunker in a dystopian society.  Ya, not cool.  I just don't see why Tris and Four (or Tobias as he's now called) are together.  They've lost their spark and I quickly lost interest. 

I think the main thing that bothered me with their relationship was that the angst between them went on WAAAY too long and seemed to take centre stage in this book as opposed to the action or suspense.  This angst usually stemmed from Tris having a different standard for herself and Four.  Why is she allowed to keep secrets from him but he can't keep any from her?  It just felt too junior high for me.  I would have preferred more action scenes.

4. Things that make you go 'hmmm' -- There were some inconsistencies in Insurgent that tended to bug me.  

First, how could Tris, the person most wanted by the evil Jeanine, just waltz into enemy territory with only Erudite clothing to disguise her? Pardon? It only takes a new outfit to sneak past a powerful group of people who are known to have been smart enough to develop a mind-controlling serum?  Um, no.

Also, why, when Tris is captured, is she not frisked and found to have a knife on her?  Isn't patting down a prisoner the first step in the How to Capture a Prisoner handbook?  Even I know that from watching Law and Order (but maybe Tris didn't watch that show?).  Having her whip out a weapon to save herself felt too convenient and contrived.

Another thing that made me go 'say what?' was how distraught Tris was over Will's death.  Yes, it was extremely unfortunate but she keep referring to how close she and Will were during their Dauntless training.  Sure, they were friends and part of the same group of friends but I wouldn't have said that they were uber close which makes her angst over his death a little odd and over the top.

If you haven't noticed by now I didn't enjoy Insurgent.  Roth started her series with Divergent on a high note with her alternate world where people are divided into different factions based on one part of a person's nature.  Kind of cool, right?  Unfortunately her sophmoric book lacked the energy and edge of Divergent.  Divergent made the reader want to keep reading to find out what would happen to Tris.  In this book, that desire for me to keep reading and find out more wasn't there.  At all.  In fact, I had to force myself to finish reading this book.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Awake: A Fairytale

Author: Jessica Grey
Genre: Supernatural/YA
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published: 2012
First Line: "The last place Alexandra Martin expected to see Luke Reed was at orientation for summer interns at the Museum Guild of Los Angeles."

Synopsis: Alexandra Martin isn't what you'd consider part of the popular high school crowd.  For as long as she can remember she's been the nerdy girl who, for some unknown reason, loves rocks and gems.  While not the coolest hobby it does make her summer internship with her best friend Becca at the Gem and Mineral Museum a perfect way to spend her last summer before heading off to college.

Unfortunately, her former grade school best friend, Luke Reed, has also decided to work at the museum.  Luke's arrival at the museum creates a lot of tension for Alex, who hasn't socialized with Luke for years, and plans to focus her attention on her crush on Nicholas, her museum mentor.

Soon after starting her internship, Alex is shocked to suddenly find herself face-to-face with a princess caught in the middle of an ancient curse.  Not one to believe in the silliness of fairytales it takes Alex awhile to believe what she's seeing.  Along with Becca, as well as this princess who has been asleep for 900 years, Alex attempts to break the curse and keep an ancient curse from destroying Los Angeles.

My Thoughts:  When I saw this ebook I figured it was right up my alley.  Young Adult, supernatural element, a good, light read.  Yay me!  What really drew me to this book was it's take on fairytales in the modern world.  The main idea behind the storyline was a very interesting twist on a traditional tale --  what if the wrong person kissed Sleeping Beauty?  Unique idea but the execution of the story left a lot to be desired. 

I found the pace very slow, the dialogue felt forced (and a little corny at times) and there wasn't a lot of action.   When we're talking sleeping princesses under an ancient curse I was expecting more twists, more 'fairytale' elements and a lot more action.  Granted, it is the beginning of a series so a little room for story set up/character intro has to be given but this story just didn't grab me as much as I was hoping.

Now, because we're dealing with fairytales I know that the reader has to give the author some room when it comes to ancient curses and sleeping beauties.  That said, a fantasy/supernatural read still has to be plausible for me to jump on board.  It's a very fine balance between the 'real world' and introducing a believable magical element/world.  Some authors, like J.K. Rowling, excel at bringing magic into our world in a believable way.  This book almost got it.  Almost.

I think the thing that bothered me the most was how fast Lilia, the ancient princess, seems to jump into modern-day Los Angeles and all its colloquialisms, fashion etc.  She's been asleep for 900 years.  A LOT has changed in that time and yet she gets 90210'd much too fast to be believable (for me, anyway).  I'm such a cynic.

Now before you assume that I didn't like this book I have to say that I did enjoy it overall.  The characters were interesting and I loved how Alex transforms from a gem lovin' nerd to a much more confident, strong young woman.  There is some good foreshadowing that occurs at the end of the book which tweaked my interest in possibly reading the next book in this series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cottage Mac 'n' Cheese

For lack of a better title I have named this macaroni and cheese recipe after one of the many cheeses that is in this dish.  I suppose I could have called it Parma-Cheddar Cottage Mac or Whole Lotta Fromage or some such combination but that's a mouthful.  So Cottage Mac 'n' Cheese it is.

I used to make this recipe fairly often when the kids were really young because it's so easy and quick to whip up.  In the past 4 years or so I guess it's fallen off my recipe radar so I thought I'd reintroduce it to my mac and cheese lovin' family. 

This recipe popped into my mind last week because I had a ridiculous amount of sour cream in my fridge that I had to use up soon.  See, a couple of weeks ago there was a big sale on sour cream so I stocked up BIG TIME.  I adore sour cream and, if I'm being honest, I do so love to get a good deal.  Don't even get me started on the obscene amount of half and half and yogurt in my downstairs fridge!! But I digress ....  I bought FOUR 500g containers of 14% fat sour cream (in my world no fat/low fat sour cream doesn't exist).  Last week I noticed that I still had two full containers of this sour cream left and it was going to be outdated soon.  I figured I'd make a sour cream coffee cake and dig out this old recipe to use up my stash.

After I had quickly made toiled (cue violins) making this recipe, Boy 2 saw what we were having for supper and I could see that he was very sceptical that his stomach would enjoy this dish.  He loves my typical homemade macaroni and cheese with bread crumb topping.  Let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if he names his first child Mac.  But he noticed that it looked a little different and he asked what was in this dish.  So I told him.  Cottage cheese. 

I could see his brain working as he tried to tell me in a nice way that he wasn't totally on board with tonight's supper selection.  I could just imagine his inner dialogue -- "Cottage cheese in my beloved homemade macaroni??  Has Mom lost her MIND?!?  I put up with beets in the chocolate cupcakes and spinach in lasagna that Mom thinks she's passing off as 'spices'.  But changes to macaroni???  You have got to be kidding me!" 

Boy 2's reaction to my face?  A sweet, angelic smile paired with "Cottage cheese is um, different ...... Can I have a grilled cheese instead, Mom?".  That comment went over as well as you'd expect.  In my most June Cleaverish voice (while attempting to leave out any hint of sarcasm) I responded with an endearing smile of my own, "Dear sweet boy whom I gave the gift of life, what do you think?"  That answer varied from MY inner dialogue which went more like "After I worked on making this casserole from scratch you want a greasy sandwich?".   But to Boy 2 I continued, "Honey, you can cook yourself a grilled cheese ..... right after Hades wears snow shoes.  Of course not.  We're going to enjoy this casserole as a family!".  Apparently I have to work on reining in my inner sarcasm.  Needless to say, Boy 2 got my meaning (it helped that I used a bit of my Mom Squinty Glare).  Suddenly he miraculously got the urge to help set the table instead of discussing the issue further.  Huh.

I'm happy to report that we all enjoyed this dish.  And all THREE kids had seconds of this mac and cheese.  Seconds!!  Boy 2 got a wry smile on his face and admitted that he was a little quick to judge and ... could we have this again next week?  This "I Told You So" moment has been brought to you by Mom, the maker of Cottage Macaroni and Cheese.

Tip: If you have cottage cheese haters in your family you can do what I did to hide the evidence.  I took my pastry blender and smashed the snot out of the cottage cheese before adding it into the casserole.  {Note: 'Smashing the snot out of something' is a fancy culinary term}.  If you don't do this you will see the little tell tale signs of cheesy curds in your mac and cheese.  Smashing the cottage cheese may limit the aggravating non-drinkable 'whine' at your supper table.  Just sayin'.
This is a very cheesy but slightly different take on the traditional mac and cheese.  There is just a touch of heat from the cayenne but overall it has a more tangy taste than my traditional Mac and Cheese.  I have to admit that it was really simple to make since I didn't have to stand over the stove and cook a roux (butter, milk and flour mixture).  You just cook your pasta and add it a big old bowl of the other ingredients, sprinkle on the bread crumb topping, plop it in a casserole dish and Bob's your uncle. 

So if you have one of those hectic, crazy weeknights where you need a fast, filling and yummy meal give this recipe a try.  You may just find youself having an "I told you so" moment of your own.

2 1/2 cups macaroni noodles
2 cups old Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional but I highly recommend at least 1/4 - 1/2 tsp)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
to taste -- salt and pepper

1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
to taste -- salt and pepper
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9x13-inch casserole dish (or similar sized baking dish).

Cook macaroni noodles in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. 

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the Cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, , cayenne, Parmesan, salt and pepper.  Mix well.

When macaroni noodles are al dente, drain and rinse with warm water.  Add noodles to the cheese mixture and mix well.

Prepare topping -- combine all four topping ingredients and mix.  

Pour macaroni mixture into the prepared casserole pan and sprinkle with the bread crumb topping.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden.  Serve immediately.

See?  Easy, peasy mac and cheesy!  Enjoy!

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