Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Blathering & Weekend Cooking

I'm so happy to say goodbye to this past week and more than ready to welcome a new one!  Almost every single year I have started to feel sick on the last day of school and ended up with a nasty cold or bronchitis.  My guess is that I just got it a bit early, so now I can finish off the school year with confidence, right?  Enough talk of plagues and scourges.  I'm so much better that I am feeling pretty chipper.

This coming week should be a great one at school.  My Popular Literature students have picked their Literature Circle books and had an amazing selection of new YA novels to choose from.  They checked them out on Friday, and I suspect that a good 1/3 of them will have them all read by our next class on Tuesday.  They really do show me that teens will make time for reading, no matter how busy they are at the time.  As with anything, it just depends on what you're wanting to do at the moment.

My other classes are doing projects and presenting them over Les Miserables and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, both books I adore teaching.  I'm excited to see what they come up with in their projects and presentations.  They always surprise me!

As for the home front, there isn't much to report.  Life can be pretty routine, with flashes of grandeur.  I think I'm doing the routine thing at the moment, saving up for the grandeur down the line.  At the moment, the grandeur comes in the great things I'm reading.  This past week I finished To Dance With Kings by Rosalind Baker.  I really can't say enough good things about it.  The grand, epic nature of the story about Versailles and the families associated with it were just all-encompassing, and I loved every minute of the story.  Now it's that slight let down you get when you finish a great book and find yourself searching for the next great read.

Well, enough of all that!  Today I finally started to get my taste buds back again, but had a fridge full of produce that was going to go bad if I didn't' cook with it.  You don't anticipate getting ill when you buy food for the week, so I really had to figure out a way of utilizing it all before it spoiled.  So, I came up with a quick pasta sauce that I could put all the veggies into like a paste.  It turned out amazing!  It really has a tanginess to it that deepened the flavor of the sauce, so I might be sneaking a load of veggies in again sometime.

Becky's Veggie Sunday Sauce

1 lb Ground Chicken Sausage
1 1/2 Red Onion
2 Celery Stalks
1/2 C. Chopped Carrots
1 Red Pepper
1 Zucchini, chopped
6 Cloves of Garlic
3 12 oz cans of Crushed Tomatoes
2 C Water or Beef Stock
Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Basil
1 Tbsp. Oregano
1/4 C. sugar (optional)
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Begin frying the sausage in a large pot to develop the caramelization on the meat.  In the meantime, dice up 1/2 C. of red onion & set aside.  In a food processor, blitz together the remaining onion, celery, carrots, red pepper, zucchini, and garlic into a fine paste.  Return to the pot, stirring the meat until completely cooked & slightly caramelized.  Add the diced onion and cook for several minutes until almost tender.  Then add in the paste from the food processor along with the 2 C. of water or beef stock.  Add in the remaining tomatoes and spices to the pot, turn down to a low simmer, and let cook for 1-2 hours.

Serve with pasta or freeze into portions that can be used later.

*For more weekend cooking, go to Beth Fish Reads.  You'll find all sorts of great food-related posts and recipes!   

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fiction to Film to Fantastic Music Friday: The Man From Snowy River (1982)

 I know that it's been awhile since I posted a "Fiction to Film to Fantastic Music Friday" post, but since I recently watched The Man From Snowy River over spring break, I had to post a little something about this jewel of a film.

When I was growing up, this was a favorite in our little community.  I don't think there was a slumber party that I attended that we didn't watch this movie or Anne of Green Gables.  Yes, we had very tame slumber parties--granted, that was when I was like nine or ten!  I was always really jealous of all the kids in my area that got to take piano lessons.  I wanted to take piano lessons, so much so that I begged my parents to let me!  Eventually, I was allowed to take them for about a year and a half.  Throughout that whole time, I had a series of songs that I wanted to learn how to play, and "Jessica's Theme" was right at the top.  It's funny to me now, but as a young girl, this was some strange obsession I had.

To be honest, I was unfamiliar with the poem until a few years ago.  It's interesting that a movie would come out of Andrew Barton Paterson's poem "The Man From Snowy River," but I'm glad that it did.  For me, this movie really is more about a memory.  We probably all have movies and soundtracks that etched their ways into our lives as we were growing up, and this one happens to be a pretty prominent one in my own.

* Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday is my own little weekly post. The premise is just to share my favorite books made into film, with amazing soundtracks to boot.  There might even be times where it's just a great film and soundtrack, or great book and film.  Either way, join in if you would like!

What films mark your early years as a child?  I'm not talking your all-time favorites, but the ones that maybe take you right back to a certain time in your life?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: Fever Cure by Phillipa Ashley

I thought I'd be a bit ironic today and review Phillipa Ashley's novel Fever Cure as a nod to the fever-induced state of illness I've been in this week.  Seriously, I thought I'd said goodbye to hard core colds like this!  I don't even know anyone at work with a cold right now, yet I somehow picked one up that has me single-handedly supporting Kleenex brand products.

Needless to say, I took today off and thought I'd log on and try to get something posted.  What would be better to review than a good Phillipa Ashley novel?  I actually read this one back in February, so I'm behind in getting this review posted!  Phillipa writes great modern romances such as Dating Mr. December and Carrie Goes Off the Map, which I've reviewed here on my blog.  I've even had a great chance to interview Phillipa about her writing.  She has a great sense of what women think and feel. 

Synopsis:  It was the end of a bad relationship for Keira Grayson, and she was looking forward to cutting loose at her friend's wedding.  In the process, she makes an embarrassing stumble in front of Doctor Tom Carew, son of an earl and a bona fide hottie.

Tom is home from New Guinea, where he was working with patients there on the island.  However, now he's home and trying to pull together the pieces of a disaster he left behind there.  Keira and Tom have instant chemistry, but like all budding relationships, the baggage they bring with them can also bring them down before they have a real chance. 

Review:  This is a true "escapist" read.  When you want to imagine yourself meeting a swoon-worthy male specimen, who also has a great job and landed money, sometimes a book is the only way you'll get it!  Tom has just enough emotional distance and wounds for Keira, who is sensitive from her own history and fears, to build a story where they have to communicate and work it out.  In short, you care about the characters and what happens to them. 

I'm a total Phillipa Ashley fan and will pretty much read anything she has written. I love her character development & escapist story lines. This one was a little racy, but since I'm not exactly a prude, I didn't mind. The ending was a bit predictable, with a few twists and turns to change it up slightly, but you honestly don't want it to end any differently than it does.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal copy of the novel.

Now, I'm off to take a nap.  It's time to knock this head cold out for good!!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Blatherings & Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Final Post

Happy Sunday to one and all.  Last night I finally called it a night about 1:30 am, after which I recall barely turning the light out in time to crash.  Generally, I would say I could make it a lot longer than that, but I noticed a bit of a nasty sore throat coming on that is obviously much more than annoying allergies.  Today I'm feeling a bit like someone boxed my ears (heard that one in awhile?) and made me drink battery acid.  Since no one did this to me, it must be my own body coming down with something terribly fun.

I needed to get a bit more reading done today and have about 11 essays left to grade, but I've been stretched out on the couch, sleeping off and on.  I'm actually in a bit of a panic though, because I have to feel better so I can make it to work tomorrow.  I don't have time to get sick!  My last class of students is finishing their state testing, which would cause a multitude of people to be angry with me for not being there to take care of it myself.  So, I really need to suck it up and shake this off.  Sorry.  I don't mean to whine, but that is probably the only sound I'm capable of making about now.

Well, other than the scourge that is haunting me at the moment, I have to say that the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon was really great.  I got to a late start, but for what I accomplished, it was a really great time.   Here is my exit survey:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  It would be obvious to say 1:30 am, but it was around 4pm in the afternoon. I think it was just that afternoon slump & oncoming sore throat getting me.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  Habibi was a pretty engaging graphic novel, that I think would make a good choice.  Although it's a graphic novel, it still came in at 672 pages.  The story was gritty and in your face, which had me flipping pages.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?  No.  I think was all just really appreciate EVERYONE involved with it!  I can't say thank you enough to those who organized it, those who cheered us on, and those who participated.  The group, reading together, is always what makes it a great time.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  I do think that the posts on the main web site help to keep me up to speed with where we're at, and I feel like twitter is what holds us all together. 
  5. How many books did you read?  2
  6. What were the names of the books you read?  A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, and Habibi by Craig Thompson.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?  Probably Habibi, because it really grabbed me with its intensity.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?  I actually didn't read anything that I didn't enjoy. 
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?  N/A
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  I really enjoy these, so of course!  I might even do a mini-challenge again.  That was really fun as well, even though I got so nervous to do it.
Until next time, I hope you have a great remainder of the day.  I'm off to crash again!

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: Hour Nineteen & a Mini-Challenge Winner!

Thank you to everyone who joined in the "Me and My Book" Mini-Challenge!  For a mini-challenge later in the game, I was happy to see so many of you still hanging in there.  I drew numbers, and congrats to Jennifer at A Librarian's Library for submitting this fun twitter pic.   Thanks again!  It was fun getting all those pictures.

Now, for a quick update of my own.  I'm sure I'm like many others who started to go downhill after midnight.  We're heading towards 1 a.m. here, so it's getting a little harder stay awake.  I don't know that I should really stay up the full time anyway, as it will really mess with my sleep for work next week.  Yea, I feel like a big wimp, but it's true.  I'll stay up for a little bit though.  Let me share my stats and what I've read:

Books Read:  2
Hours Read: 6+???--I kind of lost track.
Snacks Consumed:  1--Lovely fresh fruit juice bar in Mango flavor.  Yum!
Pets Fed Because They Freaked Out That I Was Still Awake:  1
Books Finished Since Last Time:

This was a much longer graphic novel at 672 pages, but it was pretty gripping.  This was definitely no casual read.  

Well, I'm off to see what I can cover between now and when my eyes slam shut of their own accord!  Thanks to everyone who put this together or who stopped by to cheer me on.  This has been a great time!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Mini-Challenge: Me and My Book Mini-Challenge & Prize

Welcome!  I hope you're reading has been great so far and that you're holding out strong.  Now that we're on to hour 17, you might be getting a little tired.  I'm assuming that you've cast off the makeup and have settled into some nice, comfy clothes to finish off the challenge.  Why not hide that yawn, hold up your book, and share a picture with us?

Time to get reading Bree DeSpain's 3rd book, The Savage Grace!

Here are the challenge details:

  • Grab your book
  • Grab your camera
  • Post your picture to your blog or somewhere else online like Twitter, Tumblr, or Pinterest.
  • To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below, but please also share your permalinks with us in the comment section!
One participant will be selected to win a $15 gift card from, to be selected during hour 19.  The gift card is for the U.S. only--sorry.  Join in though and share what you're reading.  Besides, you get to hide your sleepy face!

I can't wait to see some of your pictures! 

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: Hour Sixteen

I'm starting to feel the lack of sleep this week, including an extra early wake up time this morning.  Maybe I need to run around the block?  Nah. I don't know that my new pajama attire would quite work.  Hopefully I can pick up some energy as we head into the last nine hours!

Just as a quick note, I will be hosting a challenge during hour 17, so don't forget to check back for a chance to win a prize.

Well, I've finished my first book and had a bit of dinner.  I'm ready to head back into a book and keep reading, so here are my stats!

Books Read:  1
Hours Read:  4 1/2--Not good, but considering my busy morning, I still think that's pretty decent.
Sodas Consumed:  3--Even I'm shocked that I haven't had more than that.  I consider myself a bit of a Diet Dr. Pepper connoisseur, so I can't believe I consumed more to get me through.  I shouldn't speak too soon though!
Random Distractions:  Laundry & fresh sheets on my bed, that way I'll be ready to crawl in and sleep later!

Here's what I read:

All right.  I'm ready to get back to reading so I can prepare for my mini-challenge in about an hour.  I'll see you back here soon!

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: Hour Nine

So I really am getting started now.  I've only read for about an hour, and that was the audio book that took me to and from the AP test this morning and to run a couple of errands.  Can I tell you that I really did mean to jump in and start reading, but when I looked around the house, it was SO MESSY that I couldn't settle down.

No worries.  The house is now clean.  The bathrooms are clean; the floors are swept, mopped, and vacuumed, and the laundry is laundering as I type.  NOW I can settle in.  I know this about myself, so why don't I don't I clean up before I start one of these things?

Well, I'm finally off to read--for real.  I graded a nice, hefty stack of papers this morning, so I am more than ready to read.  Now, what should I read?  I can't decide...

Stats So Far

Hours Read:  1--kind of.
Books Read:  0--but I'm going to remedy that.
Essays Graded:  15!!!--Trust me.  That's good.
Houses Cleaned:  1 Very, Very messy house.
Snacks:  1 Awesome Red Velvet Cupcake from The Sweet Tooth Fairy!  Yum.

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon: Starting Line

All right.  I did get up before the readathon started, but I'm currently administering an AP Literature practice test.  For the next 3-4 hours I'll mainly be grading papers and giving out time cues.  I actually really like to administer this test, since I seem to get a lot more done during this quiet time than any other!

Here's my goal for the readathon today.   As some of you know, I have a 15+ reading list right now--that's ridiculous, even for me.  I'm going to rotate my way through them to try to knock off a couple of them.  As I'm reading though, I decided I would make myself grade 1 AP essay for every hour of reading.  That way I should have up to 24 essays graded by the time we finish, right?  I can pull double duty, right?  I'm kind of hoping.  Honestly, I can't wait to get started!

Well, that's my story.  I'll be back to join you all soon!  Best wishes as you get reading.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Time to Prepare for Another Read-a-Thon!

Its' time again for another great read-a-thon, starting tomorrow.  Twice a year, over at Dewey's Read-a-Thon page, book bloggers, authors, and readers all join together to try to read for 24 hours straight.  I'll admit that I haven't ever made the full 24 hours, and I doubt I will be able to on this one.  I'm a lot better at staying up when we do them in the summer, but I still LOVE to participate in these read-a-thons.

Here in Mountain Standard Time, we're supposed to start up at 6 am.  I'm not 100% sure I'll make it up that early, since it was a lot harder week than I anticipated.  Plus, I have to go and administer an AP Literature practice test in the morning.  I will be able to read and tweet from the test though, so that should be kind of fun, right?

This year I'm also going to be hosting my first mini-challenge.  I'm pretty excited, but also kind of nervous!  Here are the details for the challenge:

  • Mini-Challenge:  Me and My Book
  • Time:  Hour 17
  • Prize:  $15 gift card from to one winner, U.S. only
  • Details:  You'll have to check in at hour 17 to find out!  :)  
I really am pretty excited to participate in the read-a-thon this time around.  This week was a little gnarly, so I need to unwind with something great like this.  It will also be great to try to get through my current reading list, which has about 15 books in it at the moment.  Yea, that's just too many to be bouncing between!

Well, I better get off and get ready for tomorrow.  If you haven't joined in the challenge, you really should!  Even if it's only for a few hours, it can be pretty fun.  Between blog posts and twitter conversations, it's a really great time!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Film Review: The Song of Lunch

Masterpiece recently celebrated their 40th year in broadcasting, and I think it's safe to say that many voracious readers are also big fans of their programing.  With great fiction to film selections, amazing classic adaptions, and thrilling original programming (hello Downton Abbey!), there seems to be a never-ending selection of great things to watch.  Yes.  I'm a total fan and have my DVR set to record anything put out by Masterpiece.

Back in November of this last year, Masterpiece Contemporary ran a program called The Song of Lunch, which I was intrigued to hear was an adaptation of a narrative poem by Christopher Reid.  (See this Guardian article for a short clip from the original poem.) That was interesting enough for me to want to check it out, but after seeing that Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson played the couple in the film meeting up for that lunch together, I was sold.

The basic premise of the piece is that Rickman's character meets up for a lunch hour with Thompson's character, a woman he had an affair with 15 years earlier.  Throughout the meeting over lunch, we are privy to the interesting, amusing, and even disturbing thoughts of Rickman's character.  He details what he sees, how things have changed, and how he feels at every turn.  In a lot of ways, he revealed the fears and weaknesses of a man looking back on his life and questioning his choices.  Told in a very beautiful, lyrical style, this is not a piece filled with a lot of dramatic monologue.  No, it is geared toward nuance, symbol, and tone.  In short, although stirring at times, I thought it was amazing.

The piece is a pretty short one of maybe an hour in length.  The subtly of the story will probably not be every one's "cup of tea," but I thought its poetic narration to be stunning.  Of course, having all-star actors like Rickman and Thompson doesn't hurt the piece.  They don't necessarily speak very often, but use body language in large supply to reach out and tell a much bigger story than is spoken.  In short, I loved it.  If you have a moment to sit and quietly watch a thinking/feeling film, then I really do recommend you check it out.

                                          Watch The Song of Lunch Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly

I wish I had a schedule where I could have hopped on Mr. Darcy Forever sooner.  Thank goodness for a nice Spring Break that gave me a chance to sit down and read it in one sitting.  In my world, that's a bit of a luxury, and I loved it!  This was a prefect book for my break.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Estranged sisters Sarah and Mia Castle have spent a lifetime fighting over the men in their lives. They finally begin to make amends at the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. During the festival, the sisters realize that they can't bear to be apart. They discover that their sisterhood forms a bond stronger than their mutual connection as Jane Austen addicts. And in true Jane Austen fashion, they each begin to lose their hearts to dashing gentlemen."

Review:  Having read an earlier novel of Connelly's, I knew I was in for a nice, modernized treat with this newest book.  Let me just start off by explaining that Pride and Prejudice doesn't really play a role in the novel.  The title, in my own opinion, is a tie to the perfect Austen character, as the rest of the book is more geared toward Sense and Sensibility.  

In the beginning of Mr. Darcy Forever, I had a difficult time tracking the present and the past as it jumped from the present estrangement between the sisters, Sarah and Mia, to the past events that split them up.  I can tell you right now that we don't learn of the conflict until well into the book.  Usually that would irritate me, since I like to understand the characters so that I can attach myself to their actions and reactions.  In this case, it worked out really well and had me realizing how quickly I jump to conclusions--maybe like these two sisters did to begin with.

As mentioned, it takes a long time to understand what came between these two sisters.  Sarah, who has OCD and needs to control everything, appears to be the nuisance or villain.  Although we might feel for her and her idiosyncrasies, it seems like she might have driven the two apart by her actions.  However, Mia increasingly comes across as immature and possibly as responding too emotionally to her situation.  Come on.  Can't Mia see after these years of being apart how silly and immature she used to behave?  This is what I thought in the beginning.  Readers of Jane Austen's novels will quickly start to draw connections to Sense and Sensibility in the story.  This is in no way exactly like the classic story, but there are some definite similarities to the Dashwood sisters, with some interesting and surprising twists to the story.

Mr. Darcy Forever was a delightfully emotional read.  Austen fans will readily recognize aspects of Austen's classic, while getting a modern look at Bath and our characters' complex, modern lives.  I really enjoyed the novel and its characters and appreciated the way the story unfolded so as to not feel predictable or overworked.  Overall, a good clean Austen modernization.  

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a review copy provided by the publisher.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Blatherings: End of a Break

Pretty blooming tree that tells me it's really spring!
Back to the madness this next week.  I suppose that this weekend snapped me back into normal routines again with a wedding reception yesterday and a dinner party earlier today. All I know is that this was one badly needed week of rest!  I feel like I need to send out a recurring apology to my blog readers and friends for endlessly whining about work, as it seems that I take to the blog to air my feelings too often than not.  Regardless, things are good here and I'm feeling refreshed.  I might not be 100% ready to go back to the madness that awaits, but it sure was nice to let the craziness sit for a little while.

This week I did manage to get a lot taken care of, which always feels good.  Along with the necessary came the completely unnecessary (on hindsight).  I spent so  much money this week that I might as well have headed to Cancun or some other fabulous destination with what I spent!  Honestly, between getting the car fixed, meds, clothes, shoes, and groceries for random recipes I wanted to try out, I spent way too much money this past week.  On the bright side, the car is fixed, the closet is refilled, and the bath products have been stocked for the next decade (You think I joke--I'll have to take a picture of the insane number of Bath & Body Works products I purchased on a whim.  Hey, they were buy 600 and get 600 free, right?!?  I need help.)  Is excessive spending a result of being so tight with my money?  Oh well.  I'll still have most of my debt taken care of soon.  Then, off to increase the retirement fund!

Well, that's all I'm mulling over this evening.  I have a glorious stack of books that I'm still working through, so hopefully I can post some more reviews soon.  For now, I'm off to grade some reading quizzes for school tomorrow.  Oh, the joys of procrastination!

How was your weekend?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: The Pioneer Woman--Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond

When I was an undergrad, my roommates and I had a long conversation (one of many) about what we liked in a man.  I could say, pretty emphatically, that I was attracted to the Marlboro Man--minus the smokes.  Seriously.  Maybe it's the whole growing up in Idaho, around farmers and ranchers, that has me super attracted to a hyper-masculine, Wrangler-wearing man?  Or, it might be that darn scene from Man from Snowy River.  You know the scene I'm talking about!  Remember when he saves the girl and rides through this breathtaking panorama of mountains with her on the back of his horse, ending the scene with a kiss on said horse.  Be still my beating heart! (By the way, if you haven't seen this movie before, go NOW and find it.  You will thank me.)

Whatever my attraction to Mr. Marlboro Man, I got teased about it endlessly.  Because of that, my best friend from college told me I HAD to read Ree Drummond's autobiography about how she met her husband.  So, while on vacation in Costa Rica last October, she hauled a copy of the book down there and gave it to me as a late birthday present.  It took me until February to then get to it, and I'm still kicking myself that I waited so long!  Now it's be still my beating heart, but because of a super romantic story.

Synopsis:  Ree Drummond is the queen of food blogging--in a big way.  Her blog, "The Pioneer Woman," is a real show of her strengths:  food, family, and photography.  Having drawn million of readers with her stories of the hunky Marlboro Man (her husband Ladd) and their ranch, raising four kids and a thousands of animals, it all sounds so quaint.  In Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, we learn about how that story came to be by hearing her story of how she and her husband met and started their family. 

Review:  I can't say that I was a frequent visitor to the Pioneer Woman's blog before reading her book, but I had visited it a couple of times and felt a type of camaraderie with her.  Growing up in "meat and potato" land in southeast Idaho, her recipes from her ranch in Oklahoma certainly resonated with me.  Her food is hearty, "down home," and very geared toward the comfort foods that many of us grew up eating.  Little did I know, however, that she really grew up in the city and had lived in Los Angeles for a number of years--not necessarily in the same vein, food wise, as an isolated Oklahoma ranch.

Ree's story about how she met her "Marlboro Man" (as she calls him) in a smoky bar in Oklahoma is super intense and super sweet.  Ree only meant to meet up with a group of old friends for a drink, on a short stop-over at home before moving on to Chicago to head to grad school.  Little did she know that she would meet the man of her dreams in that bar and start up a whirlwind romance that would change her entire life.

I absolutely loved and adored this book!  Although it's autobiographical, it reads like a super-romantic, super-clean romance.  Ree is very good at capturing the ups and downs in her emotions, including everything from the giddy elation to absolute fear.  In a lot of ways, their story is most amazing because of the depths of honesty between the two.  I fell in love with her husband too when she showed how forthcoming he was about his feelings and thoughts.  He didn't come across as a man who was overbearing or aloof.  In fact, he sounded patient, smart, and head over heels in love with Ree.  What woman wouldn't want that?

Whether you're familiar with Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, or not, you really should check out her book.  She has an honesty in her writing that is both captivating and funny, and that really captures who we imagine her to be.  From what I hear, she is writing another book to follow her first, and I assure you that I will be quick to grab a copy!

By the way, I'm now a much bigger fan and adore her Food Network show, "The Pioneer Woman."  It airs here on Saturday mornings, but check local listings for the day and time.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal copy of the book.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: A Place of Yes by Bethenny Frankel

Synopsis:  From Goodreads "Bethenny Frankel's no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is personality won over countless fans, and made her a nationally bestselling author and the star of her own hit Bravo show Bethenny Getting Married? Now Bethenny opens up and shares the obstacles she overcame and the great success she has enjoyed while discovering how to approach life from “A Place of Yes.” Bethenny’s path was not always clear as she overcame a difficult childhood, failed relationships, entrepreneurial efforts that never quite got off the ground, and lifelong money struggles. To deal with these challenges, Bethenny developed ten rules for pursuing her goals with authenticity and drive." 

Review:  Having been a fan of Bethenny Frankel's for awhile now, I really wanted to check out her "ten rules" for tackling life.  For anyone who has watched her reality shows, you know that Bethenny is pretty much an open book about her past and present.  She has shared her career, relationships, and family with her audience.  Now, she digs in to share what she has come to realize and records it in her semi-autobiographical book, A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want. 

Many of the rules Bethenny shares in her book deal with personal honesty and hard work.  You do have to somehow be brave enough to say yes to things in your life that are scary or difficult; however, I wonder if some "self help" suggestions really just fit the person who realized them.  I really appreciated learning about what drove her to become the person that she is, but I don't know that they always fit every person.  There was one rule about not doing work that is unsatisfying, and attempting things that scare you and help you achieve your best self.  I'd love to say that I could drop my job and find that "blissful" fit, but I think there is a fine line between doing what you do best, by which you feel fulfilled, and doing what you do best but not necessary liking work for all its stresses.  My parents always reminded me that work is called work for a reason.  I don't know how realistic it is to toss over ones "real life" for the hopes of a better one.  I will admit that it takes great courage when you do realize you need to find a better path.

All right, so let me cut to the chase.  I thought Bethenny's book gave some good information about how she achieved greater success and joy in her life.  While not all the "rules" she listed might fit every person--in my opinion--I appreciated the journey she took us on and was rather interested in what she learned.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Rather Paris by Jon Hart and Cooking Update

Let me follow up on yesterday's post about that Tart Tatin.  This was my first attempt at this famous dessert, so I guess it's all right if it isn't perfect, right?  I think my pan was a bit smaller than what the recipe anticipated, so there was too much sauce.  It basically went to the bottom of the plate and made the crust stick to the plate in a carmel-y, ooey-gooey mess.  Yummy, but messy.  I'll try it again sometime later.  By the way, in case you're wondering about the diet--as I talk about a gooey dessert--I've managed to lose 8 pounds over five weeks.  It has been slow, and I could probably lose a lot more if I'd avoid Easter desserts, but isn't this a normal life?  I'm fine with a slow loss.  At least I'm still losing!

Speaking of a French dessert, I had to share Rather Paris, which is a travel book that is part of a variety of travel/food books by Jon Hart centered on Paris.  This little guide jumped out at me on my last trip to the library, as it's such a short and unique little guidebook.  Having been published back in December of 2011, this particular book is really up to date on amazing stores, restaurants, cafes, and so much more in the various neighborhoods of Paris. 

If I were heading back to Paris this summer (I wish), I would definitely take this little booklet in my bag.  It's half the size and about a quarter of the weight of most travel/guide books.  In fact, this doesn't even feel like a "travel" book, but is more of an amazing insider look at a handful of great places throughout Paris.  If you were looking for a place to pick up paint, baby clothes, or even handbags, Rather Paris features a short blurb, address, and picture for your convenience. 

On a quick side note, I would NOT say this is a book that you would rely on for all information on Paris.  This is a mere supplement to the million of other books out there.  On a scale of what's new and fresh, I simply thought this was a nice and fun new option.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

I hope you're all having a glorious Easter morning/day.  I'm in the process of making some desserts for a dinner I'm headed to, so I hope to be able to post some pictures later and share them for Weekend Cooking.  I've been waiting for this weekend to finally try out Apple Tart Tatin and Lemon Tart Broulee.  Yes, it will be quite a sugar high, but oh so good!

We finally limped our way through work and school this last week and have a glorious week off for Spring Break.  Since my car is having issues and I'm trying to save money and get the last of my debt paid off, I'm staying close to home this week.  I'll basically be reading, blogging, cleaning, and grading.  Honestly, it sounds like a bit of heaven to me.  I have to really gear up for the madness to come after as we head into the end of the school year.

Well, have a glorious day!  Hopefully I'll be able to post my food recipes later this evening.  Until next time--Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: Sweet Macarons--Delectable French Confections for Every Day

In the world of sweet confections, macarons surely rank up there with some of the world's prettiest creations--at least in my humble opinion.  If you've ever walked into a sweet shop with a glass showcase filled with colorful macarons, there just doesn't seem to be anything better.  Their vibrant colors, intricate flavors, and gentle sweetness come together to make a delightful dessert.  Besides, they can make you wish yourself in Paris with nothing more than a bite!

In Sweet Macrons, I really appreciated the amount of time and space spent to explaining the issues that come up with macarons.  These can be tricky little cookies, that I have yet to really master.  Although I've only attempted them twice, both times my cookies spread out on the baking sheet and I had a bit of a mess on my hands.  After reading through the suggestions at the beginning of the book, Mercotte explains that part of my problem had to do with not separating my egg whites early enough for them to sit out.  Once you've measured your egg whites, almond meal, and sugar, it seems like you can really get to the heart of macaron making, which opens up a bevy of beautiful desserts.

There is a nice variety of recipes in this little cookbook to keep every taste happy.  I loved the fruit ones, with flavors like citrus and kaffir lime, and mango and passionfruit.  There are also some of the standards, such as chocolate and salted caramel.  Regardless of difficulty or time, this cookbook has a nice and simple outline for their recipes, with pretty pictures to help you see your end goal. 

Now, it's time for me to try to tackle these little beauties again!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based off of a review e-copy from Netgalley.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: The Greater Journey--Americans in Paris by David McCullough

I actually started this non-fiction read about Paris back around Thanksgiving.  I picked it up in audio form and listened to it for a 7 hour round trip, which only got me about half way through the book.  Then, as often happens to me, I had to return it because it had a massive number of holds.  Well, I finally got my hands back on it in February and finished it up.  Talk about one long journey with a book!

Synopsis:  Set in Paris between 1830 and 1900, this non-fiction heavyweight traces the path that multiple Americans made in that famed city.  Looking at everything from medicine, architecture, writing, and art, the book takes in the many influences and events that occurred around the globe to drive people to arrive in Paris.  Although sweeping it its history, the stories are very intimate and real, making famous and unknown both feel present.

Review:  To find the words to describe this book is a real accomplishment.  Comprised of stories of education, passion, and drive, it seems that Paris was a hotbed of activity for anyone wanting to become someone.  Although the stories are not just about people wishing to become great, the stories of renowned and great people rubbing shoulders are pretty interesting. 

One of my favorite things that McCullough brought to life in his book are the stories on a more day to day level.  His chapter on medicine and the surgery were gut wrenching, and so interesting that I could honestly picture the group of doctors gathered around to watch intricate surgeries, knowing their patient would most likely die.  The thought that almost every patient died really struck me.  I can't imagine the pain and suffering someone would have to be in to allow themselves to be put that close to death.  From these early surgeries, however, our modern medical field gained vast amounts of knowledge on anesthesia and anatomy.

The stories really are too many to even retell, but the varieties of people, events, and subjects make this a truly phenomenal read for lovers of history.  How McCullough managed to get to the heart of what people were doing in Paris and what drove them there is amazing to consider.  I found it to be an overwhelming, yet intriguing piece of history that I would recommend for any reader. 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Blatherings & Weekend Cooking All In One

Thank goodness for weekends.  Honestly, it's nice to slow WAY down and just rejuvenate a bit.  Each of my classes is reading a novel right now, so the lesson planning really varies.  Teaching a novel is my favorite thing to do though, so I'm loving it!  In the midst of that, we're trying to gear up for state testing immediately following Spring Break, which is in a week.  Can't wait for that little break. I'm not really going anywhere this year, but I have a lot that I'll be doing around the house to catch up again. 

Speaking of the home front, this week I wanted to share something exciting for my Weekend Cooking post.  After a torturous fall/winter session in my online job, I finally got paid for it all, AND I got my bonus!  (Happy dance!)  I finally was able to take some of that bonus to buy my first Le Crueset pan.  People have talked about how great they are, and I really did think they exaggerated a bit.  Nope.  They really are all-round great pans. 

Along those lines, I thought that this week I'd share my favorite kitchen "acquisitions" and tools.  It has taken me some time to pick up the pans, spices, and utensils that I've wanted, but I love how they have helped shape what I cook.  Years ago, I purchased a set of All-Clad pans, which was the best thing I ever did.  From there, I've slowly filled my kitchen with great cooking tools.  Here are my favorites:

Here are three of my favorite tools.  When I was in graduate school, my mom gave me that lovely Wusthof knife for Christmas.  To be completely honest, that knife has been a game changer.  I don't think I can say enough about how great a good knife really is for cooking.  Next is a good cast iron skillet.  Before I moved into my new house, I bought my own skillet, thinking I'd give it a try.  Now that it's well seasoned and has been used quite a bit, I don't know what I'd do without it!  Finally, is the newest member of my kitchen family, my new Le Crueset, enameled cast iron pot.  It's just settling in with the rest of my kitchen favorites, but from what I've already prepared in it, I can see that it's going to be indispensable.

Finally, I had to share my spice rack.  Growing up, my mom kept her McCormick tins of spices in a drawer, which smelled like heaven when you slid it open.   The bad part though was that you had to rifle through them to find what you wanted.  Later, when I had roommates and was in college, I kept a plastic tub full of spices.  Talk about a pain!  Thanks to these nice containers, I can keep all my spices in one place where I can see them.  Eventually I'd like to hang a sheet of metal on the inside of my pantry door so I can put them in a darker location, but for now they are all down one side of my fridge where I cook.  They look nice, and they are super convenient.  (By the way, I purchased the spice tins from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. One box of these was a gift, but the remaining ones I picked up were expensive when purchased individually.  If you ask them how much for the box, sometimes they will reduce the overall cost.)

Well, I'm off to make my mom's fabulous spice bars and to settle in to do a bit of blog hopping--finally--and a bit of reading.  Thank goodness for weekends!

*For more weekend cooking, go to Beth Fish Reads.  You'll find all sorts of great food-related posts and recipes!   

Please share!  What are your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets?