Friday, April 8, 2011

Chicken Salad Avocado Boats

That's not actually what Emeril calls them, but that's what they look like to me.  I made my version of this recipe, technically called Chicken Salad with Fresh Herbs, for lunch yesterday and it was f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s.  I found this recipe in my Food Network Magazine in the April edition of this year.  David's not a fan of cold salads...or avocado...so, this was all on me.  My mom came to my house and we shared this dish...and we both loved it.  When she was leaving, she told me, "THAT'S definitely a repeat." 

Chicken Salad Avocado Boats
adapted from Emeril

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and Pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup mayonnaise
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup finely diced celery stalks
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2-3 avocados, halved and pitted

Preheat the oven to 400 degress.  Rinse the chicken briefly under cool running water, then pat dry with paper towels.  Season on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof sauté pan over high heat.  Add the chicken and cook 2 minutes.  Turn the chicken over and immediately place the pan in the oven.  Roast for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, garlic, mustard, celery, celery leaves, red onion, parsley, celery seeds and cayenne pepper.  Mix well.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into a 1/2-inch dice.  Add it to the mayonnaise mixture and mix well. 

 

If not serving immediately, transfer to the refrigerator to chill.

Serve in avocado halves.  Enjoy!

 

Are you interested to know what ingredient I used up with this recipe?  Mayonnaise.  Now, if I can use up at least one ingredient with every meal I prepare, then maybe I won't have 15 boxes of food to move...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Take a Walk on the Orient...

Or something like that.  I'm currently in the mode of "use up everything within this kitchen" since we'll be moving in less than one month.  It's official, our move date will be May 6th...and today is April 7th.  Can we say YIKES?!  One of David's favorite meals to prepare himself (which does happen from time to time) is General Tso's Chicken.  This means I have a few oriental oils, seasonings, etc. in my cabinets. 

Luckily, I was able to use up one of the bottles of oil with dinner last night.  And dinner was SO good.  When I saw that the PW had posted this recipe last week, I knew I had to try it soon.  Rather than prepare rice noodles with these Beef and Peppers, I decided to give PW's Sesame Noodles a go.  This was a good decision.  Honestly, how could a meal that starts out with the ingredients looking this good go bad?


Try these recipes today!  Below, I've shared the links to the original tutorials and printables.  Good and good for you...which you can't always say about PW recipes...

PW Beef with Peppers

PW Simple Sesame Noodles

The Forgotten Garden


I have mentioned recently that I've been in a reading funk.  Everything I've read has been pretty mediocre with no real winners.  The last couple books I've read were good, but I really hope this book has broken my cycle.  The Forgotten Garden.  It was really, really good.

I don't want to give too much information away about this story, but I'll give you the basic set-up.  Nell Andrews learns on the night of her 21st birthday that she's not who she thinks she is...her father informs Nell that he found her on a ship dock when she was a small girl.  At the time Nell didn't know who she was or how she got there...so they just raised her as their own.

This story is written in three different time periods... #1 the story of what actually happened before Nell was discovered on the dock, #2 the story that Nell is trying to piece together years later and #3 the story that Nell's granddaughter finishes solving because Nell died before ever finding the truth.

There were times when I became frustrated with reading in the section of #3.  From the point of view in #1, everything is very fascinating and intriguing and the other two sections can drag at times.  However, I loved the story.  There's a good twist at the end that I didn't see coming and was glad occurred. 

If you're into historical fictions, mystery, intrigue, familial betrayal, a good dose of weirdness and innocent hope, this is a good one to read!  So far, both people I know who have read this loved it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Widow of the South

I have a few books to review before I can start reviewing the books from my personal challenge made earlier this week.  The Widow of the South was an audiobook I picked up a few weeks ago at the library book sale.  The backcover was intriguing and the more I listened, the more interesting this story became.  Classification for this book is somewhat difficult because it's considered fiction...however, the basis of the story is true. 

The basic gist of this book concerns the life of Carrie McGavock.  Mrs. McGavock's house was converted into a hospital by the Confederate army during the Civil War...specifically during the Battle of Franklin.  This was one of the bloodiest battles of the war and many, many men were brought to the Carnton Plantation, the McGavock household. 

Carrie is not a perfect woman, but she has a soft spot for the numerous men that are wounded and die within her household.  There are descriptions within the book that are astonishing, it's no wonder McGavock has a hard time not getting attached.  For example, amputations occurred upstairs and it is said that the pile of limbs thrown from this window reached that second story window before the house was turned back over to the McGavocks.

The incredible thing Mrs. McGavock did at the end of this novel is this...  Rather than letting someone plow over the dead bodies buried in the spots where they died on the battlefield, she had them moved to her property...to her own personal cemetery.  From there, she tended the graves and corresponded with the mens' families for the next 40 years of her life.  Incredible. 

A lot of historical literature is quite dry.  And though this is not truly historical...there were a lot of holes in the documents and historical files so Hicks had to piece bits together...I would still consider this a good historical narrative.  Robert Hicks does a very good job of melding facts and patching holes in information so that the story weaves well.  I would definitely recommend this book if you're looking for a true (to a point) tale that you don't hear every day. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Regular" Pizza

Last week I made pizza.  Twice.  The PW basic pizza crust makes two crusts, therefore we always have pizza twice in one time frame.  When it came around time to make the second pizza, I intended to make this one.  David loves it (what man doesn't love BBQ?), but I guess he's tired of it...he asked for "regular" pizza.  Even in my short period of being married, I know this is one of those times when you're supposed to read your spouse's mind.  And if you get it wrong, there are dire consequences.  So, rather than guess at what "regular" pizza is, I asked him to drop by the grocery store on his way home from work that day and get "regular" toppings.  This made for a very happy husband, toppings-wise. 

Now, the challenge was to find the perfect pizza sauce.  I had the crust and toppings, but what to smack between them?  I found this recipe by simply googling "pizza sauce" and perusing the search results.  This is from the allrecipes.com website.  I tweaked it a tiny bit, but the result was quite tasty. 

Regular Pizza

To start, prepare a pizza crust.  Here (scroll to the bottom of the page) is my ol' standby and it comes out perfect every time.  Good ol' P-Dub.

Now for the pizza sauce...

Exquisite Pizza Sauce
modified from allrecipes.com

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
6 fluid ounces warm water
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine tomato paste, water, Parmesan cheese, garlic, honey, onion powder, oregano, marjoram, basil, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt.  Mix together, breaking up any clumps of cheese.


Sauce should sit for 30 minutes to blend flavors.  Spread over pizza dough and prepare pizza as desired.


So are you prepared to see what David considers "regular" pizza?  Well, we start off with some yummy veggies...


I would have been happy to pile on the cheese at this point...but, my "something's gotta die" husband had to add some meat.  He decided instead of sausage to slice up some cooked brats to go alongside some pepperoni.


But, hey...I didn't realize this until after I'd already piled them on.  David did try to be a little healthy in that he purchased turkey pepperoni.  It was quite good, actually!


Here's the final product after I baked it at 400 degrees until the crust browned and cheese melted (approximately 20 minutes).


Can we say yum??  This "regular" pizza will be making a repeat appearance around this house soon!  Try out the crust and sauce.  Both are scrumptious, then load up your favorite toppings!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Personal Challenge

Due to our move, I will be spending the next month packing a lot of my house down.  As of this past Thursday at 5pm, I became unemployed.  This is all in preparation for the official move, but I know I will eventually get tired of packing things up and determining what to purge...

As you already know, I love to read...and when attending my book club, I have a tendency to grab a lot of books.  The amount I currently have borrowed from the club is a little insane.  So, I'm challenging myself...my next book club is on April 22nd...the same day that this wonderful movie will be released, based upon one of my absolute favorite books! 


Before I go any further...if you haven't read this book yet, pick it up today!  It is f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s!

OK, back to my challenge...my challenge to myself is to finish all of my borrowed books by my next book club.  It's not like I don't have some extra time on my hands.  Do you want to join me?  Here's what I've got...

  • Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin (this is becoming a movie this summer too!)
  • Something Blue by Emily Giffin
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • the entire Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  • Sleeping Arrangements by Madeleine Wickham
  • A Woman In Berlin by Anonymous
  • Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
  • Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just Breathe

Are you looking for a good chick lit book?  Well, here's a good one, Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs.  There are no real dark issues, no twists or turns in the plot...just a fun, light, romantic read.

Sarah Moon is a comic strip writer and finds out within just the first few chapters of this book that her husband has been cheating on her.  They've been through some serious stuff in their marriage and each have taken a different route to cope...Jack, Sarah's husband, decided his coping method was to sleep with another woman.  So, Sarah leaves Jack and "goes home" to find herself...kinda like everyone other woman in every other chick lit book.

This was a nice, light read.  No great, but not bad...just good.  And exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up.  I haven't read a really good novel in a while and was getting tired of picking up mediocres, stinkers and snoozers.  I would recommend this if you're looking for exactly what this book is...some good chick lit.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wacky Wednesday Walk Mix

I thought I would share another one of the shuffles mixes from my iPod today.  This one was from a walk last week where I walked 6 miles and felt pretty darn good around the end of it.  I've shared the videos from a couple of my favorites on this list.

Still - The Commodores
Inside Out - Eve 6
PYT (Pretty Young Thing) - Michael Jackson

Won't Go Home Without You - Maroon 5


Unknown - Lifehouse
Prayer - Disturbed
Be My Baby - The Ronettes
Upside Down - Diana Ross
You Save Me - Kenny Chesney
Watch The Wind Blow By - Tim McGraw
Ticks - Brad Paisley
Runaway - Linkin Park
Voodoo Lady - Live

The World - Brad Paisley


Room 21 - Hinder
Duck and Run - 3 Doors Down
Music - Madonna
Separate Lives - Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin
Dip It Low - Christina Milian
Drunker Than Me - Trent Tomlinson
Feels Like Today - Rascal Flatts
No Excuses - Alice in Chains
For the First Time - Kenny Loggins

Periodically, I'll shop the iTunes shop and add to my music library.  Here's what I've decided to add this week...I had a little throw-back I wanted this week...  Do you have any suggestions that you feel I should add to my library?  Feel free to share!

Through Glass - Stone Sour
I Like It - Enrique Iglesias
Lovin' You - Enrique Iglesias
No One - Alicia Keys
More - Usher
S&M - Rhianna
Hey Baby - Pitbull
Everytime I Close My Eyes - Babyface

Giving Him Something He Can Feel - En Vogue (I LOVE this video, it totally takes me back to grade school)


My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It) - En Vogue
Free Your Mind - En Vogue
Born This Way - Lady Gaga
Let Me Be Myself - 3 Doors Down
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) - Rupert Holmes

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mary Stuart - Queen of Scots


Mary Stuart - Queen of Scots, is a biography of the deceased queen.  Mary has been known as a bit of femme fatale and Guy was intent to write a accurate and highly-researched biography of said queen. 

This book is not for everyone.  Unless you are interested in reading about this type of subject...HISTORY...then, this might be a bit of a snooze fest.  However, I really enjoyed it.  Ever since my mom had me listen to The Six Wives of Henry VIII, I've been very interested in the different monarchies and how everything played itself out.


I would definitely recommend this book, if you are interest in learning more about the Queen of Scots.  I would also recommend The Six Wives of Henry VIII, in case you haven't read it either!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Salisbury Steak

What are your memories of salisbury steak?  Perhaps not good ones...a lot of school cafeterias attempt this dish and it doesn't turn out so well.  That was David's thoughts last night when I told him that I was making salisbury steak.  But, when the smells wafted into the living room from the kitchen, he immediately came to investigate the tasty aromas.  I tried this recipe from my Food Network Magazine (thanks for the subscription, Nicole!).  It was very good, so give 'er a go!


Salisbury Steak
Food Network Magazine

1 pound ground beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup) (I used two shallots)
7 saltine crackers, finely crushed (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage (I used dried sage)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces sliced mixed mushrooms
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I used dried parsley)

Gently mix the beef, egg, onion, cracker crumbs, sage, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl using your hands. Divide into 4 equal portions and shape into oval patties, about 1/2 inch thick.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the patties, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet and cook the mushrooms until slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste, scraping up any browned bits. Sprinkle in the flour and stir, then stir in 2 1/2 cups hot water and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes (it took longer than 2 minutes, at least 5). Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, swirling to combine.

Return the patties and any juices from the plate to the skillet. Simmer until the sauce thickens and the patties are cooked through, about 2 minutes (I cooked longer than 2 minutes this time as well, try 5-10). Sprinkle with parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Per serving: Calories 352; Fat 21 g (Saturated 10 g); Cholesterol 141 mg; Sodium 428 mg; Carbohydrate 11 g; Fiber 1 g; Protein 27g

The recipe suggested serving with buttery egg noodles.  I'll probably try that next time, but I served it with mashed potatoes and broccoli last night, yum!  This was definitely a winner, try it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Crystal's Stuffed Peppers

Every so often I get a craving when I'm reading a blog.  This occurred earlier in the month when I read this blog post from How Sweet It Is.  I hadn't eaten stuffed peppers in...like...forever...when I read this.  I honestly probably had not had them since high school or longer.  And these looked so...stinkin'...good.  Mmmm...peppers...

OK, back to the subject at hand because my mouth started to drool a little bit in remembrance of this meal.  In fact, this became a Dave's Fave right off...with this being only my first attempt at this meal.  Do you know that David told me way back when he was a kid and didn't like peppers, his mom would just give him the filling?  Not that the filling isn't good, but isn't that the entire point of stuffed peppers?  Spoiled...that's all I have to say.  Rotten...spoiled rotten.  And still is by me and the other women in his family (and mine too).  OK, I've gotten it out of my system.

Basically, when I threw this dish together I included section's of the How Sweet It Is recipe along with a couple of others.  I, pretty much, took what I liked about each recipe and made it my own.  Here's what I came up with.

Crystal's Stuffed Peppers
Adapted mostly from How Sweet It Is

6 bell peppers (red, green, orange or yellow-I think red is best)
1 pound ground beef
olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 head of garlic, minced
red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
parmesan cheese, to taste
1 can Rotel
1/3 cup cream
basil, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Slice the peppers in half (vertically) and remove the ribs/seeds.  Place in dish(s) with innard side facing up (like a bowl).

In a skillet over medium heat, head olive oil.  Add diced shallots and minced garlic, saute until soft and fragrant.  Add beef to the skillet and cook completely.  Drain fat.

While the meat is cooking, mix the Rotel and cream over low heat.  Stir in basil, to taste.

Add rice, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese into meat mixture, mix.  Then add approximately 1/2 cup of tomato cream sauce to meat mixture, only adding enough to moisten the mixture. 

Add the meat mixture to the halved peppers, stuffing them as full as you can get them.  Pour the rest of the sauce over the tops of the peppers. 

Bake for 20 minutes uncovered.  Cover and bake for another 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

Now your problem is figuring out what side dish to make...because this dish has it all...meat, starch and vegetable...  Hmmm...a quandary.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Memory Keeper's Daughter


I'm still not sure how I feel about this book...The Memory Keeper's Daughter.  I wouldn't say it was bad, but I wouldn't say it was good either.  The premise is good, but in a story like this I'm not sure there is a good way to finish it without a sad ending.

Dr. David Henry is driving his pregnant wife, Norah, to the hospital on the night of an intense blizzard.  Caroline Gill, Henry's nurse, meets them at the hospital where David is forced to deliver his own children.  Norah gives birth to healthy twins and while Norah is lucid as her son is born, when her much smaller, weaker daughter is born the drugs have already started to drift Norah in and out of consciousness.  David notices immediately that his daughter has Downs Syndrome...and makes a life-changing decision based upon his childhood growing up with a sister with Downs Syndrome. 

David's own family was torn apart when his sister died young, therefore he thinks that his wife would be better off never knowing the true fate of their daughter.  He asks Caroline to take his daughter away to an institution for such special needs persons and then proceeds to tell his wife that Phoebe, their daughter, was stillborn...a blue baby.

Caroline follows Dr. Henry's instructions at first...until she gets to the facility.  It's awful; there's no way she could leave this sweet baby girl in such a place!  So, Caroline makes the decision to run away and raise the child on her own.

The rest of this novel details the effects that David Henry's decision makes on everyone's lives.

The main question that I think this novel asks is Norah's predicament:

Is it worse to lose a child at birth

OR

to have a special needs child?

Which would you think is harder?  I think the answer to this question depends upon who you ask and can vary based upon that person's circumstances.  Regardless, I think this should have definitely been a choice Norah Henry was offered.  Everyone in this novel's life would have been dramatically different if Norah had been given a choice.

The Lifetime channel made this book into a television movie.  I have it recorded on my DVR and intend to watch it soon.  If you want to know what happens and don't necessarily want to read the book, check the Lifetime website and you can find out when the next showing is.  Here's the preview:


Now, back to the actual book...would I recommend it?  I don't know...like I said at the beginning of this review, this book left me feeling unsure.  This is definitely one of those topics that is very hard.  Have you read this book?  What are your thoughts?  If you haven't and decide to read it...let me know.  I'm still a little "hung in the balance."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Apple Cinnamon Chip Muffins

I was looking for something new to make for David's breakfast treats and found this recipe.  The first time I made these Apple Cinnamon Chip Muffins I actually forgot the cinnamon chips.  Oops.  To be honest, though, you could make them with or without the cinnamon chips.  They give a little "umph" to the flavor, but the muffins aren't totally lost without them. 

On another note...have you ever eaten these straight from the bag?


If not...you should, they're delicious!  I kept taking little nibbles throughout the baking process...I might have a new obsession.

I made a few changes to this recipe, simply because I don't bake with whole wheat flour...not because I'm against it.  It's just hard to have 15 different types of flour (i.e. all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, self-rising flour, cake flour, etc.) in your pantry.  I'll just stick with my regular ol' all-purpose flour.  If you want to try the original true-to-the-blog recipe, please click here.  My adapted version is listed below...


Apple Cinnamon Chip Muffins
Adapted from Multiply Delicious
(above pic is from Multiply Delicious as well)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp apple pie spice
½ tsp salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup oil (vegetable or canola)
1 ½ cups tart apples, chopped (such as granny smith)
½ cup mini cinnamon chips

Topping and Middle Layer

½ cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, cold and cut in cubes

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a muffin pan with nonstick spray or use muffin liners.

In a medium bowl mix flour, baking soda, salt, and apple pie spice.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and eggs until smooth. Mix in vanilla and oil. Stir in apples, and gradually blend in the flour mixture. Fold in cinnamon chips. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter until mixture is like coarse crumbs.

Spoon ½ tbsp into prepared pan and top with cinnamon sugar mixture. Then top another ½ tbsp into muffin cups and finally top with more of the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

These freeze great!

Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Corrections


It is very, very, very, very, very rare that I can't finish a book.  In fact, I can't remember the last book that I tried to read and couldn't finish.  Well...I can no longer say that...

I made it about 100 pages into this 500+ book and I could go no further.  It wasn't so much the writing style as the actual story/plot-line that did me in.  I just couldn't take it anymore.

I know it's a national best-seller and is in the Oprah Book Club...but, no thanks!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Same Kind of Different as Me

I was in the perfect place when I read this book.  Literally.  And when I picked this book up, I didn't think I would like it very much.  I'm probably guilty of that old sin of judging a book by it's cover.  It's not the most appealing cover, am I right?  But, let me tell you...this book does not disappoint.

This is basically a sort-of Cinderella-story type memoir.  An international art dealer, Ron Hall, and a homeless man, Denver Moore, give a little bit of background about themselves, then you read about how they develop a lasting friendship. 

Why was I in the perfect place when reading this book?  When I was halfway through, I attended the annual Hearts of Hope Tea here in Oklahoma City.  What is the Hearts of Hope Tea, you ask?  Well, the local homeless shelter, City Rescue Mission, has this annual tea to share with women of Oklahoma City what the Mission is accomplishing and what future plans are.  I was lucky enough to attend this tea with some of my favorite ladies, members of Junior Hospitality Club.  The entire presentation was very heart-warming, not to mention the food was good!  I feel honored as being one of the donors at the end of the tea that raised enough money to refurnish the Women's Center this coming year.  To learn more about this click here!

With that being said, you can probably understand why I was really "in tune" with this book while I was reading it.  In fact, that night after the tea I immediately went home and had to finish this book.  I would highly recommend this book, especially if you're looking for something that you will feel good about when you close the back cover.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Beef Taco Skillet

Campbell's has some of the easiest and yummy recipes if you ever take a glance at the back of those cans.  Never pass up checking those out because most of the time these are "tried and true" recipes.  Kinda like the pumpkin pie recipe on the back of the Libby's pumpkin can.  And Lord knows my mother raised me on the Campbell's Chicken and Rice Bake dish

Here's one that I found in a coupon flyer that was attached to the tomato soup coupon.  This is the perfect recipe if you're home and want to make dinner in under 20 minutes.  And even though the recipe says it makes four servings, ummm...David and I scrape the skillet clean.

Beef Taco Skillet
Campbell's recipe


1 lb. ground beef
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's® Condensed Tomato Soup (Regular or 25% Less Sodium)
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup water
6 flour tortillas (6-inch) , cut into 1-inch pieces (I use 4 whole grain tortillas)
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Cook the beef in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it's well browned, stirring often. Pour off any fat.

Stir the soup, salsa, water, and tortillas in the skillet and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes or until the beef mixture is hot and bubbling. Stir the beef mixture. Top with the cheese.

Creamy Mexican Fiesta: Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream with the soup. (I like it this way)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Heretic's Daughter

I'm on a little bit of a non-fiction streak (as you'll see when I post my next review) and honestly, I didn't even realize it!  The majority of the time, I do my research when reading a book...I, unfortunately, did not do that in this case. 

I own The Heretic's Daughter in audio version because I picked it up at Half Price Books after noticing a paperback copy circulate through our book club.  At the time, nothing more was said within the club other than the reader enjoying it.  It wasn't until after I finished it, passed it along to my mother and she researched it, that I learned this is a true story!

Frankly, I thought this was a historical fiction novel that was reasonably accurate with what actually occurred back during the Salem witch trials.  There are so very many books about these trials, that I didn't think much of it.  Kathleen Kent, the author of The Heretic's Daughter, is a 10th generation descendant of Martha Carrier, the true heroine in this story.  Kent retells this story that has been passed down to her through the generations...

Martha was one of the first women accused, tried and hanged for witchcraft.  Her story is told through her daughter, Sarah, (hence the title) and what is truly amazing about this story is the bond the mother and daughter form.  In the beginning of the story, the two do not have the best of relationships...but, as the story progresses, Sarah learns how strong her mother is and how admirable.  In the end, Martha has Sarah perform the unthinkable to save herself and little brother...and, the bond between mother and daughter couldn't have been stronger despite appearances to the public.

This story is hard to listen to at times.  Conditions in general and treatment of the accused is rather disgusting.  However, I do think this story is very enlightening though sad.  It's truly tragic the horrible events that have occurred in the past simply because someone didn't like someone else.  Very good read and I would definitely recommend.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spicy Shrimp Pasta

I found this recipe a long time ago on the Tasty Kitchen website.  However, like many recipes, I wanted to mix it up a bit.  Make it mine, you know?  With that said, dinner last night was a resounding success!  I will definitely be making this again in the future...and I have to say, the sauce with the shrimp is so good that I'm not sure you even need to add anything to the pasta.

Spicy Shrimp Pasta
Adapted from jaymielo on Tasty Kitchen

8 ounces whole wheat thin spaghetti/angel hair pasta
salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 head garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 whole red bell pepper, diced
½ cups white wine, plus more as needed
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Italian parsley
1 cup Mozzarella, shredded
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Fill a large saucepan with water, generously salt and add pasta when it begins boiling. Continue to cook until al dente.

While the noodles are cooking, put a large saute pan on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the minced garlic with a dash of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring as needed, for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add in the diced red bell pepper and cook for another minute. Pour in the white wine and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. When the sauce has thickened, add in the peeled shrimp, spreading them in a single layer and flipping as soon as they start to get pink. Finish the sauce by mixing in another tablespoon of butter and some Italian parsley. Add more wine until the sauce is the desired consistency and turn the heat to low while you finish the pasta.

Using a glass measure, remove 2/3 to 1 cup of water from the pasta saucepan and then lightly drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the sauce pan; add in most of the grated cheese, the cream and the reserved pasta water, stirring quickly to melt the cheese and coat the pasta.

Place a generous serving of pasta on a plate. Serve the shrimp over the creamy pasta and enjoy!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shuffling Up My Walk

Right now is one of my favorite times of the year.  Why?  I love to walk at the park and shed those recently gained winter month pounds.  You know, those pounds you gained from Thanksgiving and Christmas and being locked up in your house from snow days. 

I have an elliptical at home, but it's just not the same as a fun walk in the park.  First of all, how many times have you actually used that clothes hanger...errr, I mean piece of exercise equipment since you bought it?  Riiiight...that's just about everyone.  Actually going to the park makes me more accountable because I'm making that extra effort PLUS, I can't just jump off the track at any point.  I have to actually make it all the way around the track before I can get in my car to drive home.  At home, it's so easy to just say, "Ehhh, that's good enough" and hop off.

When I lived back at my old single abode, I had this great walking track nearby that was 1.5 miles.  I'd lap it a couple times at first, then would add an additional lap per week until I made it up to 9 miles.  I really miss that park, but I found one almost as nice up in my new married neck o' the woods.  This track is 2.8 miles and I'm lovin' it already.  Last night I walked one and a half laps (there's a trail back to the parking lot once you make it to the 1.5 marker) and I feel great today! 



One blog post a friend of mine did a while back was sharing their work-out mix.  This is a pretty common thing to post as I've seen it on a few other blogs as well.  However, like my friend, I tend to keep my iPod on shuffle a lot...having 1,246 songs gives me a pretty random mix.  What's funny is, I am totally all over the place with my music selection...I have everything from country to 80's to pop to rock to even some gospel and some of my mom's 70's easy listening.  Music tells you a lot about a person...and I guess I'm a spasdic weirdo.  So, here's last night's random mix, let me know what you think...

Wild West Show - Big/Rich
Heart of Glass - Blondie
Winner at a Losing Game - Rascal Flatts
Lips of An Angel - Hinder
When I'm Gone - 3 Doors Down
U + Ur Hand - P!nk
Never Gonna Feel That Way Again - Kenny Chesney
All I Want to Do - Sugarland
One More Girl - The Wreckers
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over - Lenny Kravitz
My Immortal - Evanescence
Back in the Saddle - Aerosmith
Sleep Tonight - Tim McGraw
Crush - David Archuleta
Break of Dawn - Michael Jackson
By The Way - Hinder

I might share again in the future if you guys like seeing my weirdo shuffles.

Now, here's a question for you...do you throw your iPod on shuffle or do you have a specific "work-out" mix?

A Long Way Gone


I have recently finished A Long Way Gone, which is the memoir for Ishmael Beah.  Beah was a young boy who was involved in the Sierra Leone civil war.  The tale that this young man tells is a sad, graphic story about the brutality and unbelievable brainwashing that can take place in war. 

This story starts out with Beah on a quick trip with his friends to perform in a talent show/concert just a few villages over.  Each of them listen to rap music and love to break dance, but little do they know that their lives will never be the same...

Just a short time after they leave their village, it is attacked by rebel soldiers.  Beah and his friends flee...the next few months of their lives are simply an attempt to survive.  Some do...and some don't.

There were literally some parts of this book that turned my stomach.  Between some extremely graphic scenes that entail, essentially, cold-blooded murder and the drug utilizing to brainwash young men to become these cold-blooded killing machines...I almost couldn't take it.  I do, however, believe that this is definitely an important read.  You learn about how very non-peaceful the rest of the world can be, which can be enlightening in a country where our lives are pretty sheltered.  Give this one a try, but be ready for the content! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Big Changes...Coming Soon!

I've been quite...quiet lately.  And I've been quiet because I've been trying to figure out what our (David's and mine) life will be like in the very near future.  I know that I alluded to some changes in a previous post, but recently those changes have become more than rumblings. 

To be blunt, David's job is transferring him out of state.  This is a temporary move...when I say temporary, I mean approximately two years.  So, depending upon your definition of temporary that term may or may not seem appropriate. 

Regardless, we're leaving...for a while anyway.  And the date is approaching...even though we don't know the actual date yet.  A couple months out.  And I've officially given notice at my place of business.  As of the end of this month I'm out...adios!  One of my co-workers thought it would be a funny joke to come in the following day and say, "Haha, just kidding!  I wasn't really quitting!"  This would be a great April Fool's joke, but I think I'll pass on giving everyone a heart attack.

So, where are we going?  You're probably dying to know, right?  Well, our future temporary home will be located in San Antonio.  Approximately ten hours away from my family and thirteen hours away from David's.  Yea, this has gone over well...not.  But, like me, everyone wants what's best for David's career and we're all excited for what new opportunities arise based upon the new experiences he will gain.


Pray for a smooth and easy transition for us!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Host


So, I finally got around to reading The Host, Stephanie Meyer's first adult novel.  I loved the Twilight series, so I knew I would more than likely enjoy The Host...even though science-fiction is not my favorite genre of books.  I wasn't disappointed; I really enjoyed this book and have read about some sequel rumblings that I would be excited to read.

The premise of The Host is that an alien race, from the planet Origin, has infiltrated Earth and are inserting themselves within humans.  These aliens are much more peaceful and focus on preserving the planet.  While most humans have been inserted, there are a select few that haven't and these aliens are intent upon finding and inserting within these rebel humans.  Wanderer, the main character, comes to Earth after living on eight other planets and has been selected to be inserted into a particularly difficult human, Melanie.  Usually, once insertion occurs the human fades away and the alien becomes dominant over the physical mind and body.  This does not occur with Wanderer/Melanie.  Melanie will not go peacefully into that good night.

The story follows Wanderer and Melanie's struggles to co-exist, including a love triangle that entails Wanderer falling in love with the man Melanie has loved...  The two work to find Jared, Melanie's love, and make sure that he and Melanie's brother, Jamie, are safe.  But, then once Jared and Jamie are found, will they accept Wanderer/Melanie as the dual person that they are? 

I wasn't quite sure how this love triangle...which developed beyond even a triangle...was going to sew itself up, not to mention all the other plot hiccups along the way.  Meyer was very creative in how the story unfolded and I would definitely recommend this book, even to a non-sci-fi reader like myself!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Donna's Corn Casserole

I thought I'd share one of my mother-in-law's family favorite recipes.  Everyone in the family loves this recipe, myself included.  I made it a few weeks ago to go alongside chili and it was great.  This recipe is super easy and super yummy, try it while all this cold weather is still hanging around!


Donna's Corn Casserole

1 can cream-style corn
1 8oz. package Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
2 beaten eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 cup of grated colby or jack cheese

Mix well and top with cheese.  Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

The casserole should have a pudding/bread consistency so don't worry if it's not completely firm.  Yum, enjoy!

Jane Eyre

I have recently finished Jane Eyre, and I have to say that I really, really enjoyed it.  There is definitely a reason this novel has stood the test of time.  While there were a few slow spots within the book, the rest of it well made up for those short slackened sections.  I initially started this novel because there is a new silver screen version coming soon and now that I've finished the book, I can't wait for this new movie version!

This book was originally published as an autobiography, but under the pseudo-name Currer Bell.  I had heard that this book was a "sort-of" autobiography for Charlotte Bronte.  Jane Eyre is one of my mother-in-law, Donna's, favorite novels of all time and she informed me that Bronte heard this story from a classmate while in school...and it was that classmate's story.  I cannot find anything via the web to corroborate this version...everything I've read said that Jane Eyre was partially autobiographical.  Perhaps, one of my next non-fiction readings will be about Miss Bronte herself to try and find the truth.  We'll see, considering my book list is always growing!

The story of Jane Eyre begins with Jane living with her widowed aunt and three cousins.  Her aunt has no real care for Jane and only keeps her because of her husband's dying wish to "care for Jane as for her own children."  Jane's uncle held a soft spot in his heart for his niece and wished only the best for her, but with him gone Jane did not receive the best of care.  In fact, one of her cousin's routinely abuses her both physically and emotionally.  But, Jane fights back and this comes to a pinnacle within the household...and Jane is sent off to an orphan's school, Lowood.

Lowood is not an expressly happy institution due to the cold-hearted clergyman that runs the school, but the teachers are fine educators with a warm heart for their students...even if some of them show it in odd ways.  Jane completes her education at Lowood and even teaches for a time once she has finished.  However, she wishes to see a little more of the world and with two of her best friends from the school gone, Jane sees no reason to feel tied to the institution.

Miss Eyre receives notice of an opening for a governess ship at a Thornfield Hall after placing an ad for such a position.  At this point the real story begins...  Jane arrives on the grounds of the beautiful Thornfield Hall, makes nice with the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, and proceeds to bond with her student, Adele.  The master of the estate, Mr. Rochester, is not home for a time when Jane first arrives, but soon appears.  He and Jane develop an...interesting...relationship, especially considering Mr. Rochester's cold demeanor and the age difference between the two.  What Jane does not know, however, is that Mr. Rochester is hiding something at Thornfield Hall...a very large, very dangerous secret...

And I'm going to leave the book review at that...if you want to know where this story goes, read Jane Eyre!  I really, really enjoyed this book and can't wait for the movie coming on March 11th!  I'm listing the preview below, which really shows a lot of the darker aspects of this book.  Trust me, this book isn't quite this dark, though there are definitely darker parts.  Read it and watch the movie when it comes out!  I highly recommend!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four has made it's way through my book club...I'm one of only three of four girls that hadn't read it by the last meeting.  This book is a fictional story about nine young aliens (that look very similar to humans), called Loriens, that have been brought to earth in hiding so that they may grow up and develop their natural powers...which are much like super powers here on Earth.  Then, they shall return to their home planet and fight the aliens, the Mogadorians, that banished/murdered them from their own planet, Lorien. 

When the young aliens left Lorien, they had a spell placed on them that stated that they could only be killed in order (of the nine)...that is, unless any of them were ever to be together.  Therefore, each of the nine are hidden in different places on Earth.  Also, each has a guardian that cares for them and helps them develop their powers. 

This story, obviously, is about Number Four and his life once he realizes that the first three have been murdered by the Mogadorians.  There is a ton of action and "high stress" moments.  For what this book is, a young adult science fiction novel, it's very good.  I enjoyed this quick read and cannot wait to see the movie, which I believe will be very similar to the X-Men and the Transformer movies.  Here's the preview (c'mon February 18th)!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gilead

This review is going to be short and...not sweet.  I'll be honest, I had to drudge through this book and I don't think I would have made it if it hadn't been an audiobook.

The premise of this book is good...it is a fictional autobiography of an old man writing to his young son.  He won't have much time with his son and he wants to make a good impression and share his life with the boy...a life that takes place in Gilead, Iowa.  But...it's a major snooze fest.  I'm sorry...that's really all I want to write about this book because I did not enjoy it AT ALL.  This is definitely NOT one I would recommend.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Balsamic Chicken Spinach Pasta Salad

I found a winner last week and I'd like to share it with you!  I originally found this recipe on the Multiply Delicious blog...but, I subtracted one tiny ingredient.  My husband, David, does not like fresh tomatoes...though he does like cooked, such as spaghetti sauce...don't ask why because I haven't been able to figure it out either...  So, I removed that particular ingredient and voila, perfection!  This recipe is a definite repeat and is still quite good the second time around, yum, yum!


Balsamic Chicken Spinach Pasta Salad
adapted from Multiply Delicious

1 (20-ounce) package cheese tortellini
1 pound skinned and boned chicken breasts
1 ½ cup Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing, divided
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups firmly packed fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, diced

Place chicken in a zip-lock bag and pour 1 cup of balsamic vinaigrette in bag with chicken. Marinate for at least 2 hour, but best if marinated overnight. Take chicken out of zip-lock bag and discard marinade.

In a grill pan, grill chicken breasts, about 5 to 6 minutes on each side until cooked through. Place yellow bell pepper slices in grill pan and grill about 2 minutes on each side. Once cooled, dice chicken up in small bites.

Whisk together remaining ½ cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing and mustard in a small bowl.

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Transfer pasta to a large bowl and drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Let cool 10 minutes.

Toss together pasta, chicken, balsamic mixture, spinach, and remaining 2 ingredients in a large bowl. Enjoy immediately!

As Nature Made Him

Every year the Oklahoma City metro library system has a library book sale.  This is to raise money for the library system by selling all the superfluous copies of new-that-year books as well as older books to make way for the new purchases of the following year.  Last year, I bought a handful of books, this one included.  Since I had yet to read one from last year's sale, and since the next sale is within the next month, I decided that I needed to get crackin' on my current books purchased in this way.

As Nature Made Him is a biography about David Reimer, the very first boy that was surgically changed into a girl as an infant.  This occurred in the mid-1960s when the nature versus nurture topic was in full swing.  Reimer suffered from a botched circumcision that scarred him as well as his family.  For months his parents couldn't decide what to do...every time they changed his diaper, they were brutally reminded of the flop procedure. 

What Reimer's parents ended up doing was following the advice of John Money, an overly-confident psychologist that was an ardent supporter of the nurturist approach.  He promised the Reimers that David...then called Brenda post-sexually reassigned surgery...would identify as a girl as long as they made this life-changing decision immediately.

Throughout David's childhood he (and his twin brother) knew something was amiss...even at age 4.  Meanwhile, Money and the Reimers were grasping for any clue that David was developing mentally as a girl.  For example, in one therapy session Money asks David what kind of animal he might want to be...David says a monkey...Money asks what kind of monkey...David was recorded as saying "grrl."  With the poor quality of tapes and David's accent, Money believes that David had said "girl" and continued to consider this case a success.  As an adult, David looks back at the therapy session and says that instead of "girl," he was saying "gorilla."

This book is an enlightening story about what effects different psychological theories, and even surgeries, can have on people.  When I finished this book, I looked up more about David Reimer to see what had happened since this book was published in 2000.  Sadly, David Reimer died four years after this book was published.  His brother committed suicide in 2002 and after experiencing unemployment and an emotional separation from his wife, David committed suicide as well.  I believe every bit of these tragedies could have been prevented if David's botched incident could have been handled differently at the time.  But, the problem is, it's hard to know what the 'right' thing to do is at the time...and hindsight is always 20/20. 

I really enjoyed learning about a lot of the different points of view in this debate...I'm just sad that it took messing with someone's life to bring the debate to where it is today.  I was also interested to learn the vast number of different types of gender ambigious persons there are.  It's really quite sad and I feel for those affected.  I would definitely encourage people to read this book if this is a topic that interests you.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Reliable Wife

I was really looking forward to reading this book, A Reliable Wife.  My mother reads about five books per year and when she finds a good one, she always gets excited to have me read it.  While I was holding on to her copy, a few of the girls in my book club came up with this book as well.  My mom really like it while the girls in T3 (my book club is "Tolstoy to Twilight") gave it a decent review even though none of them were doing backflips over it.

The basic storyline involves an older man, Ralph Truitt, placing an ad for "a reliable wife"...hence the title...and what ensues when this woman, Catherine Land, replies in the affirmative to the ad.  Both have ulterior motives for the arrangement...but, neither one knows the other's designs.

I have to honestly say that I was greatly disappointed in this book.  Don't get me wrong, the writing style is very good and the plot twists and turns well...even though I saw the twist coming from a mile away.  What bothered me was how sexually graphic, violent and disturbing it was.  And I was not happy with the ending, I kind of had the feeling of, "That's it?  Well, that's messed up."

Would I recommend this book...as you can probably already guess, no.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Her Daughter's Dream

Do you guys remember back when I read Her Mother's Hope?  This was a Francine Rivers book that I thought would make an excellent mother-daughter reading experience.  Her Daughter's Dream rounds out Marta and Hildie's relationships problems and brings two more generations along the line.

About one-third of the way into this book, I have to admit that I got a little frustrated.  There were three generations of women involved at this point and their relationships were completely messed up...and all in one simple way...their communication structure.  None of them tell their mothers how they truly feel, therefore, encouraging the system of miscommunication. 

Another problem with this miscommunication is that, each daughter has an excellent relationship with their grandmother; Marta has an excellent relationship with Carolyn (Hildie's daughter) and in turn Hildie has an excellent relationship with Dawn (Carolyn's daughter).  It almost appears sometimes that the grandmothers do not want to share their granddaughter with their own daughter...very weird. 

This level of disfunctionality continues all the way down the line to Dawn...until Dawn gets a canful of it.  She recognizes what this is doing to her family and wants to put a stop to it.  I really, really liked Dawn's character...in case you can't tell.

Overall, I liked this book, but I will admit that I didn't like it was much as Her Mother's Hope.  Rivers is usually very good about writing a Christian novel without getting too preachy.  She doesn't fully succeed in that this go-around...I felt a little preached at about halfway through.  However, I like the way this story develops and eventually completes itself...even if the ending did not come about in the way I would have chosen.  I would highly recommend this set of books, especially for a mother and daughter to read and discuss with each other!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Matched

Matched is a futuristic want-to-be utopia for a country kind of like ours...called the Society.  This story follows Cassia, who is supposed to be "matched" in the beginning of this novel.  Within the society where Cassia lives, everything is decided for you...what and how much you eat, how much you exercise, where you live, who you marry, etc.  This has all been pre-determined by other members of the society that study you and statistics about you to decide what is best-suited for your person. 

Cassia is very excited about her Match Banquet, which will decide and introduce her to her match...whom she will marry in a few years after chaperoned courting.  While at the banquet, Cassia is matched with her best friend from childhood, Xander.  When you are matched, you are given an information chip that you plug into to a view screen at home to learn everything there is to know about your match.  Cassia puts this off for a little while...after all, why does she need to read Xander's interests and things such as his favorite color when she already knows them all?  But, when Cassia does put the chip in, something disconserting happens...Xander is not listed on the chip...Ky is, a classmate who also happens to be an adopted orphan that has been already pre-determined to be a single (a member of society who will never marry, based upon some reason or another).

At this point, Cassia becomes very unsure of herself and the Society itself.  If a mistake like this could be made, what other mistakes have been made?  She understands that these decisions are made so that people can live out their lives to their fullest potential as well as being able to live a long and healthy life.  But wait, even that long and healthy life is cut short when her grandfather is put to death at the age of 80...when all members of the Society die. 

This book reminded me a lot of 1984 by George Orwell.  Other members of my book club say it's like the Hunger Games series as well...I don't know since I have yet to read those (they are on my to-read list, though!)  I do think that perhaps 1984 is the basis and origin of a lot of these types of dystopian novels since it was the original of these pieces of literature.  Matched is an excellent young adult novel and made for a quick and easy read.  I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the rest of this series!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

PW Baked Beans

I tried out the PW recipe for baked beans last week and it is now a favorite within our household.  Ree calls it "The Best Baked Beans Ever" on her blog and she is not joking!  After David tried these, he said, "This is how all baked beans should be made."  Needless to say, this is now a Dave's Fave. 

The link to the original recipe via the Pioneer Woman is here, complete with how-to pics and step-by-step tutorial.  However, since I do not have 58.2 mouths to feed like Ree, I reduced the recipe to approximately one-third.  Some of these measurements don't reduce easily, but on this recipe...as with many when cooking...exact measurements aren't as big of a deal.  It's not like this particular recipe is creme brulee or meringue. 

Best Baked Beans Ever
via PW who used Pam Anderson's recipe

3 slices bacon, halved
1/3 medium onion, cut into small dice
1/2 medium green pepper, cut into small dice
1 large can (28 ounces) pork and beans
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons (approximately) distilled or cider vinegar
2 teaspoons (approximately) Dijon mustard

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.

Fry bacon in large, deep sauté pan skillet until bacon has partially cooked and released about 2 tablespoons worth of drippings. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels.

Add onions and peppers to drippings in pan and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer. 

Pour flavored beans into a greased 8x8 (or similar size) ovenproof pan. Top with bacon, then bake until beans are bubbly and sauce is the consistency of pancake syrup, about 2 hours.

Let stand to thicken slightly and serve.

And of course, like all beans, the second and third day tastes even better because the beans have had a chance to soak up more of that tasty, saucy goodness!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

This book...ahhh...let me count the ways I love thee.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is probably going to be bumped up to one of my favorites...the more I think about it, the more I like this book.  Jamie Ford is an award-winning short story novelist and this was his debut novel...I cannot wait to see if he writes more novels!

Here is the gist of this book...Henry is walking by the Panama Hotel in the old Japantown area located in Seattle.  The hotel has been vacant for over 40 years, but recently it has been purchased by a woman that wants to restore it to it's former glory.  When the construction workers break ground on the project, they find boxes and boxes of Japanese families' belongings in the basement.  As Henry is walking by, different news channels and media are covering this find.  The owner pops open a beautiful Japanese parasol...a Japanese parasol that Henry recognizes from long, long ago...

Throughout this book Henry flashes back and forth from his life as a twelve-year-old boy in Seattle's Chinatown to present day (for him-1980s).  As a young boy, Henry was raised by very old-fashioned Chinese parents that want him to recognize himself as Chinese, but also as an American.  At all times, Henry's father has him wear a button that says, "I Am Chinese."  This is because the setting of this novel is during WWII...and many Americans cannot tell the different between Chinese and Japanese Americans.  Honestly, I have to say that I'm one of them...even today.  And saying that makes me feel a little guilty.

Regardless, while Henry's parents are old-fashioned, they also want him to get a good American education.  Henry's father signs him up for a "scholarship" at an all-white, prestigious, private school...this "scholarship" simply has Henry serve food in the cafeteria and clean up after school each day in return for not paying dues.  Some scholarship, huh?  This situation makes it very difficult socially for Henry.  The white children to do not accept him and call him a "Chink" while his fellow Chinese American children back in Chinatown won't accept him because he's "too good" for their Chinese school.  Henry is very lonely...until one day when another student begins scholarshipping with him in the cafeteria and after school.  At first Henry has high hopes...until he notices that this is a Japanese girl.  His parents would be furious if he were to consort with this girl, Keiko.  If you know anything about world history, you might know that the Chinese and Japanese despised each other long before WWII came about...and Ford gives a little background regarding these reasons via Henry's father's character.

In Henry's present day setting, you learn how he has recently lost his wife through a battle of cancer and his relationship with their son has definite communication problems.  Gradually, throughout the novel, Henry and his son's relationship grows and develops as Henry shares more and more information related to his flashbacks as a young Chinese American boy during WWII.

This story gives a bittersweet view of what it was like to be Asian American during WWII...there were so many times that my breath caught in my throat while reading this book.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet also displays the power of our interpersonal relationships...whether they be between parents, friends or other loved ones.  I cannot tell you how much I loved this book.  It has an awesome message alongside endearing characters.  Read it!

Monday, January 24, 2011

There's No Place Like Here

I feel kind of like I've read through a spurt of mediocre books lately and when I blog about them, this becomes even more evident.  Around this time my reading slowed down a little because of this fact...it took me waaaay longer to read this short, little book than it should have.

There's No Place Like Here has a Wizard of Oz theme...as you can probably gather from the cover.  Sandy Shortt has been obsessed with missing items and persons since she was a child when her schoolmate vanished.  Now, as an adult, Sandy is a personal investigator that specializes in finding missing persons.  Right before a meeting with a new client, Sandy herself goes missing...in a similar way that Dorothy disappears from Kansas.  She discusses in the beginning of the book how ironic it is that this happens to, of all people, her.

This "place" that Sandy is transported is Here.  Everyone there just calls it Here because they don't know where it's at...other than the fact that it's where all the missing things go.  Every sock, set of keys, lost earring, wallet, etc. that anyone has ever been lost is in Here.  This includes people...and includes Sandy. 

There's No Place Like Here is a cute little story about finding yourself, especially when you're lost.  I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had been wanting to read something light and fluffy.  If that's what you're looking for, this is a good book.  But, at this time I had read too many mediocre books and was wanting a really, really good one...my next review will provide such a book, luckily.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Devil In the Details

As you can probably gather from the cover, this book is about someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  Specifically, this book is a memoir about a teenage girl's struggle with OCD, specifically scrupulosity.  Scrupulosity is a hyper-religious form of OCD.

One thing that was interesting to me about this book was that Jennifer Traig's mental illness would seemingly turn itself off and on again.  She talks about "getting better" and then going into more intense bouts with her scrupulosity just a few months later. 

A lot of her scrupulosity issues included an obsession with items being kosher.  Traig's father was Jewish while her mother was Catholic.  This was inherently confusing for Jennifer because she chose to follow her father's Jewish roots while the family practiced Christmas as well as other Christian holidays.  This proved to be disastrous for Jennifer when ham (Christmas or otherwise) was cooked...the ham was also why Jennifer determined every single dish in the house was none-kosher (because ham or some other sort of pork product had rested on it at some time or another).  Jennifer even obsessed over whether or not the glue that held the first few sheets of a paper towel roll together was kosher.

Needless to say, this book was insightful into the mind of someone with OCD.  However, it was not my favorite.  There were parts where Traig appeared to try to be funny (joking about how plump she was and her name being remarkably similar to a certain famous person's weight-loss program). Yet, I wasn't laughing for the vast majority of the book.  If someone were to ask me my review of this book...I would probably just shrug and say, "eh."

Shiver & Linger


These books, Shiver and Linger, are supposedly "the new Twilight" as far as series go.  These books still have the fantasy premise of werewolves (no vampires), however, the way the werewolves change, why and when is very different from Twilight

Grace is a teenage girl that is fascinated with the wolves that live in the woods behind her house.  This fascination began when she was a small girl and was attacked by these wolves.  She survived and ever since has watched these wolves...one in particular catches her eye, the one with the yellow eyes...  Meanwhile, in the woods Sam (the yellow-eyed wolf) watches over Grace throughout the winter.  He hasn't stopped watching over her since the day he stopped the others from killing Grace long ago. 

In Shiver, the two meet and fall in love, then become determined to find a cure for this werewolf toxin.  A toxin that keeps them wolves during cold temperatures and human in warm.  I can honestly say, that this book could stand alone.  At the end of Shiver, you are satisfied and think everything has been nicely tied up in a bow.  However, further drama ensues in Linger that does not fully resolve itself leaving the story wide open for the third book.

I have to say that I didn't get fully invested into this story until about halfway through Linger.  I hate saying that because some of my friends absolutely love this series (to date).  But, I can say that I am definitely intrigued at this point and will definitely read the third book, Forever, which is scheduled to come out later this year.  I want to know how Sam and Grace sew this one up!

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