Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012 In the Kitchen

I stole the idea for this post from Beth F, the creator and host of the popular Weekend Cooking feature that can be found every Saturday morning on her blog Beth Fish Reads. Yesterday, Beth F posted a wonderful recap of her year in Weekend Cooking posts with a Best of 2012 Cookbooks, Drinks and Favorite Posts list. Check out her post and links to other Weekend Cooking posts HERE. I'm doing something similar here tonight.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep a detailed journal of my new cooking and dining experiences in 2012, so I'm working this list from memory and my blog posts, the former of which isn't 100% reliable, I'm afraid. At least I have a new journal idea for 2013 now.. ;) Here's a list of the foods I made for the first time this year:

Lime curd 
Lime Curd {from homegrown limes!}, June 2. 2012
I made homemade lime curd using tiny limes that my husband brought home from his uncle's backyard in Texas while visiting there in April. It was really pretty easy to make and so delicious--refreshing with a sweet tart zing! I'll definitely make lemon, lime or other citrus curd in the future.

Chocolate-Peanut Meringues from Everyday Food Magazine, April 1. 2012
I made meringues from a recipe in a cooking magazine. They came out great. Again, so easy to make at home, even if the shape wasn't as nice as store bought meringues.

Home Canning Tomatoes, August 28. 2012
I got invited to partake in a day of canning vats of fresh tomatoes one day last August. What a neat experience! I came home with 2 1/2 cases of tomatoes in quart jars. I am down to one case already, which means I'm going to definitely run out before the winter is over. Lesson learned.. I need about 5 cases of tomatoes to last my family a whole year.

Pear butter 
Homemade Pear Butter The Lazy Girl's Way, October 28. 2012
I found an easy and delicious way to use up a plethora of over ripe pears, thanks to a recipe for making homemade pear butter in the oven from Farmgirl Fare blog.

German Cookery by Elizabeth Schuler [Cookbook], December 1, 2012
I made homemade spätzle for the first time--it was fun and everyone liked it. I might make it again sometime, but it won't take a spot on my regular menu, though. I thought the spätzle needed a lot of butter to give it a good flavor and that's just not how we eat on a regular basis.

Green Juicing! 
Drink Your Greens, March 17, 2012
Woot woot! Good Excellent health in a glass. I started green juicing in 2012 thanks to the Whole Living Action Plan in which I participated back in January. It's basically a food based detox to jump start your body back to a healthy digestive state. Anyway, green juicing is one of the habits that I took away from the cleanse and continued to do all year long. I'm officially hooked. The other awesome thing I took away from that cleanse was to break my addiction to caffeine. Very liberating and I don't get nearly as many migraines as I used to. I think I might have had 2-3 migraines all year whereas I used to have that many in one month. If you suffer migraines, you may want to consider giving up caffeine, too, to see if it helps you.

Best Homemade Pizza Dough, March 3, 2012 gets tons of hits. Over 1500 so far--which is a lot for my little ol' blog. I hope that means people are making my recipe. I just made it the other night!

My recipes for Vegan Basil Pesto, Vegan Arugula-Garlic Scape Pesto and Vegan Potato Leek Soup also get a lot of hits. I'd say there's a niche for vegan recipes out there.

2012 Cookbooks.

Did you vote in the 2012 Readers Choice Awards on Goodreads this year? Most of the readers of my blog are fellow book bloggers, so chances are you did. Did you read a lot of the books from the fiction categories? I read a few and was otherwise familiar with many of the others across many genres. Surprisingly, it was the cookbook genre that I was most familiar with, having read SIX of the nominees, including the winning book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier by Ree Drummond. It was not my favorite book of those that I read. The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond) is a wonderful, fun, down to earth voice in home cooking and her cookbook is nice, but not nearly as original or inspiring as the cookbooks below which I've also read this year. Three 2012 cookbooks that I read and adored this year are:

Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan (My vote in the readers choice awards)
The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila 
Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach

I highly recommend all three of these lovely, original and inspiring cookbooks. I hope you check them out. I'm still on the waiting list for The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, also published in 2012. Any day now...

The Results of the 2012 Readers Choice Awards on Goodreads for Cookbooks

I must mention the following three 2011 publications that caught my attention in 2012, all of which I highly recommend.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer 
I LOVE ice cream in a scary big way and was intrigued by all the positive buzz this cookbook was getting, so I bought Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home cookbook earlier this year. I finally got around to making Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream in September and the results were amazing! Wow.. just wow. If you have an ice cream maker, you should really get this book.

The Newlywed Cookbook by Sarah Copeland
Gorgeous presentation, fantastic recipes--some classics, some twists on old favorites and many original creations that hopefully inspire couples to cook together. The narration is charming in a cozy sweet blissful newlywed way, although at times a little too sugar coated for me. Still.. I read every page and wanted to devour every recipe. Highly recommended.

Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr 
Although not really a cookbook, Crazy Sexy Diet does have recipes in it and it is all about healthy living and eating to be your healthiest and happiest, so I'm mentioning it in this post anyway. Kris Carr is SO positive and inspiring!

Everyday Food Magazine will no longer in publication after the December 2012 issue. I've been subscribing to this magazine since June 2005 and still have every issue. I've loved it over the years and will miss it greatly. :(

Do you have anything on your Best of 2012 List from your kitchen? 

Did you try any new-to-you foods in 2012? 

A new favorite restaurant or cookbook?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Last Call to Join The 'In Death' Series by J.D. Robb Reading Challenge

Interested in joining the Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time of the year at wherever in the series you currently are. See the post below and join the fun!

Did you read any In Death series books this month?
I still have Promises In Death on my nightstand bookmarked somewhere in the first several chapters. I fell off track with this challenge in 2012, but I'm determined to fix that in 2013.

I first announced this 'In Death' Series Reading Challenge in November 2009 and here I am, hopefully at the cusp of meeting that challenge in 2013. There are currently 35 full length novels and 9 novellas published in this series, with the thirty-sixth book due out sometime next year. Despite the fact that I fell off schedule in 2012 having read only 5 novels and 2 novellas, I plan to get back on track in January and read at least one book per month, starting with Promises In Death, the 28th book. If I manage to stay on track this time, I'll finally be caught up in this series by the end of 2013, at which point, I'm going to end the Reading Challenge. So... if you've been wanting to catch up in the In Death Series, too, now is your chance to do it with some friendly camaraderie. Recommit yourself to catching up and join or re-join my 'In Death' Series Reading Challenge for 2013. 

If you'd like to join or re-join (continue) with the challenge, please add your name and a link to your blog or goodreads page in the Mr.Linky below. You can also join if you don't have a blog or goodreads page. Just leave your name in the comment section below.

By linking up below, maybe it will help you be accountable to yourself to read an In Death book every month in 2013. I sure am counting on it helping me!

I post an In Death Series Reading Challenge post in the last several days of the month so participants can link up any reviews, commentary or general progress they've made that month. I also post a spoiler free series discussion post since most readers are at different stages of the series at this point.

I hope you decide to join [or re-join]!  

To help you find your way, here's a list of the currently published books in the In Death series by J.D. Robb:

1. Naked In Death
2. Glory In Death
3. Immortal In Death
4. Rapture In Death
5. Ceremony In Death
6. Vengeance In Death
7. Holiday In Death
7.5. "Midnight in Death" (in the Silent Night anthology or the Three in Death anthology)
8. Conspiracy In Death
9. Loyalty in Death
10. Witness In Death
11. Judgment in Death
12. Betrayal in Death
12.5. "Interlude in Death" (in the Out of this World anthology or the Three in Death anthology)
13. Seduction in Death
14. Reunion in Death
15. Purity in Death
16. Portrait in Death
17. Imitation in Death
17.5. "Big Jack" (in Remember When novel)
18. Divided in Death
19. Visions in Death
20. Survivor in Death
21. Origin in Death
22. Memory In Death
22.5. "Haunted in Death" (in the Bump in the Night anthology or the Three in Death anthology)
23. Born In Death
24. Innocent in Death
24.5. "Eternity in Death" (in the Dead of Night anthology)
25. Creation in Death
26. Strangers In Death.
27. Salvation In Death
27.5. "Ritual in Death" (in the Suite 606 anthology)
28. Promises in Death
29. Kindred in Death
29.5. "Missing in Death" (in The Lost anthology)
30. Fantasy in Death
31. Indulgence in Death
31.5. "Possession in Death" (in The Other Side anthology)
32. Treachery in Death
33. New York to Dallas
33.5. "Chaos in Death" (in The Unquiet anthology)
34. Celebrity in Death
35. Delusion in Death
36. Calculated in Death [2013]


Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Life According to the Book I Read in 2012

It's that time of year again! I first spotted this meme on Angie's blog several years ago and have made it an annual end of the year tradition on my blog ever since. I love this book meme--it's a fun, creative way to reminisce all the books you read throughout the year.

What's even more fun?

Having your friends do the meme, too!

To play along, use only titles of books that you read this year (2012) and complete the prompts below.

Try not to repeat any book titles. Think creatively and have fun!

Once you've posted your Life According to the Books You Read in 2012, grab the link to your blog post and come back here to add you name and link to the Mr. Linky box below. I can't wait to see what you come up with!

My Life According to the Books I Read in 2012:

Describe yourself:
The Sweetest Thing by Jill Shalvis

How do you feel: 
A Lot Like Love by Julie James

Describe where you currently live: 
Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Paris in Love by Eloisa James

Your favorite form of transportation: 
Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox

Your best friend is:
Forever Mine by Delilah Marvelle

You and your friends are:
Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins

What's the weather like: 
Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole & Gena Showalter

What is life to you:
 Gold by Chris Cleave

Favorite time of day:
Dark Desires After Dark by Kresley Cole

Your fear:
If I Die by Rachel Vincent

What is the best advice you have to give:
The Good Neighbors by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

Thought for the day:
Deck the Halls with Love by Lorraine Heath

How I would like to die:
Eternity Embraced by Larissa Ione

My soul's present condition: 
Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh

Can't get enough of reading these lists? Check out mine from past years:
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2011
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2010
My Life According to the Books I Read in 2009

 Don't forget to come back and link up YOUR Life According to the Books You Read in 2012!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Where In the World Are You Reading? Holiday Escape

Where In the World Are You Reading? is a monthly book meme created and hosted by Trish [Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity], Lisa [Books, Lists, Life] and Kelly [The Written Word] earlier this year to encourage readers to share their reading habits through different monthly prompts. The December theme for this month's Where In the World Are You Reading? book meme is Holiday Escape.

Where or what do you read for a little holiday escape?

I had visions of the ultimate cozy reading photo for this month's theme.. a big comfy chair, a hand knit afghan, a nice thick book, a mug of cocoa and a plate of home baked Christmas cookies, an inviting fire in a fireplace decorated for Christmas... Wait, what??! Yeah.. none of that happened for me either. In fact, I don't even have a fireplace! Ha! So erase that picture in your head, as lovely as it is. Instead, I'll just share some holiday escape books I've read as Christmas approached.

A few years ago, I picked up some holiday-themed books to read in the week or two leading to Christmas. I found reading these stories were not only nice reads, but they really did help boost my Christmas spirit. Now it's a little tradition of mine every year. This year, I read:

Holiday Kisses by Shannon Stacey, Jaci Burton, HelenKay Dimon and Alison Kent.

This is a fun contemporary romance Christmas anthology published by Carina Press in 2011. The stories are light and sweet, but still emotional and a bit sexy, too. A great holiday escape that I really enjoyed reading. You can read my review HERE.

We'll Be Home For Christmas by HelenKay Dimon 

This contemporary romance novella was published this year in the Romancing the Holidays anthology published by Carina Press this year, in December 2012. Two of the stories are sequels to the stories in the Holiday Kisses anthology, but can be purchased individually as well. Since I was mostly interested in the story by HelenKay Dimon, I went ahead and bought that one. I'm so glad I did, because I really liked Spence and Lila's story in We'll Be Home For Christmas. The conflict resolved kind of quickly in the end, but everything that should have been said and done was, so I was happy.

Deck the Halls with Love by Lorraine Heath

This is an historical romance novella that is part of Ms. Heath's The Lost Lords of Pembrook series [Book #2.5], but you definitely don't have to read the series to enjoy this one. I say this with first hand experience as this is the first story I've read by this author. I gave the story four stars on goodreads. I enjoyed the plot and I just loved the last chapter. It was clever and romantic and the perfect ending for this little love story.

What is YOUR holiday reading escape?

Since it is still the holiday season and the rush to get Christmas preparations finished in time is past, I'm going to make a point to sit by the Christmas tree, snuggle under a warm blanket and read a book. Even without a fireplace. ;)  Extra motivation to make sure this happens? I'm get read something on my new ipad mini! (Thank you, Husband! xo)

Thanks to Trish, Lisa and Kelly for hosting this monthly book meme this year. It was a lot of fun!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Merry Little Christmas...

... from the heart of my home to the heart of yours.

The girls and I were down for the count with a nasty stomach virus last week. I then fell behind in a lot of Christmas preparations and spent the last couple of days trying to catch up. I tried to let things go and not get stressed over it, but that's easier said than done when you have traditions you want to maintain and you don't want to disappoint anyone--including yourself! Regardless of what did and didn't get done, we are all happy, healthy and together, which is the truly the most important thing, so in the end... we are having a lovely Christmas. :)

I hope you all had a beautiful day spent with the ones you love.  xo

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

REVIEW: Holiday Kisses by Shannon Stacey, Jaci Burton, HelenKay Dimon & Alison Kent

"Published by Carina Press [2011]

The suggested theme for the December TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy The Super Librarian is holiday romance and I chose to read the anthology Holiday Kisses. Holiday Kisses is collection of contemporary romance novellas that came out at Christmastime last year. I bought this one for myself last year but never got around to reading it, then waited a whole year to go by so that I could read it this December. Yes, I am a stickler about reading Christmas romances only near Christmas. Well, I finally read this one last week and really enjoyed it! So much so that I'm reading a sequel to one of these stories now.

"This Time Next Year" by Alison Kent

Brenna Keating is on her annual trek to her beloved Grandmother's house in the mountains for Christmas before she leaves for her new job abroad in Africa when her car swerves into a snow bank right in the middle of storm. The local physician, Dillon Craig, who is also the most eligible bachelor of the mountain, finds her and brings her to his cabin to wait out the storm. As you might guess, these two get really close over several days, talking and getting busy, if you know what I mean. They talk a lot and learn about each other and themselves. Both characters have some obstacles in their lives--Brenna's hesitancy about leaving her grandmother and Dillon's struggle to accept the military tragedies from his past that haunt him. Together, and in the spirit of Christmas, they learn from each other and get a realistic happily ever after. A very sweet love story that captures the essence of the holiday season and is sure to melt your heart.
   GRADE: B+

"A Rare Gift" by Jaci Burton

Wyatt Kent gets a job building an addition onto the local child care center-- the one owned and run by his ex-wife's little sister, Calliope Andrews. This arrangement makes Wyatt super uncomfortable for several reasons. One, he and his ex, Cassandra, ended their marriage on bad terms, so he would prefer to avoid her and anyone associated with her. Two, Calliope is pretty, sweet, upbeat and stirs something in Wyatt he tries to stifle -- desire. Fortunately, Calliope is nothing like Wyatt's ex and she's got enough confidence, sass and good humor to handle Wyatt's cranky nature and eventually these two hit it off. It also helps that she's had a crush on Wyatt for a long time. They've got a few things to overcome, but that's part of the fun. I loved Calliope's positive spirit and it was great to see Wyatt come to terms with his failed marriage and recognize that he deserves true love even if it is a little awkward that he's found it with his ex's little sister.
   GRADE: C+

"It's Not Christmas Without You" by HelenKay Dimon

Carrie Anders is finally chasing her dream of working in a prominent Washington, D.C. museum and has settled into her new city life. Unfortunately, she had to break it off once and for all with her on and off again boyfriend, Austin Thomas, who just couldn't accept her dream to seek a career in a big city. Austin insists Carrie just needs to get her grand ideas of a city career out of her system before she realizes she belongs back in their small rural West Virginia hometown with him. When he finds out Carrie doesn't plan on coming home for the holidays, he puts a plan in motion to make sure she gives up her crazy ideas and is home before Christmas. How does he do that? He sets up a tree lot right across the street from her apartment! Sounds romantic, right? Well, Austin needs a few lessons in respecting and accepting Carrie's dreams and ambitions before he learns the meaning of true love.

I loved the set up of this story. I found Austin's determination to win back Carrie heartwarming and his methods very charming, but boy did it take him long enough to realize her life dreams are just as important as his. I think Carrie could have been more upfront with why she was so exasperated with Austin's treatment of her ambitions and at the same time, I think Austin should have figured how important Carrie's career is to her after she got up and moved to D.C. Even then, it took him a couple of weeks in D.C. before he finally figured it out? It was a bit exasperating how they just danced around the issue and didn't just talk about it right from the start. Thankfully, their love for each other made them stick it out and finally figure out how to make their relationship work.

Interestingly, the conflict between these two drove me a little by their simple lack of communication, but at the same time, Carrie and Austin were two of my favorite characters in this anthology. Austin's brother Spence was also a great addition to this story--so much so that I'm reading his story right now. His story is "We'll Be Home For Christmas" in the Romancing the Holidays anthology published by Carina Press (2012), which can also be bought alone.
    GRADE: C+

"Mistletoe and Margaritas" by Shannon Stacey

This story is a beautiful, sexy friends to lovers romance. Claire Rutledge was widowed two years ago when Brendan--her husband of only two years, died. Since Brendan's been gone, Claire become closer friends with her deceased husband's best friend, Justin McCormack. Justin has loved Claire for a while now, having been interested in her before Brendan ever made a move for Claire. He's been reluctant to ever make a move on her, though, out of respect for Brendan. Claire is finally ready to put herself out there in the dating world, but can't seem to think of anyone else but Justin. With the help of some mistletoe and margaritas, Claire makes the first move and sparks finally fly between these two. Their love and affection for each other--and their passion--was totally believable and very sweet. This story is a very heart warming, feel good Christmas romance. What's not to love?
    GRADE: B+

I think it's pretty tough to pull off a convincing contemporary love story in just 100 pages, but these stories come pretty close. Of course it helps that they're Christmas love stories. Who can resist a good ole sappy Christmas story! These stories are all about delivering a believable love story doused with Christmas spirit. Holiday Kisses will certainly warm your heart this Christmas season. :)

For the anthology as a whole ... GRADE: B

Have you read any good Christmas romances lately?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Library Loot LXI

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! 

It's been a whole week since I last posted anything here. I didn't mean for that to happen! What started out as a small project to rearrange things in the living room to make room for the Christmas tree, I ended up organizing and purging things from my desk, a chest of drawers containing DVDs and CDs, the chest itself, and the coat and game closet. This little project took several days--not several hours like I originally anticipated. So I guess that's what I was doing when I wasn't blogging for a whole week. I have to say It sure feels good to have an emptier and tidier living room, but I sure fell far behind with things online. I'm looking forward to a relaxing week between Christmas and New Years!

I ran into the library to return some books last week and could not resist the lure of the new cookbooks shelf. I am on hold for the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook, for which I cannot wait, but grabbed these beauties to tide me over:

The Truck Food Cookbook: 
        150 Recipes and Ramblings from America's Best        Restaurants on Wheels 
        by John T. Edge 

Who doesn't love food truck food? I couldn't resist pulling this one off the shelf. I'm having fun flipping through the pages in a virtual tour of the countries best food trucks. So many familiar and unique, mouth watering recipes. Honestly, I won't likely make many of these recipes at home. They're generally the greasy, carb dense foods we all love and frankly, I think they'd taste so much better eaten on the streets! That's part of their appeal! At least now I'm inspired to seek out some food trucks in NYC the next time I'm there. At the top of my list is The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, because we all know how much I luurvve ice cream! (They have a shop, too!).

Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year 
       by Kate McMillan, photographed by Erin Kunkel 

Literally a recipe for soup for every day of the year. Monthly chapters start with a calendar and a recipe suggestion for each day. Many recipes follow the seasons making the most of seasonal produce, while plenty of them can be made any time of the year. Gorgeous photography rounds out the versatile offering of recipes that can be mastered by any level home cook.

I don't think there's a single recipe in this cookbook that didn't appeal to me. Most recipes call for chicken broth, but vegetable broth or in some cases, water, can easily be substituted for vegetarians. I personally prefer to cook without commercial stock, so I'd have to have a lot of homemade broth on hand to cook from this cookbook daily or even weekly. I hope to try or jot down a few recipes before I have to return the cookbook to the library!

True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure 
         by Andrew Weil, M.D. and Sam Fox 

The title says it all for this one. This cookbook's mission is to present the most delicious recipes made with fresh, quality ingredients that foster the health and well being of the diner. For someone like me who loves living and eating healthfully but also loves traditional, comforting foods and desserts(!), this cookbook is right up my alley. I'm still discovering all the recipes and essays this cookbook has to offer--it's definitely one worth several library renewals or even a permanent spot on my own bookshelf. The Chocolate Icebox Tart and Pomegranate Martini are just begging for a spot on my holiday menu!

Hope you check out these cookbooks!

What cookbooks have your attention right now?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

REVIEW: Elemental Assassin Short Stories by Jennifer Estep

So I'm finally reading the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep thanks to the Read-Along that's going on, hosted by The Book Vixen and Smash Attack Reads, and I'm pretty darned excited about it. And I'm pretty darned proud of myself, too, because surprise, surprise I'm actually caught up with the group! We started the series back in October and are reading one full length novel per month. The plan to be caught up by the release of the eighth book in March 2013. This month we'll be reading the fourth book, Tangled Threads.

In addition to the full length novels, Jennifer Estep has written several Elemental Assassin online short stories that can be read on on her website at These stories are short stories, not novellas so they are short. I mean short. I'd say each one is at most 10 or 12 pages, but for fans of the series, they're pretty cool glimpses into various characters' pasts and or they show some aspect of the story from the point of view of characters aside from Gin Blanco. The novels are told from the first person point of view of Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin who is known as The Spider. I haven't reviewed the full length novels, although I'd like to. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the Elemental Assassin online short stories.

CAUTION: There are some slight character and plot spoilers for the Elemental Assassin series in the remainder of this post. Read at your own risk!

Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin, #1)
Review to come. (Maybe.)

"Poison" (Elemental Assassin, #0.5) This story takes place when Gin is a teenager, after she was taken in off the streets by her mentor and father figure, Finnegan Lane. Finn's son Fletcher is a few years older than Gin and highly resentful of her place in the Lane family. He's clearly jealous of his father's attention and affection for Gin. But Gin proves her loyalty and affection for the Lane family in this story. Poison is told from Fletcher's point of view.

A very short story, yet it accurately portrays some of Gin's strongest traits---loyalty, patience and calm lethality. I liked seeing how Gin was brought into the Lane family and thought Finn's reaction to her was very believable.

"Web of Deceit" (Elemental Assassin, #0.6)
Told from the point of view of Finnegan Lane, the owner of a barbecue joint called The Pork Pit who rescues Gin off the streets when she was just a young girl. This short tells the story of Gin's very first assassination that Finn assigns her when she's just a teen.

Again, the reader gets an inside look at what Fletcher sees in Gin from a young age, including the ways in which Fletcher can use Gin in his line of work. And yes, as much as it shows that Fletcher cares for Gin, I don't think I'm inaccurate when I say he uses her.

"Spider's Bargain" (Elemental Assassin, #0.7)
This story takes place just before the first book in the series, Spider's Bite. It tells the story of Gin Blanco taking down a corrupt cop in Ashland, who turns out to have been the partner of Donovan Cain, the cop with whom Gin alliances in Spider's Bite.

Gin's cold lethality is sharp in this one--I have to say it's quite refreshing to read about a female assassin who is so brutally good at what she does that it's even a bit shocking once in a while.

"Web of Death" (Elemental Assassin, #1.5)
This short takes place right after Spider's Bite. Gin has retired from the assassin business, but when she discovers some men ganging up on a woman a few short miles from her new place, she can't help but respond to the situation and some heads roll. Literally.

This short was okay. It didn't necessarily reveal anything about Gin's character that the reader doesn't already know at this point. I think we all knew Gin wouldn't be able to stay retired from the assassin business for too long--she's bored running the Pork Pit! What it does show is that Gin does have a moral compass. One that points directly at the evil bastards who torment the people of Ashland and whom she has no qualms about eliminating whether she's being paid to or not. Clearly she's doing the world a service.

Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin, #2)
Review to come. (Maybe.)

"Wasted" (Elemental Assassin, #2.5)
This very short story can be found at the author's website. It's an Elemental Assassin series story that takes place between the events of Web of Lies [Book 2] and Venom [Book 3]. Wasted is told from the point of view of Finnegan Lane, Gin Blanco's foster brother. A beautiful female vampire suspiciously tarts frequenting the bank in which Finn works. Trouble follows, but nothing Finn can't handle. The story was rather flat, but it does reveal a little tidbit about Xavier, the part time cop and part time bouncer of the club Northern Aggression owned by Rosalyn Phillips.

Venom (Elemental Assassin, #3)
Review to come. (Maybe.)

"Tangled Dreams" (Elemental Assassin, #3.5)
This online short story takes place between the events of the third Elemental Assassin book, Venom, and the fourth, Tangled Threads and can be found on the author's website. Tangled Dreams is told from the point of view of the Devereaux sisters, Jo-Jo and Sophia. Gin comes stumbling to the Devereaux sister's house for healing, seriously injured after rescuing a woman and her young daughter from a gang of carjackers. This is a must read for fans of the Elemental Assassin series because it gives a fantastic look into the thoughts and feelings of the Devereaux sisters that hasn't quite yet been explored in the books. It also provides a little bit of insight into their past, particularly Sophia's which I must admit has me rather curious. I love the roles of Jo-Jo and Sophia in this series and I look forward to getting to know them even more in future books.

"Tangled Schemes" (Elemental Assassin, #3.6)
Another online short story from the Elemental Assassin series, this one is told from the point of view of Bria Coolidge, the new, straight laced cop on the Ashland police force. It takes place alongside the events of the first three books and ends around the same time that Venom, book three, ends. I liked learning what happened to Bria since the night her family was murdered by the Fire Elemental when she was just a young girl. We see that fateful night from her eyes and a little bit of how she lived her life afterwards. She learns about the possibility that her sister is still alive and she sets out to find her. The story also hints at a possible love interest for Bria. I hope it comes to fruition--I like the pairing!

Tangled Threads (Elemental Assassin, #4)
Reading this month!

"Spider's Nemesis" (Elemental Assassin, #4.5)
Taking place after the fourth book in the series, this online short story that can be found on the author's website and is told from the point of view of Mab Monroe, the nemesis Gin Blanco the assassin also known as The Spider. The story provides the background story for Mab's hatred of the Snow family that began when Mab Monroe and Eira Snow (Gin's mother) were just young girls. Readers also see the night of the confrontation between Mab and Eira which ultimately led to the murder of Eira and her oldest daughter and the destruction of the Snow home, which left Gin and Bria orphans. Sadly, Gin and Bria believed the other had also perished in the fire that night and only now as adults are they seeking each other.

I enjoyed learning more about the connection between Mab Monroe and the Snow family, but I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed that Mab's hatred of Eira Snow was based largely on Mab's innate evilness and drive for absolute power with a dab of jealousy mixed in. Basically I wanted to understand why Mab is so mean, greedy and destructive and was disappointed to learn that she was just essentially born and raised that way.

Visit Jennifer Estep at her website for more information about her books, including the Elemental Assassin series and these short stories.

Do you read this series?

What's your favorite urban fantasy series that stars a female protagonist?

Friday, December 7, 2012

My November Adventures

November started out with some challenging days as our community was still recovering from hurricane Sandy that charged through the area in late October. Our school district was closed for nearly two full weeks, Halloween was more or less cancelled and the school calendar had to be re-worked to account for so many missed school days. Spring break is intact, but we lost some other days off in 2013 and now the last day of school has been pushed to June 25th! As much as I love a snowy winter, I hope we're not slammed with too many snow days this winter or the school year's never going to end!

In books: 
I read twelve books this month, but don't be fooled--only five of them were full length novels. Two others were novellas, another a graphic novel and then I also read five short stories, which are even shorter than novellas. Those short stories are counting towards my annual count of books read this year, which may or may not be cheating since they are so short, but I'm not stressing over it because my goodreads book count for 2012 is slightly off anyway because most of my re-reads this year aren't included in my total.

Total books read: 13
Romance................ 5
    [Contemporary Romance.... 2]
    [Steampunk Romance ....... 3]
Urban Fantasy........... 6
General Fiction ........ 1
Graphic Novel ........... 1

1. Poison by Jennifer Estep [online short story]
2. Web of Deceit by Jennifer Estep [online short story]
3. Spider's Bargain by Jennifer Estep [online short story]
4. Web of Death by Jennifer Estep [online short story]
5. Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
6. Through the Lens by K.M. Jackson
7. Web of Lies by Jennifer Estep
8. Wasted by Jennifer Estep [online short story]
9. The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
10. Here There Be Monsters by Meljean Brook [RE-READ]
11. Fever Moon by Karen Marie Moning
12. Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City by Meljean Brook
13. This is How You Lose Her by Junoz Diaz

My favorite book this month is The Iron Duke, which I finally got around to reading thanks to the TBR Challenge! I loved it and can't wait to read more in this world. I also really enjoyed Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas. I also recommend This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz even though I didn't get anything really positive out of characters or their story. I'm glad I read it, but man was it sad in a pitiful way. It gets bonus points just for making me think about it so much.

In Photography: 

I'm still going strong with my Project 366 [leap year] photography project. I haven't missed a photo since one day last May, I think. I hope I didn't just jinx myself because I'm almost there!

Don't cry over spilt milk..
especially when you have kitties!
November 18. 2012
The spilt milk photo in the photo above was my 'most liked' photo of November. I had come home from the grocery store with a gallon of milk when it fell through the bottom of the bag onto the floor, splitting along the seam of the jug and a lot spilled out before I could pick it up and stop the spill. I only let them lap up the milk for a minute or two while I snapped the photo. They were so cute.

I've been having a lot of fun on Instagram, even though I think it is kind of silly from a non-user's perspective. I came across a link to a really funny spoof video about Instagram that shows you why. I laughed and cringed at the same time, because I do those things! So embarrassing, but who cares. I'm having fun documenting my year through photos and "meeting" people from all over the world.

Here's the link to the video:

But I swear wasn't being pretentious when I posted a photo of Anna Karenina! Honest!

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
.. on a 34.4 mile bike ride in 41 F breezy weather..
November 24, 2012
Instagram has new user profile pages that can easily be found if you know someone's username. Here's mine: . They don't always load properly for me, though, so I'm not sure what's up with that.

Anyway, that's it for my November adventures.. I'm sure I did more than read and take pictures on my iphone, but I can't think of anything else to report. lol
Moments from our first snow of the season.
November 7, 2012
December is always a busy month of activities and of course, holiday celebrations. It also mention lots of baking! And eating... oh boy. I'm already planning on a January detox followed by seriously healthy eating.

Have you had any adventures lately?

I wish you all a delightful, delicious and joyous December!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

My #20minaday Challenge

Samantha from, who also reviews at, came up with this nifty challenge idea for December. The idea is to take at least 20 minutes every day for the whole month JUST FOR YOURSELF. What a great idea, right? I bet most of you spend a ton of time taking care of other people, putting yourself last, especially this time of year. Right now would be a great time to make sure you take care of yourself as well. I personally think it's a good habit to carry on all year long. Just 20 minutes a day. Take care of yourself and you'll be able to better take care of the ones you love. The bonus? Samantha is giving away a $25 Amazon gift certificate to one lucky participant at the end of the challenge.

For more information on the #20minaday challenge and how to join in, visit Samantha at her blog and on twitter @samanthacycles.

Here's my #20minaday list for December which I'll update this post as I go along.

I'm going to try to NOT use working out as me time, because while that time and effort is 100% all about me, I do it all the time. For this challenge I'd like to make a point of doing something different just for me.

12.1  Worked on my Spanish/Spanglish glossary of This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz. 
12.2  Went shopping for new sneakers + boots for ME! Didn't find anything, though. :(
12.3  Gathered and admired my collection of holiday cooking magazines. :)
12.4  Lunch with Claudia at ATH! :D
12.5  30 minute nap. *bliss*
12.6  Caught up with Angela on the phone. My dear friend since we were 4 years old!
12.7  Caught up with Dee on the phone. Free therapy session! ha
12.8  Watched a movie with Gabe.
12.9  60 minute nap.. so tired lately.
12.10 Went to Charlotte's to juice.
12.11 Played a couple of games Scramble with Friends with my husband. I lost every time.
12.12 Watched last night's Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition with my girls (DVR)
12.13 Organized the living room & game closet. Feels so good to have purged stuff!
12.14 Played with the colors of my blog. Fun.
12.15 Snuggled and talked with my youngest.
12.16 Napped. I see a strong trend here..
12.17 Had a midmorning coffee + cookies with Gabe. He baked them!
12.18 --- Youngest got sick last night..  pretty much kept her company, rubbed her back,
12.19 ---          and watched tv with her all day
12.20 --- SICK! Bleh.. in bed with stomach bug. 
             Husband had to stay home today to take care of everyone. 
12.21 --- 
12.22 --- Started watching "tvd" on Netflix w/Maria
12.23 ---  I exercised and read, but I promised myself I wasn't counting those towards 
12.24 ---      as #20minaday 'ME' time. 
12.25 Backing up my 1st gen ipad and restoring data onto my new ipad mini!!! :D
12.26 Participated in Joy's #NewYearsBook twitter chat
12.27 Watched "tvd" with my girls
12.28 Watched movie with Gabe.
12.29 Watched more "tvd" with my girls.
12.30 Built our gingerbread house!
12.31 Went out for a romantic NYE dinner with my husband

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Library Loot LX

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! 

If I haven't screwed up my roman numerals along the way, this is my 60th Library Loot post since I started participating in this meme in August 2009. I promise you I've been to the library way more times than 60 in that time span, though. Sometimes I go just to return something and then look but don't borrow. Sometimes I go with my daughters who borrow books but I don't. Sometimes my library loot post includes books from three different libraries that I've visited in a week's time. In any case, I've become a huge fan of looting libraries in the last few years and I don't plan on stopping!

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
I'm down to the wire with less than a month left to wrap up a few of my reading challenges for this year. I chose to read this book for the last requirement for the What's In A Name 5 Reading Challenge. I started reading it already and will likely finish it tomorrow. It's acclaimed by critics and even considered a modern classic, but I'm not exactly sure why yet.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami 
This is my second year participating in the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge and this is the book I chose to read this year. (I'm participating at the one book level.) Last year I read after the quake: stories and liked it, but didn't feel it was quite enough to say I've really sampled Murakami's writing. I hope I like Sputnik Sweetheart!

Great Expectations: The Graphic Novel by Charles Dickens, 
       adapted by Jen Green
Go ahead and laugh at me for reading this classic novel in graphic novel format, but at least I'm reading original text and learning about a classic that I know nothing about and would probably not read otherwise. My motivation to read this one comes from the fact that my daughter is reading the novel in her high school lit class right now and I thought it would be fun to read it along with her. In my modified, short cut version, anyway. I highly recommend the Classical Comics line of graphic novels for reluctant high school readers or busy grown ups like me who want to be enlightened but don't have the time or interest to read the original novels.

Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis
I grabbed this one on the way out of the library the other night. This is the third book in the Lucky Harbor contemporary romance series. I read the first two a while back and while I'm not sure I want to continue with the series (there are at least five books now), I at least want to finish this one to complete the original trilogy. The first three books feature three sisters who have been reunited in Lucky Harbor after growing up separately who all find love and happily ever after as adults. This is Chole's story. If I don't finish this one by the end of the year, it will likely be one of my first few books of 2013.

Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan
I re-looted this great little cookbook on home preserving. I'm kind of hoping Santa brings me my own copy, but in any case, I wanted to check out Marisa's marmalade recipes because I'm thinking of making up a batch or two to give as Christmas gifts to friends. Let's see if I can make that happen.

Have you read any of these books? 

What are YOU reading from your library [or bookshelves]? 

Are you cramming to read any particular books to meet your 2012 Reading Challenge goals? 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Crazy for Christmas Cookies!

After hearing all about the annual Virtual Advent Tour hosted by Marg [The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader] and Kelly [The Written World] over the last couple of years, I finally decided to join in the merriment. Today's post is my contribution to the 2012 Virtual Advent Tour that just kicked off a few days ago. The idea behind the tour is for book bloggers to share anything they wish about the advent season with their fellow bloggers.. family or country traditions, recipes, books, movies, songs, anything at all, really. To learn more about the Virtual Advent Tour, the schedule of participants with links to their blogs, or to sign up yourself, visit the Virtual Advent Tour Blog HERE.

As you can guess from the title of this post, I am crazy for Christmas cookies. Ever since I can remember, my mother would bake dozens of Christmas cookies--at least five or more varieties and store them in decorative tins on the dining room table. We would eat them, of course, but my mom would also package sampler plates of cookies, wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon to gift to relatives, friends, neighbors, the mailman, the garbage collectors, teachers, crossing guards, and so on. She made a lot of cookies!

My mom practiced this Christmas cookie tradition after learning it from her own mother--my maternal grandmother whom I called Oma. My Oma baked traditional German cookies such as spritz, lebkuchen and linzer cookies. My mom baked those same cookies--except for the lebkuchen, and then some. She'd switch it up a bit every year but there was always spritz, linzer cookies, almond crescent cookies, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, iced holiday cutout cookies. My brothers and I usually helped with the cutout cookies. So much fun!

From the first year that I had my own kitchen, I've been baking Christmas cookies for the holiday season as well. There may have been a year or two when I only managed to make one or two varieties, but I always baked some cookie for Christmas. Interestingly, the only cookie from my childhood that I consistently bake every year are spritz cookies. I wrote about my affection for spritz cookies last year, in which I include a recipe in this post HERE. I have been using the same cookie press for almost 20 years now and I think I'll just cry the day it fails me. I sure hope I don't jinx myself by even thinking of that happening.

I love cooking magazines probably just as much as I love cookbooks and I have acquired many many issues over the years. That can be a whole separate discussion, but the point here is that every December I pull out all the holiday issues of cooking magazines in my collection and pour over them for days and days and days and weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, deciding on the cookies that will make that year's list. I think planning the cookies is almost as much fun as baking them! But never as much fun as eating them. ;)

My holiday magazine collection includes:

Over a decade of December issues of Cooking Light magazines:
Holiday issues of Cooking Light magazine
Nearly a decade of December and Holiday issues of Everyday Food magazines:
December & Holiday issues of Everyday Food magazine
Several special Holiday publications from Martha Stewart Living:
These include decorating and homemade gift ideas and instructions. SO fun!
Holiday cookies {and homemade gifts} MS publications
One beloved copy of Holiday Baking by Cook's Illustrated magazine:
I subscribed to this magazine for a year or two--loved it. Very good for serious cooks who love reading about test kitchen processes and food science as much as they love cooking.
Holiday Baking special publication
from Cook's Illustrated
Several special Christmas Cookies publications from Better Homes and Gardens magazine:
SO many terrific cookie recipes and tips in these magazines. Also, instructions and templates for making Gingerbread Houses. I bought a new one [the red Holiday Baking one on top] just the other day because I want to make the gingerbread house inside it this year. :)
Christmas Cookies | Holiday Baking
Special publications from Better Homes & Gardens
I also have ONE Christmas Cookie cookbook that I absolutely LOVE. I have cooked many recipes from this cookbook of classic Christmas cookie recipes. That is, Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer-Becker and Ethan Becker. If you are passionate about Christmas cookies like I am, I highly recommend this cookbook. It's no longer available in print from the publisher, but look for it at your library or from used book sellers! This is becoming my trademark line lately, isn't it?

Nothing says Crazy for Christmas Cookies like my collection of cooking magazines, don't you think?

I also have a collection of Christmas craft books and cross-stitch patterns that rivals this collection of Holiday magazines...  ; )

Are you crazy for Christmas cookies, too?

What is your FAVORITE Christmas cookie? 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cookbook Challenge Wrap-Up

I joined Cynni's Cookbook Challenge back in October with hopes of cooking out of some never used cookbooks on my own shelves. I challenged myself to prepare one recipe from different cookbooks and ended up preparing eleven recipes in all--one or more from each of the five cookbook. Needless to say this was a very successful challenge for me. Here's a recap of the cookbooks and recipes I prepared over the last few weeks:

Butternut Shotglass Soup
First up was the delightfully artistic cookbook, Autumn by Susan Branch. I was delighted by how many readers who visited my post were already familiar with this author's books. Even more exciting, Susan Branch herself came by and left a lovely comment on the post. This was a huge thrill for me. I made two soup recipes from this cookbook--Butternut Shotglass Soup and Tomato Soup. I've even made the Tomato Soup three times since then.
Tomato Soup
Saffron Pilaf and Moghul Shrimp
in Cream Sauce and other sides
The second cookbook I pulled from my shelves was Indian Regional Cooking by Julie Sahini from which I prepared four recipes. I made Saffron Pilaf [Zaffron Pulao], Moghul Shrimp in Cream Sauce [Moghul Jheenga], Orange-Cinnamon Basmati Pilaf [Naarangi Pulao] and Chicken Korma [Murgh Korma]. All of the recipes were wonderful--I am especially fond of the rice dishes and will definitely make them again. I also plan to try even more recipes from this cookbook.

Pumpkin Cornmeal Griddle Cakes
Next, I grabbed The Pumpkin Cookbook edited by Nicola Hill from which I made Pumpkin-Cornmeal Griddle Cakes and Pumpkin, Chickpea and Banana Curry. The griddle cakes were just okay to my liking, but I loved the authentic Indian flavor of the curry dish. I posted the recipe in the review of the cookbook HERE and highly recommend you give it a try if you like Indian food--with or without the banana.

Apple Puff Pancake 
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I prepared a delicious Apple Puff Pancake from the cookbook Holiday Baking by Sara Perry. I adore this cookbook that includes a diverse collection of traditional and modern recipes for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa and New Year's Eve and Day. I look forward to trying so many more recipes from this cookbook in the future. I highly recommend this one.

Beef Rouladen and Spätzle
Finally, I cooked two recipes from The German Cookery by Elizabeth Schuler. This is an old-fashioned style cookbook with very simple recipe instructions for authentic German dishes. I bought it so I could learn to cook some home style recipes that my German grandmother prepared for so many family meals during my childhood. I made Beef Rouladen [Rinderrouladen] and Spätzle. While the recipes I tried weren't quite like my Oma's, it sure felt comforting to prepare a meal of which I think my Oma would have been proud.

So I met the challenge of the Creative Croissant that required 3-5 recipes and then some! Since I made eleven recipes, I actually finished at the Swedish Chef level!

I hope you've been inspired to pull a rarely used cookbook off your shelves and start cooking from it!

Thanks, Cynni, for a fun and inspiring challenge! :)