Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

Now that we're smack dab in the middle of winter we know it's the season to toboggan, skate, build snow forts and curse as you dig yourself out of the foot of snow that dumped on your driveway overnight.  In order to counteract all that chilly 'fun' the powers that be invented warm bevvies.  You know, to counteract the dark side of winter: the frozen toes, chilled and runny noses and the foul, foul mood that occurs when you're holding onto you last bit of sanity because snow invariably gets in your boot leaving you with a soggy sock that's bunched down at the end of your boot.  Isn't winter magical?

For those of us who enjoy a nice warm beverage in the snowy months there are a few options.  Some people may prefer to go straight for the booze and have a hot toddy or a shot of brandy to warm themselves up.  But here in the Bookworm abode we like our children stone cold sober so we opt for a good mug of hot chocolate to warm our cold and weary bodies. Everyone likes a nice cuppa hot chocolate and sober kids, am I right?

Call me cheap or fiscally frugal but I do not enjoy shelling out my hard earned money on a can of hot chocolate powder mix.  Let's be honest, store-bought hot chocolate powder is pretty pricey when you consider that it's not much more than cocoa and powdered milk. Personally, as someone who was raised on powdered milk as a child (oh the horror!) I have to say that using it as a base for hot chocolate mix has got to be the best way to drink it. Over your morning Cheerios, slightly warm (with it's occasional lumps of powder?) not ... so ... much.

Store bought hot chocolate mix is not only pricey but it comes in these teeny-weeny cans that don't seem to last long for our family of five, especially when they want you to use three heaping spoonfuls per cup.  Because who gets the cup that doesn't have enough hot chocolate powder because you ran out unexpectedly??  The Mom, that's who.  Mom gets the watered down cup of nasty that she finishes to show family solidarity in beverage bonding {as she's walking around with only one dry sock on because the other one is stuck in the bottom of her wet boot}.  I'm speaking from the heart here when I say that us Moms {silently, mind you} do not think that's fair or cool but we suck it up anyway with a smile on our face.

But I digress ...

Lastly, I don't like all the additives in the store-bought hot chocolate mix.  Thank you Hot Chocolate Company but I've had my daily fill of dipotassium phosphate and sodium aluminosilicate.  Mmm, mmm good!  Honestly, if I can't say an ingredient without floundering over the words then I prefer to not feed it to my kids (or even Brad and I) if it can be helped.  Sadly, I can easily say all the ingredients in homemade cookies and cake so I suppose with that rule I'd have to share those treats with my Small Humans. :(

In order to save money, know what ingredients are in our hot bevvies, and always have some mix on hand for those post-tobagganing trips, I decided to find a recipe to make it myself.  It's so easy to whip up and keep on hand I don't think I'll ever buy it from a store again.

For those of us over the legal drinking age, I highly suggest adding a dash of Bailey's Irish Cream or Kahlua to your hot chocolate.  Mmmm, a wee splash of Bailey's keeps me warm all the way down to my tootsies and makes me really not care if I have a soggy sock half on my foot after an hour of tobogganing with snotty nosed kids!

Hot Chocolate Mix

2 cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 1/2 cups powdered milk
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cornstarch

Sift all ingredients (or put them through your food processor).  Store in an airtight container.

To make a cuppa hot chocolate:
Place two to three (Bookworm Family prefers using only two) heaping spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into a mug.  Pour 6oz of hot water into cup and mix well. 

Top with mini marshmallows, whipped cream, sprinkles .....

Yield: approximately 10-12 cups of hot chocolate

Monday, 25 February 2013

Calling Me Home

Author: Julie Kibler
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
First Published: February 12, 2013
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Line: "I acted hateful to Dorrie the first time we met, a decade or so ago."

Note:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and St Martin's Press for providing me with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher's Description: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler is a soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It's a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle's guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family's housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle's first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way

My Thoughts:  I read this book a couple of weeks ago while I was vacationing in Florida and I have to tell you -- this was a very hard book to put down.  It's heart-warming story of forbidden love and an unlikely friendship that has great main characters and an emotional ending that ensures that this book will stay with me for a long time.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was Ms Kibler's debut novel.  Not every author is able to write a story that flows back and forth between two different eras without a few bumps in the storyline but Ms Kibler does so fluently and flawlessly.  It's interesting to note that Ms Kibler got the idea to write this book after she discovered that her grandmother had fallen in love with a black man in her youth. At that time the hope of having an interracial relationship was almost infeasible and that is how this story was born.

But it's the relationship and bond between thirty-something Dorrie, a black single mother of two and eighty-nine year old Isabelle, an elderly white woman in Texas, that made these two characters stand out for me. They are, sadly even in modern times, viewed as an unlikely pair which causes some small minded people to look at them with suspicion.  

It's through Dorrie and Isabelle's narratives, which were so engaging, that the story really comes to life.  Isabelle's flashbacks to the 1930's and 1940's helps the reader to gain more insight into what life was like back then for both Whites and Blacks in Kentucky and how even though Blacks had rights they still were far from being treated as equals or even respectfully by their white peers.  

I'd love to think that we've come a very long way from racial discrimination but after reading about how people responded to Isabelle and Dorrie in a local restaurant it made me wonder and made me, quite frankly, sad that we may have not come as far as we think we have.  Personally, I felt that Dorrie and Isabelle's friendship was believable, they had a deep connection and it never felt forced for the sake of making a good read. It's authentic and I felt their connection strongly.

I also enjoyed seeing Isabelle at different ages (as a spunky, opinionated 89 year old as well as a teenage girl and young woman) and seeing what happened in her life to make her into the 89 year old woman we first meet.  Sometimes it's good to remind ourselves (as I do/did with my own grandparents) that the older generation has not always been old.  That they had a long life before their hair turned grey and if we just listen we could learn a thing or two from their experience.  This is one of the things about this book that I loved.  How Isabelle's life story was the catalyst to help Dorrie deal with and come to terms with the issues she was facing in her life. A passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next.

But I digress ...

Now let's talk about the ending (without divulging any info), shall we?  I loved it.  It shocked me so much that I had to read it THREE times because I just couldn't believe how wonderfully the author sprung this truth on me.  I actually sucked in my breath, whispered "No!" and proceeded to get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  A wonderful ending to a great book. 

Calling Me Home is a beautiful story that successfully deals with many topics.  It's a historical fiction read that deals with interracial marriage, civil rights, parenting and women's rights.  But mostly it's about forbidden love and a friendship that, sadly, society still doesn't whole-heartedly support. 

It's a story about the importance of handing down wisdom from older generations to the new.  

It's a story that focuses on what ties people together instead of the differences (race, gender, generation) we allow to push us apart.

I highly recommend this book.

My Rating:4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Touch & Go

Author: Lisa Gardner
Type: e-book Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Dutton Adult
First Published: February 5, 2013
First Line: "Here is something I learned when I was eleven-years old: Pain has a flavour."

Note: My sincere thanks to Dutton Adult and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of Touch & Go in exchange for my honest opinion.

Publisher's Description
Justin and Libby Denbe have the kind of life that looks good in the pages of a glossy magazine. A beautiful fifteen-year old daughter, Ashlyn. A gorgeous brownstone on a tree-lined street in Boston’s elite Back Bay neighborhood. A great marriage, admired by friends and family. A perfect life.

When investigator Tessa Leoni arrives at the crime scene in the Denbes’ home, she finds scuff marks on the floor and Taser confetti in the foyer. The family appears to have been abducted, with only a pile of their most personal possessions remaining behind. No witnesses, no ransom demands, no motive. Just an entire family, vanished without a trace.

Tessa knows better than anyone that even the most perfect façades can hide the darkest secrets. Now she must race against the clock to uncover the Denbes’ innermost dealings, a complex tangle of friendships and betrayal, big business and small sacrifices. Who would want to kidnap such a perfect little family? And how far would such a person be willing to go?
My Thoughts: Lisa Gardner has always been one of my 'go-to' suspense authors because the woman knows how to write and deliver a good suspense book full of non-stop energy.  When I saw this book on NetGalley's site I knew that I had to request the chance to review it.  Once again, Ms Gardner doesn't disappoint.

Reviewing a Lisa Gardner book is difficult if I don't want to give away any plot so I'm going to give you an overall impression of the book.  First off, I loved Tessa Leone as a main character.  As I was reading I got the impression that she had more of a back story than I was initially given.  After a little digging I learned that she has been a character in one of Ms Gardner's previous books ("Love You More").  Not knowing her full story didn't detract from reading this book. I was given just enough information to understand her background without ruining the plot of Love You More (which I've put on my 'to read' list). 

Tessa had help figuring out her latest case in the form of Wyatt, a small town New Hampshire sheriff.  Wyatt is the down to earth kind of law enforcement and I liked how Tessa and he interacted with each other.

The Denbe family was a complicated bunch.  On the surface they were the perfect family but as the story and their captivity continues the family's flaws and weaknesses begin to show.  There are no one-dimensional characters here even if they are a bit clichéd.

And how did I feel about the 'bad guys'?  Oh, they were wonderfully cold-hearted and evil.  They were professionals and had only one goal in mind.  This really changed how the victims (and law enforcement) could deal with them.  There was no sucking up to their captors.  They were there to get the job done.  Period.

The only issue that I had with this book was that, at times, it was hard to determine which character was speaking when I began a new chapter.  It didn't take me long to figure it out but for a few chapters it felt like I was scrambling to figure out who was speaking.

Overall, this is a great read with edge of your seat moments within a really good psychological thriller wrapped up in a whole lot of family issues.  Recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Holders

Author: Julianna Scott
Genre: Young Adult (YA), supernatural
Type: e-book, Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Series: 1st book in The Holders series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publishing Date: March 5, 2013
First Line: "The moment I saw Ryland's silhouette in the window of our old tree house, I knew something was wrong."

Description from Publisher: 17-year-old Becca has spent her whole life protecting her brother, Ryland - from the hurt he feels after their father left as well as from the people who say the voices in Ryland's head are unnatural. When two strangers appear with apparent answers to Ryland's "problem" and details about a school called St Brigid's in Ireland where Ryland will not only fit in, but prosper, Becca is up in arms.

She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey and what they find at St. Brigid's is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together information about their family's heritage and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they've been waiting for... but, they are all, especially Becca, in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

My Thoughts: This was a good start to a new YA series.  It has an interesting premise regarding supernatural powers and set in beautiful Ireland.  The addition of Ireland's Celtic mythology, history and the beautiful Gaelic language set this book apart for me. 

One of the things that had me wanting to get my hands on this book was the overall premise.   I think it was because it had a very X-Men feel to it.   Surprisingly, the major similarities didn't put me off but made me want to read this book even more. In The Holders we have a boarding school for 'special' kids set up by a brilliant and talented man, Jocelyn (ie. Professor X). In the past, Jocelyn knew a man Darragh (the Magneto of the book) who felt that the supernatural powers that were granted to these special few by the Irish gods should be used to gain power over mere mortals. Jocelyn vehemently disagrees and there lies the main conundrum. Very X-men, good vs evil, mutant versus mortal, right?
As I said, I don't have a problem with the X-Men similarities (which kind of surprised me).  But ... if you're going to do a supernatural book I expect to see a lot of supernatural powers in the book.  Unfortunately I felt like we just got a little hint at the powers that some of these Holders possess.  This book was rather meek in showcasing the unique powers that these Holders possessed.

As for the characters?  While I did like Becca and Alex as main characters it was a certain secondary character who stood out and made me want to keep reading.  My favourite has to be Jocelyn, the rather mysterious headmaster of St Brigid's.  We're given a glimpse into who he is but I'm really looking forward to seeing where his storyline goes (as well as learning more about his history). And yes, Jocelyn is a male. I will freely admit that I had never heard of using Jocelyn as a male name before (and was a little confused when he was first introduced) but apparently Jocelyn was originally a male name. Huh.  Learned somethin' new.

While Becca and Alex were good main characters there were a few things that irked me a bit about them.  Becca, for all her graduating high school at the age of 15, didn't come off as all that smart or mature.  She seemed to be very obsessed with her little brother, Ryland and put off when he finally found a place and friends who accepted him.

Alex, while a very likable character, was a much more innocent leading man than I was expecting but I will admit that he balanced Becca's character well.  While their relationship progressed rather quickly, I did find it sweet and I 'got' their connection.  I appreciate the fact that Ms Scott didn't allow their relationship to overpower the storyline or become too saccharine/cheesy. 

While Becca and Alex's relationship was well written my favourite relationship (and I feel the most authentic) was Becca's relationship with Jocelyn.  I liked that it was very rocky and I look forward to seeing how their relationship progresses as the overall story unfolds in future books.

Overall, the story flowed very well and I think that's what helped keep my attention even though the story was rather predictable.  Would I have liked more drama and action in the storyline?  Yes, definitely.  I do like to be on the edge of my seat with this kind of read and wasn't quite there until the very end of the book.

As you can see I kind of went back and forth with this book.  I liked parts of it, enjoyed reading the book overall but there were some weaker spots as well.  Ms Scott has written an intriguing first book of her series and while I feel this book lacked in a couple of areas I am interested enough to see where she'll be taking her characters in future books. 

Note: My sincere thanks to Angry Robot and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Mars Bar Krispie Treats

Let me start by saying that Rice Krispie treats are a big favourite around here (my Dad is known for his mild addiction to these puppies).  What I like is that they have just a few ingredients, are pretty easy to make and are quite delish too. 

But they do have a downside.  I personally hate dealing with the stickiness of melted marshmallow.  It's a sticky mess and I end up with a lot of it on my fingers as I try, as quickly as I can, to stir up the marshmallows and Rice Krispies.  I end up silently cursing and ask myself why I decided to make them.

Well, friends, I have found the cure for that sticky marshmallow hell.  Instead of using marshmallows we're going to use {drum roll, please} .... Mars Bars!  I know what you're thinking ... Laurie, you are a genius!  You're also probably thinking that substituting four Mars Bars isn't the healthiest choice ... and you'd be right.  But honestly, who are we kidding?  These are a treat and marshmallows aren't exactly at the top of Canada's Food Guide either, am I right?  So let's just revel in the fact that we're having chocolate bars with cereal!

I have to come clean here ... this is not my own recipe.  In fact I came across it at a very sad time in our lives.  Brad's grandfather passed away last month and at his funeral luncheon these squares were served.  The five great grandchildren quickly zoned in on them like they were a beacon in amongst the sandwiches and veggie trays.  These are outstanding!  Luckily for me, the lovely church ladies who put on the luncheon were kind enough to give the recipe to my mother-in-law to give to me.

Brad's Grandpa was a great lover of all things sweet so this post is dedicated to his memory.

Mars Bar Krispie Treats

4 Mars Bars (52g each - full sized)
1/2 cup butter
3 cups Rice Krispies

300g pkg of butterscotch chips (see note below) 

In a large, deep skillet (or large saucepan) melt the Mars Bars and the butter.  Add Rice Krispies.  Pour into a lightly greased 8x8-inch square pan.  Do not refrigerate.

In a double boiler, melt the butterscotch chips and pour over the bars. 

Let the melted chips set at room temperature (this will take at least an hour).  Cut into bite-sized (1-inch) squares (these are super sweet) and serve.  Store squares in an air-tight container.

Note about butterscotch chips: I used Walmart's brand which, in our area, are peanut-free. They are the only peanut-free butterscotch chip that I've been able to find in Ontario.  Please always check the label before using if you deal with a severe allergy.

Note: If peanut allergies aren't an issue for you, I'd recommend substituting peanut butter chips for the butterscotch chips.

Source: the ladies at our local Lutheran Church

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Hangin' with my peeps in Florida

After a hectic and rather sad past month, my family was really looking forward to our vacation.  As I mentioned in a previous blathering, my parents gave each of their grandchildren (and their daughters and spouses) airfare to fly down to Fort Myers, Florida as our Christmas gifts.  My parents have a condo in an adult's only golfing community along the Gulf coast.  Each of my sisters and their families (as well as the Bookworm Family) will go down separately to hang with my parents.  Awesome sauce!  Well, we had a wonderful, wonderful week with my parents!  It was great to get that one-on-one time with them as well as some Bookworm Family bonding.  

Observation: I assumed that since my parents' condo is in a gated 'no kid' community that my parents, being only 66, would be some of the youngest residents there and that it would be pretty sedate.  A life of knitting, naps and Metamucil.  Um, no.  Apparently I was mistaken.  These 'seniors' are livin' the high life!  My cousin Jeff and I commented that it's like our parents are living in university residence - lots of partying, socializing and hanging out ... but with no studying!!  Oh man!  I can't wait until I'm 65! ;)  Seriously, there are social gatherings for Super Bowl, there's a huge black tie affair for the Academy Awards, there's shopping, golfing, swimming ....  It's exhausting be retired, apparently.

I'm never one to sit around for a week basking in the sun.  Not only would my pale skin burn to the point of crispy but I'm my father's daughter in that I have the attention span of a gnat that just drank three Red Bulls.  So, while we did quite a bit of lounging by the pool we also saw many of the sites around Fort Myers.  Here's just a few ...

Our first full day we went on a nature hike in the local slough ('slew' - resembles a swamp but with moving water - not stagnant, stinky or buggy). We learned about swamp cabbage (ie. hearts of palm) and saw three wild baby gators.
  • we took an amazing dolphin cruise off of Captiva Island where a group of dolphins were literally 6 feet away from us as they jumped through the waves of the catamaran we were on!  I was utterly in awe.

  • we saw some sea cows at the local Manatee Park because who doesn't love manatees?? No one.  That's who!
  • we visited the not-to-be-missed Thomas Edison and Henry Ford's summer residences 
  • We went to some beaches (Bonita Beach, Fort Myers Beach as well as Sanibel Island) to collect shells and put our feet in (it was a wee bit cold).  Here I am with Missy Moo, Boy 2 and my Mom.
Here my men folk enjoyed some bumper boat action at Zoomers.  We literally had this amusement park, complete with mini golf, rides and go-carts to ourselves for 4 hours!
Another thing that we did a lot of is eating out.  I do love me some meals where people serve me!  Whether it was the 300+ dish menu at Nervous Nellies on Bonita Beach (highly recommended!) or the local IHOP (blech!) to make Boy 2 and his breakfast addiction happy.  Or a delicious Italian meal at Carrabas (I believe I moaned when I ate their Chicken Trio) or supper on a patio while the sun set at Key Lime Bistro on Sanibel Island, we were ever so happy as we got to sample some of the delicious food that Florida had to offer. 

Here's an amusing story - When we (sans my parental units) went to a local restaurant, Miller's Ale House, Brad and I decided to try a local seafood dish since we enjoy seafood.  While in Rome and all that. The dish was called "Miller's Seafood, Lobster and Clam Bake".  Sounds delish, right?  When we ordered, the waitress was a little surprised at what we ordered (I figured it was because Boy 1 had ordered two lobster tails - Cha ching!). 

Well, we quickly figured out the source of her surprise when our meals came.  In a plastic mesh bag, Brad and I each had a lobster tail, various unknown shell fish, shrimp and a crab -- all in their shells.  {When I said that Brad and I love seafood I failed to mention that we usually have it al fresco - ie. unshelled.}  I kinda freaked out wondering how on earth I was going to crack open this crab who was sitting there amongst his brethren, some potatoes and corn cobs just staring me down with his beady little eyes. 

We hailed our waitress and asked if we could order something else.  Yup, we were chickening out.  Then Boy 2 (who along with Missy Moo) are the least adventurous eaters on the planet, looked at me and said "so you tell me I have to try new things and you're giving up?".  He picks that specific time to listen to me and throw my advice back at me?!?!  *sigh ... then pull on my big girl panties*.

The nice waitress had the manager come over to chat with us (making me feel ever so ridiculous and picky).  He said that this dish was one of his favourites and that he would put in the other order but would love to help us so we could try this favourite dish of his.  So what did he do?  He gave us a tutorial on seafood.  Yes, he did.  He sat down in our booth with us, slapped on some rubber gloves and showed me (while Brad followed along with his meal) how to remove all the delicious seafood from their shells.  Now THAT is customer service!  {In our defense we did know how to deal with the lobster and the shrimp}. Not only did we have a good time chatting with him but we learned a bit about seafood and taught our kids that even their parents have some culinary hurdles still to get over!!

All in all, we had an outstanding week in sunny Florida and even managed to miss that huge snowstorm that swept through Ontario and into some northern States.  Unfortunately that storm wreaked havoc on flights and turned our three hour flight home into a twelve hour ordeal complete with postponed flights, waiting for hours on the plane while technical difficulties were dealt with.  We safely arrived home at 6am after 10 hours of travel after which we literally fell into bed to dream of the sand, surf and time with family.

While we did have a fantastic time in the US of A we all did miss dear old Canada, eh?  I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here on the blog.  In fact, I just finished a new squares recipe that is truly addicting ... and so NOT good for your thighs.  Oh, my dear blog followers.  It is a delight!!  Stay tuned for that recipe soon!

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