Sunday, April 13, 2014

For Such a Time

I get to choose the books I review for Bethany House, and this month I was hungry for fiction actually meant for adults. I read oodles and oodles of young adult fiction, but every so often, I need something with a protagonist older than fifteen.

Enter For Such a Time by Kate Breslin.  Stella Muller, or so her papers declare her name, wakes to find not the terrors of Dachau, but home of a resentful older woman. Soon after, a solidly built Nazi Kommandant arrives to take her with him to Theresienstadt.  According to her false papers, Stella was the secretary to the Kommandant's brother, and he believes that she was placed in Dachau by mistake. Stella lives in fear of the discovery of her true identity and also fears she will never reunite with her beloved Uncle Morty, the man who raised her after the death of her parents and who arranged for her false papers.  While Stella walks a fine line between safety and guilt, Kommandant Aric von Schimdt begins to realize that all he held true in his life as a German officer is not as he once believed and wonders if a life with Stella would bring him peace.

True history buffs will find many false facts, but Ms. Breslin owns up to those in an author's note at the end of the book.  The plot itself essentially sets the Book of Esther in the midst World War II.  Readers looking for a touch of history blended with a big helping of hope will enjoy For Such a Time.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Book Review: 10 Great Dates

Once again, I received a book to review for Bethany House. This time, I selected 10 Great Dates: Connecting Faith, Love, & Marriage by Peter and Heather Larson and David and Claudia Arp.

In this review program, I get to choose what I want to review, and I have been, whether I realized it or not, looking for a way for my husband and I to connect with each other and spiritually.

After a perusal and after running the idea by my husband, I am excited to report that we plan to go through the 10 Great Dates process together.  In this version of the 10 Great Dates series, couples go through a ten week series of conversations including Connecting Faith and Love, Getting Into the Word, and Making Your Marriage a Lighthouse.  The idea is that both partners read and reflect independently, then come back together to share and discuss.

The book is well organized and includes two tear-out copies of each of the dates.

I'm excited to get started going through this book with my husband and to have dates where we get to talk about God, our life, and our love, all rolled into one.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Book Review: Dragonwitch

Over the summer, I was craving more writing opportunities and stumbled upon Bethany House Publishers Book Review Program.  Each month, they send out a list of titles, and writers can request a free copy of the book for review.

My first book for review, Dragonwitch, arrived just a few weeks later. I had been seeking new fantasy titles, and this one, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, struck my fancy.  The Lord of Gaheris is on his deathbed, and arrangements are quickly made for his would-be heir, Alistair to marry Lady Leta, a young woman who has long expected to be handed over in marriage without much say in the matter. Lady Leta wanders the castle walls, rarely seeing her betrothed and meets The Chronicler, a dwarf who heads up the castle's library.  Leta finds something of a home in the library, and The Chronicler agrees to secretly teach her how to read.  All of these relationships, from cold Alistair to the bookish Chronicler, prove immensely important as the death of Lord Gaheris sets into motion a series of prophecies long since turned into children's stories.

Rich with dragons, faeries, goblins, and more, Stengl's book weaves an interesting tale.  That said, it took me far longer than I anticipated to get into the book and into the rhythm of storytelling.  I started and stopped the book numerous times over the course of several weeks, and normally, I can devour a book in just a few days.  Perhaps I should have read one of Stengl's other books in her Tales of Goldstone Wood series first, and that is what I would recommend to other readers.  The fantasy story is told well-enough, but readers need more background to truly appreciate the tale.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fun Summer Sides!

My cooking time shrank considerably when my son started walking, and I needed to devise what I call "Mom Meals" (find more Mom Meals here). In my quest for the simplest meals, I also discovered some simple, kid and crowd friendly sides. These sides flow well into our summer lifestyle, with less time overall spent in the kitchen, and more time spent talking and playing with friends and family. 

Kentucky Biscuits - I found these simple and delicious biscuits on Pinterest and have made them several times. The recipe doubles easily, the biscuits taste great as leftovers, and, the best part, I can prepare the entire recipe with a baby on my hip (I just need help to slip the biscuits into the oven). 

Seasoned Kale - I paired the kale with lamb chops, but this savory side would fit nicely alongside ribs, burgers, or other summer meals. We grew a full crop of kale this year and needed ideas beyond kale chips and smoothies. A friend recommended this side, which includes pine nuts, garlic, and dried fruit, and I would make it again. 

Grilled Zucchini - Many urban farmers find themselves with too many zucchini. While I do love a good chocolate zucchini bread, I find that this simple grilled zucchini satisfies all of my guests. This is another side that fits my requirements of being fast and simple. I can do the prep, and someone else can do the grilling. 

Sweet Potato Fries - We belong to a CSA, and we get many, many sweet potatoes. In the summer, I do not crave a baked potato, really anything in the potato casserole family. Sweet potato fries, however, offer an appealing alternative. I skipped the soak in water recommended in the recipe, just to shorten the prep time, and the fries were still crispy and delicious. 

All of these sides help me get through an abundance of produce and enjoy my time with family and friends. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mom Meals: Lamb Chops and Seasoned Kale

Lamb chops may not come to mind first when thinking of family meals, but at $14.50 for six on sale at my favorite local warehouse store, I couldn't pass up these tasty treats.

I have not always liked lamb. I went through a (years-long) phase where I didn't want to eat anything that could be used for another purpose without killing it. Lambs have wool. Done.  Then I tasted a properly cooked lamb chop, and while I still would rather not eat lamb all the time, I will do so when the need arises.

I searched Epicurious for lamb recipes and landed on something I thought would be perfect, until I looked at it again an hour and a half before dinner and found that the sauce alone would take two hours. Oops.

I did another search and came across this gem.  Guinness Glazed Lamb Chops...oh my. We had some Guinness left from St. Patrick's Day (I know, that's a crime in itself), and I wanted to put it to good use.  The real beauty of this recipe is the time it took to prepare - 25 minutes for the sauce, approx. 15 minutes to cook the lamb, and 15 minutes for the kale (which can cook at the same time as the lamb). My son played in the yard while my husband watered, allowing me time to play with ingredients and hot bubbly things on the stove.

Here's the recipe, with some tweaks:

Guinness Glazed Lamb Chops

  • 2 cups (16 ounces) Guinness stout - I used a single bottle of Guinness, about 11.5 ounces, and that was perfect.
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed - I added in tarragon, as well.
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
  • 16 rib lamb chops - I had 6 lamb chops, and that worked well with the single bottle of Guinness

  1. Bring stout, sugar, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2–quart nonreactive saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then continue boiling (keep an eye on it and reduce heat to keep it from boiling over) until glaze is syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. For me this took 25 minutes exactly.
  2. Preheat broiler.
  3. Pat chops dry and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.
  4. Brush both sides of chops with glaze, using about half of your prepared glaze, and arrange on rack of a broiler pan.
  5. Broil 5 inches from heat, 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium rare. I cooked for a total of 13 minutes, and these turned out just right.
  6. Transfer chops to a platter and drizzle with reserved glaze.

Seasoned Kale

We have a wealth of beautiful kale in our garden, and only by sharing some did I learn about this yummy combination.

  • Twelve good-size kale leaves 
  • Garlic 
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup yellow raisins (I used the Golden Berry Blend from Trader Joe's)
  • Lots of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put a nice layer of olive oil in a frying pan
  2. Add garlic 
  3. After oil is hot, add chopped kale and salt and pepper
  4. Wait a few minutes, then add pine nuts
  5. Add the raisins towards the end of cooking
The whole process to get the kale to the right texture takes about fifteen minutes - just about as long as it takes for the lamb chops to cook.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


At long last, summer has arrived, and with it, the desire to start writing again.  I will hopefully also return to adding some tried and true recipes, although I must admit that Pinterest stole my interest when it comes to posting favorite recipes.

Each evening, T asks me what I plan to do with myself the next day. He has an, not unreasonable, fear that I will grow bored and, later, take this boredom out on him.  With an energetic dog and toddler on my hands this summer, though, I think the boredom will stay away from me.

I also have finally accepted that developing my skills and talents takes time. When I encounter a talented person, it always seems that their talents come naturally, and I get a little (okay, a lot) jealous, and I just want to be naturally good at something.  For the past couple of years, I felt like I wasn't making any progress with my hobbies. And then, suddenly, the doors opened.  I sat down and thought about the "suddenly," and I realized that I had been making slow, steady progress that finally added up to something real.  In the past few months, I have started to run faster, take (and edit) better photos, write better fiction and even get paid (a bit) for some articles.  I feel motivated now to keep moving forward.

Each evening, when T asks me what I plan to do with myself the next day, I have an answer, and it usually involves a bit of each of my favorite hobbies: running, writing, and taking pictures.

Here's to summer and improving ourselves bit by bit.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mom Meals: No-Knead Bread

It's been a hectic few weeks, and adding a camera into the mix at dinner time seemed a bit more than I could handle.  Then, I remembered one of my favorite additions to a meal, homemade bread!  I have made Smitten Kitchen's No-Knead Bread numerous times over the years. It makes a fantastic addition to any meal, or a starting point for some meals like the one I  made that included this bread, cream cheese, and smoked salmon as the main course.  The bread also works well when you add in yummy, flavorful bits like garlic cloves, cheddar cheese, and more!

The best feature of this bread is that it works as a multi-step process over a couple of days.

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman at New York Times by Smitten Kitchen

Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450°F. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.