Monthly Archives: August 2013

Two for the Ladies… Maybe

Some books are just meant to be especially for men or women, and here are two that really are best for us ladies. So brew a cup of tea, curl up, and escape.

ImageNone of us at the library had heard much about The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café before it arrived, but on the top of the lovely cover, James Patterson wrote: “If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,… you will devour The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café.” We all immediately put holds on it, since all of the copies in front of us were on hold for patrons. The anticipation was delicious.

I wonder if Mr. Patterson has actually read either Guernsey or Irresistible Blueberry, since we cannot figure out the connection. Guernsey is an epistolary novel and Blueberry has a few letters in it, and they both have romances. That’s about it. However, this debut novel by Mary Simses is a very sweet read. Big-shot Manhattan lawyer travels to Maine to deliver a letter from her recently-deceased grandmother to her grandmother’s first love. While there, she walks out onto an old dock, falls through the rotted timbers, and is caught in a riptide. Just before she drifts out to sea forever, she is rescued by a hunky construction worker, and her feelings for him shake up her neatly planned life as the fiancée of an aspiring politician in New York. While visiting the tiny seaside town, she finds out fascinating details of a grandmother she only thought she knew. This book is exactly what you think it will be, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered, isn’t it?

ImageOn the other hand, Longbourn, by Jo Baker, was not at all what I expected it to be. I’ve been reading Jane Austen devotedly for forty years now, and anyone who hears my hour-long rant about the ignorance of the producers and directors of the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice will know that I am a purist. However, Longbourn— a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from a servant’s point of view— received so many starred reviews that I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance reader’s copy. In the beginning, I was very glad to know that there was an author out there who was ready to answer today’s readers’ burning questions, such as, “How did those women wear thin, white dresses every day of the month?” As we went on, though, I began to think that Ms. Baker had read Pride and Prejudice, became furious that we were all so enamored of Jane Austen, and set out to write a rebuttal. As a story, Longbourn is wonderful. We see all of the events of P&P, with the added benefit of the downstairs soap opera, much like Downton Abbey. In a blaze of political correctness, however, Ms. Baker twists events and characters to showcase racism, slavery, classicism, homophobia, pedophilia, male domination, and the horrors of war. About two-thirds of the way through, we suddenly leave the quiet village life of England and land on the front lines of the Napoleonic Wars. Jarring.

Our current desire to shred the character of anyone we’ve admired from the past betrays a completely unwarranted smugness about our current state of societal virtue. Human beings and civilizations have never been perfect, and we have managed to turn a blind eye to shocking evils in every age. Slavery was not outlawed in England until 1833, sixteen years after Jane Austen died. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and of the 11 million Africans who were transported on slave ships, 1.4 million died horrible deaths en route.* This is almost exactly the same number of our own children we slaughter by abortion every single year in the United States alone. We have not evolved.

As for the starred reviews, Longbourn is a beautifully written, engrossing story with more than one heartbreaking romance. Perhaps the professional reviewers applaud political correctness, as well. If you love Jane Austen, and are better than I am about glossing over anachronisms, you may truly enjoy it.

*Note: These dates were verified by the William Wilberforce article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce. For an excellent study of the abolition of the slave trade in England, see Eric Metaxas’ biography of Wilberforce, Amazing Grace.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Café and an advance reader copy of Longbourn. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Recent Success Stories from My Low-Carb Kitchen

While I have not been writing much lately, I have been cooking up a storm. I’ve had a few breakthroughs and found some new products that I wanted to share with you.

First of all, the five pounds I’ve gained since my birthday earlier this month remind me that even when you eat low-carb, you will not lose weight if you don’t limit your intake. However, you will protect yourself from diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, and now the research says Alzheimer’s Disease! So you are doing yourself a world of good. Furthermore, when you want to lose weight, you can cut your portions and do so while still eating a healthful diet.

David’s mom makes the best fried okra in the world, bar none. Michael is crazy about the stuff, so whenever we visited, Granny was sure to make some for her baby grandson. Of course, she used cornmeal, which is a total no-no for me, so we’ve gone okraless except for soups in the winter. This summer, Elaine, a friend of mine at church (our Egg Lady!) grew okra and she has given us a couple of bags full. I was challenged. I decided to try to use almond flour in the place of cornmeal, and it was a huge hit with my guys! In case you have lived your life okra-deprived, here are the easy steps:

1)      Wash the okra (watch for spiny bits in your hands), remove the stem ends, and cut the okra into about ½ to 1 inch pieces. Discard any hard pods.

2)      Beat a couple of eggs with a fork and either dip the okra in or pour the eggs over the okra in a bowl and turn it until coated.

3)      On a plate or in a wide bowl, combine almond flour, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss the okra in this mixture until evenly coated. This will not look as uniform as the frozen breaded okra pellets that you can buy at the store, but it tastes much better.

4)      In a large skillet, pour enough oil to coat the bottom and heat to medium-high. Add a single layer of okra to the pan and stir occasionally until deep golden brown on all sides. You may have to cook in several batches.

5)      Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel-lined plate. Taste for salt.

That’s it! Okra is very good for lowering your cholesterol naturally.

I have also used the almond flour, salt, and pepper coating for pan-fried catfish. Be sure to marinate your catfish in buttermilk for half an hour before cooking—no longer, or it will fall apart. Catfish can be tough in the middle, but buttermilk will tenderize it perfectly. If you like Cajun, add Tobasco to the buttermilk and red pepper to the flour mix.

About a month ago, we went to a produce stand with tons of homegrown eggplants. I love eggplant parmesan, but it is just too wet without flour. So I decided to try—you guessed it!—almond flour, and it made the richest eggplant parmesan you’ve ever had. Dip it in egg and then seasoned almond flour, and “fry” it on your electric griddle for a less messy but really wonderful fried eggplant. Just put a tiny bit of olive or other oil on your griddle.

ImageNow, if you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I’ve been making my own almond flour by sending it through the food processor first and then a blade coffee grinder. So much work! Well, I found a new way of doing things, and I found it through a blog that I like called www.satisfyingeats.wordpress.com. This young woman named Melissa McGehee lost a lot of weight on a low-carb diet, and since she was already an excellent cook, she decided to develop low carbohydrate recipes that are family-friendly and still very healthy. She concentrates on using real, whole foods and no artificial ingredients. My sister told me about her, so I began following her on Facebook, and she posts a lot of delicious recipes online! She also has a cookbook called Satisfying Eats, which is available through Amazon. I finally invested in the cookbook, and my husband and son are so glad that I did! So far, I have made the Coconut Chipotle Chicken Thighs (recipe available on her blog), the Garlic Cheddar Biscuits, and the brownies. All fabulous! Go and visit Melissa and read her story, then dig into her great food. One of her latest recipes is a low-carb, all-natural reworking of Nutella. I can tell you, too, that she is really nice and answered a question that I sent her via Facebook right away.

ImageAnyhow, Melissa recommends Honeyville Almond Flour. I looked on Amazon when I was buying her cookbook, and it sells for $35 for a 5-pound bag. That’s $7 a pound, the same thing I was paying for blanched almonds that I had to grind myself! Plus, there is no way that I could ever get the flour this fine. It is an excellent product, and Honeyville Farms also has a nice website with many different foods, including the expected bucket-o-wheat and unexpectedly appetizing freeze-dried foods for short or long-term storage, if you’re into that sort of thing. Yes, they are in Utah. I will definitely get all my almond flour from them from now on. Shipping is always $4.49 anywhere in the U.S.

So that’s what I’ve been up to! Tomorrow is the first Gamecocks football game of the season, so we will be having Stuffed Jalapeños (search for “Hot Harvest” on this blog) and Garden and Gun’s Perfect Tailgate Cocktail, among other things. Bon appétit!

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The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

ImageDon Tillman, Australian geneticist, approaches life scientifically in every detail. He is grateful that his friend, Gene, suggested a cleaning woman, since now he has 316 extra minutes in his week, time that he can devote to The Wife Project. After exhausting the methods that Gene and his wife Claudia suggested—online dating websites and speed dating—he has drawn up a sixteen-page questionnaire that should filter out any unsuitable candidates. She must be educated, of course, a non-smoker, and a teetotaler, even though Don enjoys drinking himself. He is nervous that he may be developing a drinking problem, so an abstinent wife will help him with self-improvement.

Don’s world tilts on its axis when Rosie shows up, smoking, drinking, and cussing a blue streak. Don can’t imagine why Gene would send him a barmaid as a wife candidate. Didn’t he even read the questionnaire? In any case, he decides to be a good sport and spend some time with Rosie before he ditches her decisively. Rosie, it turns out, is on a Father Project. Her mother has died without revealing the identity of her father, and Rosie feels that she will never understand herself if she doesn’t know her parentage. Since Don is a geneticist, he has access to the lab and all the knowledge necessary to help this beautiful damsel in distress—purely for scientific reasons, of course.

Although a brilliant scientist, Don is a sweetly vulnerable character. In one hilarious episode early in the book, Don is asked to give a lecture on Asperger’s Syndrome when Gene can’t make it, and he does extensive, fascinating research, never connecting the dots back to himself. Even though he seems to operate on pure logic, Don’s unfolding understanding of how his life has molded him into his current situation reveals to him—and to the reader—that cold, practical thinking does not demand a cold, practical heart.

This sparkling novel is already a hit in Australia and will be available in the United States on October 1, 2013. I highly recommend it for everyone, with cautions for foul language. It is written for adults, but would also be terrific for older teens. It will be equally popular with men and women, Big Bang Theory enthusiasts in particular.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Aging with the Led Zeppelin Generation

ImageI turned fifty-five a few days ago, and now that I’ve reached highway speed, I find myself thinking that growing older is not at all what I expected. For some reason, I thought that we’d become our parents, but although I do sometimes see my mother’s eyes looking back at me in the mirror, so far I have not developed a taste for Perry Como. On the contrary, I probably listen to noisier music now than I did when I was a teenager, when it was all Billy Joel and Dan Fogelberg. Right now, my little PT Cruiser has blown-out speakers, probably from a Switchfoot CD, I’m sorry to say. I do miss my Infinity sound system from my last car, but since my current car is probably not even worth the price of new speakers, I just let the overwhelming road noise cover the sound of rattling waxed-paper bass notes.

The aging rockers I grew up on evidently feel the same way about the passing years. Steven Tyler still weaves feathers into his hair, although I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s really his hair. Mick Jagger, who was a bit before my time, still leaps out of his wheelchair to prance around the stage, and his lips are looser than ever. All sorts of bands are still out there touring, and some of them, like the Eagles, sound just as good as ever. Not all, though. I mean, Social Security exists for a reason. On the other hand, the AARP seems to be overzealous, if you ask me. Not only do I receive a membership card that I shred every couple of months, but my twenty-eight-year-old son gets one twice as often.

ImageOne thing feathers and make-up just can’t hide, though, is aging skin. You can be as emaciated as Mick Jagger or go the Nancy Pelosi route and have your skin pulled back so many times that you can’t even close your eyes anymore, but up close, it’s crêpe. I remember when I was about to turn forty, and my glamorous forty-five-year-old hairdresser held out her arm and pinched. She had every beauty product imaginable around her all day long, and she was very lovely for her age, but when the collagen is gone, it’s gone.

She mourned for her skin, but I miss my eyesight more. I’d always had perfect eyesight, and as an avid reader, I find it frustrating not to be able to pick up any book any time and start reading. On the other hand, if I wore my reading glasses all the time, I’d be walking into walls, so my family and, increasingly, my co-workers are getting used to seeing me with my glasses perched on top of my head, looking for all the world like someone with a second set of eyes perpetually searching the heavens.

Miss Manners once said that nice people never hear what is happening on the other side of closed doors. I’d like to add to that maxim by saying that nice people never see more of a person than that person can see herself. Every once in a while—and less often all the time—I’ll put my reading glasses on, grab my magnifying mirror, and stand in front of a window or bright lamp. This is always a traumatic experience, because I will suddenly realize that everyone else has been seeing the wilderness of my eyebrows, even though they looked just fine to me. I’ll start tweezing away, aware that I probably have many other imperfections that I don’t even want to look for, and I just hope that everyone around me will be much too polite to notice.

My mother did pass down a couple of really good traits, for which I am grateful. One is excellent cholesterol. I always energetically pooh-pooh new reports that cholesterol may not be such a big indicator of heart health as had once been supposed. Let me revel in one healthful characteristic, please! Another nice feature Mom gave all of her kids is slender ankles. Just to be able to say “bony” about any part of my body is so fun that I hate to complain about them, but I must admit that it is really difficult to shave bony ankles. ClydesdaleAdd to that the not-so-fun spider veins that Mom also passed down, and, coupled with my fading eyesight, it is tough to get things smooth. I love to wear skirts and sandals in the summer, and I enjoy a pretty pedicure, but no matter how hard I try to step outside looking polished, just one little breeze and I experience what I call The Clydesdale Effect. I should just give up and wax.

There is a scripture that says, “Gray hair is the crown of the aged,” and a lot of my friends take that to heart. On the other hand, my 86-year-old mom is eagerly awaiting the day she gets out of the rehab facility so that she can get that L’Oréal Mahogany hair dye back onto her white head. I also have some friends who are aghast that anyone over thirty would have hair past her shoulders and others who proudly wear their silver locks down to their backsides. I think they look awesome, although my hair has gotten a little bit shorter over the years. I plan to compromise, and I’ll probably stop giving my money to L’Oréal when I’m about sixty. I’ve already started warning David about this, since I have a feeling he’s in the “dye until you die” party. Gray hair gives the impression that you have all sorts of wisdom, and so far I haven’t noticed any pearls dropping from my mouth. As a matter of fact, I’m still perfectly capable of cringe-worthy episodes that leave me red-faced for days. Maybe I have it backwards and the gray hair causes you to become wise by working from the outside in.

Actually, I think I may have learned a few things over the decades. I became a Christian when I was 24, and by the time I was 35, I knew everything. It was great. I had studied and studied and learned everything necessary for holding lock-tight positions on all topics. By the time I was 45, I knew nothing. It was devastating. I had had all sorts of catastrophes happen in my life that challenged everything I believed. So, here I am ten years later, realizing that life is just not that cut and dried, and that there are some things I’ll never understand, and I’m OK with that. I do know in Whom I believe, and I have come to some conclusions about things that I think are Really Important. There are other positions, though, that are just not so crucial that they’re worth arguing about. Bill Cosby says that as he got older, his comedy became more careful about God, since he knew that each day brought him one step closer to meeting his Maker. In my mind, whether we’re going 25 or 85, the most important thing is making sure that you’re hurtling headlong into the arms of Someone you already love.

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The Returned, by Jason Mott

ImageImagine if that person you loved so dearly who died years ago suddenly showed up on your doorstep, looking just exactly as they did when they were alive and well. Imagine if that started happening all over the world, day after day.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave were an elderly couple living in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina. Since their only child, Jacob, had drowned on his eighth birthday decades ago, Harold and Lucille’s relationship had become a sharp pebble in a shoe: it was painful, but they just kept walking. Harold constantly battled his desire for cigarettes while he complained about everything, especially anything important to Lucille. She kept her world together by improving her vocabulary—much to Harold’s derision—and maintaining a prim exterior. She clung to a type of small-town religion, fiercely championing her own opinions by prefacing them with “the Bible says….” When Agent Martin Bellamy knocks on the door with little Jacob beside him, this fossilized couple is thrust back into the role of being the parents of a young boy.

It’s happening everywhere. A Japanese man runs into a convenience store, screaming “I surrender!” No one knows what he’s surrendering for. A famous French artist comes back to life, but has no interest in enjoying his posthumous fame, only in worshipping the woman he loved, who is now well past caring. Others wait for their beloved dead, but they never appear. There are so many of the Returned. Are they really human? Where can we house them all? Should they be allowed to mix with the True Living?

In the Author’s Note, debut North Carolina author Jason Mott reveals that part of his reason for writing The Returned was to allow himself another chance to live through his own mother’s death, to try to love her more worthily this time. He walks through his own novel as one of the characters, and the reader can watch his heartfelt desire for closure. Both a fascinating study of human nature and a deeply personal journey, The Returned uses fantastical catastrophes to reveal the sometimes surprising depths of the human soul.

The Returned will be released on August 27, 2013.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader’s copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Happy 100th Blog Post!

ImageThis is my one-hundredth post! Since WordPress sent me a message wishing me a happy one-year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, that means that I’ve posted something new about every four days this year. One of the reasons I started this blog was to get myself writing again, and I’ve succeeded in at least a small way.

DSC00317I’ve written about 70 book reviews, some of them combined with other articles or series reviews. Be glad that I don’t review every book I read! Since a couple of authors have found my blog and read my reviews of their books, I tend to write only about books that I do like and would recommend to others. Authors have feelings, too. The reviews have covered new children’s and teen books (which I select and purchase for the library system where I work), adult novels, adult nonfiction, cookbooks, and biographies. One project I’d like to get to in the next year would be writing about my favorite nonfiction authors—writers I’m very familiar with from reading many of their books over the years. Narrative nonfiction is underrated, in my opinion, and I’d like to bring them to my readers. Like most librarians, I also have a list of major titles or authors that I’ve missed and would like to catch up on. I’ll bring those to you, as well.

Other frequent categories have been cooking, cookbooks, diabetes, and weight loss. I have had some success this past year, and I’ve lost 25 or 30 pounds. I keep losing and regaining the last 5 pounds. That brings my total since my diabetes diagnosis to 65 or 70 pounds. ImageSo I did keep 40 pounds off for five years, and I’ve kept this last bit off for six months or so. My diabetes is being reversed, mostly from following a low-carb diet for six years, and I’ve been able to stay off medication. I am still not good at exercising regularly, though. Having the treadmill break down knocked me completely off course for months, and now that it’s fixed, I’m not too successful with rebuilding that habit.

That’s the eating and reading of eatreadsleep.com, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about sleeping! Well, I am writing this at 1:30 AM, so maybe that counts. Usually, I sleep quite well, so there’s nothing to report.

2013-07-18 19.57.54On the other hand, I have written loads of other articles on everything from ridiculous commercials to dreadful Christmas decorations. They’ve been as silly as my neighbor’s freezer fire pit and as serious as my mother’s long illness. We’ve talked about creativity, music, Monty Python, vampires, squirrels, handbags, and The Big Bang Theory. My garden is doing much better than it was in the early spring, and we are covered in tomatoes. Crows are eating them this year, but David has squirrel-proofed the strawberries.  Here he is showing off the climbing squash. I covered both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and the Children’s Media Awards. Wilbur, our robot, is still keeping our floors cleaner than they’ve ever been before. You know that I’m eager for the return of Elementary (September 26th!), and that I will continue to bring you all the latest concerning Southern culture. I keep thinking that I’ll write very serious pieces about important topics, but I can’t seem to stop laughing all the time.

Keep on reading, and please share with your friends! I enjoy hearing from you, so feel free to comment. If you would like an opinion on a particular book or author— which is the type of question that I get in person— please message me on Facebook. Thank you so much, and here’s to the next 100 posts!

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You Can Tune a Piano, and Now You Can Scan a Fish


2013-06-23 14.45.31I was reading a fashion article in the Wall Street Journal the other day, because I always get my fashion tips from stockbrokers. That might explain a lot, actually. Anyway, it seems that ‘50s fashions are on the way back, but the writers were explaining that they were not as tight as Mad Men outfits, nor as loose as Happy Days. They look cute, though, as long as I don’t have to be some guy’s slavish secretary or dance at the sock hop.

Speaking of being in style, you may have noticed a fashion faux pas in one of the president’s latest speeches. Not Obama, of course, who is always impeccably turned out, but the lady sitting behind him. This economic speech has been replayed about every seven and a half minutes on the cable news cycle, and there is an unfortunately arm-challenged woman to his right who is wearing a sleeveless black dress. I want to say to her, “Honey, I feel your pain. Everything trendy out there is sleeveless these days, but some of us just can’t pull it off.” I mean, I make sure my arms are covered before I even take out the trash. Not that I take out the trash.

Anyhow, I couldn’t quite get the sense of this not-your-mother’s-poodle-skirt article, but I noticed that there was one of those weird, square things that you scan in the bottom corner, so I Googled “weird square things that you scan,” (seriously; try it) and it told me that it was a QR code. I had known this in the past, but since I didn’t have a smart phone, it didn’t matter. Now, of course, I was eager to use yet another function of my new phone, so I went to the Google Play store and started to install the most authoritative-sounding app, QR Droid. Right? It’s a QR code; I have a Droid. Case closed. Well, it wanted me to agree to all sorts of privacy-invading things, so I got nervous, cancelled the download, and went to the internet to get reviews on the best QR code scanners, just in case I was about to lose all fifteen dollars in my bank account. About that time, Michael came downstairs and asked me what I was doing, and I said looking for information on QR scanners. “Hand me your phone.” Being the trusting sort of mom that I am, I handed it over. He pushed a few buttons and handed it back. “There ya go.” “What did you do?” “Installed QR Droid.” OK, then.

2013-06-23 14.43.16Naturally, I had to scan everything in the paper after that, and I found that I was completely uninterested in watching videos of people reenacting the article that I’d just read. It’s still cool, though. Amazingly, just a few hours later, I unwrapped the redfish that we’d bought at Whole Foods, and it had a QR code! A fish with a code! I ran to get my phone, since scanning a fish is bound to be far more entertaining than scanning a newspaper. It was. Since the fish was still partly frozen, I had to keep pressing my thumb on the code to keep the frost away, but it read the code and took me to www.Mayafish.net. I keyed in my fish’s own personal i.d. number, and the website told me all about it! Now I know everything about the nutritional content of redfish, its sustainability, and its levels of mercury. It also told me where this particular fish was born, what it was fed, when it was harvested, and the temperature of its shipping container. How much easier this makes it to heed Jamie Oliver’s advice, “Never eat meat if you don’t know ‘ees Mum’s name.” That’s an unapologetic carnivore, for sure. Leave it to Whole Foods to give us more information than we ever thought possible about our food. I do appreciate them, but I know I paid extra for it!

So now I am set up to learn even more about pretty much everything, since those little squiggles are ubiquitous these days. To tell you the truth, though, I’ve never used the app again. I guess once you scan a fish, anything else just seems ordinary.

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