Book #12: Sapphire Blue

Title: Sapphire Blue (book 2 of the Ruby Red trilogy)

Author: Kerstin Gier

Genre:  Young Adult/Fantasy/Romance

Length: 384 pages

Read: 4/16-4/20/15

Summary: A continuation of the story started in Ruby Red– Gwen is still trying to sort through all of the secrets that the Guardians–and especially the mysterious Count of Saint-Germain–are keeping from her, and figure out what role they have planned for her, while also trying to sort through her feelings for Gideon. But she has some new allies, other than her best friend Lesley, to help her along the way–the ghost of a gargoyle demon named Xemerius in the present, and her grandfather in the past, during his days as one of the Guardians.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? to continue the series

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes

Other notes: (cut for potential spoilers)


The “buggy list” update

I know I’ve been posting about the food prep part of it as I go, but I figured it was time to give an update on the rest of this list, too–after all, I only have around 8 weeks left to finish it! (Wait, whaaaaaat?)

  1. Finish typing up/printing the keeper recipes. The typing part is pretty much done, minus maybe 2 recipes that I’ve tried from Pinterest since then and liked. But really, that’s more of a copy-paste thing. I do still need to print them, but I have to wait until we buy more ink, because the black is completely out!
  2. Get my stupid computer fixed. This one got done pretty soon after I posted it.
  3. Finish the nursery. The dresser is as organized for changing as I can make it with the diapering supplies I have so far, we’ve organized the closet and hung most of the newborn/0-3 month clothes (ran out of hangers), and I’ve cleaned off some larger second-hand items as best as I can. I still need to sew the two sets of curtains together (pre-made, but we only have one rod, so I’m just going to sew the blackout curtains into the Ikea curtains), and there will be more things to clean and organize as we acquire them. But again, that has to wait for the shower.
  4. Finish getting my hard drive organized/cleaned out. Yeah, at this point, that might not happen. Oh well.
  5. Wash and put away all the baby clothes. I’ll have to do more of this, but I’ve actually done quite a bit already! The diapers are all prepped and ready to go. And we’ve actually been given a lot of bags of clothes that people we know were either getting rid of or acquired for us from people they know. So we’re well-stocked with clothes in most sizes up to 12 months, and a little beyond. I’ve even had extras to pay it forward to one of my best friends, who is due to have a boy about 6 weeks after me! Aside from some things we got at a kids’ consignment sale over the weekend, and anything I might be given at the shower, I’m currently caught up on washing. But I still need to finish bagging up some of the larger sizes for temporary storage.
  6. Clean ALL the things! The deep clean hasn’t happened yet, though I’ve been doing what I can here and there. D says he’s going to try to do the bulk of it on an upcoming Saturday in May when our two dogs have an appointment at the groomer’s and I have all-day rehearsals for a concert I’m playing in.
  7. Lots of sewing.
    Things I’ve finished since that post: a maternity/nursing maxi-dress, a stuffed animal hammock to hang in the nursery, (both to keep the toys organized and to keep one of our dogs in particular from tearing them all to bits) the diaper bag, a maternity-friendly maxi skirt/some baby pants from the leftovers, an upcycled onesie and some hockey-themed pants, a maternity/nursing top, and 6 dozen cloth diapers in varying sizes (with a lot of help from my mom on this one!), and a couple more upcycled baby clothing items that I haven’t posted about on that blog yet.

    Things I’d still like to make with the time I have left: I’m this close to finishing a second nursing-friendly maxi-dress. Plus there’s a portable changing pad to keep in the diaper bag, a nursing cover, a car seat cover, a hooded bath towel, a baby shirt that I have cut out/stenciled but haven’t sewn yet, and I saw some instructions on Pinterest for how to make one of those baby gyms on the cheap, mostly with sewing. I know I’m saving a lot of the more practical baby items till the 11th hour, but honestly, I really needed those skirts and dresses to get me through to the end of this pregnancy, especially for my teaching. I literally only have 2 pairs of pants that fit right now, both jeans. (Not counting my 1 pair of Old Navy leggings, because they are way too tight/sheer of a jersey to ever, ever pass as anything but something to layer under skirts and dresses in my world!)

  8. Stock the freezer with as much food as I can. Working on that, as you know. Did some more today, so there will be another upcoming post.
  9. Get the hospital bag prepped/stock up on necessary toiletries. Haven’t even really started on this one, other than making a couple of lists.
  10. Stock the Kindle! My parents generously gave me a large Kindle gift card for my birthday this year, and over the weekend, I finally sat down to make the book purchases, after much consulting of my wish list. In the end, I bought 13 new books–some by new-to-me authors that sounded interesting, some by old favorites, and several sequels to things I’ve already read and reviewed on here. I even made a new collection on my Kindle to house all of these titles, plus a bunch of unread ones I’d acquired for free on Amazon over the years that caught my attention when I was skimming through, so I won’t have to try to remember what’s on my reading list when I’m up for 2 AM feedings! Altogether, it looks like I have something like 47 books on this list! So that should help me get through those longer night feedings, right?

Adventures in Freezer Cooking, Episode 2(b)

Continuing with how I dealt with my massive meat purchase of the week. This time, it’s the beef.

As I said in the last post, I bought 12 pounds of ground beef at Costco. On Monday morning, I put together a triple batch of this meatloaf recipe. I can’t say it’s necessarily my husband’s favorite meatloaf recipe–based on what I’ve heard from him so far, I’m pretty sure that honor goes to this recipe with a tomato-bell pepper relish.  But the taco meatloaf is definitely up there in his opinion, it’s really easy to make, I’ve recently discovered it works very well to just bake it in the oven instead of the crockpot if I get things going later in the day, and it would freeze really well compared to one with tomatoes and peppers mixed in.

I didn’t actually think to take pictures of the process this time, because I was working with a bit of a time crunch before heading out to an early-afternoon lesson. So let’s just say two of them are safely in the freezer, and the third one got used for dinner on Monday. I was hoping that it would be a two-day meal, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen–even with the side of broccoli that we had, the entire meatloaf got eaten that day! (Did I mention my husband really loves meatloaf? Let’s just say I wasn’t much help, given that baby is currently taking up a lot of the space where my stomach used to be!)

As far as the process of prepping this for the freezer went, this was easy– I just mixed up the meatloaf as usual, quickly discovering that my biggest casserole dish worked much better for this amount of meat than my biggest bowl. I shaped the loaves one at a time in my usual meatloaf pan, with a couple of layers of Press N Seal already inside to wrap around the two loaves that were going into the freezer. (Yes, my husband loves meatloaf so much that I have a pan specifically to bake it in–but I will say that the lift out tray does make it easier to both deal with the grease and get it out in the first place!) Then I just pulled out the nifty lift tray, finished wrapping up the raw meatloaves, put them in the labeled bags, and done. I decided to include instructions for both oven baking and crock pot cooking on there, since the meatloaf turns out juicier in the oven, but I might not want to turn it on in July!

The big news in the house this week is the start of hockey playoff season. And nachos for the start of hockey things seems to be turning into a family tradition–I made them for the opening of the regular season, too. Since I’d forgotten to factor in dinner and decided to make an extra meatloaf as a result, I decided to also go ahead and get a second pack of beef so I’d have enough to make said nachos, and then divide up and freeze all that I didn’t use as pre-seasoned taco meat. Not much to say about this…cook beef, add taco seasoning, done. I ended up with 4 quart-sized bags full of leftover taco meat, which I’m hoping will be enough per meal since tacos are even bigger around here than meatloaf. (I also made sure to grab a case of black beans at Costco, so I can use those to mix in with the meat and stretch it out once it’s thawed. And I have some cheese I got, and will bag some up to freeze along with that beef.)

So that leaves me with 3 1/2 out of 8 of the dinners on my list taken care of, plus the Bourbon Chicken kits I didn’t originally plan. I say 3 1/2, since #8 was both taco meat and sloppy joes. But the other request for this evening was a giant chocolate chip cookie, this was the first time he’s ever asked me to bake a dessert that isn’t cheesecake, and I really love homemade chocolate chip cookies. So taking the time to separately season 2 types of beef wasn’t something I wanted to deal with that night!

Book #11: Ruby Red

Title: Ruby Red (book 1 of the Ruby Red trilogy)

Author: Kerstin Geir

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Romance

Length: 352 pages

Read: Technically, I started it on 4/10, but didn’t have time to even get through the first chapter that day. So the bulk of it was read 4/13-4/15/15.

Summary: 16-year-old Gwyneth Shepherd is a (mostly) normal teen living in London with her rich, eccentric family. Aside from her ability to see and converse with the occasional ghost, she doesn’t see herself as anyone special. That distinction belongs to her cousin Charlotte, whom everyone is certain is the one who inherited the time-traveling gene that runs in the female side of her family, and Gwen is happy to leave it that way, since it gives her time to hang out with her best friend Lesley and deal with normal school life, instead of learning how to fence and dance and other essential skills for surviving the past. But then she’s the one who starts randomly jumping around in time…and is completely unprepared for the secretive world she finds herself thrust into as a result. Or the arrogant, condescending, and very good-looking boy that she finds herself stuck traveling through time with.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? A friend of mine with good taste read the trilogy awhile back, and spoke very highly of it. So I put it on my wishlist and ended up getting the trilogy for Christmas this past year. And after having a slower read for the last couple of books of the Anne series, I wanted something lighter and quicker (but still a physical book on my shelf) to go next

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes, definitely

Other notes:
I found most of the characters very likable in this book–particularly Gwen and Lesley. Sometimes teenage protagonists can be insufferably annoying and you just want to shake them every five minutes and ask them what they’re thinking (you know, like in any of the Twilight books). But these were just normal girls with a good, normal friendship, and that made it easy to empathize with them–it reminded me of the close circle of female friends I had in my own high school years (and I’m still regularly in touch with those girls to this day!)

(Cutting here for potential spoilers)


Adventures in Freezer Cooking, Episode 2(a)

Or, “Attack of the Meat”.

I say this, because I bought a massive amount of meat this week. The one grocery store I have locally rarely has a decent sale on ground beef, so I trekked up to Costco to pick some up, among a few other things. (Seriously, the “sale” that the grocery store had this week was $5.99 a pound for the 90% lean! So around $3.70 a pound is a bargain in comparison.) I was originally planning to get just one pack, but then realized that I was so busy planning for my freezer cooking that I completely forgot to factor in what we’d eat this week! So I ended up getting two packs, for a total of 12 pounds. And then I went to the grocery store and got another 8 pounds of chicken breasts, because they were having family sized packs on sale for $1.80 a pound. (I guess that’s what I get for living in a state that’s heavy on the chicken farms.) So I figured that between those two things, I should have plenty to figure out meals for the week.

This time, I’m breaking the cooking into multiple sessions, because that’s just how my schedule worked out. I started with the chicken, to prep and freeze our favorite breaded chicken recipe. Since I’ve been making this one for several years and didn’t write down where I originally found the recipe (my apologies if you’re the original author), here it is!

Chicken with Crispy Panko Coating

2/3 c light mayonnaise

1/3 c Dijon honey mustard

½ tsp dried tarragon or thyme

1 tsp dried parsley flakes

6 boneless chicken breast halves

1 c panko bread crumbs

½ c fine dried bread crumbs

½ tsp salt

Dash of pepper

Dash of paprika, optional
Heat oven to 400°F. Line baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the mayo, mustard and herbs. Spread over chicken to coat thoroughly. Combine panko, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and paprika in a shallow dish. Press chicken breasts in the bread crumb mixture, turning to coat thoroughly. Arrange chicken on prepared baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes; turn and bake for 10-15 min longer, or until cooked through. Serves 4-6.

My notes on this recipe: I usually make it as chicken strips instead of entire baked chicken breasts, because the dip/breading combination is so tasty that I just want to eat more of it! (Also, then I can generally skip the step of turning it over to bake the other side–they cook through no problem.) So I usually double the mustard and panko mixes, and use half the chicken breasts. This time, I took it one step further and made them into nuggets instead, because I figured they’d be smaller and compact better in the bags, therefore making it easier to freeze. So this time, I did 6 chicken breasts (I froze the other 4 so they’d be ok to use for recipes I’ll be making to eat between now and June), and tripled the mustard and panko mixes. I’ve found that it speeds up the process a bit to just dump all of the chicken into the mustard mix at once and toss it around, and there was plenty of that to coat all of the pieces. I did end up making up another single batch of the breadcrumb mix, because it was getting low and I wasn’t sure I’d have enough. But then I ended up having to throw out quite a bit of that at the end, so maybe it was?

As for adapting this to a freezer recipe, I made another batch a few weeks ago to experiment with what would work best. So I cooked some, and then froze what we didn’t eat for dinner that night. I froze the other portion raw. The latter ended up being better when reheating it–the cooked version ended up with more ice crystals on them, since they’d been hotter to begin with and I’m being very cautious about leaving food out too long to cool right now. And the chicken was drier, since they got baked twice. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down how long I’d baked the raw ones, which got put straight into the oven from the freezer. So I’m guessing 45 minutes. I also found that it worked really well to freeze the nuggets in a single layer on a pan first, then transfer it to a bag for longer storage. They didn’t stick together at all that way.

So this picture is what they look like, after prepping and freezing and bagging. It took me a little longer than expected to do the pre-freezing prepwork–around 75 minutes total. And then I left them in the freezer for a few hours while we went to Bible study, then bagged them. I ended up with 3 entire gallon bags full, though. So if I can add sides (hopefully so, it depends on how well I manage to use the space), this will probably be at least 6 meals’ worth for the two of us, and therefore, well worth the effort!

Since this post is ending up kind of long, I think I’m going to leave this as a to be continued. I’ve already thrown another recipe together this morning with the first pack of ground beef, and will be dealing with the second one on Wednesday. So stay tuned!

Book #10: Rilla of Ingleside

I have to admit that I was the most curious to read this one, out of the three Anne books that I’d never touched as a child. I knew enough to know that it was set during WWI, and that era seems to be a strange gap in my knowledge of history. I’m sure that we must have gone over it in high school, and I know it was covered during the college Western Civilization course that my major required me to take. Granted, the professor of that particular class had a very dry, memorize-all-the-dates approach to history that bored me to tears, which is probably a large part of why I’m drawing a blank. And WWII stands out much more clearly in my memory. I’ve read a lot more books set during that time period, even as a child. It seems to get dealt more with in movies that I end up seeing. I clearly remember school-related things like a field trip to the Holocaust Museum in DC, and a History Day project on it that I did with one of my closest friends, and a group project on a John Steinbeck novel that turned into a puppet show. Literally. (The book was The Moon Is Downwhich, incidentally, is the only Steinbeck novel I’ve ever read that I’ve liked.)  Also, we spent one day of our France vacation last fall taking a tour of the memorial and museum dedicated to WWII at Caen, and the Normandy beaches, since my husband particularly likes WWII history.

All that to say, this is pretty much what I know off the top of my head about WWI:

  1. It’s the war that started because some Archduke got assassinated.
  2. It’s the war that J.R.R. Tolkien fought in.
  3. It’s the war that an entire season of Downton Abbey was dedicated to.
  4. Germany lost and the fallout pretty much set up Hitler and WWII.

And this is why I had to look up a basic timeline of events on Wikipedia to figure out what half of the events referred to in this book were. Anyway. On with the review!

Title: Rilla of Ingleside

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Genre: Children’s Classic/Historic Fiction

Length:  277 pages

Read: Approximately 3/24/15-4/9/15

Summary: As Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter grows into a woman, her life is forever altered by WWI and its impact on Canada. She has to deal with her brothers and a potential sweetheart going off to fight in Europe, the waiting and working of the women left behind on the home front, and raising a “war baby” whose father went off to fight, leaving him and his dying mother behind.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? Last one of the series

Rating: 4.5/5

Would I read it again? Out of the last three books, this is the one I’d be most likely to pick up again. I can see now how Rainbow Valley was essential to this book, since the Meredith kids (now all grown up too) are very strongly connected to Rilla’s family and get mentioned quite a bit, but I definitely enjoyed this one the most out of the latter part of the series.

Other notes:
I liked the story, overall. It’s not often that I’ve come across a novel dealing with an actual historic war where the focus is more on the people left behind than the soldiers on the front. (Aside from WWII stuff about the Holocaust, that is.) The struggles of the women at home while their husbands/brothers/sons were fighting an ocean away were easy to relate to, and I liked this different perspective on things. Also, Canada’s involvement in WWI was something I’d never really thought about, so I do feel like I learned something from it.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the main tragedy of the story lost most of the impact that it could/should have had. The foreshadowing was so heavy-handed–I would even call it just flat-out spoilers–that I knew it was going to happen two books ago, and therefore was able to mentally prepare myself too much. I felt bad for the other characters, of course, but I find those big events in fiction much more moving when I don’t see them coming from a decade away. That being said, I do think that, considering the episodic nature of her storylines all along, this book had the strongest plot of any of the series since Anne of the Island. So it was a good note to end the series on, considering my feelings of being let down by Anne of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley, and I’m glad I pushed through to the end. (I’ll also be glad to move on to a new read that might be a little quicker, since my days of being able to hold a book with two hands are numbered for now!)

Adventures in Freezer Cooking, Episode 1

Or, “The Pinterest Menace”.

(The idea for the Star Wars take on the subtitle is courtesy of my best friend. We were eating dinner on the way up to a concert last night, she asked me how this part of my pre-baby prep was going, and I told her I was starting with the actual food today. So she suggested that I do a little miniseries of this on here, the conversation turned into figuring out how to alter the various Star Wars titles to fit, and things got really geeky from there. It happens. So this one’s for you, C. :) )

Now that I’m at the point where my phone app is telling me I have 10 weeks to go, give or take a few days, I figured I’d best get on this. I’m doing dinners first, just because I feel like those are the most crucial. There was a sale on chicken at my local grocery store last week, so I decided to start with a couple of those recipes.

My disclaimers:

1. This is really the first time I’ve done freezer cooking like this–the prep to actually cook later part. I did do cooking to keep stuff on hand for fast dinners when I was single, but that was always cooking the actual meal and then freezing it in single size portions so I could just microwave it. So total newbie perspective here.

2. Since I’m really only cooking for 2 adults, I’m assuming that most of these dinners will feed us for at least 2 nights, given that most recipes are for 4 or more servings.

3. Neither of the ones I did today were recipes that originally had freezer prep instructions, so I’ll have to wait until the summer to see how well my ideas for how to adapt them actually worked. Therefore, this post is mostly for my own reference later, and I guess I’ll have to do a follow-up post at some point.

First up: Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta. I decided to prep a double batch of this one so I could throw some in the crockpot for tonight’s dinner. And, well, I made a lot of mistakes on prepping this one in a time-efficient manner. It took me almost 2 hours to get this one done! But maybe someone can learn from my little comedy of errors.

Mistake the First: Thinking that it would be a good idea to prep a snack with an untested recipe that I found on Pinterest at the same time. Not only did I completely fail at making crispy baked sweet potato chips, I also failed at not slicing my hand in the process. It was a shallow cut, but I still had to stop to bandage it, and lost a bunch of time in prepping and cooking them. At least they tasted good. Note to self: My mandolin hates sweet potatoes.

Mistake the Second: Using another untested idea that I saw on Pinterest to try to prep the bacon. I was using turkey bacon instead of regular bacon, since Mr. Meat Lover is surprisingly not so big on bacon. I think it’s the fat, because I used turkey bacon the last time I made this recipe, and he didn’t have any complaints. Anyway, I tried to bake it, and it just wasn’t crisping up, so then I had to resort to smaller batches in the microwave, and parts kept almost burning. So it took me probably a solid 40 minutes just to cook a pack of bacon.

May-or-may-not-have-been-a Mistake the Third: Complicating things by making some of the ingredients from scratch. I’ll admit this was kind of a sorry-not-sorry thing, which I’ll explain in a moment.

IMG_2418My process: First step was to make the cream of chicken soup base. This took me maybe about 8 minutes to make, once I’d gotten all of the ingredients together. So I really didn’t lose a lot of time, though I’m not sure what the cost would be compared to just buying the canned stuff. I already had all of this stuff around, though, and since I’ll be nursing when I’m eating this, I liked the idea of avoiding the MSG/mystery flavor ingredients in the canned stuff. (The recipe I used came from this cookbook, which I got as part of an ebook bundle awhile back. I’ve used it as a substitute for both cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup in a few recipes, and so far, so good. The ranch seasoning in the bowl in the next picture is from the same source.)

IMG_2422Once the soup base was prepped and had cooled down to about room temperature, I added most of the other ingredients for the sauce–sour cream, a little more pepper, ranch seasoning, and garlic. I left out the water and bacon at first. My reasoning was that I wasn’t sure how well watering down a creamy sauce would make it hold up, given that frozen water is just straight up ice, and the bacon would probably just get soggy if it was sitting in there for a couple of months. (Also, yes, I used jarred minced garlic. Every time I buy heads of garlic, it’s already sprouted by the time I go to use it, and mincing it is a pain anyway. This is me picking my battles.)


And here’s the finished packet. I put the sauce in one bag and the bacon in another, and both of them in the larger bag for the chicken. All of that extra writing on the bag is the rest of the instructions. I figured my future sleep-deprived zombie self would need the help. So here’s what I’ll have left to do, once it’s thawed out and ready to cook:

1. Throw the chicken in the crockpot.

2. Mix the sauce with the bacon and some water and dump it on top.

3. Turn on the crockpot. Fork-shred the chicken when it’s done cooking. (I didn’t actually write this, so hopefully Future Sleep-Deprived Zombie Me will have enough brains left to remember that.)

4. Cook spaghetti to mix this with at the end. I didn’t think that would freeze too well either, and once I get the pot on the stove, I figure spaghetti is one of those things I can cook with one hand if needed!

And for the record, that’s only half of the sauce and half of the bacon. Once I bagged this up, I finished the recipe for immediate crock pot cooking as called for.

Second item on today’s menu: Bourbon Chicken. This wasn’t on my original plan, but it’s become a favorite around here recently, it seemed like one that might adapt to freezer cooking well, and I still had everything I needed to make it except for the chicken. Including way too much apple juice that I’m afraid won’t keep. (Note to self: next time, just buy a juice box!) I’m not linking to the recipe, because one of my cousins gave it to me after she made it for a family gathering, and I don’t know where she got it.

IMG_2424Thankfully, this one wasn’t nearly as time-consuming to assemble. I’d already started to make the sauce before I remembered to take a picture. And I forgot that the olive oil is for actually cooking the chicken, and therefore not an ingredient that I needed to have out. But here’s what I’ve got here: apple juice, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, ginger, ketchup, brown sugar, water and chicken. Since the sauce ingredients were more water-based to begin with for this one, I did go ahead and do the water this time!

I’d already decided to do a double batch of this one as well. So all I had to do was mix the sauce ingredients, divide it between two smaller freezer bags, and then cut up the chicken into bite-sized pieces to throw in the larger bag that would hold everything.

IMG_2425Sadly, this “family sized” pack of chicken seemed to be a little skimpy on the meat, once I’d opened it and trimmed off the nasty bits. It’s pretty filling once you put it over some rice, but I still think each of these bags will only feed us for one night.

What I’ll still need to do on this one:

1. Throw some rice into the rice cooker. (It’s one of those appliances that I wouldn’t have bought myself, but the Mister already had it, and it gets used a lot more than I expected! Plus I don’t have to watch to make sure it boils over, which makes it awesome for Future Zombie Mom Me.)

2. Cook the chicken in a skillet.

3. Dump the sauce into the skillet. Add some cornstarch to thicken it up near the end.

4. Dump the chicken over the rice.

As far as chicken goes, I still need to do two dinner recipes, and two lunch ones. One of the dinner ones involves chicken thighs instead of breasts, and the chicken nuggets are a lot more time-intensive to prep, so I decided ahead of time to save those for another session. Given how much longer it took me to do the first recipe than I thought, and my pregnancy-induced lack of standing endurance, I’m really glad I at least didn’t make that mistake. Though silly me thought that I’d have the energy to cut out my next maternity/nursing sewing project after this. I think I’ll be putting my feet up and finishing my book instead…

Some kiddie book reviews

I’m doing something a little different today. I’m not sure if I should count these towards this year’s Empty Shelf, given that I read both books in less than 10 minutes while waiting to teach a lesson. But I’m working on building up the “Hobbit Hole Library”, as I’ve taken to calling it, in preparation for when the baby gets here. (I’ve also been occasionally practicing my read-aloud skills, though it feels a little silly to sit and read a story out loud to my belly. I guess I can say I was reading to the dogs instead, because they were in the room with me, right?) I’m not going to review every story for that, because we all know Dr. Seuss was a genius, Beatrix Potter is charming, etc. But I have also gotten into the habit of collecting the free Kindle picture books that pop up on Amazon, as well as some more educational titles geared towards kids, since that will be an easy way of making sure I have some with me for doctor’s visits and such. Since they’re very quick reads and therefore easy to review, I thought I’d start recording my impressions for those, even though I can’t really say how much (or little) my kid enjoys them yet, just in case this helps anyone out there with young children.

Disclaimer: Both of these books were free on Amazon at the time of purchase, though they both have a charge listed now.

Book #1: Ten Wiggly Worms: A Number and Color Recognition Book

Recommended for: Ages 0-7. I can’t see a 7-year old enjoying the story, given how little plot there is, but I guess this could work as an early reader for a slightly older child.

My thoughts on the writing: This one was a very quick read. The text is a little repetitive, though I hear that young children like that. I’ll admit the grammar threw me off for just a moment–the second page reads “Two is (insert color here)”–until I realized that the author is treating it like the number is the name of the worm. So that works.

My thoughts on the illustrations: Not bad for a freebie. It makes me think of flannelboards and paper collages, which works well for a kid’s book.

Overall: I will admit that I have been leaning more towards books that seem boy-friendly, and I think many little boys would enjoy that it’s a book about worms. It does work well for some basic educational purposes, too. The numbers up to 10 and the colors are there, and there’s even a little basic natural science involved when a robin shows up. The last page was pretty cute, but I won’t say why, because spoilers. (I know it’s a little kid book, but still!)So I’ll hang on to this one and see how he likes it.

Book #2: Pancake Time

Recommended for: Age 2-7.

My thoughts on the text: Personally, I think this one would drive me crazy as a read-aloud. But I can see it being useful for a child learning how to read, since the vocabulary is simple. It does do a nice job of walking a kid through a basic morning routine, and how to make pancakes, minus any measurements. And if you’re the type of parent who enjoys coming up with fun activities to go along with a book, which I can see myself doing, this one would be easy!

My thoughts on the illustrations: I probably should have guessed this from the cover, but they weren’t my favorite. It was colorful, but I kind of wished that they were a little more polished than the Microsoft Paint look.

Overall: Like I said, this wouldn’t be my first pick for a story to read aloud to Hobbit. It’s reviewed very well on Amazon, though, so I’m guessing those people probably have a little more experience in choosing children’s books? I’m undecided whether to keep this one or not, but at least I didn’t lose any more than 5 minutes of my time.

Book #9: Rainbow Valley

Whew…this one took a little longer than I thought. Though, to be fair, I haven’t been reading very much over the last couple of weeks, due to spending a lot of my time working on that list of pre-baby to-dos. And occasionally mixing in chapters of parenting 101-type books.

Title: Rainbow Valley

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Genre: Historic Fiction/Children’s Classic

Length: around 225 pages

Read: ~2/28/15-3/20/15

Summary: According to the back of my copy of the book, it’s about Anne and Gilbert’s children “finding adventure” with the new minister’s kids. But really, it was pretty much the misadventures of the minister’s kids, with Anne’s kids showing up as supporting characters. The four Meredith kids befriend the Blythes, hang out in “Rainbow Valley”, try to raise themselves as best as they can, since their mother is dead and their father is extremely absentminded and doesn’t even notice what’s going on half the time, and generally become the talk of the town.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? To continue the series

Rating: 4/5

Would I read it again? Possibly. I think I’d enjoy it a little more for its own merit, now that I know what to expect.

Other notes:
1. It would really be nice if whoever wrote the summaries on the back of these last couple of books had actually, you know, read the book. Once again, I found myself surprised that the main character perspectives were not at all what had been advertised.

2. That being said, it was a charming story overall. I did like the Meredith kids, particularly Faith. And it was nice to go back to those childhood misadventures that made Anne such a delightful character to begin with. Especially since so many of the “scandals” that the townsfolk complained about were simply misunderstandings.

So now it’s finally on to Rilla of Ingleside, and the end of the series. I’ll admit that I have a pretty good idea of certain things that will happen in this next book, because there’s been some very heavy-handed foreshadowing in this and the previous book. So right now, the biggest question in my mind is this: Will this story actually be about Rilla? Or will she be a vague supporting character like her mother was in the previous book? Stay tuned…

Pin-Testing: Baked Chai-Spiced French Toast

imageOr, “The dangers of whim-baking while already cooking something else.”

I decided rather spontaneously to attempt a recipe for overnight-soaked French toast on Friday evening. We had several random bags of bread products that had been sitting for awhile, mostly in the realm of hamburger and hot dog buns that Doug had picked up while we were trying to use up some things we got in an Omaha Steaks gift box. (Yes, we occasionally get gifts of meat from my in-laws. This is what happens when you live with an avowed carnivore.) And while I love French toast, my biggest issue with cooking it is impatience– the middle usually ends up still bready because I’m generally starving in the mornings and don’t want to wait for it to soak up the egg mixture. So I’d figured that prepping it the night before would solve that problem.

So after hunting through my pins to find an overnight-soaking recipe that didn’t use every single last egg in the house, since I needed one left to make baked ziti yesterday, I settled on the Baked Chai-Spiced French Toast from The Kitchn. Because they had me at Chai, which was one of the best discoveries of my college years for a caffeine-deprived girl who wanted to go to coffeeshops, but never developed a taste for coffee.

As I said, this was whim-baking, which I was throwing together while that night’s dinner was simmering in a skillet. And as a result, there were a few issues with following the recipe.

  1. I didn’t have cardamom. A quick Google search said that one part nutmeg + one part cinnamon would substitute nicely. But I already had cinnamon in there, and I think the extra may have made the spice blend a little too bitter.
  2. The other thing that probably didn’t help there was that I accidentally left the sugar out of the custard. Oops.
  3. Since I was using leftover rolls instead of the challah bread that the recipe called for, I think I may have overstuffed the pan a little in order to make sure I used them up. In eating the leftovers, I have found a couple of places in the middle where the custard didn’t touch the bread. Of course, part of that could also be because the recipe called for making that in a loaf pan, and it was so full that probably at least a quarter of the custard ended up on the countertop instead. (Thankfully, I’d thought to put some plastic wrap down around the pan first.)
  4. The one minor change I made that I don’t think had any negative consequences was that I also had a small amount of whipping cream that needed to be used up, left over from another recent recipe. So I substituted that for part of the milk. Ok, so maybe it had negative consequences in the realm of calories, but the actual recipe also called for 2% or whole milk, and we always buy 1%. That means it probably balanced out, right?

All in all, I don’t think I’ll be making this particular recipe again, since the spice blend does leave a rather bitter taste in my mouth when I’m done eating it, even though the lack of sugar in the custard is probably counter-balanced fine by putting maple syrup on top. I’ve taken to avoiding eating the streusel part on top, since that is particularly bitter. But I don’t think this recipe test was a total loss, because I did like being able to have a pastry-type breakfast the next morning and only have to heat up the oven and wait for it to finish baking. (I’ve always been one who can really only stomach sweet things in the morning. Savory breakfast casseroles and the like have to wait for brunch or dinner-times. But stuff like pancakes and waffles and French toast tends to be more occasional treats, because like I said, impatience.) So I think I will try overnight French toast again–just with a different flavor combination.

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