Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders - Book Review

Three generations of women. Grandmother, her daughter, and her two granddaughters.

Harriet, the grandmother and a famous author, tells her story posthumously through a hidden manuscript. Eleanor, her daughter, is living in her late mother's home and trying to keep her youngest daughter close in order to have the kind of mother-daughter relationship Eleanor and Harriet never had.

Ruth, Eleanor's oldest daughter who ran away from home at 16, is in the middle of her second marriage and second divorce when she's forced to return home. Is this her chance to keep the promise she made to her younger sister Tilton all those years ago?

Tilton, who has been waiting for Ruth to "return and save" as their pact stated, lives at home with her mother and lives under her mother's super close supervision. She's very bright but under the impression that she's allergic to the outside world. But is she or is Eleanor merely trying to protect Tilton and keep her close, something Eleanor obviously couldn't do with Ruth?

Eleanor and her daughters have their issues, which all stem from Harriet's secrecy about her past. Eleanor doesn't know who her father is. Eleanor doesn't know why her mother acted certain ways and did certain things. And Eleanor is tired of her mother's fans pestering Eleanor about a mysterious seventh book Harriet may or may not have written. Can Eleanor and her daughters piece together the missing pieces and keep their family intact?

It took me until after the first three chapters to really get into this book. But once I reached that point, I was hooked. This is an interesting look at mothers and daughters, and it's a book that I think would make a good book club pick. I like that it's told from the point of view of each woman and that each character has such a specific voice.

I actually saw the author, Julianna Baggott, speak at a seminar at Book Expo America, which prompted me to stand in line and get an autographed copy of this book. Well worth it! You can also read an essay by Baggott in the January issue of Real Simple magazine!

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders is published by Little, Brown and Company. It's available on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December Daily 2015

I've done a December Daily album every year for the past couple of years. Sometimes I'm more prepared than others. This is not one of those prepared years. I have no album. I have no scrapbook papers and embellishments in mind to use. I'll probably be making the actual album well into January. But I have been taking a picture a day and sharing them on Instagram so that when I do finally get my act together, at least I'll have pictures ready to print.

If you want to see all my December Daily photos so far, be sure to follow me on Instagram (@cookscrapcraft). You'll see a bunch of other pictures, too, but all my December Daily photos are tagged #decemberdaily.

Are you doing a December Daily album this year? How far along are you? What are your tips for getting the album done in a timely fashion?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - December 21

Christmas is this week! Who is ready for it? We have an abbreviated meal plan this week due to the holidays, which makes things really easy for us. So here's what we're eating:

Sunday: baked chicken parmesan

Monday: mac and cheese

Tuesday: creamy mushroom pasta

Wednesday: out

Thursday: out

Friday: out

Saturday: meatballs and rice (My birthday dinner!)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lights Out - Book Review

Happy holidays! The world is going to end soon!

Okay, not really.

Well, sort of.

If you're the kind of person who likes to prepare for natural disasters that may or may not occur, then you'll probably want to know that Ted Koppel along with many former governmental employees and current security executives believe that sometime, not right now, but in the future, terrorists will take over the United States' electric grid. It's the new form of warfare.

Why should you prepare for doomsday? Because our government is not prepared. Are you surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. Our wonderful Congress, in typical congressional fashion, has failed to pass/vote on any laws or bills or whatever it is that they're supposed to vote on in order to get the ball rolling on government preparations for when terrorists knock out all power and we're all sitting in the dark without any way to communicate or get food or get clean water. And most government personnel today are too busy trying to figure out how to battle stuff that's happening right now. They don't have the time or resources to try to figure out how to battle stuff that could possibly happen in the future.

But if you think this book will be a survival guide, it's not. It just raises awareness of this very possible scenario and asks you to think about how you would prepare. Koppel gives examples of states that are prepared without waiting around for the federal government to step in and religions that have banded together to create a network of support for its members. I don't know if you want to convert to Mormonism just to take advantage of that network, but it could be worth a shot if you've got nothing better!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for my honest review.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Holiday Food Gift of 2015 - Chocolate, Apricot, and Pecan Cookies

So you know that every year I make a special treat to send out to long-distance family members, and this year I was inspired by a recipe from Real Simple. The magazine's idea was to make cookie dough and give the dough as a gift, but I'm pretty sure that raw cookie dough will not travel well even in a USPS Priority Mail flat rate box. So I just made the dough, baked the cookies myself, and sent them off!

The cookie dough recipe for Chocolate, Apricot, and Pecan Cookies was super simple to put together. From one recipe, I got about four dozen cookies. I actually had to make this twice because, if you can imagine, I needed to give more than four dozen cookies.

The first time I made the cookies, I didn't have any brown sugar and I only had one egg (you need two). I was like, "Now what do I do?" Well, the question really should have been "What did people do in the time before Google?" I just Googled brown sugar substitutions in baking and egg substitutions in baking and made my first batch with all white sugar and a single-serve cup of applesauce. Tasted great!

My second batch was made the correct way with no substitutions.

You could also use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and just add in some chopped pecans and/or dried and chopped apricots for a fun twist.

I did NOT make these gluten-free because I was giving them to people who don't have dietary restrictions. However, if you're using a gluten-free all-purpose flour or one of those 1 to 1 ratio flours, this would be super easy to adapt without having to do math to try and figure anything out. Just make sure your dried apricots and chopped pecans are gluten-free. The apricots I purchased were actually processed in a shared facility with wheat.

For more food gift ideas, check out my Pinterest board The Gift of Food.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Everything, Everything - YA Book Review

image credit
Remember John Travolta in that movie about the boy in the bubble or whatever it was called? Or how about the funny Bubble Boy movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal? Well, now we've got a female main character in Nicola Yoon's YA novel Everything, Everything that has the same "bubble boy" disease as John and Jake.

I can't compare the story to the John Travolta movie because I never saw it, but I have seen Bubble Boy (many, many, many, many times) and this new YA novel reminded me of Bubble Boy only without the comedy.

Girl is quarantined in her house. The only human interaction she has is with her mom and her nurse. Sometimes a tutor will come over, but most of her schooling is done online. But then a cute boy moves in next door, and it's love at first sight for girl and boy when they see each other through the girl's window. They strike up an online correspondence, and their relationship is enough for the girl to want to risk everything (everything?) for the boy. But if she does, what will she really be giving up?

Throughout the story, there are illustrations (done by the author's husband) that help tell the story. Each chapter is pretty short,too, so that combined with the illustrations means this is a quick read.

The buzz was ALL OVER this book at Book Expo America, and I was super excited to read it because of the hype. But I have to say, it's nothing groundbreaking. It's your typical teenage love story novel, and I actually had a feeling that this book was going to end the way it did. I didn't really think it would go there because it's been done before (advice: probably don't watch Bubble Boy before reading this book if you want to avoid spoilers) but no. The book went there, and I totally saw it coming.

But if you don't overthink it, it's a good story about a girl just trying to live her life on her own terms.

Everything, Everything is published by Delacorte Press and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Gifting

This year, I took a cue from the Six Sisters book I reviewed a few weeks ago and did a little 12 Days of Christmas gifting for my husband. I'm not supposed to buy him anything for Christmas, but I still wanted to get him a few little things. This was the perfect way to do it!
the cute onesie for day 9

So, here was the 12 days of gifts line-up:
1. one ironing board cover
2. two gloves
3. three packs of gum
4. Die Hard movie 4-pack
5. $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card
6. six single-serve gluten-free mac and cheese cups
7. a Mega Millions lottery ticket (I wanted to buy him a lotto ticket called Lucky 7 but no one was selling it, so I just went with the Mega Millions. We didn't win.)
8. a Die Hard-themed Christmas T-shirt (the movie came out in 1988)
9. a panda onesie for our daughter to wear when she's 9 months
10. $10 QuickChek gift card
11. a CD with 11 songs from the year we met
12. a 12-pack of Arnold Palmers

You can be as creative with these as you want. I sort of stretched the numbers a bit. You know, instead of eight or nine of something, I just bought one thing that had something to do with the numbers eight and nine. And all gifts were under $20. I actually think the only thing that was more than $10 was the ironing board cover. Why are those things so expensive? (Also, before you ask why I bought something weird like an ironing board cover, we needed it!!! Or should I say my husband, the only one who irons, needed it. The old one was ripping at the seams so that you were basically just ironing on the ironing board's metal rim.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - December 14

We're kind of playing it by ear this week. We have stuff in the pantry, freezer, and fridge that we can eat, so we'll just see what we feel like as each day comes. Here are some ideas that we can do:

1. ham steak and eggs

2. sloppy joe's

3. pasta

4. grilled cheese sandwiches

5. macaroni and cheese

What are you guys eating this week? Do you ever have weeks like this?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Women Are Scary - REVIEW

I picked up Melanie Dale's book Women Are Scary at Book Expo America back in May thinking it was just a general book about how difficult it is to make female friends as an adult. Which is oh so totally true, anyway.

But now as a mom-to-be, this book couldn't be more relevant to my life because it's all about how to make mom friends, whether you're a working mom or a stay-at-home mom.

Bottom line: it's like dating.

I know, I know. You thought you'd given up how horrible dating was once you married your significant other, right? Well, think again. Because you're gonna have to go on mom dates if you want to make some mom friends and develop some deep "momlationships".

Why is it so important for moms to have mom friends? According to Dale, mom friends can help strengthen your marriage, provide you much-needed support as you all navigate the crazy world of motherhood together, and change the world. Dale writes, "As we develop these momlationships that grow and shape our families, we get to create space for other mamas, for the ones around the world and the ones around the block, for the ones who are struggling. We need each other. We aren't just moms. We are just a connected organism of nurturing world changers."

I've been lucky enough to find a mom's group in my neighborhood filled with nothing but supportive women. No matter what you do as a mom or why you do it, it's totally cool and it's the right choice for you. If you're a mom who has just moved to a new area or you're a new mom looking for other local mom brains to pick, you might want to pick up this book and run the mom dating bases with Dale.

Women Are Scary is published by Zondervan and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Top 10 Meat Recipes

Meatless Monday recipes these are not! Gear up, carnivores! These are the top 10 favorite meat recipes in my house:

1. American Shepherd's Pie
We just ate this last night. It's the perfect mesh of meat, mashed potatoes, cheese... and some vegetables.
Italian Sausage and Potato Roast

2. Italian Sausage and Potato Roast
This is a very easy meal to put together on a weeknight. I like to cut up the potatoes, peppers, and sausage in advance, and then the night of, you just toss it all on the baking sheet and bake it.

3. Sausage and Cheesy Potatoes
This was a family favorite of mine growing up, but we have to make it from scratch instead of using Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes because those are not gluten-free. It's really easy to make, though, especially if you have a vegetable chopper like I do!

4. Smoked Sausage Alfredo
(I know there is a pattern of sausage here, but we really do try to spread out our sausage consumption.) This was the BEST recipe I randomly came across thanks to a Hillshire Farms magazine advertisement. It is so good and so easy, too. We like it so much, it was also on our Top 10 Pasta Recipes list.

5. Hamburger Stroganoff
We love meals that are easy to make during the week. This recipe comes from a cookbook that is all about fast and easy weeknight dinners, and it's definitely a winner with us.

6. Popeye Turkey Burgers
Okay, so these are actually semi healthy. Ground turkey mixed with feta cheese (which I can't have right now while pregnant) and spinach and grilled on our George Foreman grill. The original recipe says to cook these under the broiler, but it's so much easier on the George Foreman.

7. Tacos
Nothing says quick and easy like Taco Tuesdays! We make our own taco seasoning just to ensure that it's gluten-free. Most hard corn tortilla shells that you buy at the grocery store are gluten-free (we always buy Ortega) or you could do soft tacos using gluten-free soft corn tortillas. (NOT flour tortillas.)
Popeye Turkey Burgers

8. Ron's Chili
Here's a recipe that always rings in the fall season for me. It's not spicy like you would expect chili to be. It's kind of sweet, actually. This year we poured some of swirly gluten-free pasta noodles. (I think those type of noodles are called rotini??)

9. Meatballs in Lemon Sauce
This is MY FAVORITE meal ever. We had it all the time growing up, and it's now my birthday meal. Of course, now we have to make it gluten-free, which isn't really that hard. Just use gluten-free beef broth!

10. French Bread Pizza
This may be a stretch in the "meat" category, but we always make our pizza with pepperoni and that's a meat. So! This is another easy meal to make during the week. Just split in half a gluten-free baguette, spread some cheese and sauce and pepperoni (or whatever your favorite toppings are) and bake them in the oven. You could also do this with bagels and make bagel pizzas.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

4 Ways to Save Money on Scrapbook Tools

Holiday budget stretched thin? Don't have any spare cash this season to buy some much-needed scrapbooking supplies for yourself? (Because it's all much-needed!!) Here are some of the tricks I use so that I don't spend an arm and a leg on scrapbooking supplies.

1. Michael's coupons
Michael's is the best option for me in terms of a store that carries nothing but crafts and scrapbook stuff. The only problem? It's expensive! Thankfully, if I do have to purchase something at Michael's, I usually end up receiving a store coupon to use on my next purchase. These coupons could be 40 percent or 50 percent off one item.

There are some drawbacks to these coupons: They are only good for the following week, so you HAVE to go back quickly in order to redeem the coupon. Also, pay attention to store sales because the coupons are only good on regularly priced items. If you want to buy a scrapbook but the albums are already 30 percent off, then your coupon is no good. (This tends to happen to me often.)

2. Walmart
Target used to have a really great scrapbooking aisle, but then the store changed it to an arts & crafts aisle with an emphasis on kids' crafts. That's fine, but I miss the Target scrapbooking aisle! It was so pretty!

However, Walmart actually has a pretty decent scrapbooking aisle that is perfect if you're on a budget. I actually saw a gold chevron American Crafts/Project Life binder album there for $9.99!

The actual selection will vary by store. The above picture was taken at my local Walmart, but there is another Walmart a few miles farther that I think has a better scrapbooking aisle. So shop around at all the Walmarts near you until you find one that has a good selection to meet your needs. I would definitely say, for me, Walmart is the go-to place for page refills, albums, and cardstock paper packs.

3. TJ Maxx
This store is pretty hit or miss for just about everything it sells, but if you find yourself near one, it's worth it to take a peek in its stationery/home aisle to see what scrapbook stuff is available. This aisle is usually near the back of the store, and if there aren't any scrapbook tools available, then it can be hard to find. I went the other day and only found some embellishments and stamps, but on a good day, I've found Studio Calico paper packs and American Crafts Thickers!

4. Big Lots
Though Big Lots is also hit or miss, I've found some really great page kits, albums, and American Crafts Thickers here! Right now, my local Big Lots had NOTHING scrapbook-related. I think because there were about 10 aisles dedicated to Christmas stuff so the store's plan-o-gram was a little off. But again, if you find yourself near a Big Lots, just pop in and see what they've got!

What tricks do you use when buying your scrapbooking supplies? Know of any good discount websites or stores that carry discounted supplies? Share in the comments!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - December 7

We're in the swing of the holiday season! Although, it's hard to feel like it's winter when the temperatures are in the 50s. Not that I'm complaining.

And Hanukkah started last night, so Happy Hanukkah if that's what you celebrate!

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: gluten-free lasagna and Against the Grain gluten-free baguette

Monday: turkey burgers and fries

Tuesday: leftover lasagna

Wednesday: shepherd's pie

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: on our own

Saturday: out

Only two and a half weeks of work left until the holiday break! Can't wait!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Make It, Gift It - Book Review

Buying holiday gifts not in the budget this year? Try making your gifts!

The crafty book Make It, Gift It by Mari Bolte offers a bevy of handmade gift ideas that are perfect for giving around the holidays (edible ornaments! homemade marshmallows in the shape of mittens!) or any special occasion throughout the year (birthday cake body soap! Mother's Day cupcake bouquet!). This is one versatile book.

Technically, it's geared toward tweens and teens, but even adults can find gift-making inspiration in this book. There are edible gift ideas, and you know how much I love giving yummy treats around the holidays. There are also packaging ideas to make your completed gifts look their best when wrapped.

If you've got a crafty kid, are looking for fun crafts for moms and daughters to do together, or are overwhelmed by the number of homemade gift ideas on Pinterest, then definitely give this book a look. It'll be a handy addition to your craft book shelf during the holidays and all year long!

Make It, Gift It is published by Capstone Young Readers and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Accidental Saints - Book Review

Nadia Bolz-Weber is not your traditional Lutheran pastor. She's tattooed. She swears. This could put some people off, but it shouldn't. Because even though she might not look like your perfect idea of a pastor or like you, Bolz-Weber is imperfect, just like you. And that's okay.

In her second book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Bolz-Weber writes about all the times that God has made her see how the imperfect people, the sinners, the least likely to be chosen are the ones who get chosen by God, who show God's love, who serve to further God's message.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is titled "The Best Shitty Feeling in the World". In it, Bolz-Weber writes about how she hates disappointing people but in an attempt to juggle many different plates (mother, wife, pastor, speaker, author), sometimes a few plates get dropped. And that's okay.

Because it's in those moments, even if you don't want those moments to happen, that grace gets extended to you. Even if you think you can avoid disappointing people around you because you can do it all on your own. Just accept the situation and accept the grace.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Life is Short (No Pun Intended) - REVIEW

Anyone who has watched the TLC show The Little Couple knows how likable the reality series' stars, Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein, are. But if you want to know more about the couple, check out their memoir Life is Short (No Pun Intended).

This book, where each chapter is told by either Jen or Bill, takes us from each person's childhood to their roles as parents today. And don't worry - there are pictures!

Both Jen and Bill have skeletal dysplasia (or "dwarfism"), resulting in numerous surgeries over the course of their lives and moments of bullying and discrimination. But the pair didn't let the hardships of recovering from surgery or dealing with ignorant people shape who they are.

They also didn't let Jen's inability to have a baby, two failed surrogacies, and Jen's cancer get their spirits down. If you've watched the show, you know what happens, but if not, you'll enjoy discovering how the pair lent on each other and their faith to guide them through tough times.

I read this book over the Thanksgiving weekend, and it was the perfect book to read at a time when everyone is giving thanks for what they have in their lives. Jen and Bill, along with their adopted children Will and Zoey, are living examples of gratitude.

Life is Short (No Pun Intended) is published by Howard Books and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

10 Charities to Consider on Giving Tuesday

You may have spent your Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday shopping (phew!), but today is the day for giving back! That's right! Today is #GivingTuesday, the day that kicks off the charitable season. It's a day that encourages people to give of their time,
resources, and/or talents.

There are so many different charities and nonprofits out there, and I encourage you to find some that really speak to you (and vet them through Charity Navigator, of course), but I did compile a list to help you get started.

1. Angels of America's Fallen
The mission of this nonprofit is to provide mentoring and developmental activities to children of fallen military and first responders.

2. I Am That Girl
This nonprofit aims to raise the standards for how girls treat each other, themselves, and the world.

3. Dress for Success
This global nonprofit promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a support network, and career development tools. (Volunteer opportunities are available with your local Dress for Success chapters, as well as opportunities to donate work clothes and accessories, should you not be able to give monetarily. I have volunteered my time with Dress for Success in the past and would personally recommend it.)

4. Yoga Foster
The mission of Yoga Foster is to help teachers integrate yoga curriculum into the classroom during the school day. The organization does this through online training and the donation of yoga mats.

5. Women's Sports Foundation
Tennis legend Billie Jean King founded this organization, which is dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity.

6. Watsi
This is a fairly new nonprofit that enables donors to directly fund healthcare for people around the world.

7. Toy Industry Foundation
Donating to the Toy Industry Foundation means donating to children battling life-threatening illnesses, families in extreme poverty, families experiencing the aftermath of natural disasters, innocent youth who are the victims of abuse and abandonment, and children whose parents face military deployment.

8. Imagination Library
Started by Dolly Parton, this organization aims to foster a love of reading among preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month, regardless of the family's income.

9. Pajama Program
This organization provides new pajamas and books to children in need. Many of these children live in group homes, shelters, and temporary housing and often don't have the comforts of warm pajamas and a bedtime story. (This is another nonprofit that I personally volunteer with, and I know the donations of pajamas and books are always greatly appreciated from the organizations who receive and distribute them to the kids.)

10. World Vision
If you're still doing your holiday shopping, consider purchasing a gift from World Vision, such as this Mango Wood Beaded Bracelet (pictured at left). This item, along with more than 100 humanitarian gifts available through the World Vision catalog, impacts people in need both internationally and in the U.S.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Top 10 Chicken Recipes

There's really not much of a meal plan this week. My husband has stuff going on almost every night for work, so we're on our own! That means I'll be making myself Tostitos with nacho cheese dip and other unhealthy appetizer-like things that my husband would make fun of me for eating as a meal, but I don't care! I love nachos and potato skins and mozzarella sticks!

In lieu of the meal plan, here is a list of 10 of our favorite chicken dinners. I know I tried to get this whole top 10 food thing going earlier this year but it sort of fizzled out. So I'm trying to resurrect it now.

mini gluten-free chicken pot pies
If you, like me, grew up with a mom who liked to make all kinds of meals with chicken, then you'll be happy with this pared down list of easy and delicious go-to chicken meals. Stick with these 10. They're all you need!

1. Mini Gluten-Free Chicken Pot Pies
The trick to making these (pictured at right) gluten-free: Pillsbury Gluten-Free Pie & Pastry Dough.

2. Praline Chicken
This is such an easy meal to make. It also gives your slow cooker something to do.

3. Lemony Fusilli with Chicken, Zucchini and Pine Nuts
I know this also made our top 10 pasta recipes, but it's just that good!

4. Coconut Chicken Salad with Warm Honey Vinaigrette
This is one that we like, but it doesn't get a lot of play in our kitchen. I think we should remedy that! Note, I like to use chicken tenders instead of chicken breasts. It's easier to get the tenders to cook all the way through.

5. Special K Roasted Corn & Chicken Tostadas
I don't think I've blogged about this one before, but if you're looking for a chicken dish that is sort of healthy and can be made for one person, two people, or more, then look no further. Instead of using cut-up chicken breasts, we just used pre-cooked grilled chicken tenders like these gluten-free ones from Perdue. It makes things so much easier on weeknights.

6. Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini
These paninis are really fun to make on the George Foreman grill if you have one. You also have to like bleu cheese, which I know isn't for everyone, but my husband claims to not like it and he still eats these!

7. Baked Chicken Parmesan
Chicken parm is one of my husband's favorite foods. We don't have it nearly as often as I'm sure he'd like, but we have certainly tried it in numerous ways. This version from Real Simple is easy to put together and make gluten-free.

8. Taco Chicken Bowls
You can make this recipe in the Crockpot, or you can just cook up some of the Perdue Shortcuts and plop that over rice with cheese, cilantro, and whatever other fixings you like.

chicken caesar salad
9. Perdue Gluten-Free Chicken Tenders
These often go on sale at our local ShopRite, and I always make sure to buy a bag and keep it in our freezer for those crazy weeknights when we just don't have time for anything other than chicken tenders and fries.

10. Chicken Caesar Salad
Here's another one that is great for busy weeknights. Again, we've gotten in the habit of picking up a bag of the Perdue Shortcuts pre-cooked grilled chicken, heating up the chicken, and putting it over a bed of lettuce from a Caesar salad kit. If you're gluten-free, don't eat the croutons or the dressing that comes in those Caesar salad kits. You'll need gluten-free croutons and gluten-free Caesar dressing.

Friday, November 27, 2015

12 Days of Christmas with Six Sisters' Stuff - REVIEW

Thanksgiving is over. NOW you can start thinking about Christmas. And what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with the 12 Days of Christmas with Six Sisters' Stuff cookbook/craft idea book/everything holiday book?

If you're not familiar with the Six Sisters, they are sisters (duh) who blog over at Six Sisters' Stuff. The blog covers everything from food and crafts to fitness, travel, and more. (Sounds like the kind of things I cover. I wonder if they are looking for a seventh sister??)

And 144 ideas for traditions, homemade gifts, recipes, and more are included in the 12 Days of Christmas with Six Sisters' Stuff book. This book is like a one-stop shop for everything Christmas. Need a gift idea? It's in the book. Want an easy family dinner to make in the slow cooker? It's in the book. Looking for fun activities for the kids? It's in the book!!

I love all the cookie recipes, any of which would be great for a cookie exchange or food gift for friends and family. (I also love that there's a recipe for gooey butter cookies! Any self-respecting person from St. Louis knows that gooey butter is where it's at.) I also really like the 12 days of Christmas gift idea to do for a spouse or significant other.

And if this holiday-themed book from the Six Sisters isn't enough, they actually have a new book that came out this fall called Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff: 100 Desserts, Gift Ideas, and Traditions for the Whole Family, Each dessert recipe is paired with an easy companion craft or family tradition, and ideas for creating memorable gifts from desserts.

Just a note: while the recipes are not gluten-free, I think most of them could easily be adapted to be gluten-free if you needed them to be. Of course, the gift ideas, activities, and traditions are naturally gluten-free!

12 Days of Christmas with Six Sisters' Stuff is published by Shadow Mountain and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review. 

Sweets & Treats with Six Sisters' Stuff is also published by Shadow Mountain and is on bookstore shelves now. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Baby Scrapbook Pages

Today we are thankful for Babies Junior.

And here are two recent scrapbook pages chronicling our experiences early on in my pregnancy via ultrasound pictures.

Here is the journaling on the above layout, "Baby?": This was our second ultrasound picture and the one that confirmed my due date and proved there was a baby in there! The first ultrasound was done too early (4 weeks) so all we saw was an empty sac. My doctor was concerned because according to the pregnancy calculator, I should have been 8 weeks. Also, my thyroid levels were slightly elevated, so she told me to do another ultrasound in two weeks and call if I started bleeding. Yikes! But I didn't bleed, and two weeks later, there was our little baby inside the sac on the screen!

And the pictures in "Womb with a View" are from our third ultrasound at our 11-13-week nuchal translucency ultrasound. (I stole the title of this layout from my mom.) The journaling for this reads: We went in for our next ultrasound to make sure the baby was growing at a normal pace and to get the results of our Down Syndrome risk assessment. Everything looked good! Low risk of chromosomal abnormalities. And Babies Jr. was SUPER active on the ultrasound screen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Money-Making Mom - Book Review

If you're a mom, whether a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, a single mom, or a mom-to-be, chances are you've thought it would be nice to be bringing in a little extra cash to help support your family. Crystal Paine, founder of the blog Money Saving Mom, wrote her latest book Money Making Mom for just those moms!

This book takes you from start to finish. It helps you uncover what your passions and talents are so you can figure out just what type of business you want to start. Then the book helps you figure out if this will be a full-time job or a side job (with the potential to become a full-time job) and how to go about getting a business started.

There's a lot of research that needs to take place, and the ideas in this book and stories from real women are not "get rich quick" schemes. Whatever business idea you come up with will require time, possibly some start-up money, and patience. You might not make millions, but that's not really what it's about.

As Paine states many times, the goal of making more money shouldn't just be so that you can buy more stuff. You should be driven to succeed in your business because it helps your family for a number of reasons and/or because it allows you to give back to the community.

There are a lot of good resources and ideas in this book. If you're a mom trying to figure out how to bring in more money for your family or transition from your full-time job to a job where you work for yourself and can spend more time with your family, then I think this is definitely a book to pick up and study.

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.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome - Book Review

What is "post-traumatic church syndrome"? Aside from being a humorous title to Reba Riley's faith memoir, it's a term used to describe "a condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the leaving, losing, or breaking thereof."

If you feel like that's you, then you might like Riley's memoir, which chronicles her journey of experiencing 30 different religions before her 30th birthday in an attempt to come to terms with the "breaking" she experienced from the hardcore Christian religion of her family.

Riley really does go through a transformation over the course of this book, both spiritually and physically. In the beginning of the book, I was a little upset that it didn't seem like the author was giving enough of a chance to these religions she was trying. Of course, certain words and activities triggered bad memories for her, but in general, she was going into these churches with pre-conceived notions, and it was kind of getting on my nerves.

But there is a turning point, and Riley is soon really taking her experiment more seriously. (Interest from an NPR producer certainly couldn't have hurt either.) I was also glad she got the help she needed for her mysterious illness, which I totally predicted way earlier in the book. Her experience getting diagnosed (or misdiagnosed for years) is just par for the course for the disease she has. (I bet you can figure out what it is just from being a reader of this blog.)

There's a reading group guide in the back of the book if you choose to read this with a Bible study or book club.

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is published by Howard Books and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free ARC at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gluten-Free Taco Pie

Well, there's really no meal plan this week because both my husband and I have short work weeks, my husband has work stuff on Monday and Tuesday night, and Thanksgiving is on Thursday. So instead of telling you what we're going to eat this week (I think you know what we're going to eat on Thursday), how about I tell you what we've eaten in the past?

The other night I adapted a recipe from the October 2015 issue of Family Fun magazine for Deep-Dish Taco. I call my gluten-free version Gluten-Free Taco Pie. It's got a gluten-free pie crust (pre-made) and all the fixings of a taco. A new way to eat tacos!

The original recipe is not available online, but someone did take a picture of the magazine page and posted it on Pinterest. You can check it out here.

To make this gluten-free:

1. Use a pre-made, frozen gluten-free pie crust such as the Wholly Wholesome gluten-free pie shell (I got 2 in one package on sale at my local ShopRite)

2. Instead of flour, either use a gluten-free all-purpose flour or use cornstarch (I used cornstarch)

The instructions say to bake this for 40 minutes, but I think you could start with 30 minutes, and then check on it. Our cheese got a little too cooked on top because I did the full 40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and that time was definitely too long. Everybody's ovens are different, though.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dear Mr. You - Book Review

You might know Mary-Louise Parker from her roles in movies such as Fried Green Tomatoes or in TV shows such as The West Wing and Weeds.

But did you also know she writes?

Dear Mr. You is Parker's first book, a compilation of letters she's written to all the men her life. Some of the men are ex-boyfriends, best friends, and family members. Others are men she's never met, such as her grandfather, or men she didn't get to know, such as the cab driver she yelled at one morning when she was pregnant.

Sometimes the tone of the letter is loving, but some of the letters are not so nice. It doesn't matter. Each of these men that Parker writes to has somehow shaped her life in a profound way, and for helping her to become the woman she is today, she is grateful.

Dear Mr. You is published by Scribner and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free ARC at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sky High (Arcelormittel Orbit) Scrapbook Page

Back to scrapbooking today! This layout, "Sky High", features pictures taken from the ground and the sky at the Arcelormittel Orbit. This was another thing we go to do with our London Pass.

What is the Arcelormittel Orbit? Well, I don't know why it has such a weird name, but the structure itself is located in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where the 2012 London Olympics were held. It offers 20-mile views of the Olympic Park and the London skyline. So if it's a nice day (as it was when we were there) and you're looking for a new view of London, definitely take a jaunt over to this interesting structure.

There's also a really nice outdoor mall nearby, and the grounds of the Olympic Park were being turned into green space and other public buildings when we were there, so it's a really nice area to visit.

I used up a bunch of scraps on this layout, so I have no idea who made the stuff I used. But I was very proud that I even raided my ribbon stash for this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Top 4 Book Gifts - Holiday Gift Guide

For the book lovers in your life (or maybe that's you!), I've got some fun books to give and book-related items to give this holiday season.

1. The Great Gatsby East and West Egg Necklace from Out of Print Clothing
This funky take on the traditional friendship necklace is egg-shaped with the word "West" on one half and "East" on the other. Turn over each half to find the names "Daisy" and "Jay". Comes in silver or gold for $30.

2. #Read and Book Nerd T-shirts from Gibb Smith
Let the world know how much you love books with either of these cool T-shirts. Each is $20, and additional styles are also available.

3. Coloring Books for Adults from multiple publishers
The big trend this year: coloring books for adults. I saw a lot of different coloring books at BEA, and now even Crayola is getting in on the trend with coloring books coming out by year's end! These are not little kid coloring books. These have fun designs and patterns to color that help relax and de-stress you.

4. Books!
Here are all the books I gave 5-star ratings to (so far) this year. Any of these books would make a great gift for someone who likes to read.

- A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer (Historical fiction about the creation of penicillin)
- Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt (A car accident changes the lives of the surviving driver, the victim's husband, and the child left behind)
- The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (A girl in the foster care system struggles with her past as she tries to move forward with her life)
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Read this book before it becomes a movie!)
- From the Kitchen of Half Truth by Maria Goodin (Imagine the little girl from Miracle on 34th Street growing up without having met Mr. Daly and having the father from Big Fish as a mother.)
- Thrive by Arianna Huffington (Perfect for the busy working woman)
- Fallout by Gwenda Bond (Perfect for teen readers who like superheroes and comic books)
- What to Eat When You're Pregnant by Dr. Nicole M. Avena (Give this to any new moms-to-be)
- We That Are Left by Clare Clark (Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this family drama)
- Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (A story where the main character discovers who she is and where she comes from through cooking)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

PB & J Pie with Walkers Gluten-Free Shortbread Cookie Crust

One of the vendors I visited at the GFAF Expo was Walkers Shortbread. I had heard of this company before, and you may have, too, but did you know that now Walkers makes gluten-free shortbread cookies?

There are three flavors: pure butter shortbread, chocolate chip shortbread, and ginger and lemon shortbread. Like Walkers' original shortbread, the gluten-free shortbread contains the same butter and sugar content, but the wheat flour is replaced with a blend of rice flour, maize flour, and potato starch. This allows the gluten-free shortbread to keep that same great buttery taste as the original but in a way that's safe for those with Celiac or gluten intolerances to enjoy!

The gluten-free shortbread is certified by the UK Coeliac Association and meets the FDA standard for gluten-free, which is to have less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Each box of nine cookies retails for $4.99 from the Walkers website, and you can also find it in retailers across the country. (As always, if your favorite store doesn't carry the gluten-free shortbread, ask the store manager to carry it!)

So, because the chocolate chip shortbread was my favorite (it's chocolate - what's not to like??), the kind Walkers Shortbread PR people sent me two free boxes of the chocolate chip shortbread. I could have just eaten the cookies on their own or dipped them in a hot chocolate or tea, but I thought, "Why not do something different?"

It somehow occurred to me that I could crush up the shortbread and use it to make a no-bake gluten-free pie crust! A stick of melted butter mixed with 1/3 cup of sugar and 14 cookies all crumbled up, and I put this in my freezer to firm it up!

Once I had that made, I just needed the perfect filling! What goes well with chocolate chip cookies? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! A classic kid's lunch turned into a pie. I used this PB Berry Pie recipe from Everyday with Rachael Ray as the filling for my pie crust. Again, this all required NO BAKING, so it was super easy.

I might have made the sides of the pie crust a little too thick, which is just something to keep in mind when you're placing the crumb mixture into your pie dish.

As you can see, there are many ways to enjoy Walkers gluten-free shortbread! How would you enjoy yours?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - November 16

This week, it's all about apples.

Apples are this week's power food for the baby. Got a little problem with apples, though. I'm allergic. They've always made my teeth and mouth itch after eating them, and I haven't had a raw apple since 2006 when the inside of my mouth swelled up after eating one. Apple juice is fine. Apple pie is totally fine (thank goodness!) because the apples are cooked. So as long as I cook the apple in something, then I'm fine. Good thing there was a recipe where the apple was cooked in the What to Eat When You're Pregnant cookbook!

And it made its way into this week's meal plan:

Sunday: turkey-apple-cheddar burgers with fries and green beans

Monday: hamburger stroganoff

Tuesday: penne with ricotta cheese and greens

Wednesday: roasted corn and chicken tostadas

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: on our own

Saturday: on our own

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Raging Skillet - Book Review

The memoir The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi by Rossi is a truly hilarious and sometimes moving memoir of one woman's rise to catering stardom in New York City.

And it all started because of the microwave.

If you've ever had a mother who couldn't cook. If you've ever felt out of place where you live. If you've ever dreamed big dreams. If you've ever wanted to make your own way and do things your way. This is the book for you.

Plus, there are recipes! Recipes with funny names pertaining to Rossi's life, such as Swordfish Skewers that Vanilla Ice Wouldn't Eat.

From the 1970s to the present day, Chef Rossi chronicles her life growing up as a Jewish kid in New Jersey with a mother who was obsessed with the microwave, running away to New York City, regrouping on Cape Cod, finding her way through the rubble of 9/11, and recovering her catering business after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. This woman has been through a lot, seen a lot, survived, and thrived. Her story is definitely inspiring to all women and aspiring chefs.

The Raging Skillet: The True Life Story of Chef Rossi is published by Feminist Press. It's on bookstore shelves now. I received a free ARC at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Do-Right - Book Review

Lisa Sandlin's novel The Do-Right is as much a detective story as it is a story about redemption and freedom.

When Delpha Wade gets released from prison after serving a 14-year sentence for murdering one of the men who raped her, she needs a job and a place to live. Through the kindness of strangers and her parole officer, she finds a room at the New Rosemont Hotel in exchange for looking after the owner's dying grandmother in the evenings and working during the day as a secretary for a newly minted private investigator.

The P.I., named Tom Phelan, has embarked on this new career after an accident working on an oil rig. He has just as much to prove to his friends and family - many who work in law enforcement - as Delpha has to prove to herself and anybody who might look down on her given her past.

Together, Tom and Delpha take on some cases, but even when the cases are considered closed, their instincts tell them there is more to the story. Just who was the woman claiming to be a cheating husband's wife and what does it have to do with the recent lawsuit between two chemical companies? And what does anyone involved in that have to do with the other rapist whom Delpha didn't kill?

If you like a good noir-ish detective story with lots of plots twists, then you'll like this book. You'll want there to be more cases for these two characters to work on and solve together.

The Do-Right is published by Cinco Puntos Press and is available on bookstore shelves now. I received a free ARC at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Top 4 Food Gifts - Holiday Gift Guide

Everybody likes to eat, and not just during the holidays. For all those foodies in your life or anyone who just likes something good to eat or drink, check out these top picks for food gifts.

1. Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson cookbook
For that friend who likes to cook but has a very science-oriented brain, this cookbook is a cool combination of both things. The IBM computer Watson helped to create the recipes in this book using scientific theories to predict what flavors will work best together.

2. Tervis Wine Glasses
You might know Tervis from its tumblers that keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. Well, imagine making your holidays festive with new Tervis Wine Glasses with double-walled insulation to keep your wine at the perfect temperature. In four colors, these glasses are elegant enough to replace your crystal glassware.

3. Star Wars M&M's 
There are lots of ways to personalize M&M's and give them as gifts this holiday season, but one of my favorites was the Star Wars M&M's blends. They come in Light Side (blue, light blue, and white M&M's with Yoda, C3PO, and R2D2 images), Dark Side (red, gray, and black M&M's with Darth Vader and Storm Trooper images), and Star Wars (gold, silver, and white M&M's with "May the Force Be With You", Darth Vader, and Yoda graphics and images). You can buy these M&M's by the bag or purchase glass bowls or character candy dispensers.

4. Teavana Oprah Chai Steep Good Thoughts Set
If you've ever had the Oprah Chai Tea from Starbucks, then you know how delicious it is and how wonderful of a holiday gift it would make. It's all packaged up from Teavana for you in the Oprah Chai Steep Good Thoughts Set. It comes with a ceramic stacking teacup and teapot, the original Teavana Oprah Chai blend, and a caffeine-free Oprah Chai herbal blend. For every gift set purchased, $4 will be donated to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Better Homes & Gardens Copycat Fall Door Decor

Not much crafty has been going on at my house lately. Scrapbooking, yes. I've been trying to use up as many scrapbook supplies as I can so that there is less to move down to the basement when my scrap room makes the big change into a nursery! (We just signed a contract this weekend to replace the carpet in the room. So, SERIOUSLY, no new scrapbook supplies will be making their way into my house. I have to use what I've got!!)

But I happened to be out shopping with a friend the other weekend, and there was a Michael's nearby, so I popped in to pick up a few craft supplies in order to make a festive, fall door hanging like the one I saw in a recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens.

If you live in a townhome community like we do, then you probably still have a bunch of leaves all over the place because the hired landscapers don't come around to get rid of any of them until after all the leaves have fallen in mid-November. So there were plenty of dried-up leaves for me to choose from to make this project.

You basically cover leaves (I used 10) in craft glue and glitter, and hot glue the leaves to ribbon. Then tie all the ribbon together at the top to create a loop for hanging on your door.

Here's a side-by-side comparison with what this looked like in the magazine and what my DIY version looked like:

Okay, so this isn't #PinterestFail-worthy by any means. It's just that mine looks somewhat less elegant than the one in the magazine. I think this has to do with a few things:

1. I found the perfect ribbon at Michael's, and then they wouldn't sell it to me on the roll. It had to be by the yard, and I had NO idea how much ribbon I was going to need for this project. So I had to go back to the ribbon section where I had to settle for a less desirable wire-rimmed ribbon (because the magazine said it had to be wire-rimmed) that I could purchase on a roll.

2. I thought I was matching the glitter colors pretty well, but my glitter ended up looking bolder and brighter than the glitter in the magazine. Maybe if I had splurged on some Martha Stewart Crafts glitter... I bet Martha makes subdued glitter colors. Doesn't that just seem so Martha?

3. My leaves were not very flat. If you find some leaves that are still kind of damp from a recent rain, I would take those and press them in a book until they dry, and then hopefully they will be flat enough that covering them with craft glue (I used Aleene's Tacky Glue) using a foam brush will be a whole lot easier.

That said, I was just going by the limited directions and supplies given in the magazine. They seemed easy enough. But apparently, I should have watched this video tutorial on the Better Homes & Gardens website. Because APPARENTLY, the supplies you need vary slightly from what the magazine says. Instead of a foam brush, use a paintbrush. Instead of craft glue, specifically use Mod Podge. Oh, and instead of real leaves, use fabric leaves. Also, you'll need five to six yards of ribbon.


Am I keeping this on my front door for the fall season? Of course! I spent a whole Sunday afternoon on this project!

Will I try again next year? Yeah, I think so. Partly because those leaves are not going to last a year in storage and partly because I would like to give it another shot with different glitter and fabric leaves.

But say you went on a family hike and picked up some real leaves to save for crafty activities with the kids. I think your kids would like getting their hands sticky and messy with glue and glitter. (Maybe you take over the hot glue gunning.) And then who cares what the finished project looks like? You and your kids made something fun together that you can do year after year!

What do you guys think? Got any festive fall decor crafts that you plan on making this year?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - November 9

It's football season and we haven't yet made one of our favorite Sunday night football meals yet - Pepper Jack Cheesy Mac. It's so good, and I'm super excited that it's in this week's dinner rotation. Here's the lineup:

Sunday: Pepper Jack Cheesy Mac

Monday: waffle egg sandwiches

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday: Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Ham Steak (new recipe!)

Thursday: chicken tender salad

Friday: on our own

Saturday: Deep Dish Taco (new recipe!)

These recipes aren't originally gluten-free, but I'm making them GF! If you want to make any of these recipes but need advice on turning them gluten-free, just ask! I'll probably do a follow-up post on the new recipes later.

What are you guys eating this week?

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Gap of Time - Review

When I was at Book Expo America this year, I heard about a new book imprint that featured popular authors rewriting the works of Shakespeare. Very intriguing, right? So, when I saw that the first book, Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time, was available to review from Blogging for Books, I jumped at the chance to review it.

The Gap of Time is a modern-day retelling of A Winter's Tale. If you, like me, had never read A Winter's Tale, there's a brief synopsis of it at the beginning of the book. I thought that was helpful for comparison purposes.

In Winterson's version, a very wealthy man goes crazy with jealousy when he thinks his pregnant wife is actually pregnant with their best friend's baby. After a violent outburst, he plots to get rid of the baby, but through his careless and crazy actions, ends up losing the baby and causing the accidental death of his son. But don't worry. This is one tragedy that has a happy ending.

The only thing I didn't like was the author inserting herself right at the end of the story. Instead of giving us a page break or writing under an "Afterword" heading, the story stops and the author steps in to explain the significance of the story for her among all of Shakespeare's works. I was still "in" the story, and this was an unwelcome distraction.

Also, don't expect this retelling to be any easier to read than Shakespeare. There were parts that I found confusing, mainly when trying to to figure out WHERE everybody was geographically speaking and when reading one character's explanation of his video game.

But other than that, the story itself is very intriguing and obviously transcends time. Shakespeare fans might like to see how Winterson reimagines the story for a modern-day audience.

The Gap of Time is published by Hogarth Shakespeare and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy from Blogging for Books for my honest review.