Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Life According to the Books I Read in 2009

I saw this book meme on Angie's blog Angieville months ago and thought it would be fun to do at the end of the year as I reflected on all of the books I read in 2009. I can't believe I actually remembered to do it!

I tried to answer the prompts as truthful as possible, but sometimes it just couldn't be done so I got a little creative. If you decide to do this meme, let me know so I can come by and check out your life in books.

Directions: Using only titles of books you have read this year (2009), complete the prompts below. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself:
A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare

How do you feel:
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Describe where you currently live:
Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Beyond His Control by Stephanie Tyler

Your favorite form of transportation:
The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson

Your best friend is:
Taking Care of Business by Megan Hart & Lauren Dane

You and your friends are:
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

What's the weather like:
Vision In White by Nora Roberts

Favorite time of day:
Knight of Pleasure by Margaret Mallory

What is life to you:
Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins

Your fear:
My Soul To Lose by Rachel Vincent

What is the best advice you have to give:
Don't Bargain With the Devil by Sabrina Jeffries

Thought for the day:
Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James

How I would like to die:
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

My soul's present condition:
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Year End Review of my 2009 Reading Challenges

This post is a review of each of the four Reading Challenges I joined for 2009. The only challenge I completed successfully according to challenge rules was the Young Adult Reading Challenge. I completed the reading for the Contemporary Romance Challenge, but didn't complete the required reviews. The Category Romance Challenge and the TBR Reading Challenge are even more incomplete.

2009 YA Challenge
Hosted by J. Kaye of J. Kaye Book Blog.
Challenge: Read 12 young adult novels in 2009.

When I first joined this challenge, I thought I needed to post a review for each book I read in order to meet the challenge, but in reality I just needed to keep a list! So this is one challenge that I successfully completed. I read 14 young adult novels in 2009, 15 if I count Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey. I'm a little confused why Santa Olivia is not categorized as a young adult novel. As far as I'm concerned, it is a young adult novel. The main character and many of the secondary characters for that matter are teenagers after all. There is some mature content in the story, but I did not think it was severe enough to keep it from being marketed as a young adult novel.

Here is the list of young adult novels I read in 2009. The titles in bold are the books that I reviewed here on my blog.

1. Tales of the Beedle Bard by J.K. Rowling
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli
3. The Truth About Forever by Sara Dessen
4. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
5. Dingo by Charles de Lint
6. Lament by Maggie Stiefvater
My Soul to Lose by Rachel Vincent
My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
10. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
11. Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
12. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
13. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
14. Liar by Justine Larbalestier

15. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Contemporary Romance Challenge
Hosted by Brie at Musings of a Bibliophile
Challenge: Read and Review 12 contemporary romance novels in 2009.

I read 13 contemporary romance novels in 2009 not counting the romantic young adult novels or the Harlequin category romances I read. I didn't count them in this challenge because I wanted to avoid using the same book for multiple challenges. Below is a list of the contemporary romance novels I read in 2009. The four highlighted titles are the ones I actually reviewed.

The titles in bold are the books that I managed to review here on my blog.

1. Stranger by Megan Hart
Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas
3. Taking Care of Business by Megan Hart and Lauren Dane
4. Riding On Instinct by Jaci Burton
5. Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James
6. The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson
7. Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins
8. Stolen Fury by Elisabeth Naughton
Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie
10. Stolen Heat by Elisabeth Naughton
11. Open Season by Linda Howard
12. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
13. Vision in White by Nora Roberts


Year of the Category Romance Reading Challenge
Hosted by KMont of Lurv a la Mode
Challenge: READ and REVIEW 12 Category romance novels in 2009.

I started out okay with this challenge, but once I fell off track, I kind of lost interest getting back on track. I think the category romance novels I had on my shelf just didn't appeal to me too much any more.

Here is a list of the books I read for this challenge. The books I managed to review for the challenge are in bold.

1. Shaken and Stirred by Kathleen O'Reilly
Kiss & Tell by Alison Kent
Sex, Straight Up by Kathleen O'Reilly
4. Nightcap by Kathleen O'Reilly
5. Beyond His Control by Stephanie Tyler
6. Primal Instincts by Jill Monroe
7. The Beast of Desire by Lisa Renee Jones
8. The Beast of Darkness by Lisa Renee Jones


2009 TBR Reading Challenge
Hosted by Keishon at
Challenge: READ and REVIEW 12 books that have been on your TBR shelf for at least a year prior to the challenge.

I failed this challenge terribly this year. I found myself reading either new releases or older books that have been around for a while that I either borrowed from the library or bought new. And of course there's the whole business of never getting around to writing many reviews this past year.

Here is the pathetic list of books I read and reviewed for this challenge. Don't laugh. Okay, you can laugh if you want to. ;)

1. Shaken and Stirred by Kathleen O'Reilly
2. Bound by Donna Jo Napoli
3. Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

Hopefully I'll have more success completing the challenges I'm joining in 2010. More on that later.

Did you join any reading challenges in 2009? How did you do?

Did you join any reading challenges for 2010?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas . . .

. . . from my home to yours.

May your day be merry and bright, filled with love and laughter and the sights and scents of the season that bring joy to your heart.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Winter Wonderland Gingerbread House

When I was a young girl, I remember visiting my Great Aunt and Uncle's house a few days before Christmas. They lived nearby and we actually visited them throughout the year, but some of my most vivid memories of my visits are of their home during the holidays. I loved the way their home was decorated with old world charm and most especially they always had a REAL Christmas tree as opposed to the artificial one we always had. Sometimes the tree was still living with its roots balled up in burlap and set into a large aluminum basin to be planted outside after the New Year. It stood in their home with purpose, as if it were reveling in finally knowing its fate and was proud to be put to the task. But even more vivid in memories is the way their home smelled during the holidays. To this day, I can close my eyes and recall the wonderful scents of their home. It smelled of snow and pine and sugar and spices. Just lovely. I'm quite certain I had my first nibble of a gingerbread house right there in their family room beside that proud Christmas tree. I think these happy, charming Christmas memories of my Aunt and her house have a lot to do with why I always want to make a gingerbread house for Christmas in my own home. I don't always get around to it every year, but it's always on the list.

This year, I had grand plans of making a gingerbread house from scratch like I did a few years ago and then sharing the whole process here with step by step photos, but I realized at one point last week that it simply wasn't going to happen. I even bought a fresh bottle of molasses, too. Alas, even with the best intentions, plans can easily fall by the wayside. We still managed to "make" a gingerbread house this year, though, by using a kit that I had from last year that we didn't get around to assembling in time for Christmas. Talk about plans falling by the wayside, eh?

My youngest daughter and I assembled and decorated our gingerbread house on Sunday. It's so adorable, if I may say so myself.

click photo to enlarge

We used the sugar candy that came with the kit, but also embellished the house with gumdrops, candy canes, starbursts, smarties, and licorice. The latter three are left over from Halloween!

We laid the finished house on a silver cake stand, and filled the edges with granulated sugar for a snow covered ground.

Then we sifted about a tablespoon of powdered or confectioner's sugar over the house so it would look like a dusting of fresh snow had recently fallen. And that's how we built our own little pre-fab winter wonderland gingerbread house. :)

Even though the gingerbread kit was bought in December 2008, the expiration date on the box is August 30, 2009, which isn't even really that long ago. I think I may just take a bite of the house and take my chances. ;)

Just not the big orange gum drop in the back of the house . . .

click photo to enlarge

What holiday sights or scents bring to mind vivid Christmas or other holiday memories for you?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cranberry Orange Muffins

I can't believe Christmas is just a few days away already! We're still adjusting at home to the new, increased demands on my father-in-law's care these last few days, but he's actually made a bit of progress today in that he can use his walker to pull himself out of bed and make it to the toilet by himself. That's a big relief. Even though he is still very weak, and we need to watch over him carefully, this little piece of progress is promising.

I also made major progress with my Christmas shopping this weekend. In fact, I'm nearly finished! I just need two gifts and a trip to the bank for some cash that I'm giving to a few of the teenage relatives we give gifts to. Nothing like an impeding snowstorm and the notion of being housebound watching over my father-in-law this coming week to get me into action with the shopping! As for the snow, it's very pretty. Even after spending nearly two hours shoveling the stuff this morning, I still love it. :)

I made these muffins the other day per my daughters' requests. Actually they wanted any kind of muffins. My tween was chanting something about chocolate chips, but beggars can't be choosers, so they got these.

Once my teenager took her first bit, she responded with a "Mmmmm," then said, "Oh my, these are so heavenly, you have no idea."

I said, "Actually, I do have an idea. I just ate one."

She said, "No, you have no idea, because you made them. They taste so much more heavenly when someone else makes them for you."

Awww, does she know the way to warm a mother's heart or what?

I asked the tween if she thought they were good, too. She nodded her head yes. So expressive. ;)

I usually make this recipe using a loaf pan, but muffins pack better in a school lunch, so the muffins won this time. The batter will fill 12 muffin cups to the brim.

Cranberry Orange Muffins
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter
1 large egg
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, optional

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir with a whisk until thoroughly combined.

Cut butter into small chunks and add to flour mixture.

Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut in butter into flour mixture until the flour mixture is the texture of a coarse meal.

"Resembles coarse meal" looks like this:

My microplane zester is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. I most often use it to zest citrus fruit and to grate fresh ginger and nutmeg for various recipes.

I actually used two Clementines to get the 1 tablespoon of zest simply because that was the type of orange I had on hand. We peeled and snacked on the fruit after I had the zest I needed.

Add the egg, orange juice and orange zest to the dry ingredients.

Stir until just combined.
This is a photo of almost just combined:

This is just combined. Stop stirring as soon as it looks like this. It's okay if you still see a little bit of the flour here and there, as long as most of it is just blended in.

Coarsely chop the cranberries on a cutting board, working with a handful of berries at a time until you have 1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries. I used a little less than an 8oz. bag of fresh cranberries.

Add the cranberries to the batter.

Gently fold the cranberries into the batter.

Spoon batter into 12 cups of a muffin tin and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired.

Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are lightly browned on edges and a wooden pick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.

Enjoy! :)

Note: To make a loaf instead of muffins, pour batter into a lightly greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until it a wooden pick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disappearing Candy Cane Joe-Joe's

From the serious side of life, we've had some worrisome few days here since my elderly father-in-law (who lives with us since my husband and I are his full time caregivers) has been in the hospital since Monday evening for stroke-like symptoms. He has been conscious and stable the whole time, and curiously all the extensive tests that he's undergone do not indicate a stroke. He is, however, very weak and confused. He told me yesterday he could run right now, yet in truth he didn't even have the strength to feed himself. We're hoping he recovers quickly and regains his strength and his awareness of his physical limitations so that he asks for help instead of trying to do things himself that he can't and then risking serious injury.

From the light hearted side of life, I have a true story to share with you about a seasonal cookie you can get at Trader Joe's this time of year if you're lucky and if you're quick!

I ran into my local Trader Joe's for milk the other day. It was one of those rare occasions that I needed nothing else but milk.

So I grabbed a gallon of milk from the refrigerator case. 1% RBST Free Milk for $2.99, which by the way, has got to be the absolute cheapest price you can pay for any kind of milk around here and the fact that it's RBST free? Awesome deal.

With nothing but the milk in hand and blinders on to avoid any wayward purchases, I headed for the check out.

Even with the blinders on, however, there was no way to miss the towering display of what is probably Trader Joe's most popular and most coveted holiday cookie item: The Candy Cane Joe-Joe's.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe's are these chocolate sandwich cookies with crushed candy canes mixed into a vanilla cream center. So yummy. So addictive.

And then I did the most amazing thing.

I kept walking straight for the check out. Can you believe it? I walked past the mile high tower of Candy Cane Joe-Joe's without pause and headed straight for the cash registers.

Amazing, right?

Thankfully, I realized the err of my ways a moment later, turned right around toward that tower and grabbed a box.

Good thing, too, because you know when I go back for more milk in a couple of days, the Candy Cane Joe Joe's will have completely disappeared.

I should have bought two boxes.

They disappear awfully fast at home, too.

In 36 hours or less, as a matter of fact.

I bet Santa would have loved Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, too. Oh well. ;)

Have you tried Candy Cane Joe-Joe's?

Do you have a favorite store bought holiday treat?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Potato Parsnip Latkes

Latkes are basically potato pancakes fried in olive oil. Latkes are traditionally served during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah as a reminder and celebration of the miracle of oil during the rededication of the holy Temple of Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. after it had been seized by the Syrians several years prior. When the Maccabees reclaimed their Temple, they found only enough olive oil to light the menorah in the Temple for one day, but it miraculously lasted eight days.

If you celebrate, I wish you a very Happy Hanukkah!

My family doesn't celebrate Hanukkah, but we have attended a parties at our friends' houses over the years and latkes are definitely the culinary highlight of the festivities. Latkes are traditionally served with sour cream and or apple sauce, but you can eat them any way you like any time of the year!

I added parsnips to the traditional potato mixture because I had a few on hand. You can also use carrots or sweet potatoes in place of the parsnips, or just use all potatoes.

Potato Parsnip Latkes

3/4 lb. potatoes
1/2 lb. parsnips
1/2 medium yellow onion
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Shred potatoes, parsnips and onion on the large holes of a box grater or using your food processor.

Combine in a bowl with the flour, egg, salt and pepper, and mix well.

Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet until hot. Divide the potato mixture into eight equal portions shaped into rough pancakes. Carefully lay latkes into hot oil, gently flattening the latke with a spatula. Cook 2-4 minutes until latkes start to brown. If the latkes are browning too fast, lower the heat a little so that the insides cook through before the outsides start to burn.

Carefully flip the latkes over and cook on other side for 2-4 minutes more or until browned.

Remove latkes to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat the cooking process for the last four latkes. Serve hot.

Enjoy! :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Catching Up

I can't believe it's been over a week since I last posted. Where does the time go? I had such plans for posting all kinds of things this month for the holidays and it's so not happening. I know I still have time, but barely! This is such a busy month for me--for all of you as well, I'm sure. Christmas is a only two weeks away and I've barely done a thing to get ready. Put candles in the window, ordered some books and dvds from amazon, and made a few lists, but that's it! Which doesn't exactly support my excuse for being so busy this month, now does it?! Never mind, I'm just going to spill what's been on my blogging mind lately and we'll catch up from there.

I never got around to posting last Thursday's organic goodness, even though I did manage to snap a photo of it all spread out on my dining room table before putting it all away. Since the growing season here in my area has pretty much ground to a halt as winter approaches, the produce we're getting from local farmers is more the long term storage type produce like potatoes, squash, rutabagas, stuff like that. We got celeriac in the order last week, which would have been fun to blog about since it's not so well known, but we ate it already. Throughout the winter, we'll get more and more produce from Florida and California where the weather is warm and sunny and farmers can grow yummy fruits and vegetables all year long.

I've started cooking a lot of my family's favorite cold weather foods lately and have even even been photographing a lot of it, with the idea that I'd share my recipes here, but I haven't gotten around to posting them. By the time dinner is ready, we eat, clean up, help the girls with homework, get the tween to bed, help the teen more with homework (gotta love those Geometry proofs and 10+ page biology lab reports), poof! It's 10 o'clock at night! At that point, I'd rather spend an hour or so reading my latest book or some nights, weight training with my husband in the basement. I started lifting weights with him regularly in September as part of my new and improved workout regime. Plus it's something we're doing together, alone, so the benefits are doubled! Maybe I'll catch up on a few of those recipes over the weekend.

I know I've been mentioning the running thing a lot on my blog lately and you're probably tired of hearing about it. The thing is, it's still a novel, exciting thing for me, and I'm honestly still in awe that this new runner person is actually ME. It's been consuming a lot of my thoughts lately. A lot. :)

Last week my running class did something different and did some trail running in a nearby wildlife reservation (the same one that challenges me on the bike with the hills). Trail running was so much fun. It was a bit muddy and a bit cold, but the views were so pretty, and it felt exhilarating to be running in the woods over roots, over footbridges, and around the lake. There was no one else around; it was so peaceful. Just six women running wild in the woods. Or rather, six women running in the wild woods. We weren't really wild. Here's a photo I took on the run:

I've also started running with my running partner from class on the weekends. We ran together last Saturday and ran over 5 miles in the cold rain that turned to snow before we were even done! It was awesome! (<-- I can't believe this is me saying this)! I think our time was even better than the 5 Mile Run the previous weekend. How the heck we did better in the cold rain, I have no idea. I think something just clicked with me and the running thing. Now my heart rate is nice and steady during a run. It's like my heart, lungs, and legs finally found the runners groove! New York City Marathon 2010, here I come! Okay, not really. Maybe a 10K. :)

Library Loot
I didn't get any library loot this week. I'm trying to catch up with the loot that I already have before I forget all these due dates. It drives me nuts to accrue library fines. I've ben really happy with the books I've been reading lately and I recently realized how much I miss posting reviews. I think the last one I wrote was in early September!

In the meantime, I've been doing a lot of planning for next year by joining a bunch of different reading challenges. I know, I know. I joined four in 2009 yet you haven't really heard much about that all year, have you? I actually did okay with two of them, but kind of bombed the other two. But what good is a challenge if it doesn't challenge you, right? I plan on posting a year end reflection on each of my 2009 Reading Challenges and also on each 2010 Reading Challenge that I'm joining. Including the In Death Reading Challenge that I'm hosting!

Speaking of the In Death Reading Challenge, I'm really excited about hosting this in 2010. There are and some very enthusiastic readers are already out of the gate! Orannia is just about all caught up in the series already, but recently posted her review of Promises In Death on her blog. Then there's Lori who has gotten a jump start and has read and reviewed the first three In Death books; Naked In Death, and Glory In Death and Immortal In Death. Thank you both for your enthusiasm! I feel so honored really, that my Challenge may have been the final straw on the proverbial camel's back that got Lori to finally read this series. Go check out her reviews. She discusses some really great insights to the characters and the series as a whole. If you haven't read the 'In Death' series by J.D. Robb yet, or if you've got a handful of books to read before you're caught up, why not join my In Death Reading Challenge? It'll be fun to read and discuss these stories together throughout the next year or two. Or three. You can find details about the challenge by clicking the In Death Reading Challenge on my left sidebar.

Getting Ready for Christmas
I seriously need one of those time turner thingies that Hermoine Granger first used in The Prisoner of Azkaban to get me through the next two weeks until Christmas. You know it's time to panic when you've barely done anything to prepare and you've already started getting those emails from retailers with "Last Minute Gift Ideas" in the header. Say it isn't so! If I had a time turner, I would twist time over the next week at least so that I'd have two extra hours every day for holiday baking, two extra hours every day for crafting homemade gifts, one hour every day for for decorating, and three extra hours every day for shopping. Wouldn't that be awesome?

The Pioneer Woman is in New York City!!
Ree Drummond, otherwise famously known as the Pioneer Woman, is in NYC on her book tour tonight at Borders at Columbus Circle and then again on Saturday at Posmon Books at Chelsea Market. If you don't know who she is, you've got to visit her at, but be prepared to get lost there for hours. So much great stuff to check out. Anyway, I would love to go see her at one of these two signings, hear her speak, check out her boots, and of course, get a cookbook signed, but I hear she is drawing HUGE crowds to her signings. Hundreds--as in upwards of six, seven eight hundred fans. I'm not kidding! I just can't bring myself to stand in line for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours . . .

If only I had that time turner for real! ;)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Library Loot IX

It's December! Can you believe it?

December is typically my slowest reading month of the year. And when I say slow, I mean s l o w. As in some years nonexistent. Last December, I read all of two books and in December 2007 I read zero books! Zero! This year, I'm determined to beat my record and make time to read at least four books this month. But it will have to get done somewhere between all my regular goings on plus all of those fun seasonal goings on like decorating the house for the holidays, baking holiday treats, making homemade gifts, shopping, entertaining friends, etc. So I may need a little luck to get those four books in. And maybe a little less sleep! ;)

Now for this week's Library Loot!

Library Loot is a weekly blog event that encourages bloggers to share what books they borrowed from the library that week. To participate, simply make your Library Loot post on your blog and link it using the Mr. Linky link at Marg's blog Reading Adventures or Eva's blog A Striped Armchair. FYI, this week's Mr.Linky is at Marg's.

Vision in White by Nora Roberts

Vision in White is the first novel in the new contemporary romance quartet titled The Bride Quartet by author Nora Roberts. Each book in the series features the love story of each of four friends who co-own a wedding service business as they find their own happily ever after. For months I've been pausing to admire the beautiful cover art for Vision in White every time I saw it featured on a book blog, probably starting with Hilcia's review on Musings of a Bibliophile where she guest blogs for Brie. Once the second novel was released earlier this fall, I began to pause to admire the cover art of Bed of Roses as well. Then once I read Lisa's review of Vision in White and in more or less the same week read (skimmed) the buddy review of Bed of Roses by nath, Ames, Monroe, and Chantal on Breezing Through, I realized I would probably really love these stories. So I put the two books on hold and finally got called by my library for Vision in White a few days ago. I'm really looking forward to reading it and will probably pick it up as soon as I finish the book I'm reading now. Especially since it's only a 14 day book and I've had it since the weekend already! Bed of Roses I will have to wait a bit longer for as I'm 8th on the hold list! Yikes!

Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich.

I'm making my way through the first few books in the Stephanie Plum series. Strangely, my library doesn't have the third book. At all. It looks like they have books 1 and 2, then 4 through 15 or 16 or whatever the latest is, plus all the filler books in between. But no book 3. How did that happen? Anyway, I found the third book at a neighboring library and picked it up yesterday. I enjoyed the first two books in the series well enough, but I'm hoping that Stephanie develops some kind of "real" relationship with someone soon. Maybe with Joe or Ranger or even a woman for crying out loud. A best friend, a lover, something. All of her relationships seem to, I don't know, lack depth or something. She doesn't seem close with anyone. Except for maybe Grandma Mazur. Or her hamster. She needs some depth in her life. She also needs to eat better. Have you noticed that all she eats is junk food! That's no way to stay on top of her game. :)

Do you have any library loot this week?

What are you reading right now?