Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All About the Brontes Challenge 2010

Here are my picks for the All About the Brontes Challenge 2010 hosted by Laura's Reviews:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Juvenilia by Charlotte Bronte
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte by Daphne Du Maurier
Emma Brown: An Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Bronte by Clare Boylan

I am focusing mostly on Charlotte, but wanted to add Agnes Grey because it's the only Bronte novel I've never read....or maybe I have read it and just don't remember.  Daphne Du Maurier is one of my favorites so I added the Branwell Bronte biography (if I can find it somewhere).

This challenge begins on Jan.1 and runs to June, so there is still plenty of time to sign up! Laura has an extensive list of books and movies on her blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Blog Update and Margaret Atwood Novels

Blog Update
I've noticed a lot of blogger folk are giving a kind of "State of the Union Address" about the direction and progression of their blogs.   The end of a year and the beginning of the next is a good time for reflection.  When I started this blog last summer, I thought to focus only on cooking.  Since then I have branched out to other things such as crafts and book reviews.  So I guess the focus of my blog is a bit unfocused.  For now, I'm okay with that.  So expect more random entries in 2010.  Random/unfocused is sort of the theme of my life right now!

Margaret Atwood
I am adding Margaret Atwood to my ever growing list of favorite authors.  This year I read two of her books, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. Out of all the books I've read this year, these are the only two my mind continues to return to ponder. Both take place in the future and most people would label them science fiction. However, Atwood doesn't like this label and would prefer to call them speculative fiction.  I agree with this and would add that even people who would not typically enjoy science fiction would really like these books.

Oryx and Crake: a Novel
Oryx and Crake reveals a futuristic society that is divided between the elite science community who live in "safe" gated compounds and the pleebians who live outside these communities in an atmosphere of violence and disease. The science community focuses on using genetic engineering to make life better. Jimmy, who later is renamed Snowman, grows up in a compound where his father creates pigoons, pigs who have been genetically engineered to grow human body parts. Jimmy befriends Glenn, who later becomes Crake. They grow up together playing violent video games and watching internet porn. Both boys become fascinated with a young girl on the porn site, who they later meet and rename Oryx. 

The book begins with Snowman/Jimmy as a grown man. He seems to be the last man on Earth with Crakers, genetically engineered humanoids, as his only companions. In these scenes, Snowman is just trying to stay alive. He is hunted by the genetically engineered animals such as pigoons and wolvogs. Through his flashbacks, the reader learns how he (and the Earth) has ended up in this dire situation. It is an incredibly complex and interesting novel.

The Handmaid's Tale
After reading Oryx and Crake, I wanted to reread The Handmaid's Tale, which presents an alternate future outcome of society.  The Handmaid's Tale is written from the perspective of a handmaid, a woman whose sole purpose is for breeding, much like Rachel used her servant in the Bible to bear her a son.  Her life depends on her ability to do this. 

This handmaid experienced the transition from a society much like ours to this one where she has been stripped of her rights. Everything has been taken away from her including her daughter and husband from her previous life.Women are not allowed to own property or to read. Some women become Wives through arranged marriages.  Others become household workers called Marthas. It is heartbreaking and amazing portrait of survival....and eventually escape.  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Irish Country Christmas

An Irish Country Christmas
If I could only use one word to describe An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor it would be charming! Reminiscent of Jan Karon's Mitford series, this novel centers around the lives of two country doctors and the colorful people they encounter in the small town of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland, 1964. Much like Father Tim, the doctors O'Reilly and Laverty go beyond the call of duty when caring for their"flock." 

O'Reilly, the owner of the medical practice is a large bear of a man while Laverty is the competent young assistant with hopes of becoming a partner. They both experience uncertainty in their romantic lives. O'Reilly, a longtime widower, renews a relationship with an old sweetheart, Kitty. Laverty laments over his girlfriend, Patricia, who is away at school and doesn't seem to be making much of an effort to come home for Christmas.  

There are laugh out loud moments as well as heart-wrenching ones. One of my favorite parts begins with a little boy who is upset about not being cast as Joseph in the local Christmas pageant. I don't want to give away what happens, but his plan for revenge ends with one of the most hilarious scenes I've ever read in fiction.

An Irish Country Christmas is the third book in the Irish Country Doctor series. Of course, there is a little catching up in the beginning for people who are new to the series like me, but overall is could be a stand-alone book. I will definitely be reading the first two books.  

Taylor has also written a Christmas short story available to read for FREE on his website

Here are some of my favorite Irish expressions I learned while reading:

bletherskite: a nonstop talker

heart of corn: someone who has a heart of corn is good natured

gobshite: an insult literally meaning dried nasal mucus

take your hurry in your hand: wait a minute

hooley: a party

This novel is my third and last selection for The True Book Addict's Christmas Challenge.  I tried to read Tidings of Great Joy by Sandra Brown, but couldn't get past this line on page 12,"He bit into the succulent slice of turkey breast.  It never had occured to Ria that teeth could be sexy, but she felt that bite right above her belly button." With a roll of my eyes, I put this book down never to pick up another Sandra Brown book ever again!  

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wilton Candy Kit for Pretzels

This kit was an impulse buy for me at the store this week. It turned out to be a pretty fun and tasty activity. If you'll notice on the box, some of the examples are fancy, using multiple colors. I tried to be fancy, too, but it was not as easy as it looked. I found it very difficult not only to paint with the chocolate, but also to actually see where I was supposed to paint.
Thinking this was beyond my artistic abilities and gaging my patience, or lack thereof, at the time, I decided I better just fill the molds with solid colors. It was very easy and practically mess free. The molds are washable, so I'll be able to do this project again next year.  It was well worth the $9 spent as all of the melting chocolate came in the kit.  It ended up making 18 chocolate coated pretzels.  

Mine may not look as pretty as the ones on the cover of the box, but my children love them! 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Velvety Vegetable Cheese Soup

The past couple of weeks have been a flurry of activity around here.  With all the holiday bustle, it's sometimes hard to get motivated to prepare dinner at home. Picking it up seems so much easier.  Here is an extremely easy and fairly quick soup that is perfect for those tired nights after a busy day.  Velvety Vegetable Cheese Soup comes from Kraft Food and Family online.  If you puree the vegetables, your kids won't even know they're in there!

1 (16 oz) package frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot mix
2 (15 oz) cans of chicken broth
12 oz Velveeta cheese cut into pieces (I use the 2% kind to cut calories/fat)

1.  Put vegetables and broth in large pan.  Cover and bring to a boil on med/high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 min. or until vegetables are soft.  
2.  Mash vegetables.
3.  Add cheese and and cook five minutes, stirring constantly.  

Optional:  Puree vegetables for a smoother consistency. 

Serve with bread or a sandwich.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crafting with Kids: Trim a Tree Craft

My kids love crafts, so I'm always on the lookout for simple ones that even my three year old can do. This Trim a Tree Craft comes from Family Fun Magazine online. 

Gather all your materials and make supply kits for your kids. Old pie pans are nice for holding supplies.  Since my kids are 3 and 5, I cut the craft sticks for them.  If you don't feel like dealing with the mess of green paint as suggested in Family Fun, just have the kids color the sticks with a green crayon or marker. 

I put dabs of glue on the sticks for my children, and then let them assemble and decorate.  If you don't have sequins, consider small stickers, foam shapes, pom poms, or glitter instead.  

Tangy Pork Chop Stuffing Bake

Tangy Pork Chop Stuffing Bake comes from Kraft's Food and Family magazine. You can also access this recipe and many others online, without being a subscriber. The addition of cranberries to the stuffing makes this a really festive looking dish. I kept the basic recipe, but simplified it a bit.  


6 bone-in pork chops 
1 pkg. (6 oz) STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Pork (or Chicken)
1 can (16 oz) whole berry cranberry sauce
3/4 c KRAFT Original BBQ Sauce
2 TBSP brown sugar

(These are based on my modifications.  Follow the link above for the original Kraft recipe.)
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Mix stuffing, cranberry sauce, BBQ sauce, and brown sugar together.  Let sit.
3. In a skillet on medium heat, brown pork chops.  Aprox. 5 min per side.
4. Mist 9x13 pan with cooking spray and place chops in a single layer. Spoon stuffing mixture over chops.
5. Bake for 30 min. or until chops are cooked through.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber

Glad Tidings: Here Comes Trouble\There's Something about Christmas
I finished my second selection, Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber, for The True Book Addict's Christmas Reading Challenge.I finally found some time today to write my review.  (Christmas is coming along quite nicely here as I finished shopping both physically and virtually yesterday. Whew!)  Glad Tidings is a collection of two Christmas stories: There's Something About Christmas and Here Comes Trouble!  The protagonists in both stories are journalists, making it a nice pairing.  

The Lowdown on Debbie Macomber Books
Having read several Debbie Macomber books, I know what to expect from one of her stories. First, there will be some sort of conflict between two people who are attracted to each other. These two people will outwardly show disdain for each other, while inwardly long to be with each other. Due to circumstances beyond their control, the characters will find themselves forced to be in each other's company.  This contact will allow them to get to know each other. The resulting friendship paves the way for a deeper romantic bond.  The book will likely end with a marriage.  I have never read one of her books that deviated from this basic plot line.

So, Why Read Debbie Macomber Then?
Every once in a while, I enjoy reading a nice, wholesome love story.  The characters in Macomber's books are nice people, even though they sometimes have rough edges.  The situations she puts her characters in are fun to read...my favorite being The Midnight Sons series where lonely Alaskan Bachelors advertise for woman...so cute and usually pretty funny. 

Back to Glad Tidings
Out of the two stories, I enjoyed There's Something about Christmas better. The premise of this story revolves around a journalist, Emma Collins, who must face her fear of flying in order to further her career.  Her big break is to write a series of articles on National Fruitcake finalists in Washington state. The love interest is Oliver, the outwardly cocky, overly good-looking, maverick of a pilot who takes her to visit these contestants in his small aircraft. After a fair amount of misunderstandings and fights, he wins Emma's love through several heroic acts such as finding her a place to live after she is evicted from her apartment. (This new apartment just happens to be the one right next to his.)  He even manages to help Emma relearn the joy of Christmas, which is very endearing.  Plus, I loved all the fruit cake recipes!
The second story, Here Comes Trouble, begins on Christmas Eve when the young daughters of the protagonists ask to hear how their parents met.  Of course, the couple despises each other at first, being rival Seattle newspaper columnists.  Nolan, the father, publicly insults the mother, Maryanne by calling her a spoiled Debutante who depends on her daddy for home and career.  Maryanne is embarrassed, but sees some truth in this portrayal. Determined to be independent from her father, Maryanne quits her job and moves out of her posh Seattle apartment.  Nolan feels guilty about this and offers to help her.  He (surprise, surprise) finds her an apartment right next door to his.  There are misunderstandings and fights. Nolan must find a way to look past her wealth and upbringing, to see her for who she really is.  There was one small detail in this story that really bothered me, but that clearly reveals the wholesome nature of Debbie Macomber's mind.  Maryanne dresses for a date and wears a long black velvet skirt, a blouse, a black velvet blazer, and a cameo necklace.  Not exactly what I think a young woman in her twenties would wear on a date! 
Overall, Glad Tidings is an enjoyable book.  I'd recommend it to people who like light romances.  If you'd pick up this book because of the cute puppy on the cover, you're probably the type that would enjoy reading it.