Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Mullica River, NJ



...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Fire Season" [35]

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
Ecco, ISBN 978-0061859366
 April 5, 2011, 256 pages

What sort of person can, in fact wants, to spend weeks all alone, cut off from all people, in one of the last true wildernesses in the US? Well, author Philip Connor is one such person, one of the rare breed of men and women who man the fire towers in some of the most remote parts of the country, in his case, in New Mexico's Gila National Forest.

For about 5 months every year for the last decade, the fire season of late spring and summer, Connor, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, leaves his wife Martha behind in town, drives his pickup to the trail head and then hikes the more than 5 miles to the tower that will be his home and workplace for two weeks at a time, then hiking out again for his four days off. It is a time of almost total solitude, except for his dog Alice, the occasional hiker who passes through, and his daily check-ins on the radio with headquarters as he scans the miles and miles of wilderness for any tiny sighting of smoke that will signal the beginning of a fire.
But all that time alone gives Connor a lot of time to think and a lot of time to write in his journal, and his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects over one season is what we are presented with in this book.

He writes a fair bit about the history of the National Forest system and Gila in particular, especially the role of Aldo Leopold, a Forest service ranger turned conservationist. It was Leopold who was instrumental in convincing the Forest Service to attempt to keep any roads from being built into the forest, to keep them as truly wild as possible.
Perhaps the most interesting subject that he discusses at some length is the Forest Service and National Park Services changing ideas over time of the role of fire in the parks. At one time, every fire was seen as the enemy to be fought and suppressed but has changed in recent decades to viewing fire as a natural force that must be allowed, whenever not a danger to humans or property, to take a natural course. In fact, Connor makes a good case that it is only by often letting these fires burn that the natural state of the forest can be maintained. An interesting subject and one I assume not one everyone involved in these matters agrees with.

Along with our history and natural science lessons, we are also entertained with a number of stories about his and Alice's daily experience, some funny, some a bit scary and some, like a misguided attempt to interfere with helping a baby animal, rather sad. What do they say..Nature in the wild is seldom mild.
As much as I enjoyed the book, I did have an issue or two. A couple of maps would have been nice to help the reader really get a better idea of the scope of Gila and the relationship of some of these places he talks about and some idea of the distances involved. I like a few visual aids, but overall Fire Season is an interesting read, a book nature lovers will enjoy, anyone concerned about the National Park and National Forest will learn a good deal from and a book that may make anyone who has watched those wild fires burning thousand and thousand of acres on TV see fire in a new light.

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to review.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Just To Show You...

That I was really in Venice..and will be back there in a few days.
Not up to my usual photos maybe..I can't even tell you on this darn small screen.
But you will see a lot more in the future!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Ice Cream Sandwich Ice Cream Cake

Every so often, someone will bring something to eat into work.
Not just donuts or bagels or Philly Soft Pretzels...not that they are not all wonderful things.
No, I mean something they baked, something they made.
Now, recently someone brought in what I will call an Ice Cream Sandwich Ice Cream Cake. Not sure if that is really it's name but we will call it that. And actually, because I was not there that day, I never tasted it or saw it. But everyone was raving about it, so I asked the woman who made it..HI ANGELA!!.. how she made it.
Let's say, there is a lot of room for flexibility, so just take the idea and run with it!
The central idea is a layer of ice cream sandwiches, a layer of ice cream, a layer or toppings, another layer of ice cream sandwiches, and all topped with a layer of Cool Whip. Freeze until very solid, at least overnight and slice and serve.
Here is the recipe for my personal creation!

Ice Cream Sandwich Ice Cream Cake
  • 12 ice cream sandwiches
  • 1-1 1/2 quarts Cookies and Cream Ripple ice cream
  • 8 oz. jar maraschino cherries, cut in half
  • 4 TBS. Praline ice cream topping
  • 1 cup hot fudge topping, warmed slightly until pourable
  • 4-8 ozs. Cool Whip

I made my 'cake' in a large disposable loaf pan. Just because I am a coward, I made a sling of foil to help get it out of the pan after it was frozen, but I am not sure it is necessary.
Line the bottom of the pan with ice cream sandwiches. I only had to cut off about 1/2 inch of 5 to fill the bottom. Add 1/2 the ice cream, a layer of cherries, the praline topping. Then add the rest of the ice cream and then the fudge. Top with the rest of the sandwiches..i think I had 1/2 a one left...then finished with a layer of Cool Whip. I decorated the top with a line of a few cherries and a sprinkle of the praline, folded the foil over the top and into the freeze it went for about 24 hours.

If you like ice cream, I think you will love this. And of course the variations are only limited by your imagination. Different flavors of sandwiches, different ice creams, different toppings, will all make a very different outcome.
But regardless, it is quick and easy to make, looks great and is delicious.

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Review of "Bleeder" [34]

Bleeder: A Mystery by John J.Desjarlais
Chisel and Cross Books from Sophia Institute Press,
ISBN 978-1933184562
August 15, 2009, 272 pages

Professor Reed Stubblefield has been badly injured, both emotionally and physically. First, he lost his wife to leukemia, and lost his faith as well when she died. Then he was accidentally shot in a confrontation between two students and is still suffering from the damage to his shattered hip. To give himself some time to recover, he takes a leave from the college and go to stay at his brother's cabin in a mobile park in rural Illinois, to work on the book he is writing about the one person he still believes in, Aristotle. He assumes that in the chilly days of March, the place will be empty. Instead he finds the park fully booked, as is every motel in the area, mostly with the sick and infirmed. The crowds have come to see the new priest at the local parish in town, a man who is said to have the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, and to be able to heal the sick with his touch.

While Reed is totally skeptical about the claims others are making about Father Ray Boudreau, he can't help but be drawn into a friendship with the man. They discuss philosophy and theology, argue about Aquinas and Aristotle, explore the nature of faith and doubt.
When Father Ray collapses and bleeds to death, on Good Friday, in front of a full church, no one is more shocked than than Reed. And now one is more surprised than Reed when it appears that he is the number one suspect in the good father murder.

The Bleeder is a good mystery, and that would be enough to recommend it, but it is interesting on another level as well. Reed is a very damaged man, in many ways, and he is in the process of trying to fight his way back. Actually, he is really trying to decide if he even wants to fight his way back. So yes, on one level this is a murder mystery, and a pretty good murder mystery, with lots of twists and turns but the exploration of Reed's character takes it someplace more. Desjarlais does a very good job of creating a number of interesting and complex characters, and a couple of secondary storylines, that really keeps the book moving along. He allows Reed to explore his issues with faith and religion, especially in his discussions with Father Ray and Monsignor Demarco, the priest appointed to represent the Church in the investigation, without resorting to any easy answers or ever sounding preachy. And maybe what I liked best was that at the end of the book, the identity of the murderer is revealed (and for once I figured it out...at least pretty much) but not all the questions were definitively answered. Rather there is some room for you to make you own decisions about a number of things that happened and it left you with a couple of things to thing about..

If you are up for a well written mystery, with a little dash of philosophy to make you think a bit, this is one I believe that you will like.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wordless Wednesday..When in Doubt...Disney!


...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Dead By Midnight" [33]

Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery by Carolyn Hart
William Morrow, ISBN 978-0061914973
March 29, 2011, 288 pages

In this, the 21st (yes, 21st!) in Carolyn Hart's “Death on Demand” series, we are once again in the lovely South Carolina island town of Broward's Rock, and bookstore owner Annie Darling, with some assistance from her husband Max, is thick in the midst of mystery and murder.

Business is quite good in the store, so at the recommendation of a friend, she hires Pat Merridew, recently fired from her job as the long time receptionist at the local law firm of Jamison, Jamison and Brewster, to help out. But the help doesn't last long, because in a short period of time, Pat is found dead, an apparent suicide. The police chief seems satisfied that this is where the evidence points and is ready to wrap things up, but Annie, especially after a little investigation on her own, thinks it was foul play. She finds that Pat was planning an expensive trip to Alaska that seems at odds with her financial situation and was taking some late night excursions that may have led her to see something she was not meant to see at the house of her old boss, Glen Jamison. Then there are those photos on her Blackberry that beg for an explanation and some physical evidence at her house that does not add up.

When Glen Jamison, the dead woman's old boss, turns up murdered, there are any number of suspects, including his much younger, second wife, his mooching cousin and another soon to be laid off employee. But number one on the list is his sister Elaine, seem by Annie herself throwing something into the swamp behind the house just after the time that the murder took place. Annie is convinced the police are looking at the murders all wrong and that the two deaths must be connected...that the murderer is still on the loose and may kill again to stay that way.

I have not read any of the previous books in this series, and honestly, at 20 books, I doubt I will ever catch up. But Hart is enough of a pro to make this book easily work as a standalone.
Now, I am not a big reader of cozy mysteries, usually liking my murders a little more gritty, but there is a lot to like about this story. First of all there is the setting. Island, beaches, boating, fishing all add up to excellent in my book. And then there is the fact that Annie not only owns a bookstore but a mystery bookstore..and a charming sounding mystery bookstore at that. If I lived in Broward's Rock...and I can totally see that too....I would be in that bookstore all the time. Throw in lots of mentions of various mystery writers and mystery books and all the setting lacks is a lighthouse to be perfect. I did have one complaint though. This book is full of cats, real cats and artistically rendered cats, cats all over the place but not one dog! Really, that seems unfair!

Annie is a great character, although for some reason I can't say I was as fond of her husband Max. It is a minor issue, since he does not play a huge part in this book at least and Annie more than makes up for it. She is funny and clever and fast to pick up a clue. And lots of clues there are, which if you are smart enough will allow you to figure out the mystery. Something I admit I did not. But once the mystery is solved and the murderer revealed, everything ties in nicely. Add in a good supporting cast and you have all the making of a solid, entertaining book that fans of the series will enjoy and that, no doubt, will add more than a few more fans to Ms. Hart's Death on Demand series.

My thanks to the author and the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend Cooking...Tuscan Soup

I am sure a lot of you may have gone out to dinner or been taken out to dinner on
Mother's Day. Others may have had a lovely dinner cooked for them at home to celebrate the day.
Well, the Niece was in charge of cooking for the occasion, so she asked her mom what she wanted...and the answer was grilled cheese! What can I say...who doesn't love melted cheese?
But these were not just everyday, ordinary grilled cheese.
These was a choice of three.
First, the regular, with American and Cheddar on a nice white bread.
Next was Swiss, with slices of sauteed apples and last...and surprisingly my favorite...was provolone and pesto on thin slices of a chewy sourdough. Excellent.
All were cooked on The Griddler, one of my favorite appliances of all time, and came out so nice and crispy.

But she did not stop there. No, she also made a soup, called Tuscan Soup.
Now, I must say, when I read this recipe, I was not that impressed. You may read this recipe and not be impressed. Not many ingredients, just salt and pepper for spices. Where was the flavor?
Well, let me tell you, I was wrong. It was very good! Very easy, pretty quick and very tasty.
Some of the potatoes break down a bit and help thicken the soup and it gets a lot of flavor from the spicy Italian sausage...and lots of pepper. In fact, next time that I make it, I think I will add a touch of red pepper flakes. Maybe some beans. Beans would be nice.

Or maybe I will leave well enough alone!

Tuscan Soup


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 links spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 2-3 large potatoes, cubed
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bag baby fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste


  1. Remove skin from sausage and crumble into frying pan. Add chopped onion, and cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. If you are trying to cut fat, remove meat from pan, and wipe out extra fat.
  2. Add the stock and potatoes. Simmer until potato is tender.
  3. Add spinach. Continue simmering until spinach is lightly cooked.
  4. Remove soup from heat, stir in evaporated milk, and season to taste. 

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All My Bags Are Packed...

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

Yes folks, I am out of here for a couple of weeks, off to far distant and exotic locations, across the ocean. We start in Venice, board a large cruise ship and head for Ephesus, Istanbul, Athens and a number of Greek islands. Hopefully, I will return with hundreds of great photos that, no doubt, you will see on future Wordless Wednesdays.

I do have some posts scheduled during my absence, but with Blogger's history, who knows now that will work out. I do hope to check in but, in my experience, Internet access on the ship is slow...really slow...so, again, we will see how that goes.

Behave yourselves now!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Review of "Graveminders" [32]

Graveminder by Melissa Marr
William Morrow, ISBN 978-0061826870
May 17, 2011, 336 pages.

Rebekkah Barrow is not actually a member of the Barrow family by birth. Her mother married a Barrow man and they only lived in Claysville, the family home, for a few of her teenage years, before her mother left her stepfather and they moved out of town. But Rebekkah always felt a connection to the town, a connection she has never found in any of the many other places she has lived, and felt especially connected to her grandmother Maylene. So when Rebekkah is notified that her grandmother has died, in fact, as she finds out upon her returned, has actually been horribly murdered, she returns at once for the funeral.

At once is the important part, because there are a few unusual things about funerals in Claysville. The bodies of people born in the town are never embalmed, the burial held very quickly, always accompanied by a little ritual that was conducted by Maylene. But now that she is gone, Rebekkah must fulfill what she promised her grandmother, that she would conduct the ritual for her when her grandmother died. And it seems that her grandmother's last act before her murder was to mail Rebekkah the little silver flask she will need, so she will be able to stand as the last person at the grave, take three sips of whiskey and say the words, “Sleep well, and stay where I put you.”

She always thought this ritual and her grandmother's daily tending of the towns graves was just a bit eccentric, but she soon realizes that these acts play a much more important part in maintaining the safety of the town that she ever suspected. It all goes back to a deal, a deal made centuries ago, that benefit the town's residents in a number of ways, but also requires that certain obligations are fulfilled or the town will pay a horrible price.

And it now falls upon Rebekkah, as her grandmother's designated heir, to fulfill the unique role that the Barrow woman play in this deal, the details of which we will discover as she does. She also discovers that this deal may have played a role, many years ago, in events that may have resulted in the death of her beloved stepsister and destroyed Rebekkah's budding relationship with young Bryon Montgomery, the son of the town undertaker. But fear not, because it seems that Bryon is back in town too, and that he, as did his father before him, with have his own unique and vital role to place in the future of Claysville.

It seems that the author, Marr, is the very successful author of a number of YA books, including the Wicked Lovely books, but I am not familiar with them or any of her other books. So in this, her first book for an adult audience, I was not quite sure what to expect. Happily, I was pleasantly surprised. I know that it might not appear to be my regular type of book, but as a great fan of the books of Dean Koontz, I have always enjoyed a bit of horror, a dab of the supernatural. And there is a good bit of the supernatural here, including some Undead and a few trips to the Other Side, where some of the most interesting characters of the book reside. Which is perhaps one small flaw of the book, because those no longer 'with us' are more interesting than the main characters of Rebekkah and Bryon and their slightly predictable relationship. But I will take my good characters where I can find them, even if they might be dead.

Also there is an issue with the 'mystery' of the story, of who is behind what is going on. I will admit that I did not really figure that out beforehand, but in retrospect it does seem rather obvious. As a plus, and a pretty strong plus, I think the reason I did not figure it out is that, especially as the pace of the story picks up after a bit of a slow beginning, I was caught up in what was a very well written and interesting story and was not that interested in trying to figure it out but was happy to just be along for a fun and enteraining and rather creepy ride.

So, if you are a fan of the horror genre, and just up for a nice does of the Undead, I thing this is one you will like.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Fences of Virginia





...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Musing Monday...Near and Dear to My Heart.

What is this week's question for the desk of MizB over at  Should Be Reading ...

This week’s musing asks… 

The local Catholic school board is closing its school libraries, and parents and teachers –and even the students– are in an uproar. Budget cuts demanded that the board choose something to get rid of… they choose libraries. As such, many librarians have lost their jobs. And, the board is moving the books to the classrooms, instead. They feel that it is a good solution. 

What do you think? Should the schools be without an actual “library” room? Is this a good solution?

This question raises two points I have strong positive feelings about...libraries and Catholic schools. Both have played an important part in my life. And the idea that a school would have to close it's school library is terrible. But...
Let's be clear here. Your local Catholic school is paid for by the parents of the students who attend it in the form of tuition, sometimes with a contribution from the parishioners of the local parishes. So on top of the local taxes that they pay to sent the kids of other people to the local public school, they paid this addition fee, which is often a great sacrifice. Money is always an issue. And yet, spending a great deal less per student than public schools, Catholic schools in the US consistently turn in higher test scores and a higher graduation rate. Costs all around us go up all the time. What can they do? Raise tuition and price out more parents, especially in urban schools? Pay teachers, who are already working for less than public school teachers, less? Turn the heat off? Remember, they are not getting paid for by tax dollars but supporting themselves privately...like from Mom and Dad and what money the school can raise. When something has to give, what do you pick?
These decisions are not easy.

Now, to tell you the truth, I do not think my grammar school had a library. If it did, I did not spend much time there. I remember going often to my local public library, often, but one in my school...no. So if they had one and had done away with it, it would not have effected my reading. I received a very good, basic education in that grammar school and a strong moral background, but I am not sure my experiences there were the basic for my love of books. And it certainly was not the source of my reading material.

In my Catholic high school, there was a library, but most of the time I spent there was in "study time", not so much reading or doing research. Again, I did spend a lot of time in the local public library and that is where I was getting my reading material, as well as doing research for school project in those pre-Internet days. And I feel very lucky that I grew up in a city that, for all it's many faults, still had a good library system. But  most of all, I realize that i am very lucky that I grew up in an atmosphere that so strongly encouraged reading and a love of books!

Now when they start closing the public libraries, I think we should take up the pitchforks. But even here I think the future is questionable. The internet...e-books...if less people use their actual physical library in the future, will the cost become harder to defend? You have to wonder. That, I think, would be a truly terrible thing!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Coconut Cupcakes

Well, yesterday was the Niece's birthday, so at her little birthday dinner the other night, she got to pick the menu. And the dessert, of course! Her choice was coconut cupcakes, something I am not sure I have ever made. I went on line, the source of all information, and if you Google coconut cupcakes, Ina Garten's, the Barefoot Contessa from Food TV, recipe comes up in first position.  Good enough for me!!
I did not have time to try it out beforehand, but, with a few changes, I think they turned out very tasty and my guest seemed to agree. Just to be sure, I just tested another one, and they are still excellent. Oh, the things I do for you, my dear readers. :-)
I used a little food coloring to make the coconut three different colors, just because I though it would look nice, add a little interest.

Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa


  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract 
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound  unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1  pound confectioners' sugar


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut. 

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner about 3/4 full with batter. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the tops are very light brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely. 

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.
Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut. 

My recipe makes a few changes from Ina's. She says her recipe makes 18-20 cupcakes...I got 36 out of the recipe. She must be making darn big cupcakes! She says to fill the cupcakes paper to the top, which just makes them overflow and stick to the pan, so I use a generous #20 scoop of batter and filled them about 3/4 full . I also added the coconut extract, decreasing the almond and vanilla to make up the difference. She also says to bake 25-35 minutes which is WAY too long and will make for a dry cupcake I think. Start check them at 17 minutes and mine were done at about 19 minutes.
One very important part of the directions, according to many of the reviews I read, was to be sure and cream the butter and sugar very well....I let it go about 8 minutes in the stand mixer until it was very light. Otherwise they say the cupcakes will turn out heavy and dense.

That is one thing I love about online recipes where you can rate and comment on the recipe. I think reading them can often point out any potential problems and allow you to correct for them without all the trial and error.
I also changed her recipe for the frosting...less butter...less sugar and still had tons of icing.

And of course, there is that fun colored coconut!

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A review of "Learning To Swim" [31]

Learning to Swim by Sara J.Henry
Crown, ISBN 978-0307718389
February 22, 2011, 304 pages

“If I'd blinked, I would have missed it.”
What a great opening line for a book!
As Troy Chance is taking the ferry across Lake Champlain to meet her boyfriend, she doesn't anticipate ending up in Lake Champlain. But as the ferry going in the opposite direction passes her's, for a split second she thinks she see something, or rather someone, a child, being tossed over the side. Without giving it any thought..because if she thought about it, it was a rather foolhardy thing to do...she dives over the side, into the freezing cold water, finds the boy under the water, is able, somehow, to swim them more than a mile back to shore. She finds that his arms were tied to his side with an adult sweatshirt, so an accident seems out of the question, and while she would love to ask him what happened, the little boy seems to only speak French.

When they land on shore, Troy makes the next fateful decision, when rather than taking him to the police, she takes him home. She tells herself that of course he will be missed and the police and his parents will be searching for him, and for the moment she must just protect him. But the next day there is no search, no pleas for a missing child and Troy has to wonder if little Paul..she at least got his name from him...was meant to disappear and she must find out what is going on before she reveals that he survived.
By occupation Troy is a freelance reporter and she sets out with all her investigative skills to find out who Paul is and why it appears that someone may want him dead. What she finds is a shocking story of kidnapping and murder...and an unexpected world of wealth and privilege. She also finds that little Paul has awoken a maternal instinct she never knew she had and an experience that will leave her life changed forever.

I had read several positive reviews of this book and had my hope up when I started it.
Happily, I was not at all disappointed!
This is Henry's debut novel and a very promising debut it is.
As a suspense story, it is pretty darn good. A bit of mystery, a bit of danger, and a great, surprising ending that I did not see coming..at least for a very long time.
At the heart of this story is the character of Troy and a great character she is. Not only is she smart and up to a bit of daring-do, but she is also funny and likable and knows how to fix a bike! What more can you want in your heroine? But maybe most appealing is watching her develop emotionally, become so attached to the boy, something she never considered would be a part of her life. But then Paul is a character that, I dare say, will win over yopur heart too. So while this book might be considered a mystery, I think her emotional development and her relationship with the child takes it into another realm.
I understand that a sequel is in the works, to be published next year, and I am certainly looking forward to it..a lot.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Back To Nantucket

...If only I was really there...




...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Musing Monday...I Love Those Hobbit Doors!

It's Monday, so it is time to head over to Should Be Reading and check out this weeks question...

This week’s musing asks…
Do you ever find scenes from previous books you’ve read popping into your head at random times? If so, does it bother you? If it doesn’t happen to you, why do you think that is?

Wow, I am not the only one this happens too? Who knew?

The answer would be yes. And no, it does not bother me at all. Should it?
It certain happens frequently with a book I am reading currently or a book that I have read recently. But, randomly, it will happen with books that I have read years ago. Out of the blue, a scene from say Lord of the Rings will come into my mind for no apparent reason. Odd. I find it is more often about the setting, how the location was described, more than about what was going on in a scene, that I remember. There I will be, in the Shire, standing in one of those round hobbit house doorways. It's a very visual memory usually..but then I tend to be a visual memory person.

Which always makes me wonder about a bigger question.
Over my lifetime, I have probably read thousand of books. Each one is full of all sorts of locations from all over the world and characters from sinner to saints. And even more, they are full of things happening, the experiences of the characters, the events of the stories. And they are full of ideas.
All these things, a mix of people and places and ideas, things that are not really real, things we did not experience personally, nevertheless get implanted into our brains and assume a certain reality. And what does that mean?

I sometimes wonder how much all these books form who we readers are. How many ideas that we believe, things we think are true about life, come from books we have read. And I don't mean non-fiction, which is understandable. No, I mean fiction. And does that make them any less true, just because they came from a book and a fictional book at that?
Certainly, they can't help but color who we are as a person. It may well be true of other medias as well, TV and movies and video games...but I think books have a unique ability to do that. I could be prejudice, being as I love books, but I think the slower pace of a book, the involvement we have to put into reading a book, as opposed to something like a movie or TV that is more passive, makes the effect stronger, more personal.
But I admit that I am prejudice. Because I am a Reader...and some part of who I am is tiny bits and pieces of all the books I have read.

Which may make one wonder about all those murders and serial killers that have been a part of my life over the years. :-)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Slow Down Sammy Sunday

"Nothing I like on a better on a Sunday than just relaxing and reading a good book! Ok my, does that bottom one say DOGS??"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Irish Onion Soup

First of all, I have no idea why this is called Irish Onion Soup. It may be because of the original cheese the recipe, from Tasting Table, calls for...

First, Mooney displaces standard beef stock with an intensely flavorful broth made from dried shiitake mushrooms. For robustness, he cooks both sharp white and sweet red onions until deeply caramelized. The soup's powerful flavors are as bottomless as they are clear.
Mooney's mushroom stock alone would be plenty distinctive. But he one-ups himself by topping the soup with slices of house-baked sourdough, the familiar Gruyère and a phenomenally rare Knockanore oak-smoked cheddar. This Irish cheese, all stretch and wood perfume, is not being served anywhere else in New York, as far as we know.
We scored the recipe from Mooney  Since home cooks probably won't be able to secure Knockanore's smoked cheddar, Mooney suggests using an Italian delicatessen staple: smoked provolone.

I know that a few of Weekend Cooking are vegetarians, so when I came upon this recipe, I thought it might be something good to try. Of course, you would have to be someone who eats cheese, because what it Onion Soup with that melted layer of cheese on top?
Ok, to be totally honest, I made this as an excuse to eat a nice little lump of melted cheese. But I was interested to see how the mushroom stock would turn out too. Because as you see, if you read the recipe, the stock is made with just poring boiling water over dried shiitake  mushroom and letting them soak, then draining them through a coffee filter to catch any grit.I can't say that i found it quite as flavorful as the write up said...so see a couple of my additions after the recipe.

Irish Onion Soup
Recipe adapted from John Mooney, Bell Book & Candle

Makes 4 servings
• 2 quarts water
• 12 ounces dried shiitake mushrooms
• 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil, divided
• 5 medium white onions, thinly sliced
• 3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
• 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
• 6 ounces smoked provolone cheese, coarsely grated
• 8 slices toasted baguette

1. Make the mushroom stock: In a saucepan, bring the 1
quart of water to a boil and turn off the heat. Add the
mushrooms and place a plate or something heavy on top
of them to keep them submerged. Let steep for 30
minutes, then strain through cheesecloth or a coffee
filter and set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in each of two large saucepans
until shimmering. Add the white onions to one pan and
the red onions to the other and cook, stirring often,
until well-browned but not burnt, about 30 minutes. (If
the onions start to stick to the pan, add a small amount
of mushroom stock to loosen them.)
3. Preheat the oven to 500°. Add the white onions to the
red onions. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Season
to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Ladle the soup among 4 ovenproof crocks. Place 2 of the
baguette slices on top of each crock. Combine the two
cheeses in a bowl, then sprinkle the cheese mixture on
top of the bread in each crock. Place the crocks on a
baking sheet and bake in the oven until the cheese is
golden brown, about 4 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.

Ok, I was a little upset by the short list of ingredients, so before the onions were added to the stock I added about 1/2 cup of red wine and let that cook down. Then after they were added to the stock, I added a couple of bay leaves and about 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and let that all simmer together. I also think it need a fair bit of salt, since there is none in the stock and a nice bit of pepper.
And, of course, cheese. Lots and lots of cheese!

This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A review of "The Kitchen Daughter" [30]

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Gallery, ISBN 978-1439191699
April 12, 288 pages

For anyone to lose both their parents, together in a terrible accident, would be a difficult thing. But for Ginny Selvaggio it takes on a whole additional element. While it has not let been diagnosed, given a name, at the beginning of the book, Ginny suffers from Asperger's syndrome and, for her, the simplest everyday social interactions are painfully difficult. The funeral itself, with all these people in her house, talking to her, touching her, is enough to push her into retreating to hide in the back of a closet in a state of panic.

For all of her 20+ years. her parents protected her from the world. They made it possible for her to get through school, just one class shy of graduating from college and it was her mother who introduced and encouraged her in the one thing that truly comforts her, cooking. And some comfort she will need, because not only does she have to deal with all the everyday things that she never did before, but she also has to deal with her sister Amanda, who wants to sell the family home in Philadelphia , the only home she has ever known, and have Ginny come live with her family in NJ, something Ginny strongly objects to. But is she really capable of living alone, dealing with all the things that she will have to?

So it is no surprise that Ginny retreats to the kitchen, where the routine of gathering the ingredients, studying a recipe, chopping and cutting and stirring, calms her like nothing else can. But the result of her first dish is very, very surprising. As she painstaking followers her grandmother Nonna's handwritten recipe for ribollita, as the wonderful scent fills the room, she receives an unexpected visitor, her long dead grandmother, sitting on a stool, giving her advice. As as Ginny soon discovers, Nonna is not the only person she can make appear with her cooking. Each visitor bring some new knowledge, some new understanding, but it is a gift that she can use to help her cope with what the future, and some unexpected discoveries about the past, will bring?

At the heart of this book is the question of what is normal and the suggestion is that the definition should be a lot wider than we think. Ginny keeps a 'Normal Book' with cutting she has taken from all sorts of publications, that give different ideas of what is normal.
"There are so many flavors of normal, it doesn't matter which one I am. That's what the Normal Book tells me. There really is no normal. After all the upheaval of the last week, after the funeral and the ghosts and my unreasonable sister and everything, it's worth reminding myself. As strange as my life gets, it's just my life. I'm still in it. Whatever happens, I'm going to have to find a way to get by."
I loved this book. Totally loved it.
The concerns Ginny faces with friendship and family are universal. True, most of us do not suffer with the degree of discomfort that Ginny does, but many of us, myself included, suffer from shyness that make many social interactions uncomfortable and we can certainly identify with her. Because Ginny, while dealing with all these problems, is also a very intelligent and even insightful person, an articulate observer. It is wonderful watching her discover that she has something to offer others, her friendship, her extraordinary cooking skills, her insights as a sister and an aunt, helping her niece who appears may be dealing with similar problems.  Her strength in working to deal with her problem, to overcome it at least to a degree that will let her live her life with a degree of independence, is engaging and endearing. At times the story is very funny, at other heartbreakingly sad, and always interesting.

And then there is the food. Each chapter opens with a copy of a handwritten recipe from Ginny and her mom's collection, and many sound good enough that I can see myself trying them out in the future. I like food, as do many of us, and the theme of food and it's place in our lives winds in and out throughout the book, tying it all together. The place of beloved recipes, their power to make present again those long gone, the calming routine of cooking, the wonderful smells and textures and tastes created...they are all here and all very real.
Which raises the question of the ghosts. Some people, it seems, from things I read about this book before I actually read it, have a problem with the ghosts, but I can't say that I did at all. You can think that they are real, you can think that they are a creating of Ginny's imagination to help her to cope, but either way, I think they add nothing but a positive element to the story. Sometimes scary, sometimes a comforting presence but always a great addition to the story.

A wonderful debut effort from the author, a totally enjoyable book, and I certainly hope we will see more books from Ms. McHenry in the near future.

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book

Winner of "I'd Know You Anywhere"

I know you have all been on the edge of your seat, so the winner of I'd Know you Anywhere is...


An e-mail will be on the way and as soon as I get a mailing address, it will be on the way.
Hope that you enjoy it! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Sitting on the Dock of the Bay


...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Musing Monday...Let's Get Real!

Lets wander over to Should Be Reading and check out this weeks question...

This week’s musing asks…
Do you care if the book’s storyline is unrealistic? Will you keep reading, or will you set the book aside?

Well, let me muse on that a minute....
Ok, after careful consideration, I would say...it depends.

On the one hand, there are whole genres that by their very nature are "unrealistic", right? Science fiction...fantasy...
While they are not necessarily what I most commonly read, I do read things like that from time to time and have no problem suspending my disbelief for awhile, in the context of the story. Take for example a book I read..and loved...recently, The Kitchen Daughter. Not to give too much away, (at least until I finally sit down and write my review) there is a certain 'magical' element to the story. Before I read the book and was just hearing about it from some other reviews, some folks seem to have a problem with that aspect of the story. But when I actually read it, I found that I didn't at all in the context of the story. Now if someone I knew told me these things happened to them, yes, maybe it would give me pause, or have me looking in the Yellow Pages for psychiatrists, but I thought the author totally pulled it off in the book. I think a good writer can create a world that may not be realistic, but in ways is more real than real life...if that makes sense. 
On the other hand, in my favorite sort of books, mysteries and thrillers, I really think the author has to play it pretty darn straight. I think it is just the nature of the genre. Some sorts of books can have a bit of room to wander and some don't.

I think what is always true is that how the characters act and react to whatever happens in the story has to be realistic. Whether in the middle of a crime spree in present day Anytown, USA or on the evil planet Mortis in the year 2500, if we are dealing with humans, they have to react in ways that are realistic according to human nature. If you find yourself saying "No one would ever do or say that!" ...well, then the author starts to lose me. Now, of course if they are aliens, I will cut them some slack.

The question raises another issues and that is the the whole setting the book aside thing.
I am not totally sure why, but I hate to not finish a book.
I remember reading something a long time ago about life being too short to spend it reading a book you were not enjoying and I thought it was very true. But somehow, I still have a problem actually doing it.
Part of the problem may be if I am reading a book that I received from a published or whoever. I feel a big obligation then to try to soldier through it and finish it. I admit sometimes it makes little sense. If I am hating it at page 100, I think I will still be hating it, and be resentful of the time I wasted on it, at page 400. Still, I have done it a number of times.To a degree, since I sort of promised to read it in return for getting the book, I think I have an obligation to give it my best. I guess the question is how far I have to take that obligation. Or maybe I am just a very hopeful person and think the book is going to turn around.
No, that can't be it. 
But I do it with others books as well, books I have bought or books from the library...so, as I said, I am well aware it makes little sense. But I just hate to give up!

If anyone has any suggestions how I can overcome this, feel free to make a suggestion. Too many books, too little time!