Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review of Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones

Book Sneeze/Thomas Nelson sent me this complimentary book to review for them.

You are cordially invited to the wedding of the year with the most unlikely bride and groom. Save the date...and say your prayers.

When funding for Lucy's non-profit job is pulled, she is determined to find out why. Enter Alex Sinclair Enterprises--the primary donor to Lucy's non-profit organizaiton.

Both Lucy and Alex have something the other desperately wants.

Alex has it all...except for the votes he needs to win his bid for Congress. Despite their mutual dislike, Alex makes Lucy a proposition: pose as his fiancée in return for the money she desperately needs. Bound to a man who isn't quite what he seems, Lucy finds her heart--and her future--on the line.

Save the Date is a spunky romance that will have readers laughing out loud as this dubious pair try to save their careers, their dreams...and maybe even a date.

I was expecting another typical, mushy book. I wasn't expecting it to be so charming, witty and a great read. I downed this book in two days, found myself smiling during parts and laughing at others. I loved the sparring between the two main characters and the use of sarcasm. It added a lightness to the book and made for more of a "real" feel of the characters. I'd definitely read this one again!

Review of Fatal Judgment by Irene Hannon

Revell Books sent me this complimentary book to review for them.
U.S. Marshal Jake Taylor has seen plenty of action during his years in law enforcement. But he'd rather go back to Iraq than face his next assignment: protection detail for federal judge Liz Michaels. His feelings toward the coldhearted workaholic haven't warmed in the five years since she drove her husband--and Jake's best friend--to despair . . . and possible suicide.

As the danger mounts and Jake gets to know Liz better, he's forced to revise his opinion of her. And when it becomes clear that an unknown enemy may want her dead, the stakes are raised. Because now both her life--and his heart--are in danger.

Good storytelling by Irene Hannon. I've enjoyed her previous books as well. Great story line and well developed characters. Predictable ending, but still seat gripping. Not too preachy, not too mushy, just right.

Available January 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A weekend in the kitchen: episode two

A weekend in the kitchen continues on with a story about my Sam. When he heard that Alina was cooking dinner and she could choose the menu, he wanted to be a part of it too. I told him he could cook the next evening and could choose what ever he would like.

His menu:
Salad with homemade ranch dressing and croutons
Spaghetti with sauce only (no meat)
Garlic bread sticks

Sam is not one to stay in the kitchen long. How ever long it takes to ask "what are we having for dinner and how long until it's ready" is the duration of his time in the kitchen. He will help now and then, but he'd rather go play nerf guns. Again, no forcing him to be in the kitchen so when he offers to help, I gladly accept.

So we started with the croutons first. I asked him to get the bread out of the freezer. Check. I asked him to find a baking sheet. His words, "don't tell me, I want to find it on my own." So I kept my lips closed. He looked through all the drawers and even the other pantry. I could tell he was getting frustrated so I asked if he'd like a hint, got the nod, and pointed to the cupboard door the baking items are in. Baking sheet? Check.

My next words were, " we're going to cut the bread for the croutons." He immediately picked up a knife and started sawing the bread that we were going to use for the garlic bread (no garlic bread sticks...but instead a french loaf we would turn into garlic bread). I steered him to the sandwich bread, showed him how to cut the cubes and let him take over. He threw the cubes into a bowl and tossed them while I poured a bit of olive oil over them and shook on some garlic powder. I then said, "dump them on the baking sheet and spread them around." He proceeded to take them out of the bowl one by one and placed them in rows on the sheet. I told him that that would take forever, but he was determined to do it. When he finished he said, "See mom? I'm done! And you said it would take forever!" Ahhh Sam. I love you.

Next up, ranch dressing. We threw it all in the food processor and he taste tested the dressing until it was just right. Into the fridge it went to marry. Check.

Onto dessert. I explained that we wanted to get the dessert done before we finished making dinner so it would be all ready to go after we were done eating dinner. I suggested chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. He was all over that. So I pulled out my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and we began. We melted the butter and measured the white sugar. I then said, "we now need a cup of brown sugar" to which he enthusiastically said OK! and proceeded to open the bottom drawer and pulled out a drinking cup. I kept forgetting that he takes things literally. I re-explained my words adding "measuring cup" and got the "oooohhhhhh!" The dough was ready to go and I showed him how to roll the cookies like a ball, pull apart and put back together. He totally got it and into the oven the cookies went.

Garlic bread was cut and buttered and he generously applied the garlic powder. Generously being the key word.

Next was a short conversation.
Me:"Ok. Now we need to get the noodles and sauce going."
Sam: "Mom? Is this when we take a break? I'm tired!"
Me (chuckling): "Welcome to my world Sam. This is how dinner gets on the table every night. I wish it magically appeared, but it doesn't."
Sam (smiling): "Yeah, I know, but it's sure a lot of work!"
Yes my son, yes it is.

So we continued on and he decided that he didn't want a salad after all, but apples (Alina was in agreement). So I helped him with the apple cutter and he then proceeded to cut the skin off of each piece of apple. I thought he would've stopped halfway through, but he did every piece without complaint and was pretty proud of his work. While he was doing that, I finished up the noodles and sauce and started to plate the food.

The cookies finished in the oven and he took them out. Once cooled I said, "Sam, one of the greatest things of working in the kitchen is that you get to taste the food you created before everyone else, just to make sure it tastes good." I picked up a big cookie, broke it in half and gave half to him. He looked at me like I was giving him a treasure and said, "seriously??". We munched on warm cookies and declared they were fit for eating.

Dinner was ready. While putting the apples on plates I said to him, "so after dinner you can come and do all the dishes." I received a "WHAAAAAAAT?!?!?!" I explained that the dishes don't clean themselves and the kitchen needs to be cleaned up. I then broke into laughter and said, "of course you don't have to do the dishes Sam. I'm so glad you were in the kitchen with me tonight. I'm more than happy to do the dishes." I could see the relief in his eyes and the smile on his lips. Joking with a nine year old is a whole lot of fun.

Dinner took about an hour and a half to make. I'll be honest and say that it wasn't easy for me. There was a lot of patience on my part of not taking over for him, but letting him experience kitchen life. And there was a lot of building up too. Hearing several times, "I'm not good at this" was a chance to build up his self confidence as I know he takes those encouraging words and tucks them into his heart. It was a ton of fun joking around with Sam and I think he experienced a bit of what goes into me making dinner each night for our family. I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything.

And our weekend in the kitchen comes to a close. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will not be the last one.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A weekend in the kitchen: episode one

Friday night rolled around and it was approaching dinner time. Alina found me standing in the kitchen with my eyes closed trying to think of what to make for dinner. I heard her sweet little voice through my blackness. "Mom? Can I make dinner tonight?"

I don't force my kids cook. I do ask them if they'd like to help and if they do, great! If not, no problem. They may only do one thing and be on their merry way or they may stay for the entire time. One never knows. But I want them to always feel like the kitchen is a fun place to be and not a chore.

Alina has wanted to make dinner for awhile now, so I asked her what she thought the menu should be. She said something healthy and then dessert.

She chose pasta salad with cooked broccoli, black olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, cut up cubes of cheese all mixed with homemade ranch dressing. The side was sliced apples with the skins cut off and the beverage of choice was banana-blueberry-nectarine smoothies.

She was one determined little chef. She cut up the olives and tomatoes (yes, I do let her use sharp knives under surveillance), mixed up the entire salad and arranged the cut up apples onto plates. She helped blend the smoothies and set all dishes on the table.

Her choice of tableware were my pink dishes which adorned the pink tablecloth which was laden with lit candles (can you tell she loves pink?)

When we were all finished, she voluntarily cleared every one's dishes and I helped her prepare dessert: ice cream with chocolate sauce and multi-colored sprinkles.

We delighted in our feast she had prepared and she was a pretty proud cook at the end of the night. She's becoming more confident in the kitchen and is starting to know her way around. I can ask her for any item and she knows right where it's at. Her cautious side arises too, but she always asks if she's not sure how to do something. She so wants to do everything by herself and I find myself having to put away the thought of, "if I just do it, it'll get done much faster" and let her experience the joy of cooking.

Watch soon for A Weekend in the Kitchen: Episode two.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review of The Search by Suzanne Woods Fisher and contest!

Revell Books sent me this free copy to review for them.

Fifteen years ago, Lainey O'Toole made a split-second decision. She couldn't have known that her choice would impact so many. Now in her mid-twenties, she is poised to go to culinary school when her car breaks down in Stoney Ridge, the very Amish town in which her long-reaching decision was made, forcing her to face the shadowed past.
Bess Reihl is less than thrilled to be spending the summer at Rose Hill Farm with her large and intimidating grandmother, Bertha. It quickly becomes clear that she is there to work the farm--and work hard. The labor is made slightly more tolerable by the time it affords Bess to spend with the handsome hired hand, Billy Lapp. But he only has eyes for a flirty and curvaceous older girl.

Lainey's and Bess's worlds are about to collide and the secrets that come to light will shock them both.

A very sweet, heartfelt book. The characters were developed in a way that you felt like you knew them. Even when tragedy struck, my heart broke for the family.

I also found it refreshing that the Amish characters weren't portrayed as being perfect in their faith, as is portrayed a lot in books. They came up against anger and bitterness of which had to be worked through.

Overall, a great book! I've enjoyed reading Suzanne's books.

Available January 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

**There's a bonus with this post! To celebrate the release of this book, Suzanne is having a contest with the grand prize being an ipad. Head over to Suzanne's contest website to sign up and possibly win! Click here to sign up.

Review of Hatteras Girl by Alice J. Wisler

Bethany House Publishers sent me this complimentary copy to review for them.

"Jacqueline has two dreams---to meet an honest man to marry and to own her own bed and breakfast on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Since the first one doesn't seem to be materializing, she enlists the help of her childhood friend Minnie and focuses on the second. But will romance be an unexpected guest?"

One of the main reasons I chose to review this book was because of my love for the Outer Banks. Having vacationed there, I was looking forward to recognizing some of the names in the book. I did recognize some, but most were foreign to me as well.

This was a pretty predictable book that wrapped up with a nice little bow ending. Cute, but not a whole lot of depth. It would be fun to read this while sitting on the shore of the Outer Banks though. :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Homemade ranch dressing? I'm in!

I love ranch dressing. Love. Like as much as I love popcorn. Yes, that much.

When I started to become a label ingredient reader, there were a lot of ingredients that I couldn't pronounce on the bottles of ranch dressing. I'm to the point now where if I can't pronounce an ingredient, I don't purchase it. I could go the organic ranch route, but it's pretty pricey and couldn't bring myself to pay $5 for a small bottle.

I could also have switched to the oil based dressings. But I just can't bring myself to cross over the dressing fence to the other side. Maybe the greens are tastier on the oil side, but I'm perfectly happy on my side with my ranch.

Enter homemade ranch dressing. Um, yes please!! I can pronounce all the ingredients and actually know exactly what is going into it. Perfect! I found this recipe while reading one of my favorite food blogs, Annie's Eats. She's one of my go-to gals for many recipes. I knew I had to try this ranch dressing and try it I did. Now it's half gone. To make it on the "healthier" side, I used all organic ingredients. And I found an organic light canola mayo that uses expeller pressed oil (oil straight from the nut) instead of a modified type of mayo. Turned out fantastic.

Ranch Dressing
courtesy of Annie's Eats

¾ cup mayonnaise (I use light)
¾ cup sour cream (I use light)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
¼-1 cup buttermilk (I use the full cup)
1 small bunch chives
Small handful parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor starting with ¼ cup of the buttermilk and blend for 10 seconds. Check the consistency and taste and blend in additional buttermilk as desired. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Note: For all those asking how long this keeps, I don’t know exactly since I’m not a food scientist. I would imagine as long as any of the separate components might keep in the refrigerator. Mine kept at least two weeks before we had used it all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

BBQ Chicken Tenders

With the calendar rolling over into a new year, I had the goal in mind to be better at planning meals for my family. Specific meals with fresh ingredients and all made from scratch. I find I spend much less at the grocery store and with having a meal plan, there's not the temptation of eating out knowing I have food sitting at home needing to be used.

I sat down in December and poured over websites and wrote out a two week menu plan that included breakfast, lunch and dinner. I intentionally included the calorie count for each meal too (including snacks) as we're trying to become a bit more fit in our household. I printed out the meal plan spreadsheet, printed out all the recipes, hole punched all and put in a three ring binder. I then made the grocery list accordingly.

Do I stick to the exact menu for each day? I sure don't. For example, last Sunday we were supposed to have roasted chicken for dinner (aka afternoon lunch, but on Sunday's we call it dinner...I know, weird, but that's the way I was raised) and for the evening meal we were going to have bbq pulled chicken sandwiches made from the leftover chicken from dinner. But we had enough leftovers from the previous couple days that it made an eclectic meal of which no one needed to cook and freed up a few precious minutes in the afternoon before I had to head back to work/church. So I still have a chicken sitting in my freezer for another meal in the week. And it leaves flexibility if what's on the menu doesn't sound good that night (or I'm so tired after working all day the last thing I want to do is be in the kitchen for an hour), I can use another nights meal as I have all ingredients sitting waiting to be used in my fridge.

Moving on to last night. It was slotted to be bbq chicken tenders with carrots, ranch dressing and a side of pita chips. I didn't have chicken tenders, but easily cut up chicken breasts to substitute. I didn't have bread crumbs, but easily threw some whole wheat bread in the food processor to crumb it and then put the crumbs in the oven to bake while the chicken was marinating.

I also didn't have pita chips (or pita bread) nor did I have ranch dressing. But those stories and recipes I will leave for future posts.

Here's the bbq chicken tender recipe I used courtesy of Eating Well. Click on the recipe link if you would like a printer friendly version.

These yummy, easy morsels were given three out of four thumbs up at the table. The little miss said they were too spicy (due to the bbq sauce, which is an easy fix for the future). I would have taken a picture, but we still have yet to replace our camera that someone must have desperately needed and helped themselves to via a smashed window out of my husbands car. Anywhoooo, here's the recipe:

BBQ Chicken Tenders

1 cup prepared barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders (see Note)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I substituted whole wheat flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat (see Note)
Olive oil or canola oil cooking spray


1. Combine barbecue sauce, mustard and honey in a large bowl. Set aside 1/2 cup of the sauce in a small bowl. Cut any large chicken tenders in half lengthwise, then add all the tenders to the large bowl with the remaining sauce; stir to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

3. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Lightly beat eggs in another shallow dish. Place breadcrumbs in a third shallow dish. Coat each tender in flour, shaking off any excess. Dip in egg and let any excess drip off. Then roll in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess. Place the tenders on the prepared baking sheet. Generously coat both sides of each tender with cooking spray.

4. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn each tender over and continue baking until the outside is crisp and the tenders are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Serve with the reserved sauce for dipping.

Tips & Notes from Eating Well

1. Ingredient notes: We like Ian’s brand of coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs, labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets. To make your own breadcrumbs, trim crusts from firm sandwich bread. Tear the bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. (To make fine dry breadcrumbs, process until very fine.) Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until dry, about 10 to 15 minutes. One slice of bread makes about 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs.

2. Chicken tenders are the lean strips of rib meat typically found attached to the underside of chicken breasts. They can also be purchased separately. Four 1-ounce tenders will yield a 3-ounce cooked portion. Tenders are perfect for quick stir-fries, chicken satay or kid-friendly breaded “chicken fingers.”

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Review of Love's First Bloom by Delia Parr

Bethany House sent me this complimentary copy to review for them.

Ruth Livingstone's life changes drastically the day her father puts a young child in her arms and sends her to a small village in New Jersey under an assumed name. There Ruth pretends to be a widow and quietly secludes herself until her father is acquitted of a crime. But with the emergence of the penny press, the imagination of the reading public is stirred, and her father's trial stands center stage. Asher Tripp is the brash newspaperman who determines that this case is the event he can use to redeem himself as a journalist. Ruth finds solace tending a garden along the banks of the Toms River--a place where she can find a measure of peace in the midst of the sorrow that continues to build. It is also here that Asher Tripp finds a temporary residence, all in an attempt to discover if the lovely creature known as Widow Malloy is truly Ruth Livingstone, the woman every newspaper has been looking for. Love begins to slowly bloom...but is the affection they share strong enough to withstand the secrets that separate them?

An average book. I felt bad for the main character as she was responsible for her father's decisions. A burden that was portrayed as heavy and not wanted throughout the majority of the story. A bit slow in the story telling department, but an easy read until the end. Not one of the greatest books I've read, but not one of the worst either.

Review of Vigilante's Bride by Yvonne Harris

Bethany House Publishers sent me this complimentary copy to review for them.

Luke Sullivan just wants to reclaim the money stolen from his father. One stagecoach heist later, his pockets are full and he's one feisty mail-order bride richer. Only problem is, she was on the way to marry his bitter enemy--and she doesn't take kindly to her "rescue." Yet crossing this dangerous man is only the beginning of Luke's problems. As he realizes what a true treasure the beautiful--but headstrong--redhead in his care is, how far will he go to prevent her prearranged marriage?

Not one of my favorites. It started out pretty good, but then puttered out about halfway through and I just wanted to finish the book to finish it. The storyline lost it's luster in which the book lost it's audience, me, in the process.

If you like reading a fast, easy book with a western flare and lots of talk of faith, you'll like this one.

A Review of Amy Inspired by Betany Pierce

Bethany House Publishers sent me this complimentary copy to review for them.

Life has not turned out the way that writer and creative writing instructor Amy expected. Despite the fact that she has carefully transcribed her life ambitions in several thousand lists, Amy has yet to check off anything from her “Things to Do Before Thirty” list, which includes getting published and finding someone tall and decent to marry. Instead, Amy shares an apartment with an eccentric writer/waitress named Zoe and a somewhat vagrant artist named Eli, while she catalogs the rejection letters she has received from publishers all across the country. Real-life author Pierce has created a thoroughly relatable protagonist, a flawed woman facing modern-day dilemmas and conflicts of faith, thus bringing a welcome dose of contemporary reality to the Christian fiction genre.

I was expecting an easy read with the typical "Christian-ese" writing. When I finished and put the book down my first thought was, "now that was a good book." There was a bit of romance, but it wasn't over the top. It was normal. The conversations the main character had, came across as authentic. Her train of thoughts were typical. Questioning God. Questioning her faith. It's not all roses and stars and perfect. It was full of questions and deciphering and thinking through emotions and thoughts. Even the words were one's not typically found in these kinds of books. I had to slow my reading eyes down and let the words stick in my brain.

A good, good book. One I will definitely read again.

Review of A Rush of Wings by Kristen Heitzmann

Bethany House Publishers sent me this complimentary copy to review for them.

When fragmented images and unfocused panic force Noelle St. Claire to flee her wealthy, sheltered life in New York, she gains sanctuary on a ranch in the Rocky Mountains. There Noelle finds solace in the breathtaking scenery she paints. But as the attentions of two brothers, Rick and Morgan Spencer, breach the wall she hides behind, the past she yearns to escape becomes a menacing threat from which she can no longer hide. Award-winning and bestselling author Kristen Heitzmann has skillfully created a story resonating with emotion and depicting a poignant spiritual journey.

I vaguely remember reading this book a few years back and sure enough, it's a reprint with a new cover. Still as good as I remember. A woman struggling with who exactly God is and finding life in the most unexpected places. The characters are very well developed from the beginning right to the end.

Kristen Heitzmann is one of my favorite authors who writes detailed and emotionally. No fluff here. This is part of a series, but can be read alone as well.