Monday, 30 September 2013

Witchstruck



Author: Victoria Lamb
Type: Kindle e-book (ARC)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural
Series: #1 in Tudor Witch trilogy
First Published: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Line: "When the power falls on me, it buzzes in the warm, dark spaces of my skull."

Book Description from GoodReads: Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.

Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg's existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn - despite their very different attitudes to her secret.

Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.


Note: My sincere thanks to Harlequin Teen and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  When I initially found this book on NetGalley I was drawn to it because it combined two of my favourite genres: historical fiction and supernatural.  This book wonders what it would have been like if Princess Elizabeth (who later becomes Queen Elizabeth I) had a witch for a maid while she was forced into exile by her sister, Queen Mary (ie. 'Bloody Mary').  
  The 1500's were a very tumultuous time and this was a great premise but unfortunately I didn't feel that there was enough of a supernatural element in the overall story.  Meg never really embraces her magical powers and therefore magic plays a very minor role in the overall plot.  

On the historical fiction side of things there is a lot of political intrigue involving Elizabeth's exile from her sister.  Elizabeth is constantly afraid of being charged with heresy and meeting the same fate as her mother, Anne Boleyn.  The reader gets to see some of the friction between Elizabeth and her half-sister, Queen Mary and just how volatile Elizabeth's fate is while she's in exile.  I liked the fact that the author dives into the very contemptuous issue of Mary (Catholic) versus Elizabeth (Protestant) and yet doesn't spoon feed the reader with her opinions on the subject.  The reader is allowed to make up their own mind as to which side they support. 

But what didn't sit right with me is, with Elizabeth so concerned about her own life I find it hard that she'd want a witch as a her personal maid.  Why take that risk when her sister is looking for any little reason to put her to death?  And to take such a risk on a witch that hardly uses her powers too. 

Overall, the pace was good, the evil Marcus provided some suspense and the punishments doled out to women accused of being witches at times left me a little squeamish.  Unfortunately, the majority of the characters were flat and the story line just wasn't all that interesting.  I was assuming that the bulk of the book would surround Elizabeth but unfortunately she was a very tertiary character.  I would have loved to have been able to get Elizabeth's point of view to make the story well-rounded.  

The bulk of the story was carried by Meg.  For being a witch Meg wasn't very interesting and I honestly didn't really like her that much.  She was naïve and does some rather stupid things that put her and Elizabeth in mortal danger. I guess that Meg is not the heroine that I was expecting and not one that I could truly get behind and support throughout the book.

There was also a romantic element which was sweet but it felt too 'Romeo and Juliet' for me and the male love interest didn't stand out enough for me.  I would have expected someone much more vibrant for Meg to think about a romance with a guy with this man's chosen profession.

This book has its pros and cons but despite some of the weaknesses I'm holding out hope that the future books in this trilogy will bring out a lot more of the magical element of the story.
 My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Leftover Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup

Normally I'm all about making tasty dishes that are pretty easy and fairly fuss-free.  I don't love dishes that take multiple steps and/or have weird, hard to find ingredients -- mainly because I have the attention span of a gnat and I'm lazy.  But sometimes doing a little extra work pays off for your taste buds to make it all worth your while.

For anyone who has ever gone to the infamous and delicious Swiss Chalet here in Canadaland you'll know that they make an awesome 'full of veggies and big ol' chunks of roasted chicken' chicken noodle soup.  Boy 1 adores this soup so I went on a mission to make my own version of this soup for him.  With a little tweaking (a tip that Brad gave me) I turned a good soup into a wicked awesome soup.  Is it the healthiest option? Ummm, I plead the 5th.  But sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and just make a wicked awesome soup. The kind of soup that you find yourself fighting with your spouse over the leftovers. 

Back to the multiple step issue.  For this soup you'll have to start by making my Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken.  Stay with me now!  You're not going to be making that deliciously roasted chicken just for this soup.  Whatcha do is you make two chickens -- eat one of them that night and save one chicken (along with a bunch of the gravy) for this soup.  See, you not only add deliciously moist roasted chicken to your soup but you add the secret ingredient (Brad's idea) -- the nicely spiced gravy as your secret weapon.  It seriously added so much more depth and flavour to the soup because, honestly, gravy has all the flavour and drippings from the chicken!

So, sure it's a multiple step recipe but when you think of it you're saving time by cooking two chickens at once.  You can easily make the chicken stock ahead of time too.  You can use a really good quality chicken broth as a substitute for homemade but you won't get that extra flavour from the chicken bones or the spice from the rub that was put on the roasted chicken.  Making homemade stock (my first time) wasn't hard in the slightest.  It just took time for the stock to simmer so I got other stuff done around the house while it was on the stove.

As Fall and Winter loom ahead I can see The Baking Bookworm family dining on this hearty, 'warm 'yer bones' soup regularly.  Enjoy!


Step One: Cook two chickens using my Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken recipe.  I recommend doing this at least a day before you plan to make the soup.  Reserve one of the chicken carcasses, 2 cups of roasted chicken meat and 1 cup of the gravy.

Step Two: Make your chicken stock from scratch
2 tbsp oil
1 carcass from a roasted chicken (meat removed and saved for later)
12 cups water
3 carrots, medium diced
2 ribs of celery, medium diced
1/2 yellow onion, medium diced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
kosher salt
1 tsp black peppercorns

Break the chicken carcass up into small pieces (using a knife or kitchen scissors). 

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Place carcass pieces into the pot, covering the bottom and cook it for a few minutes, turning occasionally, until carcass pieces are browned.  This is gonna smell awesome!

Place the remaining ingredients into the pot and stir, ensuring that you scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.  Don't forget this step.  Those brown bits are flavourful!! 

Bring broth to a simmer over medium heat -- don't boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer broth for 1 1/2 to 2 hours to help the flavours blend together. 

Using a large slotted spoon remove as much of the chicken/veggies as you can.  Pour the remainder of the chicken stock through a fine sieve to remove any small pieces/bones and veggies.  Discard (green waste) the bones and veggies.  You should have about 6 cups of broth. 

Cool your chicken broth to room temperature and skim off the scum layer. You can either refrigerate the broth now (to use within three days), use immediately to make soup or freeze chicken stock for later use (within 1 month of freezing).

Step Three: Make Soup
6 cups of chicken broth (homemade or the best quality you can find)
2 carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 medium yellow onion
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper
1 cup egg noodles, uncooked
2 cups chicken meat, coarsely chopped from Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken
1 cup chicken gravy from Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken

Over medium-high heat bring your chicken stock to a simmer.  Add the carrots, celery, onions, thyme, 1 tsp Kosher salt and pepper (to taste).  Return to a simmer then reduce heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, approximately 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook egg noodles according to package instructions until they are al dente.  Drain and rinse with cool water.  Set aside.

Shred reserved roasted chicken meat into small pieces.

Add cooked noodles, chicken meat and reserved chicken gravy to the soup and simmer.  Cook for approximately 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper according to taste. 

Serve with:
- Green salad
- Herb and Garlic Topped Rosemary Bread or Bread Maker Crusty Loaf

Inspired by: Chow.com's Easy Chicken Noodle Soup from a Leftover Roasted Chicken

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Third Grave Dead Ahead (#3 in Charley Davidson series)



Author: Darynda Jones
Genre: Supernatural Mystery
Type: Hardcover (library)
Series: #3 in Charley Davidson supernatural mystery series
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: 2012
First Line: "There was a dead clown sitting in my living room."

Book Description from GoodReadsParanormal private eye. Grim reaper extraordinaire. Whatever. Charley Davidson is back! And she's drinking copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake because every time she closes her eyes she sees him: Reyes Farrow, the part-human, part-supermodel son of Satan.

Granted she did imprison Reyes for all eternity, but how is she supposed to solve a missing-persons case, deal with an ego-driven doctor, calm her curmudgeonly dad, and take on a motorcycle gang hell-bent on murder when the devil's son just won't give up on his plan of seduction..... and revenge?


My Review:  I'm having a hard time reviewing this book.  While there was the typical humour and a decent mystery I also have a hard time with some of the characters, their relationships as well as the lagging pace.

Unfortunately, what I loved about the first books in the series is starting to feel very stagnant.  While I liked the mystery of Charley finding the missing woman in this book, it's the secondary plots that were very underwhelming.  It felt like this book was more of a 'filler book'.  Yes, the dreaded filler book.  There was a lot of repetition -- 


***************** SPOILER FOR FIRST TWO BOOKS IN SERIES  *******************


-- ok, we know Reyes is the son of Satan and that Charley needs to "learn what she is capable of" -- and this really bogged down the storyline.  Just tell us and get on with it! 

Reyes is still ticked off and nasty towards the woman she supposedly loves and Charley is still throwing out one-liners which were funny in the beginning of the series but are starting to get old fast .  

I'd love it if Charley grew up a bit emotionally. She's still floundering as she attempts to find herself and understand her powers. She also seems to get over being hurt by the people who love her really quickly (her father betraying her, her sister suddenly buddy-buddy with Charley after years of ignoring her, Reyes' actions ...) and to me that makes her a very weak and hard to like main character.  I also question some of her choices which take on a very serious, selfish tone as she drives erratically (even hitting a phone pole) because she hasn't slept in weeks.  How am I supposed to get behind a character like that?

Then there's Reyes.  I've made no secret that I'm not a huge fan of this guy.  I want more for Charley but I guess it takes more than a nice washboard stomach to convince me a guy is good for me.  Reyes is borderline abusive towards Charley and I hate that part of him. 

That said, I'm pretty sure the author was going more for a bad boy/alpha male/brooding kind of character.  I just don't think she successfully wrote Reyes that way.  {There is a right way to write a great, strong alpha male lead.  Clay (from the Women of the Underworld series by Kelley Armstrong - see the first book called 'Bitten') portrays that strong, alpha male character so much better.}  Reyes comes off as a jerk to me and utterly toxic to Charley.  Not someone I find attractive at all.  But apparently the man can do whatever he wants to Charley as long as he flashes his pecs to make Charley melt into a puddle of simpering girliness and all is forgiven.  Say wha??  {Feminism please take a giant step backwards}. 

I'm honestly rooting for Charley to find someone else instead of Reyes.  In this book Charley does everything within her power to stay awake so she doesn't get 'visited' by Reyes while she sleeps.  The woman is afraid of this man she supposedly is in love with and miserable when he's around.  So, how am I, the reader, supposed to get behind a pretty abusive relationship and root for them as a couple?  I can't.  I just can't.

Unfortunately the negatives about this book are starting to seem like they're going to overshadow the 'positives' very soon.  While I still enjoyed this book I really hope that the author gets back on track for her fourth book in the series.  While the mystery storyline was good, most of the attention focused on the toxic relationship between Charley and Reyes I'm really hoping that the fourth book in this series will turn things around.  Otherwise I think I'll be taking a pass on the fifth and future books.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Household Tips & Tricks to Save Sanity, Time and Money

As I mentioned on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, I've been wanting to write a blog post that showcases some of the things that I do to make life at home easier.  Whether it's ways to save money, cook a hard-boiled egg perfectly or getting rid of fruit flies.  We all have little tricks of the trade to save our sanity and time at home so why not share them so we can all be sane together?

After thinking about what I do at home I came up with a fairly healthy list of tips and tricks.  I also got some great tips on my Facebook page from some of my readers which I have added to the list as well. 

We can all use a little less time cleaning and cooking and more time saving money and hanging with our families, right?  If you have some tips that aren't mentioned here I'd love it if you'd leave a comment.  I'll add them to the list!

So, without further adieu here's the list.

Saving Money
  1. Stock up on sale items:  You don't have to stock up like the apocalypse is on the horizon (like one of my dear sisters) but if cheese blocks or butter is on sale, stock up! Butter can easily be frozen (I do it all the time) and block cheese lasts a long time in your fridge. In fact, I typically only buy cheese when it's on sale.  Also, items like Kraft Dinner, canned beans or spaghetti sauce will last a good long time too so if you see them on sale grab a few extra cans to last you until the next sale.  I keep my excess stock on some shelves in my basement.
  2. Buy in bulk: I adore saving money so I like to buy things like my favourite coffee (President's Choice - 'Great Canadian' coffee) by the case and big trays of meat at Costco then divide it into smaller family-sized portions.  But shelling out big bucks for more doesn't always make sense financially.  Sometimes you really don't save much money buying more at one time.  So, being the geek that I am, I wrote the date on my gigantic roll of aluminum foil to see how long the costly $25 roll lasted us.  It was worth it because we began the roll back on October 16, 2010 and we just ran out a couple of days ago. Worth it!!
  3. FIFO (First In, First Out):  There's nothing worse than saving money by buying in bulk only to buy too much and end up green wasting/throwing it out in the long run.  Make sure you keep your pantry, fridge and freezer organized by using the oldest items first.  I keep mine organized based on my McDonald's training that I learned so many years ago.  Front to back, left to right is how I use my canned goods, frozen foods etc.
  4. Brad's Budget: My husband, Brad came up with a home budget for us years ago and it really changed how we dealt with money.  It's all done in an Excel spreadsheet (he is a total Excel guru) and my sisters use it too.  The essence of his budget is that we pay our bills up front -- right on Pay Day.  See, Brad looked at how much we spent for: our utilities, food, gas, kids' recreational stuff, clothing, Christmas present money etc over the past year.  He then averaged each bill (usually a little on the high side) for each month.  Our total averaged expense amount is then taken out of our Chequing Account and put into our Bill Payment Account right after we get paid.  That way we know how much money we have left (after our usual expenses) each pay.  At the end of the year we typically have a nice sum left over in the Bill Payment account because we over-estimated a bit which we can then use for whatever we want.  We like it because we have no big surprises to sneak up on us.
  5. Using President's Choice Points (or similar food store points): Generally speaking, I'm not a big supporter of points/airline cards but I do adore PC.  We have all of our financial stuff there (mortgage, bank accounts, bill payments etc).  What I love even more than their PC food products is the fact that they give me points that I can use towards buying more food or any housewares or clothes that they sell.  I get points for paying bills, using my debit card and even bringing my own reusable bags.  But since we have Brad's trusty budget (see above) and the food that I'm buying on a weekly basis is already budgeted for I opt to use our points differently.  Whenever I redeem points (we accrue about $90 every 6 weeks) I then take out the amount I just redeemed  out in cash and put it in a 'fun fund'.  This past summer we took the kids to a Niagara Falls waterpark for a couple of days just on the money I saved for half a year with PC and the money from our garage sale.  It's what I like to call "Free Money" and I luuuurve it.  Saving money that you get for just paying bills and bringing cloth bags???  Kinda cool.  I'm now saving for a countertop for over my washer/dryer.  Ya, I like to dream big, people!
  6. Checkout 51:  I'm not sure if this app is only available in Canada but it's a great way to save a few bucks here and there.  My friend Jackie told me about it and here's how it works.  You get the free app for your smart phone and sign up.  Checkout 51 sends you a list of about 8-10 items every Thursday morning.  If you buy one of the items (deals are only given on one of each item per week) you keep your receipt.  When you get home use your phone to scan the receipt (this is done within the app with really easy instructions).  Once the receipt is scanned you just check off the item(s) that you bought and it's sent in to Checkout 51 automatically.  A little while later you'll get an email saying that the amount that you saved has been added to your account.  Once you get at least $20 in savings you can ask for a cheque to be issued.  I have $42.50 saved over the summer alone and I only buy items that my family needs.  More free money for our family fun fund!  Plus if you can find an item that's already on sale at the store you still get the discount at Checkout 51.  I got Advil pain medicine more than 50% off a few weeks ago. Not too shabby for a free app!
  7. Gail Vax-Oxlade's 'Magic Jars':  Stephanie, one of my blog readers, likes to use this method to budget for her expenses like food, entertainment and transportation.  Basically you have several jars (each for a different expense) and you budget a certain amount of cash for each expense.  So instead of using credit you're using only cash to buy things.  You can visually see how much money you have left to spend for food, clothing etc so you can see when you need to back off on the spending.  It's a great way to not use credit and I love that you can see your savings grow! For more info on these magical jars you can check it out here.

Kitchen Organizing/Tips
  1. Stop your pasta or potato pot from boiling over: Add a bit (1 tsp or so) of butter or margarine to a pot of boiling pasta to stop it from overflowing
  2. Fresh rolled oats and flour: Keep oats and flour (that you don't use often) in your freezer to keep it fresher and so that you don't get little nits in it.  Nits are nasty!
  3. Remove egg shells easier from hard-boiled eggs: Add about 1 tsp of baking soda to the water when you hard boil eggs to make removing the shells a lot easier. No ugly looking deviled eggs!
  4. Boil the perfect hard-boiled egg: Place your eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cool water.  Add about 1 tsp of baking soda to the water.  Heat the eggs on high heat on your stovetop.  Once the water gets to a rolling boil (large bubbles) remove the pan from the heat, cover the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes.  Drain the hot water and pour cold water over the eggs.  Let them sit in the cool water for 5 minutes so you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.  Remove shells immediately.
  5. Fruit Fly Killer: Pour a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a shallow dish.  Put a couple of drips of liquid dish soap into the vinegar and set it out.  The vinegar will attract the fruit flies and the soap will coat their wings so they can't fly away. Some people opt to put plastic wrap over the dish but I find it works well without.
  6. To keep your berries fresher: Place your fruit in a clean sink or very large bowl.  Fill with cool water until fruit is floating.  Add 1 cup of white vinegar and mix.  Allow this to sit for 5 minutes.  Remove fruit and rinse with cool water.  Pat fruit dry and place in your fridge.  The vinegar kills the bacteria that is naturally on the fruit so that it slows down the aging of the fruit.  You don't taste the vinegar on your fruit either.
  7. Use Tupperware's 'Fridge Smart Containers':  I was astounded at how long these containers keep produce fresher.  By following the chart and opening or closing the slots depending on what produce you're putting in the container you can extend the life of your produce.  No more limp green onions or celery and my strawberries last a lot longer too.
  8. Get rid of the garlic or onion smell from your hands: Rub oniony or garlicy hands on stainless to remove the smell. I went online to find out exactly why this happens and as far as I can see here's the explanation: Stinky foods like garlic and onions contain sulfur molecules.  When you're cutting onions or garlic those molecules are transferred to your skin and are hard to get rid of.  But, when you rub your fingers on stainless steel -- your kitchen sink, a spoon -- under a bit of water, those sulfur molecules bind to the stainless molecules.  This means that the smell is also transferred to the stainless making you, once again, have lovely smelling digits.
  9. Make homemade pie crust dough ahead of time:  Make your pie crust dough and roll it into a ball.  Wrap it in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag and freeze until you need it.  Here's a link to my No-Fail Pie Crust recipe.
  10. Make cookie dough balls ahead of time:  Using a melon baller (or your hands) place the  cookie dough balls on a parchment paper-lined baking tray and freeze them.  Then pop them into a Ziploc freezer bag, label it and freeze for future Cookie Emergencies.  Serious stuff, those Cookie Emergencies!
  11. Freeze extra chicken/beef broth and wine.  Freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays for later use in sauces, stews or soups.  Once they're frozen, remove them from the trays and place in a labelled Ziploc freezer bag.
  12. Marinate meat before you freeze it:  I regularly do this after a big Costco run.  It's more work in the short term but in the long term you have lots of marinated meat ready to go for future suppers.  You not only have part of your meal already prepped but as the meat thaws it will marinate in the delicious marinade creating an even better tasting dish!  Check out my Greek Chicken Marinade or Easy Marinated Port Loin Chips to use with this technique.
  13. Bulk Cook: Make large batch meals ahead of time (I just made my Spaghetti with Mega Meat Sauce and Kitchen Sink Chili last week and froze it for future, frantic 'what the heck am I going to make for supper??' kind of nights.  Freeze meal-size portions in large Ziploc freezer bags -- label and date them!  Lie them flat in your freezer until they are frozen then stack them in your freezer for future use.  Freezing them flat makes it easier to get more frozen meals in a smaller space too!
  14. Make muffin batter ahead of time:  Pour the batter into muffin tins lined with muffin papers.  Freeze your batter in the tins.  Remove the individual frozen muffins from the tin and place them in a Ziploc freezer bag.  Remove as much air from the bag as you can (I use a straw to suck out the excess air).  Label them and pop them into your freezer.  When you're ready to bake just pop the muffins in the oven and add about 5 extra minutes.  This way you can bake different kinds of muffins at the same time
  15. Recycle your Green Waste!!:  Do your part by recycling all food, Kleenex, paper towels, coffee grounds/filters ....  See more about this in Home Organizing below
  16. Ready-to-bake Bananas!: One of my besties, Lisa, suggests premashing 3 or 4 of those brown and sad bananas on your counter and put them into a freezer bag.  That way they're ready to use to make fresh banana bread!
  17. Lock and Lock Containers: Not really a tip but these containers (made by Starfrit) are, hands down, my favourite food storage containers.  Love 'em because they don't leak and they have rectangular containers which look so darn nice in my pantry.
Home Organizing/Time Saving
  1. Colour code your kids:  Like my mother before me I have colour coded my kids.  Boy 1 is green, Boy 2 is blue and Missy Moo is the clichéd girly pink.  There is a method to my obvious madness.  See, this way I know who has left their wet towels on the floor, who left their water bottle on the table and whose backpack is lying in the laundry room.  Their colour is also used in my daily planner in my iPhone so, at a quick glance, I can see who has something on the go on a certain day. 
  2. Use a shopping app:  I adore my iShopi app to keep a running list for various stores.  On my iShopi app I have lists for the food store, Costco, Canadian Tire, Dollarama, Walmart etc.  I adore this app and literally use it every day.  I just wish that I could arrange my food list according to the aisles in my main food store.  Yes, I am a total geek/control freak but my old shopping app had that option and I loved it.  Made shopping that much easier if I could go aisle to aisle.
  3. Green Recycling: I keep a metal bowl at the ready for when I'm cooking/baking.  That way I can easily throw my scraps into the bowl and then pop them into my green waste bin in the garage all in one fell swoop.
  4. Install a can crusher near your recycling bins: Brad installed one in my walk-in pantry right beside our recycling bins so we can easily crush the cans before setting them in the bins.  Saves a lot of room if you're big pop drinkers.
  5. Shopping Bins/Bags:  I keep the vast majority of my shopping bins and bags in the back of my Loser Cruiser (minivan) so that I always have some non-plastic bags at the ready.
  6. Sorting Laundry: In our walk-in closet, Brad and I have three tall, narrow laundry bins.  A white one for whites, a navy one for darks and a green one for colours.  That way I can easily grab a bin and not have to sort through dirty clothes.  Ew.  My friend Nicole, mother of 5 boys, has a LOT of laundry to do each week.  To save her sanity, she does one load for each boy.  Most of her boys' clothing is dark anyway and by eliminating the sorting issue she saves herself a lot of time and sanity!
  7. Green Waste Recycling: Green waste recycling isn't just for food waste, people!  In all of our bathrooms we have two bins.  One for garbage and one labelled Kleenex.  We're a snotty nosed group of people and go through a lot of Kleenex/paper towel in a week.  Once our green waste has been picked up we put a new, large paper bag in our green bin.  Then one of my kids collects all of the Kleenex containers from the bathrooms and pours them into the green bin.  This way, once you start putting wet, sloppy food waste in your bin the Kleenex will soak up the wetness and your food waste bag won't freeze to your bin in the middle of winter or just be utterly nasty in the summer.  Seriously.  Try this.  It has saved our sanity.
  8. Meal plan! :  Meal planning (on a good week I usually only plan 5 suppers/week to leave room for leftover nights) is a great way to save money (you only buy what you need) and time (there's no 'what are we having for supper tonight?' which typically ends up in the pizza delivery guy arriving on my doorstep).  My follower, April, likes using the Meal Board app to plan her meals.
  9. Household Binder: Keeping all important info at your finger tips saves a lot of time and sanity.  You can use it for your kids' school info, babysitter information, important phone numbers/emails, cleaning lists, chore lists, extracurricular activities ...
  10. Chores for your kids:  People seem surprised that my kids have daily chores.  Some chores, like keeping their rooms neat and cleaning up after themselves, are expected to be done just because they're part of the family.  Others, like vacuuming, dusting, walking the dog, prepping garbages/recycling each week, mowing the lawn, cleaning bathrooms, laundry .... are assigned on a daily basis.  Our kids get an allowance but it's not linked to doing chores.  Giving kids chores teaches them that: A) we don't have a house elf on staff to do all the work, B) they learn how to do things for themselves, like cook a simple meal, do their laundry, clean a bathroom, C) learn how much work it entails to run a home and hopefully respect how much time their beloved parents put into keeping a nice home for them.
  11. Nag White Board for Communication:  I use this board, located in our laundry room on the main floor, to communicate with the kids their daily chores or to tell them where I am if I'm out.  The kids, in turn, are to write on the board if they go to a friend's house while Brad and I are gone.  A good way to communicate and to gently remind kids of their responsibilities.
Health
  1. Onions can help relieve flu symptoms.  While I haven't tried this yet, this tip intrigues me.  The World Health Organization has recognized onions as being able to relieve some flu symptoms like coughing and congestion.  Some people believe that leaving a cut onion on the bedside table of a sick person can cause the onion to absorb the germs from the air.  Once the onion loses its scent or becomes discoloured it's done all it can in the way of germ collection and should be exchanged with a new onion.  Onions are high in sulfuric compounds, like thiosulfinates, which have been known to kill salmonella and even E. coli and play a role in heart disease and cancer prevention by boosting immune response.  Onions are not only tasty but can be very healthful too! (source)
  2. Keep a First Aid Kit prepped and handy:  We keep ours in a medium-sized plastic container with a lid so it's portable and we re-stock it several times per year.
  3. Medicine Container:  We keep it in a medium-sized plastic container with a lid so it's portable.  Plus, keeping all medication in one spot, high in our bathroom closet, is a safer way to keep it out of reach of small hands.
  4. Purge old medication regularly: Go through your medications every time your change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
So, there are all of the tips and tricks that I can think of that I, and some of my blog readers, use to keep our sanity and help our homes run smoothly.  If you have any other ideas please leave them as a comment and I'll add them as soon as I can. 

Note: Any products that I have mentioned or endorsed above, Tupperware, Lock and Lock, iPhone apps etc, were endorsed because I love the product.  Sadly, I wasn't compensated to endorse them. ;)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Creamy Parmesan Orzo with Veggies

It's finally September and I *think* that the Bookworm family is back in the swing of things.  The kids are in school, I've filled out the mountain of paperwork for each of the kids (who, I might add, are in three different schools this year).  I have also resumed my regular work schedule and all of the craziness of extracurricular activities commences.

It's weeks like last week (the first week of school here) that make me long for the lazy days of summer when I only had to nag my kids to eat breakfast before it technically became afternoon.  When driving to my parents' for a swim was the most strenuous thing I did all day ... unless you count getting dressed in something other than a bathing suit and cover-up.  Oh summer, wherefore art thou?!?  I'll take the kid arguments and the 'I'm boooored's if I can get back those lazy, less crazy days.  Sadly, I think summer is on it's way out.

Although I'll miss our summer lack of schedule I will admit that I've been looking forward to some major fall cooking.  Stews, roasts, chilis .... delish!  That said cooking doesn't have to take a lot of time.  During the 4 out of 5 weekdays when our kids have something going on I have to have suppers that are fairly easy to prep and make.  Well, I don't 'have to' but it makes holding onto my sanity that much easier if supper comes together with less fuss.

This is a recipe that I whipped up during the summer and Brad and I loved it.  My suspicious spawn were less thrilled with it at first glance.  See, my kids just don't trust orzo.  It looks like rice but it's a pasta ... and this fact confuses some of my kids.  These are the kids who abhor rice and who therefore look upon wee orzo with very suspicious stink eyes. 

But, I came to the table armed with a plan.  I figured the Parmesan and bacon would entice them enough to try this dish with less than normal fuss ... and I was right.  I will admit that they ate around the julienned pieces of zucchini and mushrooms (a miracle worker orzo is not) but I'll take what I can get.

This is a pretty easy and fairly quick meal that you can whip up after you get home from taking Kid 1 to the dentist but before you rush Kid 2 out the door for hockey practice and Kid 3 to swimming lessons.


1 1/4 cup orzo pasta, uncooked
6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups precooked chicken cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8oz white mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small zucchini, julienned
1 tsp thyme
4 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into small cubes
1 cup of the reserved pasta water
1 1/2 cups baby spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
juice from 1/2 lemon

Bring water in a large pot to a boil.  Add orzo and cook according to package directions until it is tender.  Reserve 1 cup of the water you just cooked the orzo in and set aside.  Drain orzo, rinse well with cool water and set aside.

As the orzo is cooking, in a large skillet sauté the bacon over medium heat until cooked but not crispy.  Remove cooked bacon to a paper towel-lined dish and set aside.  Remove all but approximately 2 teaspoons of bacon drippings from the pan.  Add precooked chicken pieces (I used frozen, precooked chicken so I sautéed it a little longer to get rid of the excess moisture).  Brown chicken on all sides, the add the red bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic.  Cook for 3 minutes then add the julienned zucchini and the thyme and continue cooking for another 2 minutes or until the peppers and zucchini have slightly softened.  

Add the cream cheese cubes to the chicken mixture and stir until the cream cheese has melted and is mixed well with the chicken and vegetables.  Add the reserved pasta water, baby spinach, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and allow the mixture to thicken up a bit.

Add cooked orzo, Parmesan cheese and fresh lemon juice.  Stir well and serve with additional black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Firespell


Author: Chloe Neill
Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult
Type: Paperback
Pages: 246
Series: #1 in Dark Elite series
Series Order:
  1. Firespell (2010)
  2. Hexbound (2011)
  3. Charmfall (2012)
Source: Public Library
First Published: January 2010
Publisher: Signet
First Line: "They were gathered around a conference table, in a high-rise, eight men and women, no one under the age of sixty-five, all of them wealthy beyond measure."

Book Description from GoodReads: When Lily Parker's guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, Lily was shocked. So was St. Sophia's.

As the new girl at the elite St. Sophia's boarding school, Lily is surrounded by an ultra-rich brat pack. She's pretty sure her spoiled, petty, fashion-obsessed classmates are the most monstrous things she'll have to face, and surviving them and their cruel practical jokes is proving even tougher than the homework...

But on top of being the punch line to every joke, Lily's hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building. All building have their creaks and groans - but Lily could swear that she's being watched.

The only thing keeping her sane, so far, is her roommate Scout. But something strange is going on there too - Scout keeps disappearing late at night, reappearing bruised and tired, and she won't tell Lily where's she's been... until, that is, a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school. Lost in the dark Lily hears footsteps heading towards her - it's Scout and she's running from a real monster.

Scout is part of a group of rebel teens with unique magical talents, sworn to protect the city against demons, vampires, and Reapers: magic users who've been corrupted by their power. Much as Lily would love to help, it's too dangerous without powers of her own - especially if she'd have to go up against the firespell herself...


My Review: Oh my, oh my.  Where do I begin?  Let's just jump into the quagmire that is Firespell, shall we?  This book is lacking in so very many areas.  The storyline lags, the characters don't develop, it's supernatural and but isn't believable enough and there's not enough suspense or direction of the story.  I make it sound enticing, no?

If you haven't guessed, I felt very underwhelmed by this book if not downright let down.  I'm all for the supernatural/young adult read, you know I am, but this book just didn't cut it for me.  I picked up this book on a whim from my local library because the description sounded similar to P.C and Kristin Cast's "House of Night" series (a Harry Potter-like boarding school but for teen vampires ...) which I enjoyed.   {NOTE: For my review of the first House of Night book, Marked, click HERE}  Unfortunately this book didn't come close to the energy, storylines or characters of the first few books of the House of Night series.  It actually felt like a book that a tween would read instead of a 'young adult/teen'.  I may be a 40 year old mom but I do like a good YA read but a tween read?  Um, no.

I think that the biggest issue that I had with the book stemmed from the length of the book.  With only 246 pages there wasn't enough time to develop the storyline or characters.  There are a lot of issues that are brought up but nothing seems resolved.  Nor do we see the characters develop.  Lily begins the book more independent than she acts later on in the book.  She turns into a naïve, illogical flake that makes stupid decisions to trust certain people who literally just threw her under the proverbial bus a day before.  Say wha?? Um no. That's not the way it works, nor how I want a main character to behave.

I will say that writing good, believable banter between characters is hard and I will admit that I'm picky.  It has to feel real and not forced or fake.  Unfortunately, the banter between Lily and Scout felt very awkward and kind of lame.  The fact that these two very different girls become instant BFFs was far from believable and their 'banter' was very outdated.  What modern teen uses the term 'brat pack'??  That's a term from the 80's.  I should know because I adored "The Breakfast Club" which pretty much coined the term!

Overall, I felt frustrated with this book.  There was no depth to the characters, storyline or setting.  Plus, the powers of these youth are too vague and just lack overall oomph. I struggled to care about the characters and the storyline but just couldn't muster enough energy.  This book lacked in pretty much all aspects, I'm sad to say.

Not recommended.

My Rating: 1/5 stars

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