Friday, October 31, 2014

The Final Silence - Book Review

Last year I picked up a really good thriller at Book Expo America, and I managed to do it again this year with Stuart Neville's The Final Silence.
image credit

The story takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland shortly after Rea Carlisle inherits her deceased uncle's house. Rea and her mother clean out the house, but there is one room that they can't access because it's locked. Rea eventually gets the door open, and what she discovers sheds a gruesome light on her uncle. On a desk is a catalog of hair, fingernails, and victims.

In an attempt to not ruin her father's political career, Rea is persuaded by her parents to not call the police about the book. So instead Rea calls someone from her past: disgraced former police inspector Jack Lennon. He's got a lot of issues of his own and isn't really eager to help Rea, but a murder spurs Jack to investigate and brings him even deeper into the investigation than he wants.

I could not stop reading this book! The chapters are fairly short and fast-paced, so you just keep turning page after page to find out what happens next. I gotta admit, I was kind of able to figure out a few things before they were revealed, but I wasn't able to figure out specific details and motives, so there were still many elements of surprise.

I also loved the characters and how multi-layered and sympathetic they were. Without giving anything away, there were sub-plots that almost made me cry!

Fair warning: some parts of the book were kind of graphic, so if you're not into reading about people getting murdered, then you shouldn't read this book.

The Final Silence is published by Soho Press and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dominique Ansel's Flourless Chocolate Pecan Cookie

Dominique Ansel at BEA 2014
If you've ever eaten a cronut (I still haven't), then you've eaten the brainchild of chef Dominique Ansel. On Tuesday, his new cookbook came out, Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes, and I got an exclusive recipe from the cookbook (signed by Dominique himself!) at Book Expo America.

So, of course, I decided to make it!

What I like about this recipe is that it's flourless, which means that my husband can eat these cookies. The dough is made from butter, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, eggs, and melted dark chocolate chips. Fold in some whole chocolate chips and chopped pecans, and you're done! (Just make sure your chocolate chips and pecans are gluten-free. Some are processed on shared equipment and will usually say so on the package.)

The only downside to this recipe is that it does take two days to make. You have to prepare the dough and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. The actual baking is done on day two. But even with the two-day prep and baking time, there really isn't a lot of hands-on time to make these cookies.

So, here's the recipe if you want to try these out for yourselves:

Yield: 20 Cookies (I only got 12, though. Maybe I made them too big?)

2 cups dark chocolate chips (over 60% cocoa content)
3 tbsp. unsalted butte
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped pecans

One Day Before:
1. Melt 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips in a double boiler. (Here's how I do it: Fill a pot with two inches of water and bring it to a simmer. Place the chocolate chips in a glass bowl and place the bowl over the water.) Stir slowly with a spatula to ensure the chocolate chips are completed melted and smooth before turning off the heat.

melting chocolate in double boiler
2. Melt the butter in the microwave. Mix it into the melted chocolate. Keep the mixture warm over the hot water.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs and whisk until fully incorporated and the mixture resembles pancake batter.

4. Whisk in the melted chocolate-butter mixture. (If it has cooled and begun to solidify, gently reheat it before incorporating.)

5. Fold in the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and the pecans with a spatula.

6. Transfer the dough to a baking dish. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap that touches the surface of the dough. Set in the fridge to rest overnight.
the dough in plastic wrap
The Day Of:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 and set a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. (I used parchment.)

2. Using your hands, break the dough into pieces the size of your palm, approx. 3 1/2 tbsp. (The dough was VERY sticky, so I'd recommend spraying your hands with cooking spray or something to make it easier.) Roll the dough into balls and place them on the baking sheet at least two inches apart from one another. Press gently on the top of each ball with the palm of your hand to make a thick disk. This dough doesn't spread much, so the disk should be relatively close to the size of the cookie you'd like.

3. Bake for about 8 minutes on the middle rack, rotating the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through. When the cookies are just beginning to crack on top but the dough is set on the edge and has a soft spot in the center (about the size of a quarter), remove the oven. (I left my cookies in the oven for an additional 4 minutes after the original 8 minutes of baking time.)

the finished cookies
4. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes to further set. (Do this even longer if you want. The cookies are VERY soft and will break easily if you move them too soon.)

5. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet, still on the wax paper, and set aside. Reline the sheet with clean wax paper and continue with the remaining dough (if you have any left).

These cookies are super soft, and the chocolate chips inside get all melty and gooey when you break apart the cookies. Very yummy! Hopefully my little italicized tips in the directions will help you out if you make these cookies. Let me know how yours turn out!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Amrita Bars - Product Review

As you might have already seen, I found lots of cool new things at the NJ Gluten & Allergen Free Expo. Something else I've been enjoying from the Expo are Amrita Bars. I was lucky enough to take home three free samples of the bars to taste out and review.

First, the flavors because you want to know what these are going to taste like, right? There are six flavors to choose from:
- Mango Coconut
- Apricot Strawberry (my favorite!!)
- Apple Cinnamon (also very good)
- Pineapple Chia
- Cranberry Raisin
- Chocolate Maca (MUCH BETTER than similar chocolate-flavored bars)

And second, what makes Amrita Bars so great?
- free of the 8 common allergies (including gluten, soy, dairy, and peanuts)
- 4 grams of fiber per bar
- non-GMO ingredients
- kosher
- 7 to 15 grams of brown rice protein
- raw; blended not baked
-  seed-based (chia, sesame, sunflower) with 1000mg Omega 3 from chia seeds
- 70% organic
- antioxidants from sun-ripened dried fruits

These bars are great as a quick, on-the-go breakfast or mid-day snack. And if you've got kids who have Celiac disease or some other food allergy, these make a wonderful lunchbox dessert or after-school snack. You can feel good about giving these allergy-free bars to your kids because they are SAFE and healthy. 

Amrita Bars are available in specialty foods stores and online. You can use the online store locator to see where they are available in your area and suggest retailers that you want to carry Amrita Bars.

There's also an Amrita Club that gives you a 20% discount on bars, free swag, and other fun perks. You get 15 bars for $33 a month plus a free T-shirt and free shipping. Pretty cool, huh?

Anyone else at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo try these bars? What did you think? What's your favorite flavor?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Falling from Horses - Book Review

Recently, I've been reading a lot of books that I picked up at Book Expo America, and I have to say that Molly Gloss' Falling from Horses is the best book I've read from this group of books. The writing is fantastic, and I just couldn't put the book down!

The book tells the story of 19-year-old Bud Frazer and his year in Hollywood trying to make money as a horse-riding stuntman. The year is 1938, and Bud has left his ranchhand mom and dad behind in Oregon. He's also left behind, or thinks he has, a bit of baggage from the death of his younger sister.

On the bus ride down to Hollywood, Bud meets an aspiring screenwriter named Lily. They don't really have a romantic connection, but they strike up a relationship that gets them both through the stressful times of getting jobs and losing jobs, emotional pain and physical pain.

Even as Bud narrates the story, the author breaks it up to offer flashbacks so that the reader can understand where Bud came from, his family, and just what happened to his sister.

If you're looking for a really great read for when you have some days off around Thanksgiving and the December holidays, I would recommend Falling from Horses. Some parts of the book might be hard for people to read; this is about stunt riding, after all. So if you don't want to read about horses getting injured and killed or people getting injured, then you might want to steer clear of this story. But if that doesn't bother you, this is a beautifully written, somewhat coming-of-age story with really great characters that you won't stop thinking about even after the story ends.

Falling from Horses is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is on bookshelves TODAY! I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - October 27

We have a little bit of an abbreviated week this week, so there's not too much on the meal plan. But that means there won't be too much on my grocery list AND not too much charged on my credit card. I can handle that! Share what you're eating in the comments!

Sunday: pepperoni puffs

Monday: tortilla-chip fish with slaw*

Tuesday: on our own

Wednesday: cheesy baked meatballs and ciabatta

Thursday: on our own

Friday: out

Saturday: out

*new recipe

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bear Naked Granola Bars - Review

You've probably had granola bars before, but let me tell you, you've probably never had a granola bar like Bear Naked's new granola bars. I got the chance to try Bear Naked's Layered Granola Bars for free through House Party's Chatterbox program. All I had to do was write a review telling you what I thought of them!

So here goes:

Right now, there are two flavors of the Layered Granola Bars: Fruit and Nutty and Nutty Double Chocolate. Of course I went for the Nutty Double Chocolate!

What sets these granola bars apart is that they have a layer of Bear Naked granola on the bottom and then a top layer of natural, whole ingredients, such as fruit and nuts. The bars are bottom-dipped in chocolate for an even more decadent flavor.

The Nutty Double Chocolate bars have 4 grams of fiber and 190 calories per bar. They contain no cholesterol, no artificial flavors, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, and, my favorite, "no monkey business". They do contain peanuts, almonds, soy, milk, and wheat, and may contain other tree nuts.

If you want the chance to try these out for yourself, I've got three coupons for $1 off one box of Bear Naked Layered Granola Bars.  Just enter using the Rafflecopter below, and I'll randomly pick three winners. (I might even throw in some other special stuff. You just never know!) 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

These coupons are only redeemable at Target stores, and this giveaway is only valid to residents of the contiguous U.S. No Alaska, Hawaii, or international entries.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

2000-2001 - TBT

Usually I post old scrapbook layouts each time I do a Throwback Thursday post, but today's post is a little different. My parents came to visit the other weekend, and they brought up a big box of my old stuff. Inside the box was a photo book that one of my high school friends made for me (and everybody in our group). I thought it would be fun to showcase those pages and take a look back at what my likes and dislikes were during the 2000-2001 school year. (I guess that would have been my junior year.)

In order to make this book, my friend had given us a questionnaire about ourselves, and then she handwrote the answers in the book. We had also provided pictures for her to scan, so that she could add them to the book, along with fun cut-outs from magazines.

Looking at this first page, apparently I was an inch taller than I am now (or at least wishing I was an inch taller).

Dislikes: superficiality, pushiness, liars
Favorite food: chalupas, macaroni and cheese
Favorite drink: french vanilla cappucino (This was before I discovered Starbucks.)
Favorite actresses: Sally Field, Cheryl Ladd (WHAT?), Bette Davis
Favorite fashion trends: flared jeans, 3/4 length shirts, stuff from Goodwill
Favorite songs: "Teenage Dirtbag" - Wheatus, anything Hanson, "I'll Stand By You" - The Pretenders
Favorite movies: Evita, Star Wars
Most memorable Crimson (the name of our group) moment: "We always go to Six Flags even though it's always unbearably hot."
Here's what I had to say about myself: "I'm shy and nice. I'm also funny and a little weird."

And here are a few things that my friends wrote about me back then:
"Laurie is always on top of things and gets things done. She's smart and is the bomb diggity of her guard work."

"Schizo is my word for her. She is really two different people. She's got her quiet, sweet, down to earth side. Then the psychotic, jumping around side. Both are cool and she's not afraid to be herself."

"At first she comes off snotty, but once you get past that, you find a really good person. She is jumpy and bubbly, but can also be as droopy as a snail."

"Laurie always finds a convo to start. She always thinks of activities, too!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Speed Limits - Book Review

image credit: Yale Books
Speed Limits by Mark C. Taylor investigates the world's obsession with making things go faster and how we're not always saving time by speeding things up. It examines the many technological innovations - telegraph, electricity, internet - that have seemingly given us a better quality of life and made it easier to produce and communicate while also causing a deterioration in quality of life and hindering personal interaction and communication.

There was a time when workers requested eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation time, and eight hours of rest. but today's work week is no longer divided up like that due to our ability to be constantly connected, constantly available, and constantly getting things done. Leisure time is not valued as much in today's society.

I enjoyed reading about how the Protestant reformation and the invention of the printing press began to transform society, but there is also a lot of talk about business and economics that kind of went over my head. This is not exactly a leisurely read, but more of a thesis and something that could be used as assigned reading in a college class perhaps. So just keep that in mind if you're considering picking up this book.

Speed Limits is published by Yale University Press and will be on store shelves on October 28, 2014. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Move On - Book Review

It's okay to not be okay.

That's probably something you never thought you'd read or hear from a Christian author, especially with the Christian church trend of smiling and nodding without actually admitting to any problems in your life. Because what good Christian has problems, right?

All of them. And that's what Vicki Courtney's new book Move On addresses. This book talks about being honest with ourselves over past or current messes, forgiving ourselves just as God forgives us, not trying to hold ourselves to some standard of perfection, and just turning to God and allowing His grace and mercy to help us move forward in our lives.

At the end of each chapter, you'll find discussion questions that you can either journal about on your own for further reflection or discuss as part of a small group or Bible study. Because a big part of this book is about being honest with ourselves and bringing honesty into the church and supporting our fellow Christians through their messes, I think this book would definitely be best when read with a church group.

The truth is that life is messy, and even the apostles struggled. But when things get hard or when we feel ashamed because of things we've done wrong, instead of hiding, running, or ignoring, we should face our messes and let God help us deal so that we can move on and experience our lives the way God intends.

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.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - October 20

Last week I had some really great meals out, including delicious fish tacos, but now I'm back to having homecooked meals. Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: spaghetti and turkey meatballs

Monday: chicken caesar salad

Tuesday: grilled swordfish, rice, and green beans almondine

Wednesday: grilled cheese and soup

Thursday: hot dogs and fries

Friday: eggs and waffles

Saturday: on our own

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen - Book Review

"You do not have to write a book today. There is not enough time to write a book today. You do have to go to work today." - Eric Maisel

This quote is included in Robert Benson's new book Dancing on the Head of a Pen. I thought it was a great reminder for me and other writers, especially with National Novel Writing Month in just a few weeks. In fact, this whole book is filled with writerly advice and would make a perfect companion to have on-hand during those trying November weeks when 50,000 words seems like a longshot.

In this small book, Benson offers tips on how to find your story, your audience, and your pace, and how to always keep writing. These tips are what work for him, and they are not one size fits all. (Although, I, too, prefer to write everything out by hand and then type it up when I'm ready to edit.) But this book will get you thinking about what works for you and what doesn't and how you can silence your inner critic and just keep writing.

You don't have to be a writer, though, to appreciate this book. It's for painters, musicians, and anyone drawn to a life of artistic expression. If that's you and you find yourself stuck in your creative projects or don't know where to start, check out this book.

Dancing on the Head of a Pen is published by Waterbrook Press. I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TBT - Hudson Valley Pumpkin Blaze

You might remember last year when I posted about our trip to The Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze in New York's Hudson Valley.

Well, we went again this year, and it was just as amazing! Seriously, if you've never been to this, you have to go! Tickets sell out fast, and some nights are already sold out. But if you can wait until November, there might be a few nights still available.

Here are just a few scenes from this year's Blaze, which is actually it's 10th anniversary, hence the pumpkin birthday cake below:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Madness of July - Book Review

image credit
The Madness of July by James Naughtie is a spy thriller that takes place in the late 1970s, involves A LOT of characters, and spans the locations of Washington, D.C., London, and Scotland. I thought it sounded very interesting, but I was actually disappointed in this book.

First off, there are just WAY too many characters. You know it's going to be hard to keep track of everybody when the author includes a character list at the beginning of the book. I had to refer back to this list numerous times while reading the book.

Second, I know that this is a book about spies (and former spies), but everything was just a little too coded for me. I needed to know more information while reading so that I could at least follow along with what the heck was going on. For much of the book all I knew was that someone had died and it had to do with a mysterious British government person, someone or something named Bendo, and Berlin. Seriously, these characters would only say the word "Berlin" and then I was just supposed to go along with it without having any idea what was happening in Berlin. I didn't find out the significance of Berlin until the end of the book!

Third, unlike most spy novels, there was pretty much no action in this book. And this is categorized as a spy THRILLER, but there was nothing thrilling about it! Nobody was running around and getting shot at or fighting or driving fast cars. It seemed like a lot of dialogue, one guy traveling to Scotland to hang out with his two brothers, and a few secret meetings between a couple guys. And then BAM! Mystery solved. The end.

I guess I just wanted a little less talking, especially if it wasn't going to help me understand the plot anyway, and a little more action.

The Madness of July is published by The Overlook Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish

Is Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish really a miracle?

I've never had a gel manicure from a salon, but I've heard about them. Your manicure lasts two weeks, but the LED light that cures the polish can cause cancer or something, and removing the polish is crazy. Even the promise of a long-lasting manicure cannot sell me on salon gel manicures.

But then I read something in a magazine about a new gel polish that doesn't require an LED light but still offers long-lasting, chip-free color. The product is Sally Hansen Miracle Gel.

They sell it at my local salon, and I had some salon reward points to redeem, so I decided to use them on the Miracle Gel. You buy the colored polish and a special top coat. (About $9.99 each.) And that's all you need.

So, did I get 14 days of chip-free polish? Not exactly.

right hand - not even one week and my thumb,
middle finger, and ring finger all have chippage
After not even a full 48 hours, I had a chip on my right-hand ring finger. And by the end of the week, the tips of the nails on my right hand (my dominant hand) were starting to wear away. My left hand (my non-dominant hand) still looked pretty good.

left hand - not even one week but
still looking pretty good
After one week, I did need to remove the polish and start over. The polish was very easy to remove with regular nail polish.

I didn't get the results the product claims, but I did think the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish worked better than regular polish. I usually have to do multiple touch-ups on both hands throughout the week with regular nail polish, and sometimes it doesn't even last a day without chipping. So, the Sally Hansen Miracle Gel is definitely worth the investment, especially if you a) don't want a gel manicure at a salon and b) work with your hands all day but still need your hands to look nice on camera or mean people on YouTube will make comments.

I didn't receive any product for free in exchange for posting a review. I purchased the product at my local salon because I wanted to try it, and then I thought it would be nice to share my experience with you here, especially for those of you who are also curious about this product.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Garden Lites Muffins Review

Due to work obligations, I won't be home for dinner much this week, so we really don't have a meal plan this week. Instead, I'm going to share with you something really yummy that we've recently been eating: Garden Lites muffins.

These made my Top 10 list from the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo in September, and that was after only a small sampling of these muffins. Garden Lites sent me boxes of all its muffin flavors so that my husband and I could try them out and I could write a more in-depth review of them.

What makes Garden Lites muffins so great?

1. They are gluten-free, but don't taste "gluten-free". These muffins are so soft and moist. They have a great texture and flavor.

2. They are easy! Each box of four muffins can be found in the freezer section, and when you're ready to eat, just remove however many of the individually wrapped muffins you want and heat them in the microwave!

3. They are made with 1/3 vegetables. And you wouldn't even know it! The chocolate muffins (my favorites) may have rich chocolate chips in every bite, but they are made with fresh zucchini and carrots! If you need a way to sneak veggies into your child's diet, Garden Lites muffins are it!

They are also nut-free, dairy-free, Kosher Parve, and vegetarian. And with 5 grams of fiber and around 120 calories per muffin, Garden Lite Muffins also make a snack you can feel good about it.

The five flavors include: Banana Chocolate Chip, Chocolate, Blueberry Oat, Carrot Berry, and Golden Corn. Each box retails for $3.99 and can be found in the freezer section of Walmart, Target, Publix, Foodtown, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Costco, Fresh Marker, Martindales, and other stores nationwide. I've seen them at my local ShopRite, too.

Obviously, these are a nice and easy breakfast, but we also ate ours as part of breakfast for dinner, as a side with chili, and as a snack. The gluten-free Garden Lites Muffins are so versatile and did I mention DELICIOUS?

Have you tried Garden Lites Muffins yet? What did you think?

Garden Lites also makes gluten-free Garden Lites Bakes in flavors such as Cheddar Broccoli. We got some of those to sample, too, but I'm not a cooked broccoli fan and my husband hasn't tried them yet, so I can't speak on how good those are. I'll keep you posted!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Duck Brand Duck Tape Trick or Treat Bag

Trick-or-treating with pillowcases is cool and all, but wouldn't you like to make your own reusable trick-or-treat bag out of Halloween-themed duct tape? That's right! Duck Brand Duck Tape has cool Duck Tape with fun Halloween patterns, such as candy corn and Nerds candy. There's a ton of stuff that you can make with this Duck Tape, including a trick-or-treat bag.

I received a bunch of cool Duck Brand Duck Tape and have been biding my time waiting for just the right project to come along so that I could make something with the Duck Tape. And because it's Halloween season, I figured a trick-or-treat bag would be just the thing to make!

Click here to find the full instructions for making this bag. You'll need some cutting boards or something similar to lay underneath so that your tape doesn't stick to, say, a wooden table or carpet.

I lined the edges of my bag with thin black Duck Tape as opposed to the regular-sized Duck Tape. I also outlined the opening of my handle with Sharpie. It just gave it a sharper look.

This bag has TONS of candy-holding space! So what are you waiting for? Want to make one of these for yourself (or your kids)? Well, you can because I'm giving away some Duck Brand Halloween-themed and colored Duck Tape! Just enter via the Rafflecopter below. (This giveaway is only open to residents of the contiguous United States - no Hawaii, Alaska, or international entries.)

the prize: 8 rolls of Duck Brand Duck Tape and five mini rolls 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

TBT: Halloween in High School

It's almost Halloween! Do you have your Halloween costumes picked out yet? I haven't dressed up for Halloween in many years, but I used to! Even when my friends and I were in high school, we had Halloween costume parties, and that's what I'm sharing with you in this week's Throwback Thursday.

These old scrapbook pages and photos might also give you some ideas for making your own Halloween costume this year instead of going out and buying something. I'm not sure that some of my former costumes will translate well over time, but they're better options than a $60 Sexy _____ costume again. Those are kind of the only options available to women these days, but back in my day we got CREATIVE.

Freshman year: We actually went trick-or-treating this year. It was our last year where we felt that we could do it without adults looking at us in disgust. I went as Baby Spice from the Spice Girls, which was a super easy costume to put together. A dress (that I already owned), my Baby Spice necklace, hair in pigtails, Chupa Chups lollipop. Done. My mom helped me attach the words "Baby" to my dress, just like on a dress worn by Baby Spice.

Sophomore year: No trick-or-treating, but we still dressed up and had a little party. I bought a child's firefighter costume at a Halloween store, wore a white tank top underneath it with black track pants, and painted some black eyeshadow on my face so it looked like smoke all so I could be one of the members of the boy band 98 Degrees. (They dressed up as firefighters in a calendar that I owned. Don't judge.) I even drew the 98 Degrees logo on the firefighter jacket.

Junior year: This year I went as a punk rocker. I just wore clothes that were already in my closet and made a guitar out of a cereal box. I also just discovered that my parents still had that cereal box guitar in the basement. I told them they could throw it away now.

Apparently, we didn't dress up for senior year. Or at least I have no photographic and scrapbook evidence of it.

When did you stop trick-or-treating and/or dressing up for Halloween? Do you have kids who still trick or treat? Do you want to know a cool way to collect and carry around all that delicious candy on Halloween night? Come back to the blog tomorrow for an easy Halloween craft AND GIVEAWAY!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gluten-Free Bacon Cheddar Waffles

I teased these a few weeks ago on my Instagram account, and now I'm finally able to share them with you today on the blog: Bacon Cheddar Waffles.

You heard that right.

These were inspired by an IHOP commerical. Apparently, IHOP has bacon cheddar waffles on its menu right now (or did), and I thought that sounded good, but obviously IHOP waffles are not gluten-free. So I made our own version right at home using gluten-free Bisquick.

Mix up the Bisquick according to the package instructions. Add 2-3 strips of crumbled, cooked bacon and about a handful of shredded cheddar cheese. (I only used two strips of bacon, but I would definitely add another one to make the waffles that much more bacon-y.)

Spray your waffle maker with non-stick cooking spray. Even if you don't normally, which I don't because our waffle maker is just that amazing, the addition of the extra ingredients, especially the cheese, makes the batter extra sticky. Without the cooking spray, this is what your waffle will look like:

A little broken, but still edible. However, I like my waffles to look like perfect waffles. So non-stick spray is a must!

Pour the batter into your waffle maker and cook according to your waffle maker's instructions. (Mine has a little light on it that goes from red to green when the waffles are done cooking.)

This is a quick and easy (though not super healthy) gluten-free breakfast-for-dinner weeknight meal! And you don't have to tip a waitress like you would at IHOP!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Young Elites - Book Review

image credit
In The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Adelina is a survivor of the blood fever that killed her mother and left Adelina disfigured. Disfigured and unloved by her father and shunned by her community. But Adelina soon learns that her survivor status has bestowed her with special powers and that she's not the only one. A group that some call The Young Elites, made up of other survivors with different powers, takes in Adelina to teach her how to control her power and enlist her help in using that power to take down anyone who wants to rid the country of the Elites.

This book is fast-paced with action, magic, and mystery, plus a strong female heroine. It takes you into a seemingly Italian-inspired new world, but one not so different from our real world filled with hatred and prejudice toward those deemed "different" or "abominations".

This is the first book in a new series, and if it's anything like Marie Lu's previous trilogy, Legend, then the Young Elites series is also going to be good.

The Young Elites is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons and is available to purchase TODAY. I received a free advance review copy for my honest review.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - October 6

I'm looking forward to this week. We've got my parents coming in for a visit, and we're going back to the Pumpkin Blaze! Hope it's as good as last year's show. What are you guys doing this week?

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: gluten-free pizza

Monday: veggie lasagna rollups

Tuesday: Evol burritos and chips

Wednesday: pasta and salad

Thursday: loaded baked potato soup

Friday: out

Saturday: shepherd's pie

Sunday, October 5, 2014

4 Tips for Making Cards

easy Halloween card!
Happy Sunday, everybody! You're getting a bonus weekend post because today is World Card-Making Day! I'm sure there are tons of card challenges and activities happening in the bloggy world today. Is anybody participating in anything fun?

Today, I wanted to share with you some tips on how to make your own cards. I love making my own cards because it's a nice way to use up spare embellishments and scrap paper, and everybody loves receiving a unique, handmade card.

But some people don't like to make their own cards, and I totally get it. Scrapbooking is easy because you have lots of space, you're working with pictures, and it's just easier to envision a scrapbook layout than a card layout, which is smaller and has no pictures.

Here are some things, though, that can make card-making easier, especially for beginners.

1. Martha Stewart Crafts Deluxe Scoring Board with Paper Trimmer
I wrote about this ingenious tool last year after using it at a media event to make a super cute Halloween treat box. And I finally picked one up for myself at Michael's the other weekend (it was on sale!!!) to make card-making easier for myself. With this tool, you've got your regular paper trimmer (always important), but you can also fold cardstock into cards of different sizes, make your own envelopes out of cardstock, and create cute card embellishments. It comes with everything you need, including card and envelope templates, to get you started.

2. Pre-folded Card Packs
If you don't want to make your own cards or envelopes, buying these pre-made card packs is the best option. You get a number of blank, pre-folded cards and blank envelopes, and then you can decorate them however you want. I found mine on sale at T.J. Maxx. I would highly recommend searching T.J. Maxx and Marshall's for stuff like this because they can be unnecessarily expensive at a regular craft store.

3. Stamps
Stamps are a lifesaver! I highly recommend buying stamps with common sentiments, such as "Happy Birthday", "Thank you", "Merry Christmas", "Happy Halloween", etc. You can stamp these on the inside of your card and/or the outside. The stamps are reusable, and you can change up the color by buying different colored stamp pads.

4. Pinterest
Still have no idea where to start when it comes to making a card? Get on Pinterest! There are tons of great card ideas out there. I've got a couple of them pinned on my Scrapbook/Cards board. I always go there first (whether scrapbooking or card-making) before I start.

Hope these tips help! If you've got any other card-making tips, please share them in the comments below.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Pioneer Woman's Veggie Lasagna Rollups Made Gluten-Free

If you read this blog, you know I like to cook. But that doesn't mean I'm an amazing cook or never make a mistake in the kitchen. In fact, the other week, I almost blew up our microwave trying to cook soup because I misread the instructions and thought you could cook the soup in its package in the microwave. Turns out, you can EITHER cook the soup in its package OR cook it in a microwavable container in the microwave.


But that's not what today's post is about. Today's post is something that I made the same week I almost blew up the microwave, but it turned out much better even if it did make a GIGANTIC mess in my kitchen.

Today's post is about The Pioneer Woman's Veggie Lasagna Rollups, something she made on her TV show a few weeks ago when she was making a bunch of freezer meals for a family member. Normally, I like meat in my lasagna, but I was intrigued by the bounty of colorful veggies in this recipe and the fact that you get six individual servings from just one afternoon of cooking. For our two-person family, that's three meals!

You can find the original recipe at the link above. The only thing I had to do to make these gluten-free was use gluten-free lasagna noodles. The veggies are naturally gluten-free, and the other ingredients are, too, but make sure you read the labels just to be on the safe side.

A few tips: chop up all the veggies BEFORE you even start anything else. There are a lot of veggies to chop, and it takes a lot longer to do than you'd think.

Tip No. 2: This recipe says to use a large skillet. Well, even your largest skillet will not be large enough. You've got to whip out your saute pan if you have one. The raised sides will keep all the veggies inside the pan and not all over your stovetop.

Tip No. 3: I didn't have white wine, but I did have white wine vinegar, so that's what I used instead.

Tip No. 4: We have another lasagna rollups recipe that doesn't involve vegetables but is also pretty good, but I just don't make these things that much because cooking the lasagna noodles, especially gluten-free ones, is just so hard! I really don't have much of a tip here, except to say to just keep an eye on the noodles in your pot and don't mess with them too much or they will break, and then they aren't really of use to you for your rollups. I had a couple noodles break, but there were still enough good noodles to fill up all six of my aluminum foil pans.

Tip No. 5: If you want to use meat in these, you totally could. You could replace the filling and sauce of this recipe with the filling and sauce of your choice!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Heap House - Book Review

image credit
My birth object is a mouse trap named Josephine Killick.

What the heck am I talking about? I'm talking about part of the plot of the new book Heap House by Edward Carey. Filled with unique black-and-white illustrations, Heap House is a gothic story set in England in 1875.

Clod lives in a large house surrounded by large heaps of dirt and discarded objects with all his aunts, uncles, and cousins, and each one has a birth object that they keep with them at all times. The strange thing is that Clod can hear the objects talking, and they're calling out names.

At the same time, a young girl called Lucy is brought to the house to live as a servant, but she doesn't take very well to the strict rules under which she must live, namely giving up her name and being called by the last name of "Iremonger" like the rest of the servants.

Lucy and Clod strike up a forbidden friendship and must work together to figure out what happened to a servant who has disappeared and why all the birth objects and dirt heaps seem to be taking on lives of their own.

This is just the first book of a trilogy, so the story isn't over when you get to the last page. Just don't go reading about the books on Edward Carey's website before you finish this one because you might risk getting a spoiler alert. Unfortunately, that's what I did. Even knowing what I did, that didn't ruin my enjoyment of this book. It was kind of quirky, a little dark, and very unique. It's age-graded for 10 and up, but I think that younger kids may have trouble following the story. The characters in the book are in their teens, so this might be better for kids 12 and up.

Heap House is published by The Overlook Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe - Book Review

When the Star Wars movies were re-released in 1997 for the 20th anniversary of Episode IV: A New Hope, my mom took me to the movie theater to see it, and the rest is history. I was OBSESSED with the Star Wars movies. I gave my friends Star Wars character nicknames. (I got to be Princess Leia, and my friend who thought my obsession was weird got to be Darth Vader.)

So Chris Taylor's new book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe was just the book for me! If you're a Star Wars fan and think you know everything there is to know about the movies and George Lucas, think again. This book is THE ULTIMATE guide to the movies, their creator, their inspiration, what they inspired, and their future.

You get to read about the first drafts of the movies that George Lucas wrote, and, thankfully, had help rewriting. The book has information about the movie's marketing and merchandising programs, fan clubs, and so much more.

It's interesting to read about how the movies came together and the many times that they almost didn't happen. Even if you've never seen the movies (and yes, that includes Episodes I, II, and III), you can't say that Star Wars hasn't in some way impacted your life. You know the characters' names, you've heard the movie quotes ("May the force be with you"), and you know all the spoilers (Darth Vader is Luke's father). Star Wars truly has conquered the universe.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is published by Basic Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.