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.