Wednesday, August 20, 2014

YA Wednesday: Blankets by Craig Thompson (Graphic Novel #Review)

BlanketsBlankets by Craig Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I fell in love with this book from page one. The illustrations and the story were equally gripping. From the start, I couldn't wait to hear about the relationship between the brothers, and later on, when the book begins to focus on the romance, I kept reading for the glimpses of memory of Craig and his brother.

While this is ultimately a romance, and the relationship between the characters is sweet and realistic, the romance did not hold the same interest for me as the brotherly relationship. I did enjoy the romance, though, or I could not have liked this book, which is, at heart, a romance about first love and coming-of-age, written in memoir form. Most of the graphic novels I've read have focused more on historical/cultural issues, but this one was wonderful despite its narrow scope.

It is thick for a graphic novel, but a quick read. I breezed through a hundred pages in a sitting easily. I did get a bit distracted once it got deep into the romance, because that never holds my interest, no matter how beautifully drawn and realistic Raina may be. That said, I did find her to be a wonderfully real, well-rounded character. I felt like she was someone I could have known in real life, and I loved the sweet, realistic course of their doomed first-love relationship.

Even though the book sort of wrapped up some of the issues from throughout the story, it felt somehow incomplete to me. I was happy that Craig and his brother were able to become, at least a bit, a part of each other's lives, as I waited for glimpses of the brother throughout the story.

Overall, a wonderful story with lovely illustrations that I would recommend to those 16+.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Disaster Chef: Blueberry Peach Cheesecake Bars

I'm deep into my Fanny & Me blogging, but sometimes, I just have to make something that's not from Fannie Farmer. She doesn't have a whole lot of newer recipes, since the cookbook is over a hundred years old. So, no cheesecake bars. 

I found this recipe I'd pinned on Pinterest a long time ago, and since I happen to have both blueberries AND peaches right now, I had to try it. Plus, it's got a nut crust, which I really like. So, for anyone doing the gluten free thing, this recipe is worth a shot. In fact, check out this blog where it originates--she has a lot of great recipes like this.
Peaches and blueberries, oh my!

Here's my adapted version.

Putting it in the oven.
All puffed up and ready to eat.
  • 1 c almond butter
  • 2-4 tbsp finely shredded coconut
  • 6 oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • ½ c plain yogurt
  • 4 tbsp. xylitol (or sugar)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ c blueberries
  • ½ c diced peaches

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the almond butter and coconut and mix well. I may use more coconut next time, or use almond flour like the original recipe does, because mine were a bit too almond buttery.
  2. Spread crust mixture into an 8×8 baking pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes then remove from the oven to cool.
  3. In a large bowl combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and yogurt and mix well with a hand mixer (or stand) for about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, continuing with mixer.
  4. Pour the cheesecake mixture over the crust (crust doesn’t have to be completely cooled). Top the cheesecake mixture with the blueberries and peaches. The blueberries sank into mine, so if you want them on top, I'd wait until the cheesecake has cooked 10-20 mins before adding them.
  5. Bake the bars at 350 for 40-50 minutes (until the cheesecake is set).
  6. Cool completely then cut into bars and serve.
 These turned out pretty well. The 'crust' I used was just almond butter and coconut, and it was just a little too...almond buttery. Next time, I'll probably use almond meal how the original recipe does. Or at least some kind of nut flour. This was just too wet somehow. Also, I don't think I added quite enough sugar in the cheesecake part. I only used 2 tbsp. but next time, I will definitely use 4. And yes, there will be a next time. This recipe is easy, good, and healthy. Can't wait to make it again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review Wednesday: Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen (Dairy Queen, #1)Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, well, it completely rocked. So did the audiobook reader, so if you like audios, this one will be better on audio, unless you're from Minnesota/Wisconsin or are really good at reading in accents.

Anyhoo, I'm not from that area, but trust me, I've seen my share of cows. As I listened to this, it made me super nostalgic for my Minnesota relatives, too. Such a great voice, all the way through! I kept waiting for DJ to say 'uffda' or 'you betcha' but sadly, she didn't. Probably because she's from Wisconsin.

This book started a little slow, or so you think at first. But really, it's just that DJ is a bit understated. She's not the raging-with-hormones love-at-first-sight kind of girl. She's kind of quiet. So is the beginning of the book. It's hilarious, but that's understated too. So you're reading along about this amusing, practical, big-boned, quiet girl (see how I just described a cow?) and then suddenly it grabs you by the heart and rips it out of your chest.

That's how I felt reading this book. It was pretty amusing, and I was going along as I should, much like a cow, just listening to it and smiling now and then. And suddenly, I burst into tears without warning. Because that's how quietly DJ sneaks into your heart. You don't even realize you're in love until it's way too late to walk away. And though the action in the book isn't Hunger Games-like, as I was driving to work I found myself gripping the steering wheel in excitement and torment and just wanting to scream at my CD player, "KISS HER, YOU IDIOT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, KISS HER!!!" The suspense will literally kill you slowly, in the best, most hilarious way.

I can't recommend this book enough. It's not graphic, the language is mild, and it's funny enough that my 7 year old was laughing hysterically at the few parts he heard. And so was I.

Heartwarming, heart-wrenching, hilarious, happy dance.

Notice how I didn't even mention football? Or lesbians? Or family drama? Because this book isn't about that so much as about DJ. Can't wait to read the rest.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Disaster Chef: Kale Soup aka Zuppa Tuscana (Olive Garden copycat recipe)

I've made this dish a handful of times. It's my husband's favorite, and a popular meal I've made for my family. It's an Olive Garden knockoff, though I add a few things and change it up a bit (I'm incapable of following a recipe exactly). It can be eaten as a side, but we always use it for the main course as it is very filling and complete all on its own.

I have used different sites for the recipe every time I've made it, but this time I grabbed this one off Pinterest, from My Kitchen Joys.

I cut the recipe in half, since I was using potatoes and kale from my own garden, and I only had a bit of each. Here's the halved version, which serves 4 as a main course.

2 cups potatoes, sliced 1/4" thick.
In the pot.
3/4 cup onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth (I didn't have this, so I used 1 c. water, then added an extra cup milk at the end)
2 cups water
2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled (I never add this and never miss it)
1/2 Lb. Italian sausage
1 packed cup kale, chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (I used whole milk, plus the extra cup to make up for the chicken broth, which made it plenty creamy)

*I also add a can of beans, usually red kidney but this time white kidney, as my husband and son like those better.

Place onions, potatoes, chicken broth, water, garlic in pot and cook on medium heat until potatoes are done. Meanwhile, brown sausage and crumble. Add sausage and kale. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn to low heat, then add cream. Heat through and serve. 

Every recipe for this soup that I've used calls for putting kale in at the end, with the cream, but I don't like my kale very tough. It's still plenty chewy after cooking 10 minutes. This soup is a big hit with everyone who has tried it.

Recipe: 4 spoons of goodness
Product: 5 spoons

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

YA Wednesday: If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)If I Stay by Gayle Forman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was another book where I didn't read any kind of synopsis before starting it. So, I didn't even know what it was about. When they got in a car wreck, it was so sudden and unexpected I had to back up and go, "WHAT!"

Then I kept going, and I was wondering if this was really contemporary YA, since it's sort of...well, I don't know what genre I would call it. It's like contemporary YA with a ghost, for lack of a better term. But I did get into it, and it was a good, short book to listen to as I painted my living room one day. That said, it just didn't really grab me. I liked that Mia had a life with lots going on besides Adam. But Adam was just annoying and shallow. The romantic parts made my eyes roll, mostly b/c I thought he was such a tool. The best character in the book was Kim, who I loved, and who felt very real. I also liked Mia's father a lot, how I could feel his battle with giving up his old life to become a responsible adult. I loved his character and really connected with him.

The problem was, I never really connected with Mia. She's always wondering "why me?" and I sort of wondered the same thing. Why did Adam pick her? Just because she loved music...that didn't seem enough. But mostly I wondered why the author chose to tell this story from Mia's point of view. She didn't seem like a real, developed, rounded character. Despite her love of Adam, her family, and her cello, I never really felt who she was as a person. I didn't feel like she came alive as much as Kim, or her dad, or even Teddy. So why Mia? Is it just because she's a young girl and that's the audience for this book? I think the real story here was her father, and how he related to his kids and wife. The real story was about the sacrifice between self and others (cello or Adam, in Mia's case), between past self and future self, between real self and who society wants you to be, and what you have to give up to be that person. And those themes would have been served better by a book about Mia's father, not Mia.

Age 12+ for graphic death scene, some sex including casual mentions of teens staying the night together, but nothing graphic.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Disaster Chef: Buckwheat Noodles with Honey Lime Sauce

Finished product.
I was looking for a good recipe to make with buckwheat noodles, which I LOOOOVE, so I grabbed one off pinterest. I like more veggies in my meals so I used a whole carrot. I then discovered I didn't have any green onions, so I used about 1/4 of a regular onion and fried it (along with the grated carrots, since I don't really like raw carrots much).

I followed the dressing recipe from Joylicious blog  closely, though!

  • Handful of buckwheat soba noodles (the ones I get come in handy serving-sized portions)
  • 1/2 lime, squeezed (I didn't have a fresh lime, so I used about 2tbs. lime juice from a bottle)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 carrot, shredded (I grated one whole carrot and sauteed it...the next time I made it, I also added a couple sliced mushrooms and some shredded cabbage and sauteed was delicious!)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (I didn't have these so I left them out)
  • small handful of cilantro, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 tip of a green onion, cleaned and chopped (I used 1/4 of regular onion, sauteed)
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 2 eggs
The sauce mix.
  1. In a medium pot fill with water and bring to boil. Drop noodles in and cook for 4 minutes at medium heat at a gentle boil.
  2. Rinse carrots and herbs and pat dry. Shred carrot and set aside. Finely chop cilantro and green onion and mix with shredded carrots (and if you're me, saute them now).
  3. Test to see if noodles are semi firm, if so turn heat off immediately. Allow pasta to further cook in the hot water for an additional 2 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the dressing.
  4. In a bowl combine lime juice, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Whisk well and set aside.
  5. Test noodles for preferred firmness/softness and strain. Return noodles to pot and mix in carrots, herbs and dressing.
  6. In a medium pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Crack egg(s) carefully into pan and fry until edges are browned and whites are set (sunny side up). Flip over and cook for about 1 minute for over easy, ~ 2 minutes for over medium, ~3 minutes for over hard. (I did all this in the same pan, just pushing the veggies to the sides and frying the eggs in the middle, then tossing it all on top of the noodles and sauce, and mixing it as I ate to get some sauce on the veggies).
  7. To serve: Place noodles in a bowl and top with fried eggs. Feel free to add a dash of chile powder or chile sauce for an extra punch!

This recipe is wonderful, because it is so versatile and easy! I've made it three times, changing it every time. Sometimes I add extra veggies, sometimes I use only one egg, sometimes I add chili powder or cayenne on top. It's one of my favorite Pinterest recipes, and I think it's the only one I've gotten around to more than once. I love buckwheat noodles, and I've made this three times in the last month. I think I'll just add whatever veggies I have on hand, keeping the noodles, dressing and cilantro the same every time.

Recipe:  5 spoons of easiness
Outcome: 5 spoons of deliciousnsess

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Virgin, by Radhika Sanghani--New Adult Book Review

 I got an arc copy of this through Netgalley. In honor of it's release on August 5, here's a review. Run out and get it on Tuesday!

VirginVirgin by Radhika Sanghani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I love books that make me laugh. That's all there is to it. If a book can make me laugh out loud even once, it's pretty much guaranteed 3 stars even if it's crap. And this book is not crap.

In short, it's about a girl trying to lose her virginity. But it's also about so much more. Considering the shallow topic/plot of the book, I was expecting it to be a lot of fluff. But for someone who places such importance on such a thing as virginity, our protagonist is actually smart and somewhat empowered. It was a very female book, and even though it has a great message about accepting ourselves, it is definitely not for everyone (especially those uncomfortable with the word "vagina"). This book is all about loving oneself completely, as our protag Ellie learns to do.

But aside from the important feminist issues cloaked in the silly, candy-coated shell, this book is just real. It's like reading someone's diary--someone very honest with herself. I doubt most people are even this honest in their diaries, so I applaud the author for not shying away from squirm-inducing topics. On top of that, the characters are loveable as well as real and honest. Even when some parts get predictable or obvious(her mom walking in on her, Jack talking about someone else), they still work. You are waiting for them to happen, cringing because you know they will, but it doesn't make them any less painful when they do.

By the end of the book, when I hit the 90% mark, I was so invested that I got a bit teary-eyed when Ellie is rejected. I wanted to punch the guy...but I also wanted to say, "Yes, this exact thing happened to me!" It didn't, but this book felt so real that for a second, I thought it had. I WAS Ellie in that moment. I've had enough similar situations that it felt completely real. And that's where this book succeeds--because we've all been rejected, or misread the signs, or gotten our hopes up, or gotten crushed and had to pick ourselves up and start over (and the lucky ones have had friends as good as Ellie's to bring wine, encouragement and their own horror stories).

I would recommend this frank, hilarious book to just about all women, but especially those in the 18-30 age group. THIS is the new-adult book I've been waiting for. THIS is the book I was excited to read when I heard about the new-adult category. Not another romance with a generic plot-line and carbon-copy characters.

I could not stop reading this book. I found every excuse I could to read more of it. I used precious moments when I should have been doing other things, but all I wanted to do was keep reading. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me become the character. It grabbed me and didn't let go. All that adds up to a 5-star read. This book may not change your life, but it will make you feel good. Sometimes, that's enough all by itself. Not every book needs to be THE NEXT BIG THING. This book is like it's message--it doesn't try to be something it's not. And that's just fine with me. For what it is, it's perfect in itself.

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