Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Miracle in the Middle - Book Review

The middle. It's not just a really good Jimmy Eat World song. It's a place that most of us find ourselves in from time to time. Sometimes we just get stuck, like wading through Jell-O, and it's difficult to see how close you are to the end.

If you're there right now and seeking support, then you might want to read The Miracle in the Middle by Charlotte Gambill.

This book doesn't have the ultimate answer of just HOW you get out of the middle, but it does offer advice for making the middle a little easier. Using personal experiences and Biblical stories, Gambill offers guidance and prayers to keep you focused on God, the only thing that can really get you through.

Something that really struck me was how sometimes in our middle we tend to look back on the past, as though the past was so good. But if it was so good, why did we move forward and away from it? Just keep moving forward!

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, July 28, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest - Book Review

Another great book that I picked up at Book Expo America was Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. I knew nothing about the book or the author when I went to stand in line to get an autographed copy, but as someone who is from the Midwest, I thought the title of this novel sounded interesting.

It's about a girl named Eva who is an amazing chef! But the story isn't told solely through Eva's point of view or even with Eva as the main player. It's really about how this girl grows up and affects other people in her life, including her father, her cousin, her high school boyfriend, a fellow dinner party member, her high school boyfriend's stepmom, her current boyfriend's brother, and her mom.

Trust me. I didn't see the book's full-circle ending coming, and I'm really glad that I didn't try to anticipate what was going to happen next while reading this book.

Even if you're not from the Midwest, you should read this book. It would make for an interesting book club discussion, plus there are recipes in the book! And no matter where you're from, you've got to like dessert bars!

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is published by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking and hits bookstore shelves today! I received a free autographed review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - July 27

Sorry for the lack of posts last week. We had gone out of town the previous weekend, and I usually write up and schedule all of my posts for the week over the weekend, so I didn't have a chance to do any of that. But this week I'm back! And here's our meal plan:

Sunday: rotisserie chicken, potatoes, salad

Monday: egg and cheese bagel sandwiches

Tuesday: chicken nuggets and fries

Wednesday: on our own

Thursday: mac and cheese with green beans

Friday: out

Saturday: out

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lois Lane: Fallout - Book Review

Everybody knows Lois Lane as an adult reporter working alongside Clark Kent, but the new YA novel Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond introduces us to the teenage Lois Lane who is just starting to discover her talent as a news reporter.

There's major bullying going on at Lois' school, and when the principal won't step in to stop it, Lois decides to intervene on behalf of her new friends. The bullying spills from the digital world of a video game and into the real world but not in a way anyone can see. Lois must uncover what's behind the weird behavior and synced-up minds of a group of students called the Warheads before it's too late.

Superman does make an appearance, if you're wondering. He's Lois' online friend, known only to her as SmallvilleGuy. The two of them met in a chat room for people who had experienced unexplained phenomena. Lois sort of has a crush on this guy she's never seen, but aside from acting as a love interest, SmallvilleGuy also helps Lois with her investigative reporting.

I liked this book and am glad to see this side of a superhero story. Too often, men get all the good roles, but women (or teenage girls) are just as capable of saving the day! If you've got a teenage girl in your life, you might want to pick up this book for her.

Lois Lane: Fallout is published by Switch Press and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gluten Free Soy Sauce Marinated Pork Chops

We recently made a new dish for dinner from the June 2015 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. This is Soy Sauce Marinated Pork Chops, and if you can't see the recipe at the link, it's probably because you have to register for a free Better Homes and Gardens account. With all the good recipes (and other stuff) on this website, it's kind of worth it to just sign up!

I kind of stayed true to the original recipe, except I used boneless pre-cut pork chops because that's what we had in our freezer. If you're making this gluten-free, be sure that your soy sauce is gluten-free. I also use a brand that doesn't have MSG. It's called San-J Tamari Gluten-Free Soy Sauce.

This was a nice, somewhat healthy meal, although I think my husband would have preferred more pork and less salad. So that's just something to keep in mind for next time.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More London Scrapbook Pages

I've got a few more London scrapbook pages to share with you. These are from our second day in London. We started the day off with a visit to the Tower of London, which had a really nice World War I exhibit right outside.

On this layout I got to use up a lot of scraps from my stash. Originally, this was going to be a two-page layout, but it didn't fit that way in my scrapbook album, so I had to cut some pictures and turn it into just the single page.

Apparently I didn't write down the supplies I used on this layout, but the letter stickers are American Crafts Thickers and there's some Crate Paper patterned paper, too.

After the Tower of London, we toured Tower Bridge (often mistaken for London Bridge) and even got to see the bridge's original steam engines. You can see the engines on the second page of this layout.

Got a lot of good views from the top of Tower Bridge! Luckily it was a lovely morning. Supplies on this layout include Lemon Owl Weekend Trip Collection Sunny Morning, Elle's Studio Serendipity Cherish, Webster's Pages Adrienne Looman Family Traditions Twine, My Mind's Eye Collectable by Jen Allyson Decorative Buttons, and Dear Lizzy + American Crafts Thickers Treasure.

What's great about Tower of London and Tower Bridge is that both are included with the purchase of your London Pass! When you purchase the London Pass, you get entry without further payment into the Tower of London plus a 10% discount in all gift shops at the Tower. 

And for the Tower Bridge, you also get entry without further payment. I should mention some of the other things we did on the first day that have special perks with the London Pass. At M&M's World you get a 15% discount in the store. And something else that's right near the Tower Bridge is the HMS Belfast, which we saw but didn't go on, even though the London Pass gets you entry without further payment. Not bad, right?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stone Rider - Book Review

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All Adam Stone wants is to make it out Blackwater and onto Sky-Base. The only way to get a ticket to Sky-Base is to win The Blackwater Trail, a multi-day byke (yes, not "bike") race where it seems that the only rule is to survive.

Imagine a Motocross race in a dystopian land and you've got David Hofmeyr's young adult science fiction novel Stone Rider.

In the story, we don't know how the Earth came to be a desert wasteland or how some people were chosen to live in Sky-Base and others were left to attempt survival back on the ground. Adam and his brother Frank are mediocre farmers, and Adam makes extra money doing other odd jobs. Adam wants to use that money to enter The Blackwater Trail, the same race that cost his brother his leg. At first, Adam doesn't have the courage to pay the entry fee, but a chance meeting with an outsider named Kane, fatal bullying from a group called the Scorpions, and Adam's love for the bike shop proprietress Sadie give Adam the incentive he needs to enter the race.

This is the first book of what will become a series, and one that I think will appeal to boys and girls. Boys will predominantly like the action, and girls will like the depth of story and hint of romance. The book is for ages 12 and up, but I think 14 and up might be a better age recommendation.

Stone Rider is published by Delacorte Press and hits bookstore shelves today! I received a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - July 13

Hi all! Hope you had a good weekend. Took me a little longer than normal to come up with this week's meal plan. I just wasn't getting into this week. Even so, I still think we've got some good stuff on the menu. Check it out:

Sunday: breakfast casserole

Monday: chicken and rice bowls

Tuesday: grilled chicken and green beans with almonds

Wednesday: on our own

Thursday: taco salad

Friday: Tuscan turkey burgers

Saturday: out

What are you guys eating this week?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Top 10 Beach Reads 2015

For those of you with end-of-summer vacations, here's a list of books that I think would make great vacation reads not just for the beach, but also for the plane, the car, the train, the hotel room, etc. In no particular order, Cook Scrap Craft's Top Beach Reads of 2015:

If you need a good cry on your vacation: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

If you need something for your whole book club to read on their vacations: From the Kitchen of Half Truth by Maria Goodin

If you need a little help really enjoying/experiencing your time off: Thrive by Arianna Huffington

If you want to read a book before it becomes a movie (with Matt Damon!): The Martian by Andy Weir

If you want to uncontrollably laugh out loud in public: Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

If you want to spend your time off taking care of yourself: The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Daniel Amen, and Mark Hyman

If you want to experience a wild adventure but only through the pages of a book: Euphoria by Lily King

If you want a breezy summer read that'll make you hungry for east coast beach food: Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky

If you want to psychologically thrill your pants off: Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

If you don't want to turn off your brain just because you're on vacation: My Real Children by Jo Walton

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wahaca Scrapbook Page

One of the things I love doing on vacation is finding and eating at local gluten-free restaurants. As evidenced from this Gluten-Free London blog post, we found some really good places to eat gluten-free in London.

But I didn't just take all of those food pictures for only the blog. I also decided to scrapbook them!

Wahaca might be our favorite place for gluten-free food in London. My favorite was the chicken taquitos, but Mike liked the chicken casear salad tostadas. I loved the journaling card with the numbers on it (from the Basic Grey Mon Ami collection) because it gave me space to list all the different things we got at Wahaca. We ordered from the street food menu, which offered several small plates that you could order and share.

Supplies used on this layout include: Lemon Owl Weekend Trip Collection Gotcha!, Basic Grey Lemonade Pink Fizz, Webster's Pages Allison Kereft Design's Sweets & Treats: #US2036D, letter stickers from Basic Grey Mon Ami collection, and Basic Grey Mon Ami C'est La Vie.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fun with Basil

I think I found a plant that is impossible for me to kill: basil. 

A few weeks ago, I went to a media event on stressing the importance of play for both kids and adults. There were different play stations set up, one of which was a "gardening" station. We picked an herb, potted the seeds, and got to take our pot home. I promptly set my pot of basil on the back porch and forgot about it. (Okay, I watered it a few times.)

But grow that little plant did until there were enough basil leaves for me to use in cooking.

And I found the perfect recipe in the June 2015 issue of Better Homes and Gardens: Grilled Chicken with Basil Chimichurri. (As I typed this, my husband saw the picture of this and said, "Can we have that again tonight?")

This was a very easy dinner to make. Instead of pounding my chicken breasts with a meat tenderizer (which I don't have), I sliced two chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create four thinner breasts. Add a little salt and pepper, throw them on the grill (we used the George Foreman grill), and cook. The basil chimichurri gets made in a separate bowl and added to the chicken as a garnish.

The original recipe didn't call for green beans, but it was clear in the original picture that green beans (or beans of some sort) were on the plate, so I snipped the ends off of fresh green beans, salted them, tossed them in EVOO, and then baked them on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Delicious! What are some of your favorite ways to use basil?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes - Book Review

Rabbit Hayes is dying of cancer. In her last days, she's remembering a past love while also trying to stay in the present for her 12-year-old daughter.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin isn't just told from Rabbit's point of view, though. There's here mom, Molly; her dad, Jack; her daughter, Juliet; her brother, Davey; her sister, Grace, her best friend, Majorie; and her past love, Johnny.

This is a story not about someone fighting a losing battle with cancer but about people trying to keep it together as they watch their family come apart. It's about the love between a mother and daughter, a brother and sister, an uncle and niece. It's about love that never dies.

As sad as the story may seem, there's plenty of laughter and humor. There are also plenty of characters, so sometimes it was difficult to keep track of who everybody was and just who was speaking when the dialogue involved multiple people. But I liked the way the story was told, and I liked the realistic family dynamics that played out, and I think you will, too. This is one of the books mentioned at the book club speed dating session I attended at Book Expo America, and after reading the book, I definitely think it would make a great book club pick!

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is published by St. Martin's Press and hits bookstore shelves on August 4, 2015. I received a free advance reader's copy for my honest review.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - July 6

If you live in America, you probably celebrated the 4th of July over the weekend. We saw some fireworks at a minor league baseball game Saturday night in Pennsylvania. It just so happened that the fireworks went off right by your heads! Next time, we'll look for seats that are across the field.

And now here we are, July in full swing. I'm trying to make at least one new recipe each week, so here's what's on this week's meal plan:

Sunday: summer corn risotto with chicken (new!)

Monday: French bread pizza

Tuesday: chicken, bacon, and ranch salad

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: grilled chicken pesto (new!)

Friday: out

Saturday: out

What do you guys have on the meal plan for this week?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Willowwood Arboretum in NJ

On Mother's Day, we went to the Willowwood Arboretum in Far Hills, NJ, to walk around and take in the beautiful flowers.

The arboretum was much smaller than I thought it would be. I was expecting a botanical garden type of place, but it's a little more "wild" than that. I wore sandals and jeans with a nice top (because, hey, it was Mother's Day), but you really should wear shorts or comfortable long pants, a T-shirt, and athletic shoes because there are no paved pathways. Instead, there are hiking trails!

Admission is free, although that could change depending on any special events that might be happening, so make sure to check the events calendar on the Willowwood Arboretum website before you go.

It's open year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset, so you don't even have to visit in the peak of summer. If you'd rather wait for cooler weather in the fall, there will still be stuff to see.

The website doesn't say whether or not food is permitted on the grounds, but we saw some people enjoying wine on the porch of one of the historic houses on the grounds, and there is plenty of open grass area for laying out a blanket and enjoying a picnic lunch. Willowwood Arboretum is even available for weddings!

If you're in or near the area and looking for a pleasant way to spend an afternoon outdoors, definitely give Willowwood Arboretum a look!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

London Scrapbook Page

When we got to London, we wanted to call our parents to let them know we had arrived safely. The only problem was that my iPhone 4 wouldn't work overseas, and we could get my husband's Android phone to make an international phone call. So while sightseeing that first day, we were also looking for a working phone booth that didn't smell like pee. And yes, we found one. And yes, it was an old timey London phonebooth.

On the way to the phone, we also saw Big Ben (and heard it ring) and Houses of Parliament.

Supplies used on this layout include Basic Grey Mon Ami Chez Moi and coordinating stickers, Jolee's Boutique London stickers, American Crafts Dear Lizzy Charm papers, an American Crafts travel sticker, and an old dictionary page.

I love that I had so many embellishments that fit so well with the picture of my husband on the phone in the phonebooth. The "Hello There" sticker was cute and, of course, I had to use the phonebooth stickers that I had been saving for quite some time in the event that we finally made our way across the pond.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Saint Mazie - Book Review

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Get ready! The BEA book reviews are in full swing now!

I've read two of author Jami Attenberg's books before, and I was excited to not only see the author lead a panel of woman authors talking about their upcoming books and writing processes at Book Expo America, but also to stand in line to receive a free autographed copy of Attenberg's newest novel Saint Mazie.

Saint Mazie is a uniquely told story about a girl living only for herself who grows into a selfless woman. Working as a ticket taker at her brother-in-law's movie theater in 1920s New York, Mazie Phillips gets to know the people of her fine city. She dates some of them, she dances with some of them, she drinks with some of them. And then the Great Depression hits and Mazie can't turn a blind eye to the people she knows who are now unable to buy a movie ticket from her because they're living on the streets.

The book is told in three ways: through excerpts from Mazie's autobiography, Mazie's diary entries, and interviews with people who knew Mazie. So you get Mazie's story in her own words, but each of the people interviewed has their own perspective on Mazie's life and a little bit of a life story of their own.

While this book is a work of fiction, Attenberg based Mazie Phillips on a real woman named Mazie who was profiled in an essay by Joseph Mitchell.

If you like historical fiction and inspiring stories, then you'll like reading about Saint Mazie.

Saint Mazie is published by Grand Central Publishing and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed copy of the book at BEA with no obligation to review.