Friday, April 18, 2014

I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson - Book Review

image credit
Recently, I received a free copy of the book I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson. As someone who understands how dangerous sugar can be in one's diet, I was eager to check out the book and the 108 included recipes.

In this book, Wilson lays out an eight-week plan for eliminating sugar from your diet. You don't eliminate all sugar right away. It's a gradual process of cutting back on sugar, and then taking it completely out of your diet and getting your "sweet" fix in other ways. By the end of the eight weeks, hopefully, you'll be so used to not eating sugar that you won't want to eat any sugar.

The book offers a list of pantry staples and kitchen supplies that will help you on your journey. I like that the food staples are all things that can be used in multiple recipes instead of stuff you'll spend a lot of money on and then only use once.

There are also 108 sugar-free recipes, from breakfasts and desserts to sugar-free food for kids. Wilson writes that these recipes just so happen to be grain- and gluten-free because Wilson thinks starches from grain can feed the sugar addiction. But even so, if you're already on a gluten-free diet, make sure that any ingredient you buy says "gluten-free" on the label. Especially when it comes to things like nuts, certain brands are manufactured on the same equipment as wheat products.

Cutting out sugar is a daunting task because you'd be surprised at just how many things contain sugar! Even a "healthy" snack can contain a candy bar-and-soda's worth of sugar. It's almost impossible to eat sugar in moderation because sugar (in one form or another) is in everything we eat. The biggest problem is the power wielded by the sugar industry, and I'm glad that Wilson addresses the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) debate in this book. Basically, it's just as bad as sugar. But it's also cheap and overabundant thanks to the U.S. government subsidizing corn producers, so now HFCS is in everything we eat. Great!

Bacon and Egg Cupcakes
I haven't attempted the eight-week sugar detox diet yet, but I am all about lowering the amount of sugar we eat. I've written about this before. And I am more than willing to add some of these sugar-free recipes into our regular rotation. Pumpkin Pie "Oatmeal" or Poached Eggs for breakfast? How about a Chocolate Chip and Mint Whip beverage or Chocolate Peanut Butter Hot Cocoa? I'm kind of excited to use the food processor I got for Christmas (and haven't used yet) to make some of the pesto recipes in this cookbook.

There's a lot of great information in this book, and most of the recipes seem easy to make and good substitutes for full-sugar things you really love. If you're trying to get rid of all sugar from your diet or even if you just want to start slow and cut down on your sugar intake, I Quit Sugar is an excellent resource!

You can also find more recipes and resources at the I Quit Sugar website!

I Quit Sugar is published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wonder Women by Kate Harris - Book Review

If you're a woman, you're probably familiar with the idea of "having it all" and "doing it all". How do you find the balance between working, having kids, and taking care of yourself? This is what the book Wonder Women discusses. The book is part of the Barna Frames series of books that offer big ideas in small books, perfect for your fast-paced life.

The Barna Group did research to find out how women felt about their commitments to church, family, career, and community. What the researchers found was that most women are generally satisfied overall but are dissatisfied with life's little details. This is distressing, especially because Jesus says that we are made to live life to the full (John 10:10), but most women do not feel full or whole. Only 24% of women under 40 with no kids feel they are making the right choices in life.

This book caught my eye because as a working woman I find it difficult to achieve a work-life balance, which is one reason we don't have a kid yet. I was hoping this book would offer some insight, especially from a Christian perspective on this very common struggle.

This book is more than just careers and kids, though. It touches on main areas of women's lives, including church and friendship, two areas that unfortunately take a backseat in most women's lives to be replaced by other time-consuming things such as family and work. I find that really sad because it means that just over half of all women don't feel they have a strong support network and 35% of women say they feel lonely. Even the church doesn't offer women enough support, which is troubling.

The statistics in this book are eye-opening not only for what the research shows but for helping women see that they're not alone in the way they feel. 

There were two things that stood out to me. The first was the idea that we all have constraints, but you have to be creative and work around them so that they free you and not hinder you.

The second was the statement that God always make provisions for things He calls you to pursue. Going back to the "am I making right choices" question, this left me wondering if the things I wanted to pursue but was having trouble making work were not things God was calling me to do.

I liked that there are questions in the beginning of the book for you to answer before you read the book, and then questions at the end of the book to help you think about what you read in the context of your own life. Hopefully, this book can provide a starting point for changing the conversation in society and the church.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ask Me Blog Tour & Book Review

Life would be pretty hard if you were a teenage oracle forced to truthfully answer every question you heard whether or not it was directed at you. Add to that the murder of one of your classmates, and things will get even more complicated for you.

That's the premise of the new YA novel Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley.

Aria just wants to be a normal 16-year-old, but she's inherited her family's gift of prophecy, which makes her an outcast in her Florida high school. When her classmate Jade is murdered, the questions of what happened and why cause Aria to get a glimpse of how Jade died but not a clear picture of who did it.

There are two suspects: Will, Jade's on-again/off-again boyfriend, and Alex, the guy Jade had gone out with the night before she died. Both boys mysteriously befriend Aria and warn her to stay away from the other, leaving Aria to wonder which boy to trust.

Honestly, I kind of figured out who the culprit was halfway through the book, but because it seemed kind of easy, I kept waiting for a more complex explanation. There really wasn't one. I also had a hard time understanding why Will and Alex both suddenly took an interest in the school "freak". It just seemed to come out of nowhere.

But, I still found the story entertaining and thrilling, and I really liked that the chapter beginnings including song lyrics. Music is a big part of the book because Aria always has her MP3 player on to block out people's conversations and questions. I'm looking forward to making an "Ask Me" playlist and listening to what Aria listened to.

Ask Me is published by Soho Teen and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy for my honest review.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Call to Action - Book Review

I recently read Jimmy Carter's new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. Well, I did more than just read it. I purchased the book and had Jimmy Carter himself sign it at a book signing in New York!

The book signing was quite the experience. I lined up outside the Barnes & Noble about two hours before the book signing was supposed to start. Good thing I did because I was part of the first group to be let inside the store for the signing! By the time I left the store, there were TONS more people standing outside waiting to get in.
I had this idea that I'd be able to shake Jimmy Carter's hand and speak with him for a few minutes. I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his book Our Endangered Values. But that was not to be. Secret Service was there, and we were not to touch Mr. Carter nor could we hand him the book. I had to hand the book to someone who handed it to someone else who handed it to Jimmy Carter who signed it and handed it to someone else who handed it to someone else who handed it back to me. Our hands had to be out of our pockets the whole time we walked in front of the former president, and I had to drink from my water bottle in front of Secret Service to prove that it was really water and not ... something else.
It was still cool, though, and I did get to thank Mr. Carter for being there, and he looked at me and said, "You're welcome".
As for the book, I REALLY enjoyed Our Endangered Values, but this new one wasn't at the same level. It was still interesting to read, but I thought it could have been organized a bit better. It was very stream-of-consciousness, and when you're 89, I don't really think your stream is super together. Carter tells many personal stories in this book, but oftentimes I wasn't sure why he was telling them or what point he was trying to make in terms of the theme of the chapter.
I did bookmark a lot of pages because the book tackles an interesting topic. Basically, Jimmy Carter thinks there are two reasons why there is such a high rate of abuse, violence, and lack of equality toward women and girls. The first reason is religion and men who hold religious power misinterpreting religious texts to "perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms" (2). The second reason is an acceptance of violence in society, from war to the death penalty.
There are many world leaders who are trying to combat this problem, and Carter's own Carter Center is also working to fix this issue that confronts women in both third-world and developed countries. The book gives examples of what the Carter Center and others are doing to successfully change cultural attitudes.
The book is definitely one to check out, though you should know that there are chapters on female genital mutilation, and if you don't want to read about that because it is kind of gruesome, then maybe you'll want to pass on this book or at least skip that chapter.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - April 14

We have sort of a wacky week this week, so there really is much of a Meal Plan to share with you. I do have to say Happy Birthday to my husband! He turns 31 today!

Friday, April 11, 2014

National Cheese Fondue Day with Emmi Roth USA

me enjoying fondue at The Melting Pot in 2009
Did you know that today is National Cheese Fondue Day? WELL IT IS!!!

I love fondue, but it's not always easy (or in the budget) to go out and eat at The Melting Pot all the time. So hosting a fondue party at your house is a much more budget-friendly solution. You don't even have to whip up your own cheese or chocolate. Just use pre-made mixes from Emmi Roth USA.

I got the chance to review the Emmi Fondue Original for free in anticipation of National Cheese Fondue Day. I was also given some tips to help you dip like a pro.

But first, a little tip of my own: don't have a fondue set? Just use your crockpot!

We own fondue sticks, but no fondue pot, so I just broke out my 2-quart crockpot to heat up the mix. And it worked GREAT! It's also perfect to safely keep the mix warm while you're enjoying your fondue. No flames or weird fuel source. Just keep the crockpot plugged in. Of course, it helps if you've got a plug near your table or eating surface.

One more thing before we get to the other fondue tips. What did I think of the Emmi cheese fondue? Well, along with cheese, some of the other ingredients are wine and brandy, and boy oh boy could I taste the alcohol. It was actually really gross. When I eat melted cheese, I only want to taste cheese.

Emmi makes a traditional cheese blend without any alcohol and its chocolate fondue mix doesn't contain alcohol, so those varieties might be better. Of course, if you don't mind the taste of wine or brandy, then this might not be an issue for you. These are all available in Emmi's e-shop and select retailers.

And now for the fon-DO's of fondue:

Be a Delightful Dipper:
  • Be sure your food is secured to your fondue fork or skewer before dipping to avoid losing it in the cheese.
  • If you missed the first step and drop your dipper into the fondue, Swiss tradition says a woman must kiss the person next to her, and a man must buy a round of drinks for everyone. You could also just politely remove it to ensure the pot remains clean for all.
  • Perfect your twirling and swirling. It is polite to make one to two small swirls before removing your food.
  • Resist the urge to double dip. Food that has been bitten should never return to the communal pot.
  • Be a little adventurous by tasting everything you are served (the exception to the rule is a dietary restriction, in which case you may politely decline).
  • Sample before salting. Fondue is already seasoned with spices and wine, so it might be perfect just the way it is. If you do add salt, make sure you do it after you’ve dipped. 

Tasting Notes
  • Wait your turn. Allow one person to dip at a time and proceed in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion around the table.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Dip larger pieces and then cut them into smaller bits on your own plate.
  • A moment on the lips is frowned upon. Your fondue fork or skewer should never directly touch your mouth. Transfer your food to your plate before indulging.
  • Let it cool. Never blow on freshly dipped hot food. Avoid splatters and allow your food to cool slightly on your plate.

The New Way to Fondue
  • Fondue is a fun party meal for special occasions, but also a great weeknight meal for the family. Not to mention it will get your kids to eat their vegetables.
  • It’s great to pay homage to this Swiss dining tradition, but be creative with using the cheese sauce as a dip or in a macaroni and cheese.
  • Feel free to add your own twist with a few dashes of hot sauce or some prepared taco meat.
Hope you enjoy your fondue party! Be sure to invite me, okay?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Help Me Solve These Cooking Conundrums!

Hey blog readers! I've got two questions for you involving cooking techniques and tools. Hopefully, someone out there can help me out!

1. Cooking Meat in a Skillet
The other week I made this yummy parmesan-crusted pork recipe, but I had some issues getting it to become yummy. The pork had to be cooked in a skillet on the stovetop. No big deal, right?

Well, for me, cooking meat on the stovetop, unless it's ground meat, is always a challenge. The outside of the meat starts burning before the inside is even cooked through!

For this reason, I always chop up my chicken breasts before cooking them in a skillet, or I buy thin-sliced chicken breasts or chicken tenders.

But I don't think I should have to do that! Other people surely don't have this problem or the recipes wouldn't ask you to cook meat on the stovetop!

So what am I doing wrong? I placed four pork chops in the skillet at the same time. Should I have only done two at a time?

2. Metal Beaters that Rust
I didn't have this problem until we moved to our new home a few years ago. So, maybe this is a hard water issue, but I've been through two electric beaters already and had to get rid of the beaters because they got rusty!!

This happened after running the beaters through the dishwasher and after letting the beaters soak in water for a bit to make it easier to clean off caked-on batter.

I'm a little concerned about this because I would really like for this not to happen if I purchase a KitchenAid stand mixer. Is the only option just to handwash the beaters myself? In that case, I'd probably need two sets in order to make sure that one is strictly gluten-free. (Cleaning dishes in the dishwasher is a better way to clear away contaminants as opposed to handwashing in the sink.)

Has this problem happened to anyone else or is it just me? None of our utensils ever get this way, so I'm really not sure why it's just the beaters. Maybe it's the brand? Chefmate and Oster. Perhaps not so great?

Thanks for your help!!