Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future by George Beard and Harold Hutchins aka Dav Pilkey

This is the latest book by Dav Pilkey, known for his Captain Underpants books.

From Dav's website:
In this all new graphic novel, George Beard and Harold Hutchins present the sensational saga of two silly caveboys names Ook and Gluk (Ook rhymes with "kook", and Gluk rhymes with "Truck").

Ook and Gluk have a pretty awesome life growing up together in Caveland, Ohio, in 500,001 BC - even though they're always getting in trouble with their evil leader, Big Chief Goppernopper.

But Ook and Gluk's groovy lives take a turn for the terrible when an evil corporation from the future invades their quiet, prehistoric town.  When Ook, Gluk, and their little dinosaur pal, Lily, are pulled through a time portal to the year 2222 AD, they discover that the world of the future is even worse than the devastated one they came from.  Fortunately, they find a friend in Master Wong, a martial arts instructor who trains them in the ways of kung fu, so that they may one day return home and make things right again.  But when their time of destiny arrives, will they have what it takes to defeat kill robots, mecha dinosaurs, and time-traveling terrorists?

I gave a copy of this to my nine year old nephew for Christmas.  I did not read the book, so can't comment on the contents, story nor writing style.  I can tell you that he loves the book.  He dropped the toy I also gave him and commenced to read the book.  He wandered around the room, book in hand, and would stop at any adult or sibling and say "Here, look at this," and then insist we do as told.  This went on till he finished the book and then started again.  Yes, he ignored new toys in favour of a book.  I think that is all the review needed.

I won this book in a contest hosted by Mel at He Followed Me Home.....Can I keep Him?  and sponsored by Scholastic Canada.

You can read Mel and her son Jake's review here.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Prizes in my Mailbox

What a pleasure it was to go to my mailbox the other day and find two parcels.  Not items I had ordered as gifts, but prizes I had won.  Wow.  Without even opening them, they made my day. 

First photo shows the wonderful gift I received from Meagan.  I had won a contest on her blog Snippets & Yarns from Turtle Bottom.   She had made her son some neat fabric luggage tags and she was offering to make one for one of her readers.  I was quite surprised to learn I had won.  The luggage tag was specifically made to match the tote bags I made to carry my fencing equipment.   Knowing that I am always reading and reviewing recipes, Meagan included a book, Glazed Murder: A Donut Shop Mystery  by Jessica Beck.   This is going to be a wonderful holiday read.  There is also a luscious piece of orange quilt cotton.  I will definitely be including that in my orange version of the Dear Jane Quilt.

While I was ambling along through numerous blogs one day I came across a link to Pocket Posh Books, a brand of Andrews McMeel Publishing.  These are an assortment of pocket size ( 4 x 6 inch) books with gorgeous covers. My prize included three sudoku books, a crossword puzzle book and a jumble crossword book.  Did I tell you that they are gorgeous?  These are definitely gift quality books.  I have seen them locally in shops and will be purchasing more of them.  I would feel bad keeping all these to myself,  and will be adding them to a few Christmas stockings.  Oh it will be sad to let go of them, but I know the future recipients will enjoy them.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 Ever since my niece arrived here in June she has asked me about a Red Velvet Cake.  I had not tried one and all I knew about it was that it was red.  I was then determined to make this cake for her birthday.  By chance I happened to notice that it was the feature cake on the cover of the 2010 Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking issue.

Before starting to mix the batter I learned that by using buttermilk and vinegar along with a bit of cocoa, that a chemical reaction occurs between these ingredients to give the natural red colour.  Additional red food colour is used to intensify the colour.

First photo shows the basic batter.  Second photo shows mixing in the red colouring.  You mix the red food colour and the bit of cocoa powder together into a paste and then add it to the batter.  Somehow that keeps the cocoa in suspension while baking resulting in a more even colour.

You can see that ever so slightly the cake is a wee bit browner near the outer edge.
The cake is then topped with a very decadent cream cheese frosting.  Notice the very cute princess candles that are topped with silver stars.
Finally, the triple layer Red Velvet birthday cake.
Compare the final two photos, and you will notice that the slices of cake are almost identical.

For a recipe for Red Velvet Swirl Brownies visit Fizzy Thoughts.

Therapy: A Novel by Harrie Rose

As she daily sinks deeper and deeper into a depression, Barbara's husband Joe finally insists that she seek professional assistance.  She turns to Alex, a therapist seventeen years her junior.  While he is helping her rebuild her life, Barbara can't help falling in love with him. 

Barbara is a very successful woman; she is a professor at the local campus, and admirable cook, house keeper and an excellent gardener.  She is not happy and she doesn't know why.  She has no confidence in herself even with her many accomplishments.  She feels that no one likes her.  She feels that they think she is too smart, too Jewish, to good a cook, even too good a hostess.  Personally, I think Barbara tries too hard to please everyone else and fails to please herself.  She is too concerned with everyone else's perception of her.

For the first time in her life, She has someone listening to her.  That is what a therapist is supposed to do, but in the depths of her depression she grabs onto this lifeline and won't or can't let go.  I can totally understand why she falls for Alex,he's a light in that tunnel that she didn't even know she was in,  but she is such an intelligent woman, she must know that it's wrong.  I can respect the character of Barbara for all her accomplishments, but I don't really like her.  I wonder if she ever took the time to get to know any of the people she invited to her house, or was she too busy trying to impress them.  Was Alex the first person that she really wanted to know.

I enjoyed this book.  I felt that it truly captured the feelings and mixed up thoughts of a depressed person.  The one thing Barbara could control in her life was her gardens, so she worked at them in almost a frenzy and they responded to her in a like manner.  She needed a therapist to help re-gain her perspective of her self and to re-direct her energies back to making herself happy.

Thanks to Nurture Your Books for my review copy. 
Visit Harrie Rose's blog.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Waiting by Ha Jin

Waiting by Ha Jin

It is post revolutionary China, and Lin Kong is a doctor in the Chinese Army.  Years earlier his parents arranged a marriage for him to peasant woman Shuyu.  While she has remained on their farm to raise their daughter and plant and then harvest the crop, Lin is not happy with his marriage.  He has met a Manna Wu, a nurse at the hospital, and wants to divorce Shuyu.

This book had no wild chase scenes, no dramatic outbursts, yet somehow it managed to keep me finding errands to run so that I could get back in my car and turn on my ipod and listen in on a few more minutes of the story.  I kept hoping that Lin would make some dramatic action toward ending his marriage, or that Manna Wu would give him an ultimatum, but it didn't happen.  I didn't find this disappointing as much as I found it totally in keeping with their characters.  I didn't want a doctor and a nurse who could take such spontaneous actions.  By nature they both should be much more methodical and process driven.

I found myself rooting for Shuyu.  She was the backbone of the whole tale.  She kept the farm going, cared for her ailing in-laws and daughter, and provided the family stability the Lin needed for his reputation with the Army.

I don't think that I would want to know Lin Kong.  He never gave a chance to his marriage, didn't try to make it work.  Right from the start he was embarrassed by his wife's bound feet and didn't want it to affect his career.  He used Manna as an excuse to keep from dealing with his failure as a husband.

Spoiler Alert

The final chapters in the this book brought the story round circle.  I can imagine that after Manna passes away, Lin will turn to the only person he can count on to help raise his sons.  He will return to Shuyu who will care for them as though they were her own.

End of Spoiler Alert

I borrowed this Brilliance Audiobook from my library.  It was read by Dick Hill.  Mr. Hill has a steady, clear voice that was quite in keeping with the feeling of this story. 

Ha Jin is the pen name of Xuefei Jin, professor at Boston University.

Waiting won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1999
The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2000

Cover photo from Brilliance Audio, Brilliance Audio also has a blog titled: AudioBookStand.

This is my 18th book for the Read, Remember, Recommend Fiction Challenge hosted by Bibliobabe.  Visit to find links to dozens of reviews of award winning novels.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Weekend Cooking: Cooks Illustrated Magazine

Back in May, Rob at Books are Like Candy Corn, wrote about a birthday cake he baked for his partner.  I was intrigued.  The recipe had come from something called 'Cook's Illustrated'.  After learning from him that this is a magazine devoted to cooking, I decided to give it a try.

I signed up for a one year membership.  I have now received four editions and wanted to share some of my thoughts on this publication.
  • It contains amazingly detailed information.  You don't just get a recipe, you get a complete and understandable explanation of why you need to make the recipe in that particular way.  For example, why it's important to beat the butter and sugar together for several minutes when baking a cake, or why you need to saute your onions for ten minutes on medium heat.
  • Multiple tested and re-tested recipes.  The chefs don't just settle for a recipe the first way it turns out, they re-vamp it to make it the best of the best even if it takes dozens of variations.  This way I am ensured that if I follow their directions, my dish is bound to turn out wonderfully.
  • Detailed cooking instructions, often accompanied by a series of photos at various stages of preparation.
  • Product comparisons.  Both in cooking utensils and ingredients.  I have learned that Baker's Chocolate does not top the list of recommended ingredients as I had been led to believe.  Too bad that few of the recommended products are readily available in my area, but the few that are have been added to my shopping list.
 Unfortunately, on the whole, it is a small thing that derailed this magazine for me.  It mixes all the different types of dishes together.  In one issue you get meat, veggies, baking, all thrown together.  Chances are I won't go back to search out a meat recipe buried in one magazine.  I'd rather go to a cookbook that has two dozen to chose from.  I was all set not to re-new this magazine when I learned that they have special edition magazine. 
I went to the store and bought the "2010 Holiday Cookies" edition and the "Holiday Baking" edition.  Each of these is filled with just one type of dish.  Much more to my liking.  Sixty-four cookies recipes and thirty-two assorted baking (cookies, cakes, pie, fudge, rolls) to indulge my sweet tooth and flour bins.

Now that I have found these special edition magazines, I'll be looking for them throughout the year when ever they become available.  Who knows, I might even venture and purchase a main dish type one.

Please note that I haven't cooked anything from these magazines yet.  Next week I do plan to bake the "Red Velvet" cake shown on the cover of the "Holiday Baking" edition for my niece for her birthday.

Thanks to Rob for the tip off to Cook's Illustrated.

Margot at Joyfully Retired has also posted a review of Cook's Illustrated.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  Visit to read all sorts of food related posts.  You are invitied to add your current post to Mr. Linky.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - Audio Book

  GoodEarthNovel.JPGPublished in 1931, this story is set in rural, pre-revolution China.  Author Pearl S. Buck was born in the United States but moved with her family to China while she was still an infant.  She lived most of her first forty years in China.

This book tells the story of a poor farmer named Wang Lung.  He wants to marry, yet doesn't have to money for a match maker.  His father goes to the local wealthy family, the House of Hwang, and asks for a slave to be the wife for his son. 

From his wedding day forward, the fortunes of Wang and his new wife O-Lan change, mostly for the better.  Not only does O-Lan run the house most efficiently, she also helps with the old father and with the farming.  Two sets of hands in the fields lead to increased crop yields and money. 

As I was listening to this audio book, I wondered if Mrs. Buck had accurately presented the lives of farmers in China at that time.  Several reviews that I checked confirm my impressions.

Spoiler Alert

The other thing that struck me about this book was how the author was able to portray the desperation of the people during the various hardships.  The stoic acceptance by O-Lan  of the death of her second daughter, born during the drought.  I couldn't imagine what Wang went through when he took his newborn daughter from O-Lan, knowing that he would have to let her die so the rest of them could survive, but I could feel his anguish.

Alert Over

I loved this book.  It didn't matter that it was published almost 80 years ago.  It still came across as fresh material and still relevant.  There are still many areas of this world where people farm and try to eke out a living.

Blackstone Audio produced this audio book in 2007.   It was read by Anthony Heald.  Mr. Heald has a very enjoyable reading voice and it added to my enjoyment.

A brief biography of Pearl S. Buck post by the University of Pennsylvania

The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1932.
It was selected for the 2004 Oprah's Book Club.

Book Photo from Wikipedia

This is my 17th book for the Read, Remember, Recommend Challenge hosted by Bibliobabe.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Jane Austen's Birthday - Free ebook offer Thursday, December 16 only

Update: December 16, 1:30 pm
Due to technical difficulties, availability of these products was delayed today.  For that reason the offer has been extended to include Friday, December 17.  Be sure to visit Sourcebook, iBooks, Google Books, Barnes & Noble and Sony to download your copy.

I received the following email Tuesday evening and wanted to pass along the heads up.

Hi there!!

I wanted to let you know how Sourcebooks is celebrating Jane Austen’s birthday on Thursday – and hopefully you will let your followers know about this great offer!

Thursday, December 16th is Jane Austen’s 235th birthday!

Sourcebooks, the world’s leading publisher of Jane Austen fiction, is offering a unique deal to readers who want to celebrate Jane by reading special editions of all six of Austen’s beloved novels in a 21st century format.

Special e-book editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Mansfield Park will be available for free for one day only. These celebratory editions include the full novels, plus the legendary color illustrations of the Brock brothers, originally created to accompany the books in 1898.

In addition to the Jane Austen classics, readers can also enjoy these bestselling Austen-inspired novels. The following bestselling e-books will be free on December 16th in honor of her birthday:

Eliza’s Daughter by Joan Aiken
The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown
The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins
The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan
Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

Available wherever eBooks are sold.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Beth Pehlke
Sourcebooks Publicity

Needlework Tuesday - Snowflake Afghan Finished

During the summer I showed a series of pictures while I was working on this afghan.  Now it's finished and I am so happy.  I had to stop for a while as the pattern didn't call for sufficient variegated yarn to finish the project and I couldn't find any more.  My sister came to the rescue and found some for me.  

There are a few corrections to the pattern which I'll be sending to Red Heart.  Here's the link for the pattern.


This pattern needs 2 balls of white and 6 (not 5) balls of Variegated.  The variegated balls are shorter than the plains.  I did weigh my finished afghan with all the ends, and left over balls and there is no way that I only used 5 balls. 

In the section 'Joining Rnd 7' in line 2, the reference to the 'ch-3 space' should read 'ch-2 space'.
Under Filler Motif, Joining Round 3.  In the 4th line, starting "in next space" should read "In next ch 1 space". 

The border instructions didn't work at all.  I gave up when it told me to work in the chain 5 space.  Well, there are no chain 5 spaces anywhere in the whole project.  I did 5 single crochets in each chain 3 space and 3 in each chain 1 space.   The instructions didn't consider how to deal with the joining between two blocks, so I treated them much like a chain 3 space. 

As you can see from my picture, my version of the border worked out.  As I have told you before, I am not a great crocheter, more a functional one, so there may have been mis-interpretations on my part.   I still need to work in about 300 ends and then I can give it to my niece.

Needlework Tuesday - To Block your Knitting or Not

 I find that it is not always required to block a project once you finish knitting.  In this case, I really needed to do as the scarf was all curled up and didn't look good at all. 

What scarf am I talking about.  It's the one called "Nana Fascinator" from the Mission Falls: East + West book.  I amde this scarf using the 1824 wool from Mission Falls.  I have used it in several projects previously and loved knitting with it.
 Here's one end of the scarf pinned on the towel covered ironing board.  I then steamed it with the iron, being careful not to touch the surfact of the iron to the knitting.  Then left it pinned out over night to dry throughly.
 In this photo you can see the difference that blocking makes.  The left side has not been blocked and is all crumpled up, whereas the right side is lying flat.  The lacy diamonds show up so much better after blocking and the fringe is tidier also.
I didn't get the lighting correct on these photos and the true green is somewhere between the two colours shown. This is a gift for a friend.

A Christmas Audio Visual Treat

Imagine that you are at your local mall shopping and you stop for a snack, when midway through a bite of your burger, the woman at the table next to you stands up and starts singing. I mean, really singing, Handel's Messiah.  That's what happened November 13 at the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario. 

Friday, 10 December 2010

I'm left speechless.

I took this photo from my back deck.  It was a flash of colours that lasted only about three minutes.  Even when I look at it now I am speechless.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris

Imagine trying to identify a murder victim where her face and her hands have been systematically destroyed.  Then by luck you discover a photo of her in her possessions, only to realize that because of her religious practices her face would be virtually un-recognized by anyone outside her immediate family, which you haven't yet identified.

This is the starting point for Zoe Ferraris's new novel.  Set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Detective Osama Ibrahim faces just these barriers or you could call them challenges.With the assistance of Katya Hijazi, from the coroners office,  and her friend(?) Nayir Sharqi, he wades through social and religious customs to identify the victim and find her murdered.

This is a world that I have had no exposure to, other than a Canadian sitcom called Little Mosque on the Prairie.  I was intrigued.  How were Osama and Katya going to solve this mystery and how were they going to work together when they are not related and Katya is not supposed to talk to a non-family male.  How was Katya going to deal with her male office mates. How would Osama interview women surrounding this investigation.   Every page of this novel revealed issues that each of the characters had to weigh their understanding of their religion and how it would impinge on them, their families, their co-workers and those who they had to interview.  Ms. Ferraris did a wonderful job of portraying these dilemmas and the seriousness with which each character dealt with them. 

Excellent mystery and wonderful handling of the topic (seclusion of Muslim women).  Some of the same characters in this story are also found in Zoe's earlier book  Finding Nouf.

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company for my review copy.

note: the cover of this book is quite dark and it was very difficult to photograph without a glare.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Needlework Tuesday - A Canadian Christmas Stocking

Yippee, my secretly knit stocking is finished and it's still a mystery.  My niece does know I have been making one for her, but she doesn't know what it looks like or the techniques used.  That's the surprise.  I have decided that it's going to remain hidden until Christmas morning, when Santa will stuff it and leave it on the floor in her room.

The pattern is from McCall's Needlework December 1993.  I used two balls of Patons Classic Wool,  colour 00230.  At some point a bug/moth or some such beastie got at the wool and ate and secreted something on it and broke all kinds of strands.  I have seen this once before on something my sister was knitting.  Weird as I had only bought the wool a week earlier.

It's kind of hard to see the pattern, but its a cable with seed stitch in the middle (top edge) and then bobbles in clusters of 4 in the top band and in the curves on the body of the sock. 

Still working on two afghans for the holidays.  One will definitely be finished, the other will become a birthday gift in February.  Oh well, timing was never at the top of my skill list.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Skippy Dies; Hopeland by Paul Murray

First line of the book: Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair.  That opening line was enough to make me want to read this book.  I borrowed it from my library and started.  For the next hundred pages I was left wondering what happened from that brilliant start.  It just sort of lagged; I couldn't relate to what was happening. 

This is a YA novel and I am far beyond that.  It deals with concepts of teenage love/infatuation, drug use/mis-use, broken families, and church boarding schools. High school was a trial when I was there and I would never wish to go back there.  eeks.  Enough to make me shiver.

That being said, I do think this would have appeal to those still in high school and having to deal with the same issues. 

By the end of the book I did know more about Skippy, but I have no idea why he died.  I have been given some clues, but don't know whether they are red herrings or not.  I have the next two books; Heartland and Ghostland and Afterland.  They are due back at the library in two weeks.  Don't know if I will read them...

Friday, 3 December 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

This is the seventh book in the Harry Potter series.  It is the story of now seventeen year old Harry and his quest to fulfil a promise that he made to Headmaster Dumbledore before his death.  It will not be easy, but Harry has the help of his friends Ron and Hermione.

I will assume that many of my readers already know the basics of this tale, so I'll forge ahead to my comments.  There shouldn't be any plot reveals/spoilers, so safe to read if you have yet to read this series or this book.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book.  It has a cast of characters that I have become familiar with.  Hermione is bright and a good student, I can mostly identify with that.  Ron and Harry aren't the best students, but they are friends and act in ways that represent a real friendship.  There are times when they get annoyed with each other and stomp off.  Very real..  My favourite teacher is Professor McGonagall.  She comes across as tough, but really has a soft heart for all the students, even those of Slytherin House.

Mrs. Weasley would be my choice of a neighbour to have tea with on a regular basis.  Unlike her, I do prefer a hands on approach to my knitting. 

A few things do bug me about this story.  Harry's father was a bully.  He took many opportunities to bully Snape.  There is no getting away from that fact. I wonder if he did anything in his life after school to compensate for that. I have no tolerance for bullies. 

Why is it left up to young Harry, time and again, to battle with an adult.  That just doesn't ring true in the world.  How is it that the brightest and most gifted of wizards, including the ever so amazing Dumbledore can't defeat Voldemort.

I was glad to finally hear the full story of Snape.  I was curious about him all the way through, and knew that there was more than we were being told.  The resolution of his story is fitting and works for me.

All in all, I am glad I read the series.  It's possible someday I may re-read, but then there are so many books.  We have a complete set of the books and will be keeping them on the bookshelf for years to come.

As an aside, I have to admit that my university now has a quiditch team.  Yes, muggles running around a field with a broomstick between their legs.  I understand that this is not the only university with a team and they are trying to get the sport sanctioned so that they can have competitions and championships between the universities.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Recipe Thursday - Name this Rolling Pin

There is one kitchen tool that I find gets very little attention; the lowly rolling pin.  At minimum I feel that anyone who does a variety of cooking and baking needs at least two.  I have three at present. 

 The top one is from Martha Stewart and is the 'French Style' .  I bought this one on a whim during a clearance sale and absolutely love it.  It is made of a nice firm wood, not pine.  This is generally my rolling pin of choice.

The middle rolling pin is made of marble.  Great for rolling more fragile pastries on warm days.  The pin is quite heavy and it does most of the work for me.  I have had this one since my university days and have bought a few to give to friends.

The bottom one is the newest.  Even though I have had it at least 5 years I have not used it.  It is for making pretty little cookies. There are three rows of carved squares. I know that you roll your cookie dough with a regular rolling pin and then the final step is too roll over with this pin.   Problem is, it didn't come with a recipe and I had not seen one before except in a cookbook illustration. 

This is where I need your help.  Do you know what this pin is called ?  Do you have a recipe that would work with it?  Probably a dough that doesn't rise all that much or the impressions made will disappear when baked.

Linda has sent me a link to an interesting article about rolling pins at croppingcooks.com.  She suggests that my pin might be a springerle. 
Old hand-carved wooden rolling pins with grooves cut into their barrels were used for making cookies, particularly the Springerle, a typical anise-flavored Christmas cookie  from Austria and Baveria (Springerle is German for little knight or jumping horse).  The designs on these pins were the quaint figures of animals, fruits, and flowers, each carved in a square outline.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Currently reading: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

I started this book yesterday as my daughter and niece want me to take them to see the movie again.  I had put off reading it for the past few years.  Don't really know why as I had enjoyed reading the earlier books.  I supposed I didn't want to be reading just because everyone else was reading it at that time.

Within a few pages I pulled right back into the story and the characters have become alive for me.  Every now and then I have to re-read lines to figure out who is being referred to with all the him, her, she and he's.  I also find it quite distracting the number of semi-colons that the author uses.  Yes, they are a useful tool when used well, but there are times when it is much more effective to just write two sentences.

I should be sipping cups of chilled pumpkin juice while reading, but have chosen instead, a nice hot cup of tea.

Have you read this book and the series?  No spoilers in the comments please.  I have managed to shush many people when they would have gladly told me who gets killed etc.  When they started to speak I would put my hands to my ears and chant "I'm not listening, I'm not listening" just as a little child would do.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Virginia by Susan Hughes

Ivy Morell is fourteen and has just started highschool.  Her elder sister, Katie, left home as she could no longer deal with their alcoholic mother and distant father.  Now she is trying to adjust to a new school as well as all those other 'issues' that confront teens.  One day, seemingly out of the blue her neighbour, Virginai Donato calls and says she wants to talk. 

Virginia is the youngest of six siblings in a deeply religious family.  What could she possibly have to say to Ivy, whom she hasn't really been friends with in years.  She confides to Ivy that she has been visited by an angel and that she wants Ivy to be a witness to what has been asked of her.

My first reaction was that this was going to be a book about religion.  I kept reading and found that while Virginia and her family are religious that is only part of the story.  The bigger issue is what to do when you have given your word to a friend, and then you realize that you are going to have to break that promise.  Who do you tell and how much do you tell.  Ivy took her promise to her friend very seriously and did intend to keep  it even if she questioned whether it was true or all in Ivy's imagination, but she knew that Virginia needed help. 

I thought that the way Ivy approached this dilemia was quite in keeping with a fourteen year old.  As an adult I would have done differently, but then again, Ivy doesn't have years and decades of experience.  I suspect that most teens find themselves in this type of situation time and again and they don't know where to turn. 

Author Susan Hughes has written and published over 20  young adult and childrens books. 

Thanks to Kids Can Press for this review copy.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Recipe Thursday - A Common Meal for Young Wizards

Yesterday there was a feature article in my newspaper, The Record, that looked at the food that young Harry Potter and his wizard school mates might eat.  I thought that this would be a fun theme for dinner this evening and set out to devise a suitable menu.

Everyday Wizard Dinner

Onion Soup
Turkey Vulture Drumsticks
Pumpkin Pasties
Pumpkin Juice

The soup recipe is Hearty Onion Soup from Canadian Living.  My kids thought that a Szechwan peanut sauce would make for great tasting drumsticks.  Nope.  They are going into the soup pot so I can make broth.  The recipes for the Pumpkin Pasties and the Pumpkin juice are from my newspaper.  Both of these are winners and will definitely be repeated.  Next time i am going to take some litchi fruit, poke cherries into the centres and freeze them so I can float them in the drink.  That will certainly add to the atmosphere of the meal.

If you are interested in further Hogwarts inspired dishes, then check out The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: More than 150 Magical Recipes for Wizards and Non-Wizards Alike by Dinah Bucholz.  I have not seen this book myself so I can't comment on the recipes found within.

PS, I am just kidding about the drumsticks being from turkey vultures, they are from the more common grocery story type turkey.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

This book will make you cry.  It will  make you shout.  It will make you angry. This book will not leave you feeling indifferent about spousal abuse. 

It did all of the above to me and more.  It also made me determined to speak out and not let another friend suffer at the tongue and hands of an abusive husband.

Joshilyn Jackson has written  a strong message in this book.  You can sit back and let it wash over you and say that it doesn't affect you, or you can listen and then act.  Talk to your children who are old enough and let them know that it is never right to abuse another person.  Don't be tolerant, ever.

I want to say I really enjoyed this book, but it was so difficult to listen to parts of it.  Joshilyn was the reader and author and she did a terrific job.  At first I found her southern accent hard to listen to, but after a while it seemed perfect for the story and I got to rather enjoy getting in the car and popping in the next disk. 

This book is about more than spousal abuse.  It is also about truth and being open to hearing it.  Both Rose Mae and her mother don't want to face the truths in their life and they run away from it.  Once they do listen with both their ears and their hearts they can begin to heal. 

This would be a good bookclub choice, though perhaps not for men.  I tried to relate bits of this book to my hubby but he didn't want to hear.  My son listened to bits, though he's not a big fiction person, so he didn't want to listen for too long.

I was fortunate to win this in a contest hosted by Teddy Rose at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time and sponsored by Hachette Audio.

For a review of the book, read what Teddy Rose had to say.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

While the various police forces around the world do an incredible job of solving murders, there are those where the perpetrator eludes them for whatever reason.  These cold cases weighed heavily on the minds of William L. Fleisher, Richard Walter, and Frank Bender.  Not only did they want to see justice done, but they also wanted to bring closure to the survivors. 

They brought together a group of the best detectives and forensic scientists on the planet and formed The Vidocq SocietyEugene Francois Vidocq was the founder of the first state investigative agency in France in 1811.  He solved those cases that the regular police had not been able to. 

I read a review of this book on one of the major bookseller sites.  It stated that this was a horrible, gruesome book that was all about serial murderers.  Wrong.  Yes there are some descriptions of murders, but the gist of the book is about those people who help to solve those murders.  The author couldn't have portrayed these people so completely without discussing some of the many murders that they have helped to solve.  I felt that the gruesome details of the cases were kept to a minimum and only included when necessary.

William Fleisher is an expert polygraph examiner, interrogator, and former FBI agent.  Richard Walter is a forensic psychologist who is referred to as 'the living Sherlock Holmes'.  I was amazed at how Mr. Walter could look at a photo of a crime scene/victim and make a very accurate profile of the murderer.  Frank Bender is a forensic artist and psychic.  He seems to work miracles with building sculptured busts of murder victims.

This book is full of facts and descriptions, though these did not keep it from being a very readable book.  I felt as though I was being carefully ushered throughout this story.  Given just enough details of the various crimes, but not overwhelmed by them in any way. 

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in justice, crime fiction, true crime.  Perhaps not for the squeamish.

If this type of book appeals to you, The Black Tower by Louis Bayard also delves into the life of Eugene Francois Vidocq.  My review of The Black Tower.

Also reviewed at Maphead's Book Blog

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Needlework Tuesday - Christmas Stocking

My sister often visits with me at Christmas.  She lives a couple provinces away, so she packs limited Christmas stuff.  I decided this year that she needed her own stocking and that she shouldn't be borrowing an old one from one of my kids.  I used the pattern that I had used to knit mine many years ago.  There is no company name on the pattern, though it is titled "Victorian Christmas Stocking".  I knit it on 4.5 mm needles and used a worsted weight wool. The colour showing here looks quite pink, which is not the colour of the stocking.  My sister doesn't know what colour I used and since she does read this blog, I'll keep that part a secret.  To give you an idea of the size, the diamon pattern measures about twelve inches from the top to the the start of the heel.

Next I need to find a few fun things to stuff inside along with a wee bit of chocolate....

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Savvy Reader - new site lauch party

HarperCollins Canada has launched it's new site The Savvy Reader.  It's filled with all sorts of interesting bookish stuff. 

There is a book club and the first selected book is The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walters.  Click here to join in the discussion.

All sorts of comments and reviews by HarperCollins staff members.

And a contest to win books.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

I'm Sick

My head is pounding, my eyes feel hot, my ears are plugged and I feel icky.  Some cold I have managed to find. 

I tried to read last evening, but after holding a book for half an hour all I remember is that it said the word 'hunter'.  It's the book Monster by Frank Peretti.  My son is reading it for english class, so I am supposed to be reading it as the same time.  I'm quite a bit behind him.

I have a few books finished that need reviewing and hope to get to them in the next few days as soon as my head clears.  Fingers crossed that it will be tomorrow.

Back to my sofa, quilts, and box of tissue.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Mailbox Monday

It's always exciting to go to my mailbox and find a parcel that I know contains books.  The anticipation of which titles it contains builds as I make my way home.  This week I am joining in again with various other bloggers to let you know what's "In My Mailbox."  This meme is hosted by The Printed Page, though it is currently on tour and residing with Knitting and Sundries.  You are invited to go and check out which other books have been received in the past week.  Be careful as you might find your wish list growing rapidly.

All books received last week were purchased by myself.  I have a hard time resisting when shopping online, specially when sale pricing is involved.

A few weeks back I received an email saying that Martingale & Company, also known as That Patchwork Place, was having a warehouse sale and that a limited number of books were on sale for $6.00 each and that if you bought three books, shipping would be free.  I don't think I got carried away, but I did order six books.

Save the Scraps: Great Quilts from Small Bits by Gayle Bong
Fresh and Fabulous Quilts by Cheryl Brown  (website under construction as of Novemeber 15, 2010)
Twin Peaks: Quilts from Easy Strip-Pieced Triangles by Gayle Bong
Punchneedle Fun: Unique and Colorful Projects by Amy Bell Buehler
Needle Felting with cotton and Wool by Jennifer Kooy Zoeterman & Linda Lenich
Spellbinding Quilts: Wizards, Witches, and Magical Characters by Maaike Bakker

One of these books will be for my mother for Christmas and one will go to my elder sister.  As for the rest, they're mine.  My plan will be to make a project from each book.

I had borrowed this cookbook from my library for several weeks and cooked up a storm.  My family enjoyed all the recipes so much that I had to buy it no matter the price.  I have used it several times since it arrived last week.  You can read my earlier review.  Jamie is going to be in Toronto this Thursday, November 18, 2010  at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  Visit The Art of Cooking for further details.  If only I could justify the entry fee.
This graphic novel had been on my wish list for quite some time.  When John at the Book Mine Set announced a challenge to read a Canadian graphic novel, I knew the time had come to send in my order.  Read my review of this moving non-fiction story.
Thanks for joining me at my mailbox this week.  If you have posted a review of any of these books, let me know and I'd be happy to add a link.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

First Nations/Aboriginal Fridays - The Life of Helen Betty Osborne by David Alexander Robertson & Madison Blackstone

Thirty-nine years ago today, nineteen year old Helen Betty Osborne was brutally murdered  in The Pas, Manitoba by four men.  She had planned to be a teacher so that other youth wouldn't have to leave their families and homes to get an education. 

Author David Alexander Robertson and Artist Madison Blackstone have employed the format of a graphic novel to make this tragic story more accessible to teachers and their students.  A teaching guide is available from Portage and Main Press.

There is no good reason why Helen shouldn't be alive today.  In 1988 the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry was convened to examine what happened and why.  Their conclusion:
It is clear that Betty Osborne would not have been killed if she had not been Aboriginal.  The four men who took her to her death from the streets of The Pas that night had gone looking for an Aboriginal girl with whom to "party."
They found Betty Osborne.

When she refused to party she was driven out of town and murdered.  Those who abducted her showed a total lack of regard for her person or her rights as an individual.  Those who stood by while the physical assault took place, while sexual advances were made and while she was being beaten to death showed their own racism, sexism and indifference.  Those who knew the story and remained silent must share their guilt.
While this is a short graphic novel, it's impact on me was huge.  As a woman and as a mother I find it very chilling that another person could chose the final course of my life for me. 

This book is not just for our kids, it contains messages for all readers.  The roots of racism, sexism and indifference are not found within our children; they are passed down from earlier generations. 

I'm glad I searched out and ordered  this book.  I know that it's message is still needed each time I hear others laugh at racist and sexist jokes. 

The Helen Betty Osborne Memorial Foundation provides assistance to to Aboriginal persons enrolled in post-secondary education.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Robin Hood Baking: Over 250 recipes from Robin Hood's Baking Festival and Home Baking cookbooks

 My family has been hearing a fair bit of, "I've been baking today, want a taste?"  I don't need to ask twice and they are in the kitchen sniffing, and trying to discover what I made.  They reacted no differently as I tested many of the recipes in the new Robin Hood Baking cookbook. 

I received a copy of this book early in October and spent days paging through it looking at the full colour photos that accompany many of the recipes.  Then I started reading the actual recipes.  Along with a complete ingredient and measurement list, there are step-by-step instructions, and variation suggestions when appropriate.  There is also a 'Tips' section with each recipe.  This is where you'll find those helpful hints of when parchment paper is recommended, comments on whether to use salted or unsalted nuts, whether the item freezes well and much more.

It was only after I had stuck about twenty post-it notes on the recipes I wanted to sample that I turned to the front of them book and read the introduction and the sections on: Baking Basics, Baking Equipment, Baking Tips and Techniques , and Making Perfect Cakes.

Bakers will appreciate that this book has a unique 'concealed wire-o hardcover binding', this means that it easily lays flat open on your counter while you are baking.
I didn't realize that Robin Hood has been producing flour for over 100 years.  I have been using their recipes and recipe booklets for at least twenty years.  After reading the section of pan materials and sizes I bought a new, metal nine inch square pan.  I had been using an eight inch glass one; while it worked I often had to adjust cooking times.  These sections of the book go beyond telling you what to do or buy, it also includes explanations of why.  For example, in the section titled "Achieving Volume" we are told "When butter and sugar are creamed together, the jagged edges of the sugar crystals create bubbles of air in the fat, which contributes to the aeration of the batter."  Don't skimp on time spent creaming your butter and sugar.

I tried ten recipes in total from this book and all of them were a success.  I tried to stay as close to the ingredient list as possible, though a few times I used unsalted butter, but I'll tell you about that later.

I loved this book and it's recipes.  The binding method is so practical and the hardcover has a shiny surface that makes it easy to clean off any stray cooking splatters.  This is a perfect book for a new baker with little kitchen experience, or for one who is limited in the number of cookbooks he or she can purchase.  There are also ample recipes to attract the more experienced baker. (over 250 recipes)

Buttermilk Biscuits

This is your traditional quick biscuit using buttermilk instead of regular white milk.  My friend made these with her three year old daughter while I was putting the finishing touches on our Thanksgiving dinner.  They told me that they went together well and that they used a juice cup to cut the biscuits.  They were so light and fluffy that they were the first dish empty at dinner that day.  Definitely worth purchasing buttermilk.  Sorry there is no photo, they were so good they were gone before I grabbed my camera.

Basic Pastry

I used this for the shell for my pumpkin pies.  I made the 'double crust' amount.  I followed the recommendation of using Cake & Pastry Flour, as I happened to have some, and handled the dough as little as possible. Again, the crust was actually light and flaky.  I had made the same pumpkin pies a week earlier using the recipe on the vegetable shortening box and the pastry was kind of tough.  This is a much better recipe. 

 Oat Pancakes with Cinnamon Honey Butter

I made these pancakes as written with the exception that I added a half cup of chopped pecans to the batter.  They cooked up light and fluffy.  They are more chewy than a full flour pancake, but that made them more filling.  That day there were five teenagers for breakfast, so filling food was important.  These were  eaten before I had a chance to take any pictures.

Chocolate Almond Macaroon Logs

After making rice pudding for my son, I had a bunch of egg whites left over.  A quick look in this cookbook found this recipe.  I was a bit leery about shaping the 'logs', but as it turned out, it was quite easy.  After the batter was mixed, I picked up some in a soup spoon and using a teaspoon I patted it into shape on the spoon before gently pushing it off on to the parchment paper covered pan.  These are sticky cookies, so you really do need the parchment paper.  Don't skip the chocolate coating.  It really does turn these cookies into something special. 

The macaroon logs are more a cakey type cookie and not as overly sweet as your traditional macaroon.

Chunky Caramel Nut Squares and Chewy Cherry Bars

I love to make bars.  You get the bite size benefit of cookies, yet everything is done in one step, no multiple trips to the oven. 

The "Chunky Caramel Nut Squares" were the highlight of all the recipes we tried.  The bottom layer is essentially a brown sugar shortbread.  The topping is a stove cooked caramel which you then top with your choice of salted nuts.  I chose cashews as they are the most decadent, and then added a few soy flavoured whole almonds.  This is a simple recipe that you and your family will love.  Chose your favourite nut or nut mixture.  The recipe is at the bottom of the post.

My daughter specially requested the "Chewy Cherry Bars".  She was attracted by the combination of the maraschino cherries, coconut, and the pecans.  As I mixed the filling layer, they reminded me of a fancy butter tart.  The base is similar to a brown sugar shortbread, though with half the amount of butter.  My daughter had made a soft pink frosting and my niece surprised her by adding blue food colouring.  Daughter also learned to be more careful when reading the number on the measuring spoon.  One tablespoon is not the same as four teaspoons. Oops, too much milk makes runny frosting.  They tasted wonderful even though they look a bit eerie.

Both bars benefit from lining the pan with parchment paper.  I did for the "Chunky Caramel Nut Squares" and they were so easy to lift out of the pan and slice.  I didn't for the "Chewy Cherry Bars" and it was very difficult to try and cut a nice piece.

Cranberry Apricot Almond Squares

I was intrigued that these bars started with dried cranberries and dried apricots; both fruits that I enjoy.  But to use them in a bar, that was new to me.  While these were re-hydrating, I made the shortbread like crust.  This is where my new nine inch square pan came into play.  Since it was new I lined it with parchment paper.  Great choice.  These bars lifted easily out of the pan for slicing. 
My family loved these.  To me there was something missing.  I had used un-salted butter.  The recipe didn't call for it, but it was the type I had on hand.  It did make a big difference in the taste, though it didn't matter to my family.  They were gone within two days.

Best-Ever Banana Muffins

I was skeptical when I spied this recipe.  I have been baking ripe banana muffins for years and I thought they were excellent.  Well, these were much, much better.  The top was crunchy, yet the insides were nice and moist.  This is our new, favourite banana muffin recipe.  Note, this is a very thick batter.  We added a half cup of chopped pecans.

Cheddar, Bacon and Corn Muffins

I had a bunch of Oktoberfest revellers in the house and wanted to feed them a hearty breakfast.  What better than a savoury muffin.  These were loaded with bacon, creamed corn, and cheddar cheese.  The teen aged boys in the house practically inhaled them.  They slathered them with butter while I spread on a thick layer of molasses.  Yummy.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

My niece selected this cake.  She said she'd never had a "Pineapple Upside-down cake".    Hard to imagine, as I thought that every body's grandmothers made this cake.  Guess they don't make it in New Zealand. 
As you'll notice from the picture, we didn't have enough pineapple rings.  Be sure to read the complete instructions where it tells you that you need a 19 ounce can of pineapple rings, not the 14 ounce one that I purchased.  A cherry flower in the middle was a perfect substitute.

Niece said it was easy to mix up this cake and it turned out perfectly.  All the fruit stayed in place when we turned it out onto the plate.  The little bit of leftovers were great at breakfast the next morning.

Chunky Caramel Nut Squares
• Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)

• 13- by 9-inch (3.5 L) cake pan, greased


2 cups Robin Hood All-Purpose Flour 500 mL
1 cup packed brown sugar 250 mL
1⁄4 tsp salt 1 mL
1 cup butter, softened 250 mL
1 egg yolk 1


11⁄2 cups butterscotch chips 375 mL
3⁄4 cup corn syrup 175 mL
3 tbsp butter 45 mL
21⁄2 cups salted mixed nuts (12 oz/375 g) 625 mL

1. Crust: Combine flour, brown sugar and salt. Using two knives, a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in egg yolk. Press into prepared pan.

2. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Cool.

3. Topping: Combine butterscotch chips, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth and melted. Cool slightly. Spread over cooled crust and sprinkle with nuts; press nuts gently into topping. Refrigerate until topping is firm, about 1 hour. Cut into squares.

If you can bear to part with them, these chewy squares, which are chock‑full of nuts, make a perfect gift.


The look and taste of these squares depends entirely on the nuts you use. You can buy mixed nuts, with or without peanuts, or you can make your own mix.

Be sure your butterscotch chips are fresh for easy melting.


Excerpted from Robin Hood Baking © 2010 Smucker Foods of Canada Corp. & Robert Rose Inc. http://www.robertrose.ca/ reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Thank-you to Robert Rose Inc. for my review copy.  You can also join Robert Rose on Facebook and learn more about baking and ask your baking and food related questions.

Visit Robin Hood for more baking information and additional recipes.