Running Way Behind

I am far behind in writing my reviews but thanks to a long commute and audio books, I am not so far behind in my reading. My 8-year-old has self-reading goals for school but she also loves to listen to audio books. So we caved and signed up for Audible.com and we have started listening to books during our morning commute. As a result, I am getting to reacquaint with some classics and moving forward with my CBR5 goal, and we are enjoying some wonderful stories together!

We are also in the process of moving so I don’t have as much time to write-up my reviews and recipes. As a note to myself, I currently need to write-up:

Book reviews

  • Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn (I did NOT love this book like everyone else seemed to)
  • Charlotte’s Web – EB White (Uh, such a great story!)
  • Ramona, Age 8 (Wow – have times changed. Comparing my 8-year-old to Ramona was a bit of a reality check)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis (A great beginning to a wonderful adventure. Michael York’s narration was wonderful!)
  • Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman (I may have a new favorite author! I know that I am woefully late to this picnic but excited to read more none the less.)
  • Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia – CS Lewis (My daughter is hooked!)

Recipes

  • Spaghetti Squash Gratin – something that I came up with and I thought was yummy. Not so sure how my family like it?
  • Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Pasta Sauce – Pretty much what is sounds like and my daughter LOVES it! Of course, she will tell you that she does not like red peppers.

My sister is coming to town tomorrow and we usually spend one evening cooking some fun and indulgent.  Expect some great foodie photos and reviews of wonderful recipes!

Cheers!

readwritecook’s CBR5# Review #1: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

beautiful mystery

I am very fond of Louise Penny’s writing and I sometimes wouldn’t mind moving to Three Pines.  The idealic fictional town in Quebec that serves as the backdrop for most of the novels in the Armand Gamache Mystery series. The town and its colorful group of artists and unique individuals provide more than enough side stories and additional detail to fill out the central mystery in these novels. And that is where my biggest disappointment comes in with this latest novel in the series.  The town is one of the central characters and it is absent here.

Armand Gamache is Chief Inspector of the Surete de Quebec and his job typically takes him to Three Pines but not in The Beautiful Mystery. Instead, he is called up into the deep forests of northern Quebec to investigate a murder that has taken place in a secret congregation of monks. These monks have been living unknown for thousands of years but have recently become notorious as a recording of their musical Gregorian chants was released. One of the  congregation-the  choirmaster- has been murdered and Gamache is called in to find the killer.

One of Penny’s trademarks is her beautiful use of language and it is evident here but the beauty of the writing couldn’t fully overcome the lack of action and slow pace to keep my interest. While I understand Penny’s intention to mirror the slow and measured pace of the monastery with her words, I still found it to be frustratingly slow.  Pages and pages are dedicated to the discussion and attempt to understand the purpose and meaning of the Gregorian chant. At the same time, Penny brings in one of the ongoing storylines regarding Gamach and his tenuous relationship with his superior. While this story progresses more than in other novels, I was left wishing that more details were revealed. The resolution at the end felt inadequate and frustrating.

I give The Beautiful Mystery three stars. It’s hard not to compare it to Penny’s other Gamache mysteries. I would give most of them a four star rating. While her use of language and ability to tell the story is still intact, I just wish there had been a significant supporting story to give this tale a bit more to keep my interest.

Mom’s Amped Up Pesto

pestoWith the new year, I’ve been trying to think of easy ways to get more veggies into our diet. I’m sure many moms out there have employed tricks of the trade to hide vegetables in their children’s favorite dishes. This was by far my most successful experiment. It was fast and I was able to use it in two different dishes this past week. It has a fresh lemony taste that my daughter loved!

  • 2 cups frozen broccoli (feel free to use fresh, I used frozen to save time)
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/4 cup parmesan
  • zest of one large lemon
  • juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 1/2 cup store bought prepared pesto
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Boil the broccoli until no longer frozen, approximately 2 minutes. Combine broccoli, spinach, parmesan,  lemon zest and prepared pesto in a food processor and process until a paste forms. Add salt and pepper and stream in olive oil until the paste thins a bit. Add in the lemon juice and blend some more. The pesto should now be a bit thinner than the store bought pesto. Test to see if more salt or pepper is needed.

I tossed the pesto with fusilli noodles one night (with zuchinni and tomatoes for the adults) and then used the pesto as the sauce for our home made pizzas another night. My finicky 8 year old loved it both ways!

2013: Reading, Writing, and Cooking Again

I wasn’t much for resolutions in 2012, but I’m back in 2013! I’ve decided upon a number of new goals. I’ve signed up for two reading challenges (Cannonball Read V and a Genre Challenge for the UK book club on Goodreads) and created a cooking challenge of my own based on the Fresh 20 and my own desire to try new cuisines in 2013.

I am in the process of updating this blog as I haven’t posted in over a year, so bear with me. I’ve blocked time on my calendar dedicated to keeping this up to date. Here we go!

Reading
Cannonball Read V (Pajiba.com)
The full Cannonball Read V is a challenge to read 52 books in the span of a year. The awesome and touching history of the challenge and more details can be found here: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/ As this is my first year, I’m looking to complete the half Cannonball (26) in 2013.

Goodreads UK Book Club – Genre Challenge 2013
New genre each month is voted on by participants. January is historical and I’m going to read The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd when I’ve finished with The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. Review to follow soon.

Writing
Writing is what I do in my professional life—technical writing, marketing writing, and documentation project management—but yet I maintain a number of writing projects on the side. My goal here is to dedicated some of my free time to these projects each week. Also, this blog qualifies as part of my personal writing goal as well.

Cooking
I signed up for an online cooking subscription called The Fresh 20. Each week, they provide a menu with an accompanying shopping list for 5 quick and healthy meals. My goal is to use at least 2 menus from the site each month. I’ll be posting notes and reviews from my experience and my family’s reaction to the meals.

Also, I’ve decide to assign each month of 2013 with a different type of cuisine and then prepare at least 4 meals that month based on that cuisine. January is Asian cuisine month.

I’m looking forward to keeping up with my 2013 goals and to sharing my experiences with all of you.

Cheers!
A

Time to Get Back on That Horse…

Oh My! I cannot believe that is has been so long since my last post. I have been busy but not so busy that I can use that as an excuse. It seems that a blog-once neglected-can be similar to my work out routine. That is, very hard to go back to. Anyway, I have been keeping up with reading. In fact, I feel as though i have had very productive beginning to 2011. I have a tendency to glom onto a single author series and then read them all in quick succession. Case in point, Suzanne Collins, Steig Larson, and Louise Penny.

I recently finished a wonderful and beautifully written novel. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill came highly recommended by A Life in Books and I suggested it to my sister Sue as she loves historical fiction. She loved it and handed it over to me once she had finished. This was probably the most beautifully written novel I have read in a long time. Such detail and care put into the language and descriptions of a such an ugly time in our history. I am trying to get my husband to read it and I will try to post an actual ‘review’ soon.

For now, I am trying to put a toe in the water and see if I can swim fully. As I stated last year, my goal is to read more, write more, and cook more. This is my place to document my progress. I am also in the process of starting a new business so that is taking up quite a bit of my time as well. I look forward to sharing my experiences.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I made Sticky Toffee Pudding for our dinner club this weekend. I was a little nervous because I am not a very good baker, but this was incredible easy! And it was phenomenal 🙂 I used a recipe from  Bon Appetite, but made a few minor adjustment based on various reviews. Reminded me of my time in London…

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Medjool Dates – cut in half lengthwise, take out the pit
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Caramel Sauce (see below) & Vanilla Ice Cream

Directions

Preheat over to 350

  1. Butter 8 individual souffle ramekins (line bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper as well)
  2. Place dates in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let the water and date mixture cool. Place in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and blend until smooth but still a little lumpy.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar until blended
  4. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time until incorporated. Add half of the flour, blend. Add the final two eggs, 1 at a time, then add the remaining flour. Beat until blended.
  5. Mix the coffee granules and baking soda together in a small bowl. Add to the dates and mix together.
  6. Add the date mixture to the batter and beat to blend.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the 8 ramekins and bake for 25 – 28 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and unmold while still a little warm. Poke holes in the puddings with a bamboo skewer. Top with caramel sauce and server with vanilla ice cream.

NOTE: Puddings can be made a day ahead. Cool completely and then rewarm for approximately 10-15 minutes in a 250 degree oven.

Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Bring cream, sugar, butter, molasses, and vanilla to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce until thickened slightly. (about 15 minutes) Serve warm with Sticky Toffee Puddings.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle

I had a hard time getting into The God of Animals at first, but after about a third of the book I was hooked. This is a coming of age story about a young girl struggling to understand the actions of everyone around her, as she observes much more than it would seem. After her older sister runs off to get married, she is left longing for life to just go back to the way it was. As she navigates this new life and the changes that come, she begins to realize that you can’t go back.

I was really taken with this story when in the course of two pages, I went from laughing to tears. The imagery of the horses and their struggles were as moving as the main characters.  I’ve never been a horse person, but this book gave me a better understanding and appreciation of these animals.

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Cannonball Read V

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.