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April 30, 2012

Poetry

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I don't read as much poetry as I'd like, but every once in a while I stumble upon a poem that speaks to me. I recently discovered this video (shot by a friend), which I've chosen to share on this last day in April. Enjoy.





April 29, 2012

Cowboy Lasagne (Trisha Yearwood)




It's been over a year since my first (and last!) Weekend Cooking post. I have several recipes I'd like to add to my food blog and thought this might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone. 



Rod and I have been fans of Trisha Yearwood's music for many years and when I first saw her cookbook, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. I assumed a celebrity cookbook would be full of pretty pictures (it is), but an overall a disappointment when it comes to the actual recipes (is isn't). I've sampled a half dozen recipes and am pleased to report that this is a splendid cookbook! And it's my favorite kind: Full page photos for almost every single recipe, accompanied by interesting anecdotes and tips from Trisha and her sister and mother. 

Last week I decided to try Trisha's Cowboy Lasagne. It's been ages since I've made lasagne, mainly because I've never been quite satisfied with my own recipe. And, back when I was first learning to cook, lasagne always seemed to be an involved and complicated recipe. Now that I've been cooking for over 30 years, I've learned the importance of multi-tasking in the kitchen. Lasagne is really a very simple recipe, as long as you have time for the preparation. (It's certainly not something you want to try to throw together after work!) And Trisha's recipe is worth the time. Rod and I thought it was the best we'd ever tasted. Yes, we went back for seconds! 

Cowboy Lasagne





Trisha's Note: 

In my introduction to Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, I mentioned that Garth had recently asked me about trying to create a heartier, meatier lasagne, and we started experimenting. Here's what we came up with. Remember those old commercials that said, "How do you handle a hungry man?" Well, here's how! Serves 12

1 pound lean ground beef, chuck or round
1 pound sage-flavored sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sliced pepperoni
1 16-ounce can tomatoes, diced or stewed
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
16 ounces lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, heavy skillet, lightly brown the ground beef, sausage, onion, and garlic in the oil. Be sure to keep the meat chunky, not finely separated, while cooking. Drain the meat. Add the pepperoni, tomatoes, tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, and oregano. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Cook and drain the lasagna noodles according to package directions.

In a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan, spread 1 cup of the prepared sauce. Alternate layers of lasagna, sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses, ending with  sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbling. Allow the dish to stand for 15 minutes before serving. Cut the lasagne into 3-inch squares and serve.

My notes:

I used Sweet Italian sausage and eliminated the pepperoni altogether.

I accidentally bought a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, which I used, so I reduced the amount of water by 1/2 cup.

I allowed the sauce to simmer for a couple of hours rather than 30 minutes.

I only used half a package of lasagna noodles (9 rather than 18).

I brought the water to a boil and began cooking the noodles prior to preparing the sauce.

I saved a little time by using some of the precooked sausage I had stashed in the freezer for our weekly pizzas.

After draining the cooked noodles, I placed them on a large piece of aluminum foil to cool.

I find it very easy to spread the ricotta cheese on the cooled noodles while they are still on the foil. The noodles stick to the foil nicely so they don't slide around while trying to smooth out the ricotta and yet are easily peeled away from the foil when ready to transfer them to the prepared dish as I'm ready to assemble the lasagne.

April 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday



Rhododendron

River Birch Tree


Hostas

Peonies

Oakleaf Hydangea


Early April. Time to head out again. There are already a lot of changes!

April 22, 2012

Gone



Jack Caffery Series #5
Mystery/Thriller
2012 Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Finished 4/14/12
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)



Publisher’s Blurb:

A car has been stolen. A car with an eleven-year-old girl in the backseat. When the call comes in, Detective Jack Caffery is sure it’s a routine carjacking, and the girl will turn up once the thief realizes his mistake. But as the minutes tick down, Caffery is faced with the sickening truth: the girl was the target. And then the carjacker strikes again.

Meanwhile, police diver Sergeant Flea Marley is pursuing her own theory of the case, and what she finds in an abandoned, half-submerged tunnel could put her in grave danger. The carjacker is always a step ahead of the Major Crime Investigation Unit, and as the chances for his victims grow slimmer, Jack and Flea race to fit the pieces together in time. Chilling and captivating, Gone is Mo Hayder at her terrifying best.

I was not familiar with Mo Hayder until one of my regular customers at work loaned me her copy of Gone, urging me to read it as soon as possible. I packed it for my trip to Hawaii, but never got around to reading it. I wound up loaning it to my mom (also an avid reader and lover of mysteries) while we were there and she read it in a day and a half!

Now that I’ve finished the book, I understand why my friend was so insistent that I not wait to read it (and how my mom was able to read it in less than two days). It’s brilliant and quite possibly the most compulsive thriller I’ve read since Tana French’s The Likeness and Faithful Place. I would have finished much more quickly than the three (!!) weeks it took, but I wanted to savor each and every chapter, not wanting to rush as the end drew near, and not wanting to miss critical details as they were were revealed.

Like Tana French, Hayder is a superb storyteller. Her characters and setting are well-drawn and her plotting is tight, with a conclusion that is not at all convoluted. This is literally an unputdownable read. One night, plagued with insomnia, I curled back up with the book and read from 1 to 3 a.m. This fast-paced thriller had me on the edge of my seat, my pulse racing, knowing I should try to go back to sleep, yet unable to stop reading. The tension in one of the scenes reminded me of Silence of the Lambs and had this been a movie, I would’ve had my eyes half-covered. I even got a little spooked as I climbed the stairs to our dark bedroom! In spite of a couple of clues, which I did pick up on, she kept me guessing and threw in a couple of surprises unrelated to the perfect denouement.

Final Thoughts: I have a new favorite author. Thankfully, she has a decent backlist and for once I don’t care if I’ve read a series out of order. I’m hooked and ready for another!

“One of those books that dares you to put it down once you’ve started reading and then challenges you to forget it once you have finished…. The only way you can read Gone without having every nerve in your body jumping and screaming is if you are not paying attention…. Hayder is a storyteller par excellence… [who] continues to drop charges into the water until practically the last paragraph. If you have read her previous works, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to her craftsmanship, read Gone and be enthralled. Strongly recommended.” (Bookreporter.com)





April 16, 2012

A Duty to the Dead



A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
Mystery
2009 BBC Audiobooks America
Reader: Rosalyn Landor
Finished 3/29/12
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)




From the author’s website:

From the brilliantly imaginative New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd comes an unforgettable new character in an exceptional new series.

England, 1916. Independent-minded Bess Crawford’s upbringing is far different from that of the usual upper-middle-class British gentlewoman. Growing up in India, she learned the importance of responsibility, honor, and duty from her officer father. At the outbreak of World War I, she followed in his footsteps and volunteered for the nursing corps, serving from the battlefields of France to the doomed hospital ship Britannic.

On one voyage, Bess grows fond of the young, gravely wounded Lieutenant Arthur Graham. Something rests heavily on his conscience, and to give him a little peace as he dies, she promises to deliver a message to his brother. It is some months before she can carry out this duty, and when she’s next in England, she herself is recovering from a wound.

When Bess arrives at the Graham house in Kent, Jonathan Graham listens to his brother’s last wishes with surprising indifference. Neither his mother nor his brother Timothy seems to think it has any significance. Unsettled by this, Bess is about to take her leave when sudden tragedy envelops her. She quickly discovers that fulfilling this duty to the dead has thrust her into a maelstrom of intrigue and murder that will endanger her own life and test her courage as not even war has.


I listened to this audio production for exactly one month. It probably wouldn’t have taken me quite so long, but I was on vacation for 10 of those days and didn’t have an opportunity to listen to the book. I enjoyed my introduction to this mother-son writing duo (Caroline and Charles Todd) and their charming character, Bess Crawford. The time period (World War I) and locale brought to mind Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and my overall reaction was similar; I enjoyed getting to know the characters and love the references to England, but the mystery didn’t keep me up at night, nor did it call to me while I was otherwise occupied. The characters are well-rounded and believable, but I prefer a compelling thriller over the more gentle mystery that is typically found in these old-fashioned sort of stories. Not that any murder is gentle, but the tension is never quite as taut as I’ve found in works by Tana French, Mo Hayder, Harlan Coben and Cody McFadyen. With that said, I still plan to continue listening to the Bess Crawford series. She’s a likeable character and I’m anxious to see what the future holds for her.

Final Thoughts: Maisie Dobbs fans will not be disappointed. The similarities are quite strong.


April 14, 2012

Mrs. Bale Reports


It's April and in the Midwest that means there's a high risk for severe weather. When we lived in San Diego, I'd never heard the term "inclement weather." There really wasn't much discussion about the weather and I don't recall paying much attention to the local weather report. We certainly didn't own a weather radio.

It's quite a bit different in Nebraska. We have an emergency plan, of sorts, in mind when spring weather rolls in. Flashlights and the NOAA weather radio get fresh batteries. Important documents, wallets, prescriptions, cash, chargers for cell phones, etc. are moved to the basement. We try to have a supply of bottled watered, nonperishable food, and a first aid kit handy. Not to mention extra clothes, shoes, reading material and wine and/or bourbon. The latter has proven to help with storm-related anxiety! ;)

It looks like it will be a bit stormy this afternoon and tonight, so I'm heading out to the grocery store (which is bound to be crowded, as most people will have the same idea as me). So much for a long bike ride.


April 12, 2012

Life Is Good - March


It's important to recognize and remember the good things in life, so I've decided to make a point of jotting down my monthly blessings.

So what made me smile (or laugh) last month?

  • Hitting the trails on my bike. The weather's been phenomenal! 50 miles logged in March.
  • Temps in the 80s. 'Nuf said.
  • A signed copy of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (followed by several lovely messages via Facebook).
  • A gorgeous long-stem snapdragon from a favorite customer as a thank you for all my book recommendations.
  • Spring flowers blooming early! (Tulips, Bleeding Hearts, Lilacs, etc.)
  • A week in Hawaii with my parents and biking partner.
  • Breakfast with my beautiful daughter (and boyfriend) at the Grand Hyatt DFW.
  • Downton Abbey.
  • Dental insurance for two crowns (his, not mine).
  • Keurig customer service. Replacement with no hassle.

April 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday





Click on photo for larger view

April 9, 2012

Don't Tell a Soul



Don’t Tell a Soul by David Rosenfelt
Mystery/Thriller
2008 St. Martin’s Press
Finished 3/24/12
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)





Publisher’s Blurb:

He was the only eyewitness. Tim Wallace’s wife was killed in a boating accident several months ago—and one New Jersey cop is sure he did it. He didn’t. But even if the police eventually clear his name, he’ll never get over this terrible tragedy.

But the truth is still out there… It’s New Year’s Eve. Tim’s buddies convince him to go out for the first time since his wife’s death. They’re at a local pub when, just before midnight, a drunken stranger approaches Tim—and asks him a compelling question. “Can you keep a secret?”

Soon the man confesses to a months-old murder—even offering as proof the location of the woman’s body. “Now it’s your problem.” He says to Tim before walking away. When the man turns out to have been telling the truth, Tim’s life goes from bad to worse as he is put under the microscope again by the cops—and this time they’re not giving up. But neither is Tim: He is the only one who can figure out what’s really going on—and who murdered his wife…


Meh.

I began Don’t Tell a Soul while holed-up in Hawaii during one of the worst rainstorms the island of Kauai has ever seen. I was immediately drawn into this stand-alone thriller, falling for every red herring tossed into the mix. The fast pace and wry wit were initially appealing, but after a few chapters, I began to grow weary of Rosenfelt’s corny dialogue. I considered tossing the book in the DNF pile, but decided to stick with it; I was hooked just enough so that I wanted to see who was framing Tim. And why.

I had such high hopes for this author! The cheesy writing and one-dimensional characters had me shaking my head in disbelief. I was under the impression that he was another Dennis Lehane or Harlan Coben. I’m hopeful that this disappointment is just a fluke and that his Andy Carpenter series is more polished, peopled with more likeable characters and involves more realistic plots. I know SuziQ is a huge fan of the series and she and I usually enjoy the same sort of books. We shall see!


David Rosenfelt is an Edgar and Shamus Award nominee. In addition to his thrillers, he is the author of nine novels featuring lawyer Andy Carpenter, most recently One Dog Night. He and his wife live in California with their twenty-seven dogs, mostly golden retrievers that they have rescued through the Tara Foundation.

April 8, 2012

The Tapestry of Love



The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton
Fiction
2010 Headline Publishing Group
Finished 3/16/12
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)




Publisher’s Blurb:

A rural idyll: that’s what Catherine is seeking when she sells her house in England and moves to a tiny hamlet in the Cevennes mountains. With her divorce in the past and her children grown, she is free to make a new start, and to set up in business as a seamstress. But this is a harsh and lonely place when you’re no longer here on holiday. There is French bureaucracy to contend with, not to mention the mountain weather, and the reserve of her neighbours, including the intriguing Patrick Castagnol. And that’s before the arrival of Catherine’s sister, Bryony…

It’s been over a year since I first heard about The Tapestry of Love. Iliana, Jenclaire, Nancy and Nan all wrote glowing reviews, piquing my interest in this British novel. Nobody likened it to Rosamunde Pilcher and yet that’s what I had in mind when I finally got around to picking it up. I’d begun the book in mid-February and got stuck about halfway in, not feeling the pull to sit and read for hours on end. I was easily distracted by my upcoming trip to Hawaii, but hating to give up on the book, decided to save it for the trip, hoping to regain some sense of enthusiasm while sitting in an airplane for several hours. Unfortunately, it was a bit too slow and quiet for the long flights. I finally set it aside somewhere over California and moved on to a mystery that grabbed my attention from the opening pages. It was not until I was home (and over my jet lag!) that I returned to Thornton’s story and regained enough interest to complete the book.

I enjoyed parts of the story, but overall I never felt an emotional connection to any of the characters or setting. The pacing, while even, felt too languid and less than compelling. If you’re looking for a plot-driven narrative, this is not the book for you.

I could relate to Catherine’s sleepless nights, as I too have found I am sleeping less and less:

On the hottest nights she gave up the uneven fight. Extracting herself from the clinging sheet, she would go downstairs and read or work—or simply stand at the window and stare up at the canopy of stars, her mind a leaping blank, or across and down into the teeming blackness of the gully. Catherine felt strangely clear-headed on these hot, solitary nights. She found she no longer needed the sleep she had when the children were babies, when she’d have bartered her future for one undisturbed early night. As she grew older, would she need it less and less? With the elderly it seemed to go either way—some slept all the time while others appeared to give it up altogether. If the insomnia of old age was to be like this, it seemed no terrible sentence.


I also appreciated the author’s sentiments on the love for one’s mother: (SPOILER)

How do you remember a mother? Someone who has always been there, from time before memory: a given, a constant presence, once more real than self. How can you think about her the way you would another person? When Catherine closed her eyes, no images came at all but only a warm cocooning scent, and the comfort of arms she would never feel again. And yet when she grasped for it, the scent evaded her, evaporating in the stone and oak and herbs of the kitchen. What was her mother’s smell? She tried to reconstruct it—well-washed wool and soap and that jasmine perfume she wore—but it was gone.


And on grief:

Like a friend, he knew the right questions to ask.

“What made her laugh?” he said…


See what some of my blogmates have to say about this novel:

Just like the other novels by Rosy Thornton that I’ve read what stands out the most for me is that the people feel real. Relationships can be messy but here the characters grow and move on. (Iliana, of Bookgirl’s Nightstand)

I enjoyed the slow pace of the novel as Catherine adjusts to the demands of a new culture and setting. The descriptions are lovely, and I could easily imagine the beauties and difficulties of her new way of life. (Jenclair, of A Garden Carried in the Pocket)

Every place Catherine goes becomes familiar to the reader. Her walks in the woods, the village, the house she visits. I don't know when I've read a book in which I felt so at home because I could really 'see' where I was. Everyone in this tiny place is kind to her, from the postman to the man who mowed her fields, to the shopkeeper. We get to know them, as we also meet the other people in Catherine's life: her children, her sister, her mother who lives in a nursing home, and even her ex-husband. These people weave in and out of her life, just as she weaves her tapestries from which she hopes to make her living in this new place.

I could go on and on praising this truly wonderful book. It gave me one of the most enjoyable reading times I've ever had. I loved it.
(Nan, of Letters from a Hill Farm)


A slow, quiet, beautifully-written book with a touch of romance, some very poignant moments (I cried when she went to talk to her bees, if that means anything to others who've read The Tapestry of Love), plenty of humorous and touchingly realistic moments with Catherine's extended family and a perfectly wrapped-up, satisfying ending. (Nancy, of Bookfoolery and Babble)


Be sure to visit these blogs for their complete reviews, especially Nan’s wonderful “book report,” which includes some lovely photographs of the region.

Final Thoughts: Overall, it was not what I expected, but so much of that could have been a result of bad timing. I’m willing to give one of her other books a try someday.