Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Kitchen Confidence

Well thanks to the recent expansion of titles available through the Blogging for Books program I am now about to review (amongst other things) - cookbooks!!! Those of you who know me probably have an idea of the extent of ecstasies that I went into upon hearing this news- and for those of you who don't- prepare yourselves. :)

I am thrilled to be reviewing Kelsey Nixon's "Kitchen Confidence"! I have had my eye on Kelsey for a
number of years now, since her debut into the food TV realm as a contestant on Food Network's "Next Food Star" program. She stood out to me then as a recent culinary grad myself and for her infectious bubbly personality as well as eager passion and desire to teach. As the years went by I was pleased to see her turn up on the Cooking Channel with her own show and have been pleased to sit down and learn with Kelsey whenever I'm able!

I love happy books. I love happy cookbooks too. "Kitchen Confidence" definitely qualifies as a happy cookbook! As the reader first picks up the book they are greeted with a bright and punchy cover full of modern colors and eye catching graphics. Delving into to the book you will find a well ordered and graphically pleasing layout. The book is divided into recipe categories that range from 'Breakfast & Morning Treats', to 'Sandwiches & Soups', to 'Desserts & Sweets'- and offers everything in between too! Each chapter begins with a clear list of the recipes in that section and each recipe title is well highlighted with bold text at the top of every page.

As I read I enjoyed especially the sporadic technique blocks and sections that explained the way something was to be done or the why behind a particular instruction. I also think it is essential in every cookbook that the author includes 'cooks notes' at the beginning of a recipe. Kelsey's book lives up to that expectation and provides a wonderful insight to a recipe's history, usage, and/or possibilities! All of the book is written in a friendly 'over your shoulder' directional style and showcases Kelsey's warm and encouraging style well. This book is well suited to be used by a beginning cook looking to expand their skills, and by an experienced cook who desires to produce well flavored and executed home staples.

One side note that I feel the need to report however is that the cover of the book is not particularly well made. When I received my copy there was already a small tear in the top filmy layer of the cover which had a small section pealing back. In the weeks since I have had this book and been handling it frequently I have noticed that the top corner and side edge of this filmy layer (upon which the cover image is printed on) is also pealing. I own a good many cookbooks and never remember one of my volumes coming apart in this way! To stop the damage I am going to need to cover the edges with heavy duty packing tape or library binding of some sort and I'm really terribly disappointed that my cover is to be marred in this way so shortly after receiving it!

The only other complaint I have about this book is that content wise while there are a good many photos there is not a photo for every recipe. For me this is essential in any modern cookbook and I'm a bit puzzled as to why they were left out. Even if covered as multiple images on a single page this would still give the reader and cook a good idea as to how the recipe is to turn out- and give them incentive for making it in the first place!

As to the actual recipes: I have tried one so far and found it to be excellent! You can find a step by step walk through to the "Grandma's Banana-Nut Sheet Cake" on my blog along with further notes on how the recipes preformed. Suffice to say though I was very pleased and enjoyed the results! I have flagged up my book with mini post-it's and I am really looking forward to making more of these tempting and delicious recipes in the future!

Final Rating: 4.5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Foodie Friday: "Grandma's Banana Cake"

Recently one of my blogging programs opened up their selection of books available for review. This little development has thrilled me no end because I'm now able to review (drumroll please...) COOKBOOKS! 
Watch out world, here I come! 

LOL! Well maybe not the whole world...maybe just my little corner of the universe! ;) 

My first cookbook review will be up in a jiffy but before I post it I wanted to kick things off by sharing one of the recipes from the book! This recipe from Kelsey Nixon's "Kitchen Confidence" was really the perfect place to start!

"Grandma's Banana Cake" by: Kelsey Nixon

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 ripe medium bananas, mashed
1 cup whole milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) For the banana cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10.5 x 15.5 inch jelly roll pan.
2) Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed, until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs, on at a time, followed by the lemon juice, mashed bananas, and milk.
3) In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour baking soda, and salt, Slowly beat the flour mixture into the banana mixture, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. 
4) Bake until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. 25-30 minutes. Let cool.

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ripe medium banana, mashed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

5) For the icing: Using an electric mixer, combine the butter, banana, vanilla, powdered sugar, and salt and beat until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add a teaspoon or two of milk.
6) Frost the cake with the icing and sprinkle the top with the walnuts. Store the cake, covered tightly with plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 2 days.

My thoughts on the recipe and cake:

I am really pleased at how easy this recipe was to put together, how well it baked up and how yummy it turned out! Even with photoing my steps I think that I maybe spent an hour on it?? It wasn't long and it really was a simple old-fashioned recipe. I like that the bananas were used in both the cake and the frosting- it brings up the banana flavor nicely. The cake itself I really can't say enough about! It is light with an excellent crumb, and it has such a rich butter flavor and buttery mouth-feel that I felt like I was eating an oil based cake recipe with it's super moistness! I used salted butter and still added the salt in both portions of the recipe and like it that way. The added salt level is negligible and in the case of the frosting is actually a better contrast to the banana and cuts the super-sugary 'belch' many icing style frosting's can give. As my family doesn't like walnuts and particularly wouldn't like nuts on a cake like this I omitted them. 

All in all, this is the cake your grandmother used to make- and it's perfect for a crowd, be it a family gathering or a church social! I highly recommend you make it- and enjoy it! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Murder at the Mikado

So dear reader, Julianna Deering is back again with another installment in the "Drew Farthering Mysteries"! reviewed it last summer. Finally getting to sit down and read this book was something of a monumental effort but once I was settled and dug into the book it fairly rolled along and I quite enjoyed it over the course of an afternoon!

This book "Murder at the Mikado" is the third volume in this series and quite lives up to all the hype I gave the first book when I reviewed it last summer. Finally getting to sit down and read this book was something of a monumental effort but once I was settled and dug into the book it fairly rolled along and I quite enjoyed it over the course of an afternoon! 

Drew and Madeline are now engaged and are fast approaching their wedding date when in whirls a past flame of Drew's. Actress Fleur Landis may be married with a child now but that's no damper to her personal dramatics as she is accused of murdering the lead actor- and her former lover- from her old troupe! When Fleur and her husband Landis, Drew's new business manager comes begging for help Drew- who never wished to see Fleur again- relents and takes on the case.
The case progresses though not all is what it seems. Not all is okay at home either as Madeline begins to feel the pressures of their impending marriage set under the specter of charming bombshell Fleur. Soon enough the chase quickens and as more bodies start dropping the hunt for the killer is in full force! But what goes on behind the scenes and behind the public eye is the most important- for both the case and for Drew and Madeline!

So as I said at the beginning I really enjoyed this book! I grew up on mystery novels but as I got older that genre really dropped from my rotation, partially because I thought I'd grown too old for them and partially because I wasn't finding that genre written in Christian fiction. I am ever so glad that that is changing now with Deering's "Drew Fathering Mysteries"!
     In particular I appreciated that the book is well paced and written, and also that the mystery is well concealed until the end- I may have had my suspicions as to who the guilty party was but right up until the end Deering held all her cards tightly! Also, I really liked how this read as straight up clean cut mystery. The mentions of God or spiritual themes are hard to come by in this book but I didn't feel like that detracted from the character or story being told. It has been previously well established where Drew and Madeline are with God and I didn't think it needed to be re-addressed with club-like agility. (But that's just me!) If you are looking for something super-spiritually laced look elsewhere because this is nearly pure mystery/adventure! Additionally, I appreciated that some of the elements present in the first book, like social drinking, were dropped from this installment. While they may be period appropriate, and may be useful tools in characterizing the baddie, fiend, and rogue in a novel I don't find them appropriate for the hero of a Christian novel and I was glad to see them gone!

Something that I loved to see in this book was the full attention that Deering gave to working in references to Gilbert and Sullivan's works. The title of the book comes from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" as this is one of the two plays that the theater troupe is preforming when the murder takes place. Personally, though I have not listened to all of their works I have a great fondness for The Pirates of Penzance and was charmed to find bits of it scattered throughout the book!

All in all I have no complaints about this lovely period mystery novel that Julianna Deering has produced and I am happy to recommend it to all of you!

Final rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"I Am Designed"

So at the moment I seem to be on semi-hiatus from my lovely blog but I'm working on getting back to blogging like I used to- and in the mean time I seem to have it a milestone of 4000 views to my page! Thank you for reading and supporting me!

In leiu of a real thoughtful article here are some rambly thoughts of mine that I wrote out the other week... Perhaps they will encourage you today...?

I Am Designed

I am designed for prayer- not despair,
I am designed to give praise all my days- not be dragged down by my ingratitudes,
I am designed for freedom- not fear,
I am designed for contentment- not grief,
I am designed for a life of love- not a blanket of indifference,
I am designed for giving mercy and receiving grace- not for a like of slavery,
I am designed for sola deo gloria- not for self aggrandizement,
I am designed for my weaknesses being made perfect in him- not for self-implosion,
I am designed for my Savior- not my self. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Missionary Acres Bound

Hello! I'm working on my write up of my Missionary Acres trip and suddenly realized that I could have (and probably should have) posted it here as well! 
So, posting this here now for reference! 

Dear Friends and Family,
     Hello! I wanted to take a minute here to tell you all what I’ll be up to this coming week! As many of you know last year I planned to go on a missions trip to a place in Missouri called Missionary Acres which is a retirement community for missionaries.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Review: Truth Be Told

 Today I have a book from an author new to me! I've been wanting to catch a book from author Carol Cox for a while now after I was intrigued by the title and subject of her last work so I was eager to snap up a copy of "Truth Be Told" when it appeared!

The story revolves around Amelia Wagner. Amelia is more then ready for a change of pace when, fresh off the train from Denver and the fast paced high life it offers, she sets foot back in her father's newspaper office in Granite Springs, Arizona. She expects to spend a pleasant summer catching up with her father and once again being in her true home but best laid plans are often thwarted and Amelia finds herself saying goodbye to her dying father and trying to fill the large shoes he's left behind in his beloved profession.

Amelia finds in the wake of her father's death that the paper in is a delicate position due to his inability to pound the pavement in the months during his decline and she will be the doing or undoing of all of her father's years of hard work. She also is puzzled by the biggest story in her father's bulls eye- an expose on a local mining company that never fully came to light. As Amelia beings to track down the full story she finds help in the most unlikely of sources- an employee of the very mining company that her father railed against publicly before his death. Soon Amelia and Ben find themselves in deeper than they ever expected with a story that may be the undoing of both of them!

There was a few quirks with the book that I noticed and wanted to point out. One of them was that Amelia is a really good girl. I mean really, aside from being rather innocent and over trusting she practically has no flaws. Every time she reacts to something in a normal human way (anger, disappointment, confusion, etc.) she, in the very next moment corrects herself and immediately thinks Biblically about the situation in question, always seeing the situation for what it must be and not what it actually appears at the moment. I don't know about you but I just have a hard time liking someone who is always good, who can always change on the drop of a dime and be...perfect. It makes me wonder- 'can a character be too good?'
Another thing was that the mining described as taking place sounds a awfully like today's fracking. It is a pet peeve of mine to see people dragging modern issues into the past for soap box purposes and although Cox never carries through with fully disclosing the ins and outs of the mining operation she has enough of a soap box to make sure that the characters fully disapprove of what is being done in their community. It just isn't appropriate for this setting without providing some explanation in an author's note.  

This book was in all honesty a quick read, the storyline was pretty basic and I'm sad to say predictable. There was nothing terribly exciting in the plot for me- but the thing is that there was nothing particularly wrong with the plot either... As I continued to read and analyze this and try to make sense of it I came to the realization that this is a book that I would have really enjoyed- when I was 14 or 15 years old... And this is the fact that frustrates me. For me it just doesn't deliver on the 'grown up' fiction I was expecting to read. I want characters to be flawed, I need situations to be real, and I think that putting things right doesn't come at the wave of a magic wand. For me this story had more relationship fantasy than realistic fiction.

If you like your fiction on the light side and don't want to think too much about logic and loopholes then this book is for you,  but next time I think I'll be skipping the sugary  fluff and finding something a little more my speed.

Final Rating: 3

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are

Being "spoken for", its a beautiful thought isn't it?

Knowing that someone loves you, wants to take care of you, that someone doesn't want you to belong to anyone else, and wants to identify themselves with you is a truly powerful thought. It's a thought that easily drives a person. When you think about it you find yourself easily picturing a happy couple and the way that they cherish each other and show their devotion to each other. 

Well that is what this book is all about. "Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are", written by the team of Robin Jones Gunn (from the Sisterchicks devo) and Alyssa Joy Bethke is all about the greatest romance, and the greatest love, the love of Christ, and His relentless pursuit of you His bride. 

This book bounces back and forth between each writers voice and story and unfolds each woman's personal love story as they discuss the way that God loves each one of us and how He, as the lover of our souls, peruses a relationship with us- even when we are unlovely or unfaithful to Him and His highest desires for us. Though 95% of it is 'something I've heard before' the style that Gunn writes and communicates those eternal truths in is refreshingly honest, and poignant. The truth of God's love is one that I think is difficult to write about because how do you quantify something for human imagining and understanding that is so completely  incomprehensible to us here on earth? Gunn and Bethke do a fine job of this though as they take hold of something we can grasp- a love story- and parallel that with our spiritual love story as Christians. 

Many parts of the book were really encouraging to me and really touched me deeply. Chapter six especially was challenging as the authors deal with the topic of "You Are of Great Value". In this chapter one thing that really stood out was the thought of God not needing puppets to do things for Him- we can't do anything for God in and of ourselves- but that we are of great value to Him and there is a difference between the two, and important one, and a striking one. To put it into simple terms it is the need to remember that we are God's treasure and it isn't a position we got by our own effort but by His paid price and not to be trapped by the world. 

The one issue that I had with this book that I don't know whether to call a big one or a small one is with how it treated dating. Alyssa Joy Bethke (as you find upon reading) is someone who obviously from my generation of Christian young women, and while I am well aware that everybody and their life story is different I was surprised and a bit concerned at the casual breakup/makeup attitude modeled by Bethke as she tells the story about how she found and ended up with her husband. In today's Christian culture this may exist more prevalently than I am aware but just because it does does't mean it should. God calls us to higher standards in our relationships- especially our deepest personal ones and although all worked out for Bethke in the end as she established what sounds like a very happy marriage that doesn't mean that God's highest standard for getting them to that point was followed. Today, I believe there are many more wise and Biblical ways of bring two people to the marriage alter.  

This book is a very manageable paperback coming in at 182 pages divided over eleven chapters. The end of each chapter is set up with comprehensive study questions and will make for good personal or group study. Initially I thought that this book was directed towards adult women, and though I still feel that it is entirely appropriate for that market, I found myself really thinking that some of the young teen girls that I disciple would really benefit and enjoy this devotional. I also really like the cover for the book; it is light filled, warm and inviting as well as embracing bright spunky colors for the overall scheme. In short, its a book that makes you want to pick it up! And I do hope that you do just that, it was a good breezy read with the kind of substance that a heart needs to hear sometimes in this difficult Christian walk. I will be looking forward to reading more devotionals from Gunn and be looking forward to seeing what Bethke does next! 

Final Rating: 4.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.