Monday, 26 October 2015

Apple Pie Jam

A couple of weeks ago I brought out my copy of The Canning Kitchen again.  My readers will remember that I had received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, Amy Bronee who is also the woman behind The Family Feedbag blog.  Before getting this cookbook I was a canning newbie but in the past few months I have made three of her recipes - Red Pepper Jelly, Strawberry Jam and now this Apple Pie Jam, each with amazing results. I've become a canner -- and my family couldn't be happier!  

Lately though I actually feel like the Jam Warden because I keep warning my teenage boys to go easy on our strawberry jam which they are inhaling with so much gusto that we will most definitely run out of said jam before the new strawberry crop next year.   It's wonderful that they love the jam that I've made but I'm going to have to up my strawberry jam making next summer to meet with their demand! 

Since getting this book I had been impatiently waiting for apple season!  As soon as the season was upon us I headed to my local farmer's market and chatted up the apple vendors.  Who knows apples better, right?  The farmer suggested I use Gala for the sweetness and some Spartans to balance things out and he was right.  This jam is deeeelicious!!  We've eaten it on toast, bread, straight from the jar (no judgement, Brad) and plan to warm it up a bit and put it over vanilla ice cream!  Apple pie in jam form, y'all! You cannot go wrong with that!  

As in my previous review post of her cookbook, The Canning Kitchen, I highly recommend this cookbook for people new to canning and old hands at this down home kitchen art. Enjoy!

Apple Pie Jam
Source: The Canning Kitchen, page 22
Updated: Nov 6, 2016

3lbs (1.4kg) pie apples, such as Gala or Granny Smith (see Note below)
1 cup (250mL) water
2 tbsp (30mL) lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) cinnamon
1 package (57g) regular pectin powder
4 cups (1L) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125mL) brown sugar

Note: I used 1.5lbs of Gala and 1.5lbs of Spartan

Remove and discard the apple peels and cores.  Dice the apples, adding them to a large, heavy-bottom pot.  Pour in the water and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes until the apples are soft.

Crush with a masher to a smoother but still chunky consistency.  Stir in the cinnamon and pectin powder.  Bring the works back up to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.  Stir in the granulated and brown sugars.  Bring the works back up to a boil again over high heat.  Maintain a hard bowl for 1 minute.  Remove the jam from the heat.  Stir for 5 minutes to cool a little and prevent floating fruit.

Ladle into six 250mL (1 cup) jars, leaving a 1/4-inch (5mm) headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes using the Processing Checklist (on page 17 in the book).

Processing Checklist
1. Fill jars - make sure your canning jars are spotlessly clean before using, and inspect them for chips and cracks that could lead to breakage or prevent a good seal.  Sterilizing jars is not necessary for the recipes in The Canning Kitchen.  If you will be filling your jars with hot preserves, keep them in hot water until just before filling to avoid sudden temperature changes that could crack the jars.  For cold-packed preserves such as dill pickles, start with room-temperature jars.  A ladle and canning funnel will help filling jars quick and tidy.

2. Check headspace - Headspace is the gap between the top surface of the food and the rim of the jar.  The correct amount of headspace ensures a strong vacuum seal as jars cool.  Some foods, such as jams and jellies, expand less during processing than whole or sliced foods like tomatoes and peaches, so follow the recommended headspace for each recipe.  Too much headspace could lead to a weak seal and too little headspace could cause foods to spill out onto the jar rim during processing, also preventing a good seal.  A headspace measuring tool will help you quickly and easily check for accuracy.

3. Remove air bubble - If the recipe recommends removing air bubbles, poke a non-metallic utensil inside each jar a few times to release any pockets of air.  Use a plastic knife, wooden chopstick, narrow rubber spatula or headspace measuring tool/bubble remover to do the job.  Do not use a metal knife or spoon, which could crack hot jars.  After removing bubbles, check the headspace again and top up with more of the preserves if necessary to reach the recommended headspace.

4. Wipe jar rims - Use a clean, damp cloth or paper towel to remove any food spills from the jar rims before securing the lids.  Bits of food or stickiness between the lid and the glass rim could prevent a seal during processing.  It's also a good idea ti wipe away food spills from around the jar threads where the screw bands come into contact with the glass.

5. Screw on the lids - Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging for preparing lids for processing.  Position new flat lids over the clean jar rims and secure in place by twisting on the screw bands just until fingertip tight, which is just past the point of no resistance.  Not too tight - some air will need to escape during processing.

6. Lower jars into the canner - It's a good idea to fill your canner with water and set it over high heat at least 20 minutes before you need it so it'll be boiling when the jars are ready to be processed.  Larger canning pots may need longer for the water to come to a boil.  If using a jar lifter, secure it under the neck of each filled jar to transfer it into the rack, keeping jars level to prevent food from spilling onto the jar rim.  When the rack is lowered, make sure there is at least 1 inch (2.5cm) of water above the jars.  You may want to keep a kettle of boiling water handy in case you need to top up the water level once you lower your jars into the canner.  Keep your canning pot covered with a lid when not moving jars in and out to maintain high heat and reduce evaporation.

7. Start timing - Wait until the water in the canner returns to a full biol before you s tart timing.  Follow the recommended processing time for each recipe.  Check the altitude chart for timing adjustments if you live more than 1000 feet (305 metres) above sea level.  When processing time is up, turn off the heat and remove the lid.  Leave the jars in the canner for 5 more minutes.

8. Remove the jars from canner - Granite, marble and other cool surfaces can crack hot jars, so line the kitchen counter with a kitchen towel if necessary.  Remove the processed jars form the canner, keeping them level, and place them on the kitchen counter.  Leave a little space between the jars for air circulation.  Leave the jars on the counter to cool for 12-24 hours.  Some jars will seal right away, making an obvious popping sound as they do.  Others may take longer to seal. Do not tighten the screw bands while the jars are cooling.

9. Check seals -  Once the jars are fully cooled, press the middle of each lid to check for vacuum seal. If the centre of the lid is suctioned down, your jar has safely sealed.  Occasionally, for various reasons, a lid won't seal and the centre will pop up and down when pressed.  Simply store that jar in the fridge and consume it first.  Screw bands are often loose after jars cool completely, which is perfectly normal.

10. Label and store - Label your jars with the contents and date.  New jars often come with a sheet of sticker labels, but you can also write directly on the disposable lid with a permanent marker.  Store canned foods in a cool, dark place and consume within 1 year.  Screw bands can be left on or removed during storage.  Opened jars must be refrigerated.  Plastic mason jar storage lids are commonly available in standard and wide-mouthed sizes and are useful to switch to once a jar is opened.

Tip from the author: Use your favourite pie apple to make this jam.  If you don't have a favourite, ask a friend who loves to make pie what variety they like best.  My favourite is Gala for its complex pear-like flavour when cooked.  You can use a mix of apples, too. Cinnamon is an apple-pie classic.  For something different, try adding a little ground nutmeg, ginger, cloves or allspice to find the spice blend you like best.

Disclaimer:  A big thanks to author Amy Bronee and Penguin Books for allowing me to reproduce this recipe here on my blog. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Nerdy Birdy

Normally I'm not a huge reader of children's picture books but when this one came to the library where I worked a coworker and I fell in love with it.  It had such a great message and a whole lot of heart.  I'm betting that you can't help but fall in love with Nerdy Birdy too.

Author: Aaron Reynolds
Illustrator: Matt Davies
Genre: Children's Picturebook
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 40
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press 
First Published: September 22, 2015
First Line: "This is Nerdy Birdy."

Book Description from GoodReadsNerdy Birdy likes reading, video games, and reading about video games, which immediately disqualifies him for membership in the cool crowd.

One thing is clear: being a nerdy birdy is a lonely lifestyle.

When he's at his lowest point, Nerdy Birdy meets a flock just like him. He has friends and discovers that there are far more nerdy birdies than cool birdies in the sky.

My Review: This is a sweet book that takes a fairly complicated issue of belonging and cliques and breaks it down for kids.  Right off the bat readers see how Nerdy Bird desperately wants to fit in with the popular bird crowd of eagles, cardinals and robins. This elite group of 'cool' birds prefer to stay focused on their attractive physique and prowess with worm catching.  They don't want to hang out with Nerdy Birdy who spends his time reading and playing video games.  Nerdy Bird feels left out.  

"It was awful lonely being alone."

Finally Nerdy Bird finds a group of fellow nerdy birds who invite him to join them.  They have similar interests and Nerdy Birdy fits right in!  Readers may think that the story would end there but instead the book takes a bit of a twist and kids learn that having friends is a lot more than just fitting in and having the same interests.  It's about being kind, including others and treating others how you'd like to be treated.

Along with a great life lesson this book has wonderfully vivid illustrations that truly bring the book to life and adults will appreciate the humor and the references to popular culture which include Star Wars, Doctor Who, 'world of wormcraft', Star Trek etc.  

In the end this is a great book to broach the topic of cliques, sympathy/empathy, belonging and inclusion with young kids.  The story is told with heart and humour and shows that it's important to do the right thing.  Being cool or ultra nerdy isn't all that it's cracked up to be and trying to be a 'cool' bird shouldn't be the goal.  Finding friends who accept you for who you are, who are kind and inclusive is the way to go.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Raven Boys

Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult
Series: #1 in the Raven Boys series
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Scholastic Audio
First Published: September 2012
First Line: "Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she'd been told that she would kill her true love."

Book Description from GoodReads: It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

My ReviewI listened to this e-audiobook while Brad and I were painting our basement last week. While he and I are a great painting team and love to banter back and forth, after a few days (it took 6 days to complete - big basement) we needed some time to ourselves.  Brad opted for his music and I plugged into this book.

This was a different book than I was expecting.  While it had some unique story lines featuring Welsh lore and a strong supernatural element a lot of the time was spent on the characters and yet there wasn't a whole lot of character development to be had.  

There were many characters introduced in this first book but Blue's family stood out for me the most. I loved their quirkiness. Blue herself was an okay main character but wasn't overly interesting and lacked some depth. The Raven boys - Gansey and his gang - were an odd assortment of guys. Gansey must have some major charisma to bring this gaggle of guys together and to have them fully back his quest to find Glendower.  No real reason (besides being friends with Gansey) is really given as to WHY these guys want to help out on this dangerous quest.  The boys kind of blended into each other with Ronan being the only one who really stood out but there was some cute and clever dialogue between the characters which I enjoyed.

I think what surprised me the most was the pace.  For a story that is filled with Welsh lore and an adventure you'd think that there would be more energy and tension in the writing.  The quest to find Glendower and the ley lines was on the verge of being interesting but I didn't feel like there was enough time devoted to explaining it to the reader or delving deeper into it.  I was also surprised that the prophecy, which is introduced in the beginning of the book, doesn't play a more pivotal role.  It felt like a waste.  

Then, just as the pace would pick up on the adventure front Stiefvater would throw some teen angst into the fray, the story would lose momentum and I'd have a hard time getting back into the main story line.  The pacing only picked up at the end but by that time it felt rushed and had an air of disjointed mess.

I have a big beef when authors don't do enough research with certain aspects of their book and this is one of those cases.  Anaphylaxis (severe, life-threatening allergy) is part of the story line and therefore features an Epi-pen.  My complaint as someone with anaphylaxis in her family is that the character keeps his Epi-pen in his glove box in his car.  Such a HUGE no-no due to the extreme heat build-up (or cold) in cars which is really bad for the epinephrine.  Giving misinformation about a serious issue ticks me off and feels irresponsible.

I'm going to chalk this book up to it being the first book in the series.  I've heard stellar reviews about this series as a whole so I can only imagine that things come together better in the future books.  Unfortunately for me, as I listened to this book I kept thinking 'what am I missing?'. For a first book in a series I found it rather weak and it didn't intrigue me enough with its characters or plot to have me pick up the rest of the books in the series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Lake House

Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: October 20, 2015
First Line: "Cornwall, August 1933 - The rain was heavy now and the hem of her dress was splattered with mud."

Book Description from GoodReadsLiving on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone...yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.

My ReviewI have thoroughly enjoyed some of Morton's previous books, namely The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper (which barely nudges out the others as my favourite) and The Lake House is no different.  

Once again, Morton brings her talent for writing wonderfully descriptive settings, unique characters and her signature writing style of incorporating story lines in the past and present as she weaves her plot for her readers.  These flashbacks to 1911, 1914 and the 1930's (as well as a modern story line in 2013) help to give the reader a feel for the characters and keep tensions high.  

The plot itself is intricate without being fussy or confusing.  The multiple twists and turns in the plot will keep readers wanting to verify if their guesses about the Edevane's family secrets are indeed correct.  I will admit that before the first twist I thought I had it all figured out as to what happened to baby Theo only to have Morton pull the proverbial rug out from beneath me, switch tack and have the story go in a different direction.  Well played, Ms Morton.  Well played!

Morton reveals her plot to her reader at her own pace while keeping a very suspenseful edge to her writing.  Sometimes multiple story lines and various points of view will muddle a plot but Morton deftly writes her story and the characters who take up the story's reigns do so with fluidity and keep the tension high.  There were a few twists that I figured out but I got the impression that Morton planned it that way.  And sometimes I'd be adamant that I knew what had happened only to have my confidence waiver as I learned more about what truly occurred.  Everyone likes to figure out some of the twists but Morton keeps the big twists close to her chest and while the ending was a little expected and fairly convenient it was enjoyable nonetheless.

I received this Advanced Reading Copy e-book but I will also be buying a paper copy for my home library.  I'm more than a little excited to meet Kate Morton at the end of November at a book signing with one of my best bookish friends north of Toronto where I will get my copy! Totally book geeking out, y'all! {A big thanks to Margaret at Just One More Chapter for giving me the heads up on this book event!}

As with all of the Kate Morton books that I've read in the past, The Lake House is another great book from an author whom I've come to trust to provide me with a wonderfully absorbing read.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Atria for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Tomato, Bocconcini Pesto Salad

I'm still enjoying my cherry tomato bounty from my gargantuan tomato plant.  I may not be able to do complicated math equations (nor do I want to) or be able to stop while skating (ice or in-line, take your pick) but I sure can grow cherry tomatoes like a boss!! (I'm over 1400 tomatoes from ONE President's Choice brand tomato plant!!).

For Thanksgiving last weekend I brought this salad to share with the 18 other people at our table .... well, the adults at least.  It was a hit with those over the age of 16 and was so refreshing.  I do so love a lettuce-free salad once in awhile.

The brilliant flavours of the pesto paired with the sweetness of the tomatoes and peppers, the tartness of the fresh Parmesan (don't go for the 'less than real stuff' here!), the heat from the red onion and the spongy-goodness of the wee bocconcini cheese balls that were marinated in said pesto were a match made in gastronomical heaven.

While this is great to share with a group it's also a great lunch you can make ahead of time for a little change of pace from the traditional sandwich or wrap.  No matter who you share it with (or don't) this salad is a keeper.

16-20 small bocconcini balls, sliced in half
1/2 cup pesto (I used my Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto)
2 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
3-4 cups cherry tomatoes, whole
1/2 orange pepper, sliced
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1/3-1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated

Garnish - balsamic glaze (see Note below)

At least a several hours before serving (or preferably overnight) place the sliced bocconcini balls into a large Ziploc bag and add the pesto and oil.  Gently massage the pesto and oil into the cheese and place into the fridge until ready to serve.  If possible, a couple of times pick up and massage the bag of cheese during the marinating time so the pesto gets worked into all sides of the cheese.

When ready to serve: Place cherry tomatoes into a large serving bowl.  Add orange pepper slices and red onion.  Add bocconcini cheese/pesto mixture to the tomatoes and gently mix together.  Just before serving sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Then drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve immediately.  

Note: Balsamic Glaze is a thicker, reduced sauce whose main ingredient is balsamic vinegar.  Its thickness helps to cling to the veggies in this salad.  It can also be used to drizzle over grilled meats, veggies .... Find it near the balsamic vinegar in your food store.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Reading Habits Around the World

I love interesting facts and tidbits.  And when these cool facts deal with things I love such as food and reading?  Oh ya, I jump all over that!

Qwer is a website whose focus is on cool facts.  Things that make you go - 'Huh ... I didn't know that'.  They have a post about reading habits around the world according to country that I found interesting which you can read here.

There's no question that literacy is important for success and that a love of reading often starts early in childhood. As someone who is a voracious reader I have to admit that I have started to worry that technology is pushing out the importance of reading in all generations, but especially youth.  Technology is a huge distraction from cell phones, to gaming to keeping up with constantly changing social media sites and more.  After reading this article it was interesting to see where countries stand globally when it comes to picking up a book instead of a device.

This post got me thinking and challenged me about my thoughts and assumptions on world reading.  It's interesting to see the differences in the 30 countries listed and some of the reasons for the discrepancies among countries.  Quite frankly, I thought my country, Canada, would rate higher (tying with Spain for 17th place)!  A big congrats to India for a whopping average of 10.42 hours per week!  Overall, Canada is doing okay in the grand scheme of things with a weekly average of 5.48 hours per week per person of reading time.

In the end it is heartwarming to see that so many countries embrace the love of reading and it is encouraging that reading is available to so many.  But my hope would be to have all countries be able to make books available to the masses so that everyone can have the opportunity to learn the love of reading.

So, where does your country stand in the ratings?

Disclaimer: I received compensation in exchange for writing this review. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Root Cellar

Author: Janet Lunn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children's, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 335
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Lester and Orpen Denny's Ltd.
First Published: 1981
First Line: "It was a cold wet afternoon in October when Rose Larkin came to live in the house at Hawthorn Bay."

Book Description from GoodReads: It looked like an ordinary root cellar—And if twelve-year-old Rose hadn't been so unhappy in her new home, where she'd been sent to live with unknown relatives, she probably would never have fled down the stairs to the root cellar in the first place. And if she hadn't, she never would have climbed up into another century, the world of the 1860s, and the chaos of Civil War…

My Review:  I read this book back when I was about 11 years old and I remember being utterly entranced by it as it transported me to different eras that, until then, I knew nothing about.  Even after a few decades have passed I still vividly remember the images it invoked in me as I read it so I opted to read it again for my 2015 Reading Challenge.

This book has a lot going on for such a short book.  It's a historical fiction read for children with some fantasy (hence the time travel) plus action and adventure.  There were a couple of times when I was on the edge of my seat (especially near the end - wow!).  Overall, The Root Cellar is a sweet coming of age story of a plucky young orphaned girl and her deep friendship with two people from the past.

The magic behind this book is Lunn's writing style which has a very easy going vibe to it.  While the pace of the book is rather slow (with some action thrown in here and there) it's her characters and descriptions of the settings that make the book feel authentic. I think part of that has to do with her great use of the speech and vocabulary that was used during both eras that Rose lives in.  Lunn's descriptions of Rose's time (1960's Canada) and the United States in the 1860's were vivid and a big part of why this book has stayed with me.  It felt authentic and like you were there with Rose but her descriptions of post American Civil War didn't hold back any punches.  They're not gory but there is quite a bit of emotion regarding the state of soldiers and how these boys and men find out the devastating truth about war and how they were treated post-war.

The friendship that Rose has with Susan and Will was strong yet sweet but it was the ups and downs that Rose and Susan face on their adventure that felt the most real to me. Friendship isn't all 'rainbows and unicorns' and Lunn provides a very accurate description of the different sides of friendship.

This was once again a great read and a Canadian classic for tweens.  While my 11 year old self would still give this book a 5 star rating, this *ahem* 40-something year old book reviewer thinks that it's more of a 4 star. Still a great read with simple dialogue that deals with the effects of war, friendship, family, loss and finding our own way to belong.

Note: Some editions provide a rather lengthy and informative interview with the author which I quite enjoyed.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 12 October 2015

Crispy Cauliflower Bites

I hope that all of my fellow Canadians have had an amazing Thanksgiving weekend with friends, family and loads of delicious food.  We spent it at the cottage with a multitude of children, dogs and food.  

Here in Ontario it's a beeeeautiful sunny day and we're in shorts!  Shorts on October 12th? We are truly thankful!!  But I feel for my others who aren't savouring this extended summer weather - yup I'm lookin' at you Ruthie Morgan, my fav Kiwi author who is hunkering down in New Zealand's winter.  But, I'm not gonna lie, I hope this weather continues.

This time of year it's all about food.  Recently there were some HUGE cauliflower heads in the food store and I started to get a hankering.  But I didn't want a cheese covered dish featuring cauliflower - been there, love it but done that a lot.  

I'm also trying to find tasty yet 'better for me' snacking solutions.  Something with some crunch, that's dippable and could possibly pass as a hot appetizer as we cheer on our Toronto Blue Jays!!  Pillar, Donaldson, Prince, Stoman, cutie patootie Ben Revere and the rest of the Jays -- I do so love to watch you kick some baseball butt with such camaraderie and bring a sense of pride to Canada yet again.

This was a pretty easy side dish/appetizer to whip up.  By par cooking the cauliflower you don't end up with crunchy florets instead leave all the crunch for the coating.  You could easily change things up depending on the sauce that you serve with them or up the spice factor in the Panko bread crumbs with your favourite flavours.  Either way this is a great dish to share with family and friends.

1/2 large head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp garlic powder
to taste - salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 dashes of cayenne pepper (or your favourite spices - to taste)
Your favourite sauce (Jalapeno Lime Aioli, Buffalo, BBQ)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Lightly spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and set aside.

Precook/steam cauliflower florets until al dente (I microwaved mine with a little water, covered, for 4 minutes).

In a medium bowl, combine flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Place beaten eggs into a bowl. 

In another bowl, combine the Panko crumbs and cayenne pepper.  Mix well.

Dip each floret first into the flour mixture ensuring all sides are coated, then the egg mixture and then the Panko mixture.  Place on the prepared baking sheet.  Complete for the remaining florets.

Bake for 10 minutes then flip each floret and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until starting to turn golden brown.  Serve immediately with Bang Bang-like sauce (I used Culinary Treats 'Jalapeno Lime Aioli) or your favourite sauce. 

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 448
Series: #1 in the Queen of the Tearling series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. 

Book Description from GoodReadsAn untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."

Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.

My Review: This book was a blend of a lot of things.  It's full of adventure, action, magic, fantasy, dystopian with a strong historical feel to it and it was a good read.  At the centre of the book is Kelsea, the young girl who was raised in seclusion until it was her time to take back the throne.  She's a smart, strong teen who was fairly easy to get behind as the main character. I loved that her main focus upon taking her throne back was putting her kingdom to rights and standing up for the 'little guy' with strength and compassion.  She's not a fluffy, pink princess looking for her Prince Charming but a force to be reckoned with.

I'll admit that I never quite got a handle on the interesting, and quite confusing, world that the story is set in.  It's a post-technology/dystopian setting but with a very Medieval feel to it.  Some unnamed catastrophe has occurred and humans have made The Crossing to a new land.  I'm still not sure if it's some new land mass, part of England or what happened to everyone who didn't make the Crossing.  Are they alive?  Dead?  Who knows.  Not me, apparently.  

Once these people Crossed they left behind all modern conveniences (cars, computers, medicines ...) and now live a medieval way of life.  Why?  Again, who knows.  Honestly, it's hard to wrap your head around and some of the ideas don't quite make sense if you think on them too long.  The inconsistencies are there but I chose not to dwell on them and hope that in future books they will be made more clear to the reader. Plus, once I chose not to worry about figuring it all out I got sucked into the story line and even enjoyed some of the references to the 'old world' - specifically specifically the Harry Potter reference of "seven volumes of Rowling". :)

The secondary characters were varied and interesting for the most part but it was Mace/Lazarus who stole the show for me.  I look forward to learning more about this mysterious man. The Fetch, Master of Thieves?  Not as much. First, I wasn't fond of his moniker (side note: I couldn't get Mean Girls 'fetch' references out of my mind when I initially read his name - 'Stop try to make fetch happen!') and he didn't have enough page time for me to get a good feel for him.  Honestly The Fetch seemed a little too good to be true and his appearances didn't endear him to me ... at least not yet.  I predict he'll have a much bigger role in the future books.

There is a really dark and sinister character in the Red Queen and she makes things interesting.  Super creepy, but interesting.  Evil, sadistic and power hungry she's an admirable foe to Kelsea.  With some of her actions I couldn't help but be reminded of Melisandre from Game of Thrones but I still enjoyed learning more about her truly evil ways.

This was a good start to a new series. I found it to keep my interest and have a slow but gripping story line.  It left me with enough unfinished business (budding relationships, what is the blue jewel? ...) to be eager to pick up the second book in the series, Invasion of the Tearling (which I've been advised by a 17 year old co-worker at the library that it's even better than this book!).  I look forward to reading more about the daunting task ahead of Kelsea as she tries to right the wrongs her mother's time as Queen put upon her people.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Gilded Hour

Author: Sara Donati
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 752
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: September 1, 2015

Book Description from GoodReadsThe international bestselling author of Into the Wilderness makes her highly anticipated return with a remarkable epic about two female doctors in nineteenth-century New York and the transcendent power of courage and love…

The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy.

Anna's work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life.

For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him.

With its vivid depictions of old New York and its enormously appealing characters, The Gilded Hour is a captivating, emotionally gripping novel that proves Sara Donati is an author at the height of her powers.

My Review: About a decade ago I started reading Donati's Into the Wilderness series and became utterly enthralled with the Bonner family's lives, loves, trials and tribulations.  After waiting for what seemed like forever I was beyond thrilled to learn that Donati had written a new book.

This book focuses on the lives of two young female doctors, Sophie and Anna Savard who are cousins.  While the first part of the book bounces back and forth between the two cousins' stories the second half of the book centres around Anna.  Truth be told I liked her story line better anyway but I predict that Sophie will have more page time in future books in what I hope to be a new series.

This book isn't fast-paced.  It's much more of a character-driven read that meanders through the lives of Anna and Sophie who are strong minded young doctors trying to make names for themselves in the male dominated field as well as dealing with their own personal lives.  This is a long book (700+ pages) so Donati takes time to include off-shoot story lines that may not progress the plot but gives the reader a chance to get to know more about her characters (and I suspect set up future story lines). 

There are a couple of mysteries throughout the book.  The first involves finding young missing orphaned brothers and the second is a much darker mystery that is at the core of the book and involves a murderer/serial killer.  I found this second mystery interesting but was a little frustrated to find that readers aren't privy to who the murderer is in this first book. 

One of Donati's traits as a writer is her unique ability to describe scenes and the era that surround her story.  In The Gilded Hour, Donati vividly describes life in late 1880's New York City as she weaves a story around Anna and Sophie's family.  It soon becomes clear that Donati has done her research of the era and doesn't shy away from sensitive topics.  She includes stories about women's reproductive rights, the plight of orphans in NYC, immigration, interracial marriage, bigotry, religion ...  There's a lot going on in this book but overall it works.

I always enjoy when a historical fiction author includes real people/story lines in their work.  In this instance Donati references some historical figures including Anthony Comstock whose organization, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, obsessively persecuted anyone, including doctors, for giving the public information about contraception and abortion.  Adding these tidbits of history gives the book a more authentic feel and made me want to learn more about the era.

One of my favourite parts actually came as a surprise to me.  Around page 300 I found out that some of the characters in this book are descendants of characters from Donati's Into the Wilderness series.  Gah!!  I had no idea that the series would be related and I admit that I had a bit of a fan moment when I made the connection.  I loved being reminded of some of the characters from a series that made such an impact on me as a reader.  Unfortunately, it has been a long time since I've read the first series so when the family connections were revealed I struggled to remember how people were related to each other.  A diagram of a family tree would have helped a lot (instead I went online and found it).

Romance lovers will enjoy that there is some l'amour embedded in this book.  The main romance is between Anna and police detective Jack Mezzanotte.  It was a sweet romance that was fairly easy to get behind even if it happened quickly.  Even though Jack is quite involved in the book the reader unfortunately doesn't get a chance to really get to know him.  I felt the same way with Sophie's love interest, Cap Verhoeven who didn't have a big role in the book.  I think a little more background/point of view from the men would have gone a long way in making them a more essential part of the story.

Donati once again shares her ability to pull readers into her stories right from the beginning.  She has believable characters that readers can easily get behind and while I wasn't overly happy that all of the story lines weren't tied up nicely I can guarantee that if Ms Donati writes more books to make this a series I will be picking them up to see how things play out.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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