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. 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.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I'm too busy reading to write a proper post

I am stuck inside of The Murder Room:The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo.

This is the non-fiction story of the members of the Vidocq Society.  Based in Philadelphia, they are comprised of 82 of the world's top detectives and forensic scientists and they help to solve the murders that have been declared cold cases.  I can hardly put this book down. It's not about the crimes, but rather about those people who have dedicated their lives to justice.

I've be back with a review in the next few days. 

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas

My son read this for his English class this term, so of course I told him that I'd read it as well.  He finished it and submitted his assignment weeks ago and I am only getting to my review now. 

Steven York is a gifted student who is currently under-performing.  His dad is a re-known astronaut who divorced from his mother a few years ago.  Steve lives with his father in in Houston while his sister lives with his mother in Dan Diego.  Mid way through high school he moves to his mother's.

Having been caught for 'drugs' by his guidance teacher, he is given the option of making up his missing English grades by writing a 100 typed page essay on a topic of his choice.  Being a teen, Steve rebels at first, but then he decides to give it a try. 

This assignment gives Steve the chance to re-examine the events of the past few years that have led him to his current situation.  Why he has such a rocky relationship with his father, why he thinks his dad walked out on his mom, why he rebels at so many situations.

I found this book an accurate look at teenagers.  Not all kids are the model academics, nor the aspiring jock.  There are those that either don't fit those moulds or those who purposely break out of them.  It doesn't make them bad, just different.  A couple of the teachers depicted in the book even found those kids more interesting than the 'perfect' ones.    These were the kids that joined the campus club: GOD (Grace or of Dadaists).  Now I'm not really sure what dadaist art is, but I realize that it's not following all those strict art rules of painting composition that came before that period.  Doing your own thing.  That is definitely what Steve was trying to do.  I think he was trying too hard not to be who he thought his dad was. 

My son wasn't too thrilled with the book and he said he didn't see any kids he knew depicted in the book.  I had to chuckle at that.  There is a lot of my son right in Steve.  When I said that to my son, he told me I was wrong. 

I'll keep this book around in the event that my daughter has to read it when she gets to that grade level.

Rob Thomas' website

Recipe Thursday - Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver

A few weeks ago while reading "Weekend Cooking" at Beth Fish Reads, one of the contributors posted a review of a recipe from Jamie's Food Revolution.  This prompted me to borrow the book from my library. Over the past few weeks I have cooked and sampled six recipes from this book.  As a family we were pleased with each of them and are looking forward to trying more.

Son suggested that I go out and buy a copy right away regardless of the price. 

At the same time I have been able to watch a few episodes of Jamie's Ministry of Food.  This guy is cool; he has become my new cooking muse.  This all started out because he was disgusted with the poor quality of food available to school children in Britain.  He realized that many people no longer cooked proper meals at home and that they relied on take-out food every day of the week.  Eeks, what a rotten way to try and grow healthy children.

Jamie travelled to Rotherham, England to launch his Ministry of Food project which aimed to teach and encourage people to cook at home and to teach their friends and family how to prepare these easy to cook meals.  What a great concept.  I found myself cheering along Jamie and his Rotherham cooks.

This book starts with some information on the essential supplies and utensils that a kitchen needs and then talks about basic food stuffs needed to prepare many of the recipes.  It is them broke into food chapters including: 20 Minute Meals, Quick Pasta, Easy Curries, Simple Soups, and many more.

I six recipes from the book based on them all being out of my comfort level.

"My Sweet and Sour Pork"

This dish uses Chinese Five Spice Powder for flavouring and a small pork tenderloin for the most wonderful meat bites.   I chose to serve it on a bed of egg noodles instead of the usual rice.  The cooking time was very short and even the prep time was only about 20 minutes. 
"Tomato Soup"

I was a bit nervous about this one as it's already autumn and I didn't know how flavourful the tomatoes would be.  Not to worry, I found some lovely locally grown greenhouse ones.

Yes, that really is the whole tomato including stem in the pot.  That's exactly what Jamie said to do.  After cooking you use an immersion blender to make it smooth.  My blender is ancient and it couldn't puree the stem parts, so I would leave those off next time.  Great flavour.  I served it with croutons and added a dash or Worcestershire Sauce.
" Dressed Asparagus"

Simply cooked with a grainy Dijon mustard and oil sauce.  I wanted to eat the whole dish.
"Baked French Potatoes"

Much like scalloped potatoes, but none of the dairy products.  It was instead cooked in a chicken broth.  This made the tastiest of potatoes.  We were all clambering for more at breakfast the next morning.

This is a curried fish dish that uses both fresh and smoked fish along with hard boiled eggs.  I was going to prepare a more common dish that just spiced and then pan friend the fish, but when I turned the page I saw this one and changed my mind.  I was quite nervous to place this on the table in front of my family as I have not made a dish like this before.  They loved it.  A smaller amount of smoked fish would be more appealing to me next time I make it.
"Salmon en Croute" 

'En croute' means 'wrapped in pastry' and in this case I used store bought puff pastry.  I have had dished like this in restaurants before and paid a fortune, so I figured it must be real difficult to make.  Hah, what a sucker I have been.  It was so easy to roll out the pastry, set the fillet on top, season, add toppings and the scrunch the pastry up over the top.  I did it in about fifteen minutes with my kids and their friends watching.  Next time they can do most of it by themselves.  Of the seven of us at dinner that night, all of us ate huge servings and almost cried when there was none left.  We are now thinking of what else we can wrap in puff pastry and call 'dinner'.

I really enjoyed making meals from this book.  I will be buying my own.  I have also joined Jamie's site and look forward to receiving emails from him.  If you are looking for one cookbook to buy for the reluctant or insecure cook, then give this one a try.

Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader also tried the "Baked French Potatoes".  Click to read her review.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hailsham seems like the typical English boarding school.  A big spacious building, wide open grounds and caring staff, teachers and guardians.  They receive a liberal arts education and are highly encouraged to produce 'works of art'.  What is unusual is  that no parents ever come to visit, nor do any of the students ever go 'home' for the weekend or holidays.

From a young age the students are told that they will become 'donors', whatever that might be.  They also learn that this will happen soon after they leave school and that they won't grow old and have the lives that they see depicted in the movies they watch.

I listened to this as an audio book and was hooked from the opening passages.  The book was read by Rosalyn Landor.  Her soothing voice was a perfect choice for this novel.  There were a number of difficult and troubling concepts introduced and having them presented by such a calming voice made them easier to believe.

Spoiler Alert

This book introduces a group of people who were created for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs so that others could live.  Their lives were not valued by a wider society, only their organs.  While I was grappling with the morality of  saving one life by ending another, the students had to deal with the knowledge that their lives would be ending just when they should be starting careers and building families.  Hailsham didn't teach them how to deal with that, in fact it didn't teach them much about life beyond being a student. Why bother when it wouldn't really be necessary for long; after all they'd be spending much of their remaining lives in one hospital or another.

This was an excellent, though difficult story to listen to.  When one considers that there are already children being conceived with the hopes that they will be a perfect match for an older sibling requiring a bone marrow transplant etc., this book becomes more than fiction; it poses a serious moral dilemma.  Have we crossed that line already; do allow doctors/parents to create a new life just to save an existing one.

Read an excerpt of Never Let Me Go
Cover photo from Random House Canada

Also reviewed at:
A More Diverse Universe

Read what Two Canadian Readers had to say about both the book and the screening of the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Books with cloning topics:

Perfect Copy: Unravelling the Cloning Debate by Nicolas Agar
Cloning Miranda by Carol Matas

This is my 16th book for the Read, Remember, Recommend Fiction Challenge hosted by  There is still time for you to join in the challenge. 

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Fragile by Lisa Unger

Peering in from the outside, life seems idyllic in The Hollows. Psychologist Dr. Maggie Cooper and her husband Police Detective Jones Cooper are awaiting their son Ricky's graduation from high school. 

This is all turned on end when Charlene, Ricky's girlfriend disappears.  Rumours swirl that she has run away to New York City as she has often threatened to do.  A Facebook message that she posts supports that claim; but Ricky feels that it wasn't written by Charlene. 

While investigating this case, Jones has to face a looming ghost from his past which draws him back together with a number of his high school confidants.

I found this a well constructed mystery that kept me from figuring out 'who done it'.  Unfortunately I didn't connect with any of the main characters.  They seemed too flat, without enough depth.  Several of them wanted to escape their small town where everyone knew everyone else, yet those that did manage to leave were all easily pulled back.  Didn't they develop any roots in their life when they were outside of The Hollows.

When I read a book like this I want it to grab me and keep me reading till the wee hours of the morning.  This one I was able to put down and leave with only forty pages to go.  It's an okay read, but not what I was expecting or hoping for. 

Author Lisa Unger's website.

This was a library copy.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Needlework Tuesday - Halloween Costume

 I've always loved making costumes.  This year was no different.  My daughter didn't want my help beyond giving her some white fabric she could tear into strips. My niece  Michelle was looking forward to her first Canadian Halloween and found a pattern for Mr. & Mrs. Pototo Head in my pattern stash.

She bought a great piece of sweater knit fabric and I sewed the body and attached a few strips of velcro on the front.  Niece used many sheets of craft foam and cut out and decorated all the 'accessory' pieces.  Oh yes, I also made the tiny handbag  to carry a cell phone and camera.  There is a pocket on the back of the costume to store the extra face pieces.

Being modelled are ourfavourite glasses, we call them the 'Dame Edna' glasses and added a row of rhinestones across the top and a few more in those swooping corners.  Note that there is also a rhinestone on the right front upper tooth.  Gotta have that bling.
I checked the Simplicity website and this pattern isn't listed any longer.  There are dozens of other fun ones available.

Michelle sent me this photo of Mrs. Potato Head's extra face pieces.  They all have  velcro on the back for easy changing.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Martha Stewart's Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

After cleaning out three pumpkins for carving yesterday, I was left with a big bowl of seeds.  Pumpkin seeds are great for your health, one benefit is that they help to lower blood pressure (don't recall where i read this, but I can use all the help I can get in this area).  I love this recipe from Martha Stewart for 'Spicy Pumpkin Seeds'.  Be sure to use peanut oil.  I have tried canola oil and it just doesn't work.

I had enough to make four batches.  I didn't double the batches as I didn't want to muck around with too much hot oil in the pan at once.  The smaller batches cook up very quickly, only 45 -60 seconds.  To make the four batches only took fifteen minutes or so.   Now we have this huge bowl of sweet and spicy seeds which I suspect will last a few days. 

PS, you don't need to wash the seeds before cooking just remove the largest of the stringy stuff.