Saturday, January 14, 2012

Snapshot Saturday - Layla and her fox

Our cable and internet have been off since last night, but finally it looks like we might be back in business.  I'm not holding my breath though :(

Anyhoo, I wanted to share this series of photos with my Snapshot Saturday friends just in case we lose the connection again.  During Christmas I participate in a couple of book blogger Secret Santa swaps, and my very first Christmas gift this year was actually from one of those Secret Santas.  We all like to say how much we enjoy giving more than receiving but I think we all can tell by the looks of this package that I enjoyed the "gettin" pretty much just as well :)

On the right lower side of this photo you'll notice a rust colored something with a tail...conveniently located right next to the book Love at First Bark.

That "rust colored something with a tail" turned out to be a fox...for LAYLA!!!!
Layla LOVES Secret Santa now and especially Sandy Nawrot over at You Gotta Read This.

Layla's fox has "squeakies" on both ends...she will sit for hours just squeaking it...

If one of us accidentally steps on her fox, she comes running to find out who's playing with her toys...she's not upset; she just wants to play too :)

Layla loves her fox so much that on a recent trip to PetSmart she picked up another one out of the bin!! We talked her into getting a raccoon instead ;)

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce over @ At Home with Books

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review - Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Viking, 2011
Net Galley Review Copy

Why?  I've read so many good reviews of this one, and it seemed right up my alley with the back to basics in cooking and eating more naturally
What Now?  I have purchased the hardback version of this book and into the glass shelves it will go...right next to Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Golden Lines

For most people, the only real stumbling block is fear of failure.  In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.  Julia Child

By failing to understand what's involved in certain kinds of basic food preparation, American consumers have been duped.  p. 24

We all have different sensory thresholds and different taste memories.  Ultimately it's about finding out what we like, and trusting our own palates.  That's all that matters. p. 77

So who says you can't cook?  Not every meal has to be from scratch, nor does everything you consume have to be organic, locally sourced and pasture raised.  Try to find a comfortable place somewhere between Tuna Helper and Top Chef.  If you burn, scorch, drop, boil over, overcook, undercook, underseason, or otherwise put a meal together that is less than a success, in the end it doesn't matter.  It's just one meal.  You'll make another tomorrow.  p. 167

A friend of mine majored in chemistry in college and later went to work for a major food company.  To this day he refuses to eat ultraprocessed foods.  One reason is that the method to approve food additives requires that individual ingredients be tested and weighed in isolation, and as a result no one has any idea how they all interact together.
"When it comes to food additives, we're the mice," he said.  p. 200

Box of yellow cake mix : Sugar, enriched bleached wheat flour (flour niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), vegetable oil shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean oil propylene glycol mono - and diesters of fats, mono - and diglycerides), leavening (sodium bicarbonate, dicalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), contains 2% or less of: wheat starch, salt dextrose, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, cellulose gum, artificial flavors, xanthum gum, maltodextrin, modified corn starch, colored with yellow 5 lake, red 40 lake.
Cake mix from scratch: unbleached flour, sugar, milk, eggs, unsalted butter, vanilla, baking powder.

"Planning menus is the greatest skill that we've collectively lost," she said.  "That, and what to do with leftovers." p. 212

Smart shoppers plan meals and use thorough lists. p. 221

The key thing is to think of food as money.  You wouldn't toss a five dollar bill in the garbage, would you?  If you throw a head of lettuce and some dead cucumbers in the trash, it's exactly the same thing.  It adds up.


Ten ladies allow Kathleen Flinn to come into their homes, look into their pantries and refrigerators and share a everyday meal with them in order to help them learn about the basics of real cooking and the benefits of eating fresh rather than relying on packaged, processed food.  Those same ten ladies then take part in a free experimental cooking school with Kathleen and friends over the course of several weeks.  The ladies learned not just the basics of cooking but how to trust themselves, be more independent and fearless in the kitchen, and how to feed their families nutritious, palate pleasing food.

What I Liked

Realistic: Even though Kathleen is a professionally trained chef, she is able to look into the real world of real people, take their individual issues into consideration and make some recommendations that make sense for each particular person.  She also cuts the ladies some slack when they decide which recommendations to choose and which ones to let go of.

Even Kathleen herself didn't call herself a baker...until she found No Knead Artisan Bread.  After she and husband Mike taught the ladies the basics, most of them, in the end, continued with this practice and some even said they seldom bought store bought bread anymore.  I'm scared to death of bread, I might just have hope.

There are a variety of issues embedded in the cooking lessons:  social consciousness, finances, self sustainability, sustainability of the Earth, self-esteem, marriage, travel, friendship, the fast food industry, marketing, frugality, and health, just to name a few.

Within each chapter, as each lesson was taught, I also felt like I was experiencing the lesson.  Then, at the end of each chapter the "recipes" for the lessons are shared in standard recipe format.  I highlighted steps or comments throughout the lesson itself that I might want to revisit as I experiment with the recipes.  

The chapters on waste and food's where Kathleen's cruise that interrupted the lessons came in handy...Kathleen visited the ship's kitchens and talked with the chef about how he managed large amounts of food served in the middle of the ocean...planning menus, buying smart and using foods in rotation without waste are key when you're feeding hundreds of people daily and can't run to the grocery store for more butter.

The Chapter called "What's in the box?" brought home to me what I know about processed food...the amount of "stuff" we blindly put into our bodies everyday.  We've been convinced that the processed version is better, cuts down on time, and is cheaper.  But if we plan, buy smart and use time wisely, processed foods really aren't that much of a bargain...and they are very likely doing more harm than good in the long run.

Vegetarianism - one of the women participating in the experiment was a vegetarian, so the lesson on beef was understandably hard for her and she left early that night.  Kathleen respected her wishes and did not try to "change her mind" about the food she was comfortable eating.  Kathleen stressed and encouraged all the students to know where their food comes from, and if you choose to eat meat, try to find better options than the over-processed meat factories that seem to be producing most of the meat Americans eat these days.  

What I Didn't Like

There were a couple of times where I felt like Flinn almost got off track...At one point during the cooking school she was offered a job on a cruise ship and for various reasons (which I completely understood) she took the job and had to reschedule 2 weeks worth of lessons...That's certainly realistic, but then Flinn shifted the book from the cooking classes to the cruise and then brought us back to the school when she came back.  Another chapter described her Red Velvet Dinners...a money making cooking school that she organized - again, I understood why she needed to host these dinners for paying customers; the chapter just seemed to change the sequence of the lessons.
It wasn't that I didn't "like" these two distractions; I actually felt like these were other stories to develop and another book maybe?

Overall Recommendations

If you are a home cook who wants to go back to the basics of cooking or wants to cut back on the amount of fast-food/processed food your family eats, this book is so for you.  You might as well buy it though because you'll want to write in it, bookmark it and keep it handy for everyday use. 

**Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School from the publisher via Net Galley by my request.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wanna Be More Organized Wednesday

My schedule finally returns to normal today (whatever that means).  You'd think after almost a month off that I'd be ready to go back.  But, I'm not.  :p
I have no menu.  I have no plan.  I have clipped no coupons.  I've lost my Blackberry, and I have no idea where my school calendar is.  Does that give you any indication how laid back this holiday season has been for me??
I'm really organized right?

Since I don't get to choose not to go to work today, here are a few things I've rounded up to look forward to:

1.  My Comp II classes are reading Cold Mountain and The Book Thief.  This is an experiment I started last semester with Cold Mountain, and I loved it.   You can read more about my first Cold Mountain class here and here

2.  My colleagues.   I share my day with a variety of people, but mostly with 3 other instructors, Missie, David and Murray.  I've missed our daily banter, jokes, rants, and overall friendship.   It will be good to see them again.

3.  My students.  I've often said that my very favorite part of my job is being in the classroom with my students.  And, it is.  While I do get frustrated and impatient with them sometimes and have very high expectations for them, they make my day worthwhile.  I am at my best in the classroom working with my students. 

4.  Schedules - As much as I have loved the last month of relaxed style, I do look forward to a return to a little more structure.  With the holidays comes a lot of impromptu planning, trips, shopping, parties, performances, etc.  I either go with the flow or I go crazy.  Starting today we'll have more set weekly and daily activities that will repeat themselves week after week.

5.  My firstborn and I are getting that much closer to our trip to Ireland in March!!! 

6.  I've updated some things on my blog and am loving some of the new features (I can reply directly to comments now!!!).  Thanks to Chaotic Compendiums for introducing Disqus to me!! And, I've finally learned how to read the blogs I follow through Google Reader (yes, I'm slow) thanks to Lena Sledge's Blog.  It takes me about half the time to read them as it did when I had to individually click on each blog in my Easily Distracted section :)  Yay me!!!! 

7.  I have a plan for making meal planning even easier for me.  I love making new things, but the Head of My Household likes more consistent suppers.  Turns out I do actually make some things that he enjoys.  I'm planning a monthly schedule of my tried and true recipes that I'll make once a month.  The other spaces will be for new things...My firstborn and I are also working on creating a menu that will hang in the kitchen so nobody will ask me "What's for supper?" anymore.  Does that bother anybody else but me?   
We've also  instituted a new meal time...6-6:30.  We've tried it for a couple of weeks, and it seems to work well..If supper's ready at 6, then whoever's ready to eat can eat.  6 pm works well since most activity meetings and such begin at 6:30 or 7 p.m.  Last semester we would wait until after those meetings to eat and ended up starving by the time we arrived home, and then supper wasn't ready for another hour.  
That was no fun.

8.  This semester I purposely asked that I not be assigned a class during our college's Wesley lunchtime each Wednesday.  I have wanted so badly to get involved, but for the past two semesters have had a class scheduled during the same exact time and wasn't able to participate.  Our pastor and the on campus instructor who lead our Wesley group of college students are both dynamic fellas and seem to have a really good program going!  

Bring it on, Spring 2012!
Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top Ten Authors I Wish Would/Could Write Another Book

This week's theme at The Broke and the Bookish threw me at first...
I don't read many first time authors...not on purpose anyway...I'm sure I've read plenty but just didn't know I was reading a first time author while I was reading.  So, for this week's list I actually browsed my glass bookshelves in my antique secretary (where the special books live out their lives) to see which authors I hadn't heard much from lately.  Some of these authors are dead, so we won't be seeing anything else from them, and that made me sad.  But, some of them are alive and far as I know anyway.  I've done some searching to see if those authors who are still with us have plans to publish something new...but I didn't find anything.
Please let me know if you know something I don't :)

Here's my list:

1. Stieg Larsson 

I haven't read the last book in the Girl Who trilogy because I know when I do, the story is over.  I just found Lisabeth Salander; I'm not ready to lose her yet.  I am not interested in someone else continuing Larsson's storyline...I've not seen that done well (Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett), even when the author uses notes, etc from the writer himself/herself (see the note on Cold Sassy Tree below).

2. Olive Ann Burns 

Olive Ann Burns, a native of Banks County, began her writing career as a journalist

I loved Cold Sassy was one of those books that just made me feel at home and stayed with me for a long time.  According to Burns editor, she wanted the unfinished manuscript of Leaving Cold Sassy published after her death.  The first part of Leaving Cold Sassy is Burns writing and I loved it...but the point where Burns writing stops just left me feeling lost.  It was as if the story just stopped, as if Burns died right then.  I would have rather not read any of it than to begin reading and end up falling off a cliff.

3. Willie Morris 

Besides all of the other wonderful things Morris wrote, most folks are familiar with My Dog Skip, whether through the movie, reading the book, or both.  Less readers, however, are familiar with his homage to a cat named Spit McGee.  Spit McGee found Morris (dog lover), and Morris became a cat lover...or a Spit McGee lover anyway.  Spit McGee outlived Morris and lived out his final days in leisure.  The photo below is the actual Spit McGee resting at home several years ago before his death.  I wish Spit McGee had found Morris early in his life so we would have more feline tales from Morris to treasure.

4.  Lilian Jackson Braun 

Ms. Braun began writing her Cat Who series in 1966 and continued well into her 90's.  Her books were heartwarming little mysteries that all featured two Siamese cats, KoKo and Yum Yum :)  One could expect a tightly knit plot, some tension and even a little edge from Ms. Braun.  She will be missed.

5.  Mary Ann Shaffer - 2008

Shaffer became stranded on the Guernsey Islands in 1976, learned its fascinating history, wrote her only book, The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society, and died right before its publication in 2008.  Imagine what she would've, could've done had she been with us a little longer :(

6.  Rita Mae Brown - Sister Jane novels

I love Brown's Sneaky Pie novels, and she churns those out on a regular basis.  For some reason she doesn't publish as many of the Sister Jane Arnold's foxhunting mysteries set in Crozet, Virginia.  The last one was published in 2009, and I'm ready for the next one!

7.  John Grisham 

Before you spew your coffee, let me explain myself...I'm exhausted with everyday Grisham...I don't even read his mystery/lawyer stuff anymore...I reached a point where I couldn't remember what happened in which story :(  But, he has only written one like The Painted House...only 1.  Please, please, please Grisham, slow down, dig down deep inside yourself and write another like The Painted House.  Please.

8.  Elizabeth Kostova  

Kostova grabbed my attention with The Historian (2009) and Swan Thieves (2010)...but hasn't published anything since then.  I know her stories require a ton of research, so I'm going to try and give her a little more time...if I just knew for sure she was working on something, I could relax a little.  Oy.

9.  Harper Lee  

I suspect Lee will make many lists today for a variety of reasons.  To Kill a Mockingbird touched me as much as most readers, but most importantly, it touched my reluctant reader.  She read, studied, re-read, bought the movie, re-read and studied it some more.  I didn't dare say much since that's usually the perfect way to get her to stop reading.  I recommended several after that to my middle daughter, but none of them stuck.  Lee touched something in my middle daughter that no author has before or since...why oh why couldn't she have written more????

10.  Jeannette Walls  

The Glass Castle touched my heart in so many ways...and the audiobook, narrated by Walls herself, made me hyperventilate a time or two.  Half Broke Horses (2010) came pretty quickly after The Glass Castle, but we've not had anything since.  Please Jeannette, give us more! 

I'm a little sad after this list.  I miss some of these writers...almost like losing a family member...yet the idea that books and their authors touch our lives is reinforced again by the melancholy I feel now.  
I'll keep my fingers crossed for these other authors...

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Vampire Diaries - Movie Monday is now Media Monday :)

My Christmas gift to the Head of My Household this year was CABLE.  When our local Cable company switched to Digital, instead of getting all those pesky little boxes, the husband waited out the system, thinking the Cable company would never completely remove the non-digital signal.

 Well, he was wrong.
They did.

For a while he tried to act like it didn't bother him...but there are only so many football games a sports fanatic can be expected to miss...only so much ESPN withdrawal a fella can stomach...
It was a perfect gift, especially since he's such a hard fella to buy gifts for.

I had the new Cable hooked up a week or so before Christmas so he could enjoy all the bowl games, etc. over the holidays, and he's been in heaven.
My children have enjoyed their father's Christmas gift as well.  I have seen more ICarly, Spongebob Squarepants and Big Time Rush than I ever thought possible :/

Myself, I don't really watch TV.
If I watch a tv show, it's on DVD or instant download from the network site, Amazon or NetFlix.
I have a hard enough time keeping up with my schedule, the husband's schedule and my girls' schedule without adding a tv schedule to it.  So, I just don't watch it.
My friend Missie says I need that DVR thingie...but I would just forget to set it...or I'd record too many shows and forget I'd recorded them.
Now, just because I don't watch TV on a regular basis doesn't mean I don't enjoy a TV show or so...
One of my current guilty pleasures right now is the CW show "The Vampire Diaries."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know...
More vampires.

I stumbled on the pilot over two years ago.

Good guy Vegetarian Vampire Stephan returns to his home in Mystic Falls because of a young woman (Elena) who reminds him of a woman/vampire he once loved (Katherine).
Bad guy, not Vegetarian, Vampire Damon, who is also Stephan's brother, also returns to Mystic Falls simply to make Stephan's life miserable.  Damon also loved the same time as Stephan...and it wasn't pretty when Katherine finally chose Stephan.  Since then, these two have been at each other's throats for hundreds of years...and of course, they both fall in love with Elena this time around.   

I knew I'd never keep up with the series so I just kinda put it on the backburner...until a month ago...browsing NetFlix, I found the complete Season 1 and 2 of The Vampire Diaries on Instant Play...WAHOO!!

Over the last several weeks I've caught up on Season 1

and Season 2 

and then couldn't stand it and switched to the CW website where I watched several full episodes of Season 3 for free and then caught up with the rest on Amazon Instant Videos.

I love this fun, fast paced, action packed, non-thinking series...vampires, witches, werewolves, vampire hunters, "Originals" who can't be killed, humans who choose to be "turned" and those who don't get to choose...all in the middle of high school drama...which really doesn't seem like high school to me.   
As a matter of fact, I forget frequently that these characters (the humans anyway) are supposed to only be 16 and 17 years old.  And, of course the love triangle of Stephan, Elena and Damon.
Um, did I mention the music?? Holy Smokes! What a playlist this stuff would make!!

There's also a lot of history (what do you call pretend early American history?), and Nina Dobrev who plays Elena is something else switching roles back and forth between Elena and Katherine, especially in Season 2 when "Katherine" returns.  And, to add even more interest in the series, two of the show's stars are actually together as a couple off screen as well.
Isn't that cute??

My videos ran out in the middle of Season 3 with Episode 9, so as a new Cable consumer I decided I would also enjoy my husband's Christmas gift and planned to watch Episode 10 last Thursday night.

Guess what?
At 7:34 p.m. I realized it was 7:34 and I had missed most of the show :(
Good grief.
I told you so.

You see, I need TV shows on my schedule...not the network's.  
If only it worked that way.

Amazon had the video streaming (for $1.99) by the next day though, and CW had it streaming for free a day or so after that.  
Thank Goodness!

Now, I'm waiting on Episode 11!! 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review - A Southern Plate and My First Giveaway :)

Southern Plate by Christy Jordan

Why?  I heard about Christy in the blogosphere and read her blog for a while.  I read review after review hailing her cookbook, and she sounded like the next Paula Deen or Ree Drummond...both ladies I respect and admire.

What Now?  I'll be giving this one away...just not for me.  But, instead of donating it to the library, I decided that since so many other people like this cookbook, I would give them mine. :)

Golden Lines

Almost every memory I have of our dinner table growing up includes my mother, father, sister, brother, and at least one of two "extras."  No matter how tight our grocery budget or schedule was, Mama always found time and managed to feed more people.

I guess in the end, the kids will not likely remember how the cake looked, but they will remember that you made it for them.  And whether it's made from scratch or made from a mix, whether it's chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, I think when all kids grow up they will agree, their mama made the best cake.  

What I Liked 

The meals are simple; there are no fancy schmancy ingredients to search out, etc. 

Family - like myself, family seems important to Christy...she writes snippets all through the book about her family, where these recipes came from, etc.

Even though I don't think of Christmas as a "season," as Jordan says "it is often said,"  I did think that this section of recipes was the best.  Sugared pecans, chocolate pie, coconut cake, peanut brittle, fudge, Chex mix, divinity, and hot chocolate are all recipes I grew up on as well.

What I Didn't Like  

Photographs - There are nowhere near enough pictures in this cookbook for me.  I am a very visual person and I need photos, lots of them...and not just photos of the finished product.  Show me what the recipe looks like at least a few times in the midst of progress so that I'll know whether or not I'm on the right track.  There's not even a photo of every recipe in here.  I was very disappointed...but I blamed this on myself...I very seldom blindly order a cookbook without holding it in my hot little hands and flipping through it first.  If I had taken the time to do that, I would have never bought A Southern Plate.

Southernness - I am a Southerner...all the way to my bone marrow.  Since the day I bought this cookbook, I have tried and tried to find something in this cookbook that appealed to me.  I even looked up Christy's Chicken & Dumplings recipe the other day when I was experimenting (she uses cream of chicken soup in her recipe).  I have purposely put off writing this review so that I could find something in here I actually wanted to make...that sounded a little different than all the other cookbooks, pages out of magazines, etc. that I own.  I couldn't find a thing.  And, I'm truly sorry.

I don't mean this mean at all...I promise...but there were times when I felt Christy attributed certain aspects of homelife and cooking to Southern homes or specific regions in the South...for example, in her explanation of White Barbeque sauce Jordan indicates that most folks outside of North Alabama have never heard of it...even other Southerners.  I know a whole lot of Southerners, from MS, LA, AL, FL, and even the Carolinas who would argue this point...I promise I'm not trying to be picky...I just felt Jordan tried to force some of the Southernness sometimes.  Does that make any sense at all??
Another place where I felt this push was in the story where Jordan told how she'd gotten in trouble for not waving at a passerby farmer when she was first learning to drive and had received a harsh scolding from her grandfather.  Huh?  While the story is true for Jordan, she attributes this same attitude or set of rules to all Southerners...and that's simply not true.  Nor does it mean when I (or anyone else) travel to Oakland or San Francisco, CA (or anywhere else for that matter) on business that I am not met with the same kind of friendliness.  I've found that most folks within the states I've visited will carry on a polite conversation when one is started...those who don't are not comfortable bc of their personality rather than where they were brought up.
I could cite you many more examples where I felt Jordan overgeneralizes about Southerners and/or nonSoutherners.  There was even one quote from pg. 89 that really actually upset me:

Despite the trend of celebrity chefs in the food world presenting us with fancy dishes with names most Southerners can't even pronounce, at the end of the day what we really want to come home to is the simple food we grew up on.

If this quote had been written by a non-Southerner, I would've actually been angry and taken it as an insult...I don't know what to think about this kind of statement being made by a Southerner...and a really nice one at that...does she just not realize what she just said?  Who was her editor?  and Why did he/she not point out these kinds of possible problematic issues to her?
I honestly think the generalizations were my greatest vice with this cookbook.  Enough that they turned me off from everything and anything else I might have found positive in this cookbook.
And, I can thank my PhD for my tendency to over analyze even a friendly little's a disease I tell you.

Organization - just a personal preference of mine, but I don't like cookbooks organized by seasons...unless within those seasons the recipes are also organized by which type of recipe...appetizer, breads, meat, etc.  I just get lost otherwise.

Fruit salad made with a can of fruit cocktail?  My mama made traditional ambrosia...and we were NOT upper or even middle class citizens when I was growing up.  There are other recipes as well which surprised me with packaged/processed ingredients and shortcuts....that's just not the way I remember it.  Again, had Jordan told this story from her own home's perspective and her individual family's rather than generalizing her experiences to all Southerners, I might have been able to look at the recipes differently.  As it is, however, I can't.

My Overall Response

I wanted to like this cookbook so much.  I almost feel mean saying that I didn't.  But, I didn't.  A friend of mine returned from Savannah, Georgia after visiting there and eating at Paula Deen's restaurant.  When I asked her about the restaurant experience, my friend said that it wasn't that big of a deal.  The food served there was no different than what my friend's grandmother prepares for Sunday lunch.  It was good, my friend said, but nothing special.  I think that may be another reason why I wasn't over the moon about this cookbook.

Maybe also, instead of marketing this cookbook as a Southern cookbook and instead marketing it as a North Alabama cookbook, I might not have had so many problems with the over-generalizations...I don't'd have to ask other North Alabamians about that.


On Jan. 2, 2010 I posted my first blog posting.  Somehow this year I missed my I thought it only fitting to jump right into the land of the Giveaway in order to share my love of books and my love of blogging.  Even though I might not like something or think it's quite as special as others do, I'm a firm believer that as readers (and individuals) we find our own literature that speaks to matter what the genre.  Instead of letting Southern Plate sit on my shelf un-used, I want to offer it to someone else who might find pleasure in the recipes Christy Jordan has worked so hard on and lived her life through.

I'm gonna do this the old fashioned way.  If you'd like to have my autographed copy of Christy Jordan's Southern Plate, just let me know in the comments section below.  One week from today, Sunday, Jan. 15, my girls and I will put all the entries in a mixing bowl and pull one.  I'll announce the winner in my Monday, January 16th post :)