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The Pearl
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rereading a classic can be a double edged sword. You may have terrible memories of being forced to read it in school. I remember reading this book in middle school and I had a vague recollection of the story. Reading it now for my book group was a completely different experience. Reading it in muddle school, we focused on plot and pacing, climax and other literary elements. Reading it now, I was free to enjoy and notice the beauty in Steinbeck’s sparse but by no means simple prose. At just shy of 125 pages, this short novella or parable is retelling of a classic Mexican folktale that Steinbeck wrote and published first in a Women’s magazine. He is rumored to have written it specifically to turn into a screenplay. I have not seen the movie and am not sure if I want to. I’m not sure that a movie can capture the simplicity of the life that Kino and his wife Juana led, nor can it capture the fleeting moment when their lives change as the scorpion bites baby Coyotito.

As with most parables, the characters are not fully fleshed three dimensional characters, they are carefully placed embodiments of base traits such as good and evil. There is little room for middle ground, unless you read and see beyond the page, to the subtleness that flows from the character’s actions. Of course, as a parable there is a moral to the story. What is the moral? Be careful of what you wish for? Don’t try to rise above your station in life? What is the point of trying to achieve success when there will be horrific repercussions? I’m not entirely sure what Steinbeck’s moral was, I’m not a literature professor, just a reader who enjoyed the book for what it was.

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I photocopied this out of a cookbook but sadly forgot to write down what book it was.  My apologies to the creator of this delicious dip.  The way that it is listed here is how I altered it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (14oz) white beans (I used one can of butter beans and one can of small white beans)
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • dash salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin (I used a small mound of cumin seeds in my hand)
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 small handful cilantro
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

  • Drain and rinse beans under cool water several times until the water runs clear.
  • In the bowl of a food processor pour the beans, lemon juice, olive oil, spices and most of the cilantro.
  • Process on high until smooth.  If it appears dry, you can add more olive oil, lemon juice or even a tiny bit of water to loosen it up.  It should be the same consistency as hummus.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish with paprika and chopped cilantro.

Serve with chips, pita bread or veggies.

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The Undead Pool
The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sad to think that there is only one book left to be written in the series. This book is a game-changer. Multiple plot lines come together and weave a complicated tapestry of destruction, magic and revelations. Demons, elves, pixies, vampires and weres must work as a team to bring down one of the baddest enemies, no, not really an enemy, an entity that Rachel has ever faced. Watching Rachel grow as a character has been frustrating at times but in this book, she truly shows that she is more than the sum of her experiences and that she has grown tremendously over the course of the series. Then there is also the Trent dilemma. Fans of the series have been waiting with baited breath for something to happen since Ms. Harrison teased us with the ending of Ever After. She more than makes up for the teasing. Cannot wait for the next book.

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Jersey Angel
Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not your typical teen romance. Not entirely sure it is a romance. It is more of a coming of age story than a romance. There is a love story sort of but it certainly doesn’t end up with a happily ever after. It is a realistic portrayal of a teen who sees her friends going places and realizes that she isn’t going anywhere. Next September when her friends go away to college, she will be enrolling in the local community college, living in the same NJ shore town, working the same crappy job at her Dad’s marina, sleeping with the same boys who are also staying behind.

Angel is no angel…she’s a teen with an on again off again boyfriend who admittedly sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend. She does feel guilty but that doesn’t stop her. She is a restless spirit, much like her mother who floats from boyfriend to boyfriend as well. This novel shows a side of teenage girls that is not often shown in novels. Angel and her friends drink, smoke pot, get high, flirt, sleep around and get knocked up. They don’t apologize for it or try to hide it. This is who they are.

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Review: Pale Demon

Pale Demon
Pale Demon by Kim Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you get when you put a Witch, an Elf and a Pixie in a car for a few days? If you are Kim Harrison, you get the beginnings of Pale Demon. A road trip meant to do a favor for Trent and hopefully save Rachel’s life. In true Rachel form though, it isn’t nearly that easy. There are day walking, yes day walking demons to deal with, a few assassination attempts and reappearance by Pierce and so much more. Harrison is a master at letting things develop and slowly teasing them out into the open. Rachel is finally making some smart choices and dealing with the fallout from not so smart choices. This was one of the best in the series. Looking forward to the next one!

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Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats & Drinks
Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats & Drinks by Stephanie Izard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been a Top Chef fan since the first season I am always on the lookout for cookbooks written by the former contestants, especially the winners. Stephanie Izard was the Season four winner. Reading her cookbook is what I imagine sitting down in her kitchen while she prepares dinner must be like. Each recipe contains an introduction describing the dish and how it came to be. Some introductions include family stories while others focus on flavor profiles and the ins and outs of why some flavors work together and some don’t. Set up in fairly standard chapters some recipes include Featured Ingredients with more detailed information about preparation and usage. Cooking tips are scattered throughout the book but my personal favorite is the drink tips. Just about every recipe is paired with a beverage. Rather than just listing the perfect wine, beer or ale, she takes the time to explain why Belgian Pale Ales are the perfect complement to Juniper Grilled Sea Bass. It is because there is just enough spice in the Pale Ale to complement the floral fennel and it won’t overpower the Sea Bass. The recipes vary in degree of difficulty from the very simple composed salads to the more complex Osso Buco. Not every recipe has a photograph which is usually a turnoff for me, I want to see the finished product but what photographs there are, are simply stunning. A great choice for both a cookbook to browse through and a cookbook that is destined to be home to some of your new favorite dishes.

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Hannah had her 11th birthday party this weekend at an adorable place near us called Spa Babies.  It is a girl’s dream place.  Full of pink and sparkly.  The girls each got to pick out a costume and then their hair was done into a complicated mass of mini braids or twists and sprayed with glitter spray. They also each got their finger and toes painted.  Does it get better?  Pizza and cupcakes followed along with playing the Wii and dancing around squealing like on 10 and 11 year old girls can.  To celebrate I told Hannah that I would make her cupcakes.  I surprised her with these adorable confections complete with pink cake, white buttercream icing and pink sparkly sugar on top. The recipe for the cupcakes came from lovefromtheoven.com who got it from Taste of Home.  This is the version that I used.

I am including the recipe here so that you don’t have to go clicking all over the place.  The cupcakes were adorable, a tiny bit drier than I would have liked but the girls adored them so I will consider it a successful recipe.

Pink Velvet Cupcakes

Preheat Oven to 350 Degrees F

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of butter softened
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • Pink food coloring (I used Wilton gel food coloring from AC Moore.  I used 3 – 5 drops of the pink)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I used Saco Cultured Buttermilk powder)

 

Directions

  • In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Once light and fluffy add your pink food coloring.   Start with a small amount and increase to reach your desired shade of pink. Blend well with butter and sugar. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in vanilla and beat well.
  • Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the batter and beat until well combined. Add in 1/2 of the butter milk, beat until combined, followed by another 1/3 of the dry, then the remaining buttermilk and finally the remaining dry ingredients. The batter may look a bit lumpy after buttermilk is first added, but beat well and it will combine nicely.
  • Fill paper lined muffin cups two-thirds full and bake at 350 degrees for approx 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Watch the cupcakes closely in the last few minutes of baking so that they do not over brown. Allow to cool for ten minutes before removing from pan, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

My Favorite Buttercream Recipe

  • 1 stick of butter softened
  • 2 tablespoons of Crisco or butter (I used the extra butter as we had no crisco on hand)
  • 1 two pound bag of powdered confectioners sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Whipping cream (I used 1% milk because that’s what we had and it worked fine.)

Blend your butter, Crisco and vanilla together, adding in the powdered sugar and salt. The mixture will be very dry. Slow start adding your whipping cream, about one tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.  Once you have reached the desired consistency, beat for 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Frost cooled cupcakes and add sprinkles, etc as you wish.

This is what the cupcakes from the Love from the Oven website looked like:

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