Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rhubarb Custard Crumble Pie

I've been holding out on you.  This is a recipe that I made back at the peak of rhubarb pickin' season.  This was a month ago, back before my grape tomato plant went bat crap crazy and decided to smother my poor unsuspecting rhubarb plants who never did anyone wrong!  Since then my dear rhubarb has barely seen the light of day because the Red Hulk (aka my tomato plant) went gangbusters and grew to a ridiculous size.  Without enough sun my rhubarb is just surviving and not really thriving.  In my rhubarb depraved mind I forgot about this delicious pie that I made with the bounty from not only my garden but from my friend Marian's garden as well.

Currently I fear that my house will be taken over by my grape tomato plant which is close to getting it's own zip code.  The thing is a beast and I've turned into Crazy Grape Tomato lady who will pop up and just hand over grape tomatoes to unsuspecting family members.

Anyway, this recipe was something that I whipped up in order to enjoy my beloved rhubarb.  I wanted something creamy with a hint of nutmeg and I got it.  I even brought over some slices to my parents so they could share in the joy that is rhubarb and they gave it two thumb up ... and then proceeded to let me know that if I needed any help with the leftovers that they'd be willing to help me out.  It's nice to know that they have my back. :) 

So if you're in the mood for a little rhubarb action that's dreamy and creamy you've gotta give this one a try.  So easy to whip up and tastes even better when it's chilled as you sneak a wee slice after the kids go to bed.  Or so I've been told.

9-inch pie crust, unbaked

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup salted butter, melted

4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces (see Note below)
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450F.

Prepare crumble:
Combine 1/2 cup flour, brown sugar and melted butter.  Set aside.

Prepare filling:
In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, white sugar and 1/3 cup flour.

Note on Rhubarb: Fresh is best but if you're using frozen rhubarb, make sure you squeeze all excess moisture from the rhubarb before using or your crust will be a soggy mess.  Try squeezing as much as you can by hand (I use the Ziploc bag that I freeze it in) and then wrap the rhubarb in a tea towel and squeeze some more.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream, egg and nutmeg.  Add to rhubarb mixture.  Pour into prepared pie crust.

Sprinkle crumble over rhubarb mixture. Place pie on a cookie sheet (to catch any spill over) and bake for 10 minutes at 450F.  Reduce temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes or until filling is bubbling.

Note:  You may need to use a pie guard (or aluminum foil pieces) to ensure that your crust doesn't burn during baking.

Let cool completely before serving.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  Store uneaten pieces in the fridge.

Inspired by: Ward Street Bistro's Rhubarb Custard Pie

Monday, 26 August 2013

Hangin' with my high school peeps & a review of "Never Fade" by A. Bracken

I know that it's been over a week since I've posted anything and I have a great reason.  I was getting ready for and participating in a reunion with my friends from my high school days.  It was two years in the making and it was so much fun!  Nine adults and our eleven kids, from two countries, were together for three days in beautiful Dorset, Ontario and it was spectacular!  Even Mother Nature was in a good mood and granted us beautiful weather to enjoy.

You know that you're good friends with someone when you literally pick up where you left off three years ago.  It has been 3 years since I'd seen my friend Kris and months since I'd seen the rest of my peeps but it was like we never missed a beat.  That is how I define my best friendships and I feel so very lucky that I have that with so many different friends that I've met over the years.  I am blessed.

There is nothing better than hanging with people that have been with you through thick and thin.  Some of these people have known me since I was ten years old!  That means that these people have known me through the good and the ... not so good.  We're talking about going through puberty, popularity, pinned jeans and jelly slippers.  During the Bad Perm of 1983, the flying baton of our music teacher, Mr Riches, my Richard Marx addiction (don't judge), seeing our first horror movies during our many sleepovers, our secret shopping excursions into Toronto, my first concerts and first crush which was on Steve S. (Seriously 14 year old self?  Steve S??) -- and yet they still love me anyway!!

The fact that all of our spouses mesh well is just icing on the proverbial cake.  Ya, these people are keepers.

Many, many laughs were had this weekend (Drew, my stomach still hurts from laughing with you!), lots of reminiscing of 'the good ol' days' and listening to a great 80's playlist that was put together by my friend Chris. 

All eleven of our kids (ages 1 to almost 14) bonded too as we were all disconnected from our phones, computers, videogames and TV.  And I adored that we went 'old-school' and left the world behind for the weekend.  We spent our time chatting, swimming in the lake for 7 hours, canoeing, paddle boating, hanging around a stellar campfire complete with s'mores, lots of board game action, tubing with my girlfriends and just plain hangin' out.  Yup, we had a fabulous weekend.  I think that counts as reason enough to ignore the ol' blog for a bit.

But ... I'm back.  Yuppers.  I have a new book review to share with you.  It's a Young Adult/Dystopian read called Never Fade that is the second book in The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken.  Without further adieu, here's my review ...

Author: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Series: #2 in Darkest Minds series
Series Order:
  1. Darkest Minds
  2. Never Fade
Expected Published: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Disney Book Group
First Line: "The dream first made an appearance my second week at Thurmond, and it came to visit at least twice a month."

Book Description from GoodReadsRuby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Disney Book Group and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:
Never Fade is the second book in The Darkest Minds series and while it has many of the same characters as the first book it definitely has a different feel. In this book we get to see Ruby come into her own a bit and it feels like a much darker read that focuses more on the political side of Ruby's plight.  Unfortunately the details on the government conspiracy were hard to grasp and I always felt like I wasn't quite getting the gist of it.  I really hate the feeling of not quite understanding things.  I feel like I spend too much of the book trying to figure things out instead of enjoying the story and characters. 

I think that this confusion over the general storyline really hindered me getting into the book.  While there are good characters and action (albeit much more towards the end of the book) there's just not a lot going on for the big chunk of the book.  Plus, I struggled to remember the specific details of "Darkest Minds" since it had been a few weeks since I had read it (with several books read in between).  Unfortunately the author doesn't provide much in the way of a back story to help her readers out so if you're going to jump into Darkest Minds you may want to have Never Fade waiting in the wings to continue Ruby's story.  It is a little frustrating when an author won't gently remind (not regurgitate) the gist of the previous book(s) to help the readers remember why they loved the previous book.

As with The Darkest Minds it was the secondary characters that stood out for me.  Vida and Jude shone in this book and felt much more real than Ruby and the other main characters.  I loved Vida because the girl says it like it is.  She really doesn't mince words.  She wants to get the job done but you also know there's much more of a caring person somewhere deep, deep down.  I also loved Jude.  Ahhh, sweet, innocent Jude who brought a very human innocence to the book which I loved.

Ruby is growing on me.  We see her transform from a weak, tentative girl to someone who is learning to embrace her powers and learning how to lead others.  She's tougher in this book but I'm still not 100% sure that I like her.   She's still a little wishy-washy in her decisions and with the focus being more on the political there is a lot less romance in this book than I was expecting.

Overall, Never Fade felt like it lacked focus for me.  I enjoyed Darkest Minds and wanted to see where the characters would go but the general feeling of confusion and not quite getting the storyline in Never Fade got in the way of me truly loving this second book in the series.

This book felt like the sophomoric book that it is. The bridge between book one and book three.  It has its merits but overall I was hoping for a bit more from it and less of me struggling to muddle through all of the info that is given to the reader with little back story to help remind me.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Storycatcher

Author: Ann Hite
Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery Threshold Pocket Books
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
First Line: "The salt from the ocean hung thick and heavy in the air."

Book Description from GoodReads: Shelly Parker never much liked Faith Dobbins, the uppity way that girl bossed her around. But they had more in common than she knew. Shelly tried to ignore the haints that warned her Faith’s tyrannical father, Pastor Dobbins, was a devil in disguise. But when Faith started acting strange, Shelly couldn’t avoid the past—not anymore.

Critically acclaimed, award-winning author Ann Hite beckons readers back to the Depression-era South, from the saltwater marshes of Georgia’s coast to the whispering winds of North Carolina’s mystical Black Mountain, in a mesmerizing gothic tale about the dark family secrets that come back to haunt us

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Gallery Threshold Pocket Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewI'm a huge paranormal and historical fiction fan so when I saw that this book would incorporate the post-slavery era with a bit of paranormal I thought it would be perfect for me. Unfortunately I found it very hard to get into this book and even harder to rate it. 

Let's start with the positives.  There is no question that this book is beautifully written.  The descriptions of life on Black Mountain, NC to the shores of the Georgian coast were vivid, beautifully described and added to the atmosphere of the book.  It also has a very eerie, dark and mystical feel which only added to the compelling mystery. 

The story is told from the point of view of several different characters and the story jumps from the 1930's back to the 1800's to tell the story.  Unfortunately, these two factors made it difficult to keep up with the plot.  I always felt a little confused for the first few paragraphs when a new character began telling her story until I figured out who was talking, what era we were in and what was going on.  But, just when my interest started to wane the mystery would pull me back in.  This back and forth continued for the entire book. 

While many of the female characters tended to blend in with each other (in my mind, at least) the one character who really stood out for me was the very creepy Pastor Dobbins.  This guy was a great 'bad guy' and really brought a sinister edge to the book.  I also loved how Ms Hite described the spirits, or 'haints', in the book.  They weren't just clich├ęd 'scary ghouls in the cemetery' kind of ghosts but had their own character development and story to tell.

So, in the end, I enjoyed the mystery and the atmosphere of the book.  Unfortunately the build-up of the plot took longer than I was expecting and the use of multiple points of view and eras got in the way with me giving the book a higher rating.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Spectacular Spinach Salad

In my teens and early twenties, when I pictured eating supper with my future husband and kids, it would look something like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Everyone sitting around the table, sharing their day, chuckling at the antics of the kids ("Oh, you little scamps!") and enjoying a delicious, homemade meal together.  I wouldn't be in pearls, heels and a beehive but there would be 'oohs' and 'mmm-mmm good's' as my family dug into the meal that I spent the afternoon happily preparing.  This meal would be followed up with the kids offering to clean up the dishes so I could sit down and relax.  Bliss.  And, honestly, not very realistic.  And that's ok.
Zip ahead 20 years and things are great. I am truly blessed.  My family is fabulous ... but not exactly Rockwellian.  Sure, we sit around the table and laugh our butts off about our days and eat good food but .... not everyone's idea of 'good food' is the same in our house.  Brad and I adore grilled salmon, roasted veggies and potatoes.  The kids prefer hamburgers, macaroni, 'breakfast for supper' and spaghetti.  Our bellies like different things.  And differences make the world a better place, right?  Except at my supper table.  I'd rather have all of our bellies in synch.
I put the word 'spectacular' in the title of this salad because it is truly delicious and, well, spectacular started with an 'S'.  But I'm also pretty sure it also has magical qualities.  See, Brad and I love spinach but all three of my kids are not on the spinach bandwagon.  Not even close.  And yet ... they ate this salad without whining, without pushing the spinach to the edges of their plate in an attempt to 'camouflage it' (a technique which I constantly tell my kids that I invented back in 1979) or without continually asking 'how many more bites do I have to have?'.  Our five bellies all agreed on a dish with spinach in it?!
Honestly?  It kind of freaked me out.
I sat there quietly watching my kids eating their salad with my 'Mom Squinty Eye' trying to figure out what the heck was going on.  Was I being Punk'd?  Was Ashton Kutcher going to walk out of my pantry with a video crew?  What was going ON?
Sure, my kids weren't fans of the mushrooms (it's spectacular and magical, not all-powerful) but they ate it fairly willingly.  And that made me happy more than I care to admit.  But I will gladly take what I can get because I love 'em and I know that someday in the future they will look back at all of the food that I happily and lovingly prepared for their wee bodies and know that they were pretty lucky.  I'd rather that day come sooner than later but what can y'do?
On the other hand, another part of me kind of wishes that I could see into my kids' futures as they sit down with their spouses and kids. Sharing their days and breaking bread together.  And, if I'm being truly honest, I hope that their kids give them a little flack for the spinach that they serve up so that my kids can get a little taste of karma.
Because I'm banking on the fact that karma tastes pretty darn good too. ;)


4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced thinly
6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
6 cups baby spinach leaves, stems removed
2 cups croutons
1 cup white mushrooms, sliced

1 small onion, chopped
2/3 cups white sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp celery seed
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Prepare dressing:  Place all dressing ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.  Store extra/leftover salad dressing in the fridge for up to a week.

Place hard-boiled egg slices, bacon, spinach, croutons and mushroom slices into a large bowl.  Just before serving, drizzle salad dressing over salad.  Serve immediately.

Source: (Bermuda Spinach Salad)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Second Grave on the Left (#2 in the Charley Davidson series)

Author: Darynda Jones
Genre: Supernatural Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 307
Series: #2 in the Charley Davidson supernatural mystery series
Series Order (read in order):
  1. First Grave on the Right (2011)
  2. For I Have Sinned (2011) -- Book 1.5 in series
  3. Second Grave on the Left (2011)
  4. Third Grave Dead Ahead (2012)
  5. Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (2012)
  6. Fifth Grave Past The Light (2013)
Source: Public Library
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: August 16, 2011
First Line: "Charley, hurry, wake up!"

Book Description:
When Charley is rudely awakened in the middle of the night by her best friend who tells her to get dressed quickly and tosses clothes out of the closet at her, she can't help but wonder what Cookie's up to. Leather scrunch boots with a floral miniskirt? Together? Seriously? Cookie explains that a friend of hers named Mimi disappeared five days earlier and that she just got a text from her setting up a meet at a coffee shop downtown. They show up at the coffee shop, but no Mimi. But Charley finds a message on the bathroom wall. Mimi left a clue, a woman's name. Mimi's husband explains that his wife had been acting strange since she found out an old friend of hers from high school had been found murdered a couple weeks prior. The same woman Mimi had named in her message.

Meanwhile, Reyes Alexander Farrow (otherwise known as the Son of Satan. Yes. Literally) has left his corporeal body and is haunting Charley. He's left his body because he's being tortured by demons who want to lure Charley closer. But Reyes can't let that happen. Because if the demons get to Charley, they'll have a portal to heaven. And if they have a portal to heaven.  Well, let's just say it wouldn't be pretty. Can Charley handle hot nights with Reyes and even hotter days tracking down a missing woman? Will Cookie ever get a true fashion sense? And is there enough coffee and chocolate in the world to fuel them as they do?

My Thoughts:  The first book in the Charley Davidson series, "First Grave on the Right" took me by surprise when I read it a mere couple of weeks ago.  I loved it!  It was a refreshing twist on a very popular genre combo.  It had a quirky main character, lusty romance and loads of my kinda humour t'boot.

So, was this second book just as good as the first?  Yes, yes it was.  The mystery had great twists and turns and I found Charley so much funnier than in the first book -- which is saying something.  I loved Charley's sarcastic, snarky quips, usually to her sidekick Cookie, that had me gigglin' to myself.

There is one aspect though that I didn't love: the relationship between Charley and Reyes. I realize that Reyes is the main love interest and he's sexy with a capital Yum but I still had a hard time liking him.  He's so angry (understandably so) but I feel like he's gone way past the 'bad boy with an attitude' and on to something much, much darker.  Someone I may not want Charley to end up with.  Ya, not good.  Here's hoping that he comes out of his schlump and morphs back into a bad boy that I can still root for in future books.  

Another reason that I didn't click with their relationship is that Charley and Reyes' relationship felt a little stagnant to me.  Reyes spent the book trying to keep Charley safe but Charley was determined to find Reyes' corporeal body to help him.  Their meetings would consist of Charley insisting that Reyes tell her where his body is only to be repeatedly told "No" by Reyes.  Not very riveting stuff, unfortunately, yet these conversations happened repeatedly throughout the book.  It made their burgeoning relationship more frustrating than anything.  I was hoping for more movement in their relationship not a bunch of nattering whenever they'd meet. 

BUT!  And here's a big bootilicious but(t) .... I'm whole-heartedly putting my faith in Darynda Jones and her vision for this series.  Ms Jones has a heck of a funny sense of humour and I have a feeling that this book was just a stepping stone to bigger and better things which is why I'm very eager to pick up the third book in the series (which is patiently waiting on my nightstand for me to finish the book I'm reading now).

I'm so happy to have found this new-to-me author and I'm really looking forward to reading more from her.  This is now one of those precious book series that I'm savouring.  I fit in a book from this series in around other books that I'm reading so that I don't devour the entire series too fast.  Like a good piece of cheesecake, a great book series needs to be savoured and not schnorfed down quickly.

I highly recommend this series as a good, fun, hilarious summer read.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Similar Reads to the Charley Davidson series:
Allegra Fairweather: Paranormal Investigator by Janni Nell
Loose Ends (#1 in Mary O'Reilly Paranormal Mystery series) by Terri Reid

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Mac + Cheese Cookbook

Authors: Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade
Genre: Cooking
Type: e-book advanced reading copy
Pages: 128
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Expected Publication: August 20, 2013
First Lines: "Hi!  We are Erin and Allison - and together we own a restaurant in Oakland, California, dedicated to the best food on earth: macaroni and cheese."

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Ten Speed Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Description from GoodReadsA fun and playful cookbook featuring retro, decadent, and kid-friendly mac-and-cheese recipes from the popular Oakland restaurant Homeroom.

Think Outside the Box!

Macaroni and cheese is one of America’s favorite comfort foods, beloved by kids and adults alike. But there’s no need to rely on prefab mixes—all you need is a handful of kitchen staples, some tasty cheese, and a little insider advice courtesy of Homeroom restaurant. This perennially popular Oakland, California, eatery—with its entire menu devoted to mac and cheese—now shares its secrets for the best-ever mac recipes.

These inventive dishes offer something for everyone: nostalgic homestyle recipes like Tuna Mac, international varieties like Sriracha Mac, decadent delights like Truffle Mac, and even the logic-defying Vegan Mac. You’ll also find recipes for quick veggie sides like Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and old-school desserts like frozen Peanut Butter Pie. With a basics section on perfecting mac sauce, choosing the best noodles, and customizing add-ins and toppings, plus an emphasis on quality ingredients and simple techniques, this fun, playful cookbook shows cheese-loving readers how to take this comfort-food staple to creative
new heights.

My Thoughts: Macaroni and Cheese, good homemade mac'n'cheese and all its creamy, cheesy goodness, is so comforting that it can soothe my weary soul even on the bleakest of days.  Add a crunchy Panko crumb topping and I'm in gastronomical heaven!

I'm not the only person in my house that is an avid mac and cheese addict.  My kids and Brad enjoy diving into a bowl of gooey, cheesy goodness too.  Typically, I use the same recipe to make my homemade mac and cheese.  It's a good recipe and I've used it so much and for so long that I know it by heart.  And that gets a little boring after awhile, if I'm being honest. So when I saw that Allison and Erin had written an entire cookbook about one of my favourite comfort foods I knew I had to give it a try.  My beloved mac and cheese with a few twists?  Count me in!

Allison and Erin know more than a thing or two about mac and cheese.  They own a restaurant in Oakland, California which is dedicated to their love of the curved noodle and fromage.  We're not talking about only serving the standard cheesy sauce over macaroni noodles.  Oh no, my friends.  These two gals offer up 10 different kinds of mac and cheese every day and dress up my favourite comfort food with simple, yet delicious, add-ins.

I will admit that sometimes reading a cookbook is about as riveting as reading an encyclopedia.  They can be a little dry and lacking in personality but I'm happy to report that this is not the case with The Mac + Cheese Cookbook.  Allison and Erin's personalities come shining through as they begin the book by giving their readers a tour of their restaurant, Homeroom.  It's a unique restaurant and their lucky customers get to keep track of all of the delicious Mac + Cheese varieties that they've tried at Homeroom in an old fashioned card catalogue. My inner book nerd totally loves that!!  How cool is that?  Seriously?!

They follow the tour of their restaurant by starting their readers off at the beginning of the Mac and Cheese journey, the constant in all of their creations -- a basic cream sauce, or "Mac Sauce".  You've got to start with good building blocks and a good cream sauce will put you on the path to a delish mac and cheese creation of your very own.  Once you have your Mac Sauce you can then transform standard, yet delicious, mac and cheese into so many different, unique pasta dishes depending on what you want to add in. 

Their recipes aren't hard to make (clear and concise instructions are given) nor are they really finicky or ultra 'chi-chi' either.  In my humble opinion, Mac and Cheese shouldn't be a complicated affair but I do adore the fact that they've given a new life (and different flavour combos) to a well-loved dish.  They also surprised me by having wine and beer pairings with their different Mac + Cheese variations.

They also give helpful hints and explanations regarding ingredients (when to use certain cheeses/noodles, differences in salt) as well as trouble shooting common Mac + Cheese mistakes (lumpy sauce, thin sauce, lacking in flavour ...).  Ultimately, they want to help their readers to experience a truly phenomenal Mac + Cheese.

The only thing that I wish that were different with my experience reading this book is I really wish I had received a hard copy of this book instead of an e-copy on my Kindle. Please don't get me wrong, I love and appreciate receiving this cookbook from the publisher but I think, given the choice, I would have much preferred to review this book (and other cookbooks in the future) with a paper copy.  There's just something about reading a e-cookbook that just doesn't do it for me.  It's harder to skim through and the black and white of my Kindle didn't do their pictures justice.

Overall, I really recommend this cookbook.  Allison and Erin have created a unique, interesting and totally tantalizing cookbook that showcases one of my favourite go-to comfort meals.  Mac and Cheese isn't meant to be a complicated dish and I love that they're not trying to reinvent Mac + Cheese.  It's fabulous in its simplicity.  They're tweaking the fabulousness by giving their readers some new takes on a tried and true favourite by suggesting add-ins, like Panko crumbs on top, blue cheese or even my beloved goat cheese.  With a few simple staples and perhaps a couple of unique add-ins you can make a very common dish extraordinary!

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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