Friday, November 30, 2012

Goodreads-- My review of Primal Law (which is a stupid title, having read the book)

Primal Law (Alpha Pack #1)Primal Law by J.D. Tyler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So I finished listening to this one and I have to say I cannot decide, was it a bad story or just told poorly. It is light on details, which in an erotic romance can be forgiven if the sex and chemistry is off the charts, which in this book is decidedly not the case.

I feel like this is at the heart of it, a lukewarm retelling of a story that has frankly been told over and over. And yet, there were glimmers...

Ironically the parts of the story, which held more of my attention, centered around two interesting, well developed minor characters-- which, if the author had put as much art and craft into developing the main characters of this book, well my review would have been totally different.

I feel like this book would have benefited from several revisions and some working shopping with respect to character development.

It wasn't horrible, in the way mindless TV isn't horrible, but I am not motivated to read this author again.

I will say this-- the narration was excellent on the audio book. I would happily listen to Kristen Potter narrate another book. That is half of the reason I finished this one.

So I paid $4.95 for the book on Audible during their recent sale and that is frankly all this book is worth.

View all my reviews

I hate to give bad reviews and I seldom do. I will say, this was a good exercise for me as a writer... I may go back and relisten, if only to see if I can learn something. Where I found myself disappointed and why. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holiday Shopping -- Something Different

Sometimes buying local and shipping isn't exactly the easiest or you are shopping for someone and struggling to find, just the thing. I am not one of those people, who think online shopping is evil, far from it. I do try to cultivate my own list of go-to online haunts.

I also like the idea of giving a gift that lasts or continues well past the birthday or the holiday and frankly-- who wants weird fruits every month? So this list might be just what you need to give a gift that continues past the holiday and does not contain any under ripe pears.

Today I will share a few with you!


I LOVE BIRCHBOX. I became aware of this wonderful service via Twitter. I was skeptical. I am *not* a makeup person. I loathe shopping for make up and lotions and potions. The reality was I needed to be shopping for them and wasn't. Boom-- Birchbox was the answer. You sign up, answer questions about your hair, nails, make up and style and then monthly they mail you a cute box, with 4-5 samples of make up, perfume, lotion and skin care items. Very nice. It is a great little pampering party in a box.  Have I loved everything? No. Have I found some amazing products that I never would have discovered on my own, you betcha. Totally worth the $10 or so a month in my opinion. You can give a gift subscription and then not only will the special someone get great stuff in the mail, they will remember who was so thoughtful to send them something so cool every month too!

I will also say this. Birchbox offers amazing customer service. They are responsive, via email and Twitter. They are kind and gracious and they want you to be happy.

You can also earn points for reviewing the products each month and every 100 points is equal to $10 in store credit. Pretty cool.

Umba Box

I discovered Umba Box by accident while checking Facebook on H's computer (why he does not have Ad Blocker Plus is beyond me.) Umba Box is a selection of curated Etsy type items. I started subscribing thinking I would only try it for a few months. Well, I have stuck by them. I have gotten an eclectic mix of items over the last few months. All very good quality, creative and different. While I am not a HUGE fan of the screen printed tea towels, I have loved the hand made cosmetics and lovely stationary. I have given a few of my Umba Box items as gifts and the recipients have loved them.

Umba Box's website is not without its own issues, but it has improved steadily and their customer service is AMAZING! I have called them and recently chatted (via on site IM) with them and they are a classy operation also.

I think this box is great for people who enjoy supporting artists and crafts people. I plan to keep subscribing.


Again, a wonderful Twitter referral. I love the FAB app. I am less in love with their website. I love their product mix. I love that they do no spam my Inbox. I love that they appreciate their customers (hello, little $25 gift card just because and cute little poster that came in the mail.) Shipping time has improved steadily and they have a new free shipping option, which is fantastic!

Everything I have ordered from FAB, has been, well FAB!

FAB is a great place to shop for that something different or interesting.

Brooklyn Industries

"Wow, that blouse is too cute."

"I love that purse."

"That jacket is really cool."

Yep, this is what happens when I am wearing something I have acquired from Brooklyn Industries. I have to credit SS and JC for turning me onto Brooklyn Industries a few years ago. There has been no going back. A decent number of items in my closet come from Brooklyn Industries and I don't live in NYC.

I will say, one has to be objective and honest about their body shape. Know what styles flatter and follow the size chart. The return policy is fair, but read and understand it before you shop. Shipping seems reasonable.

Purses and tote bags ALWAYS fit!

I hesitate to give away one of my favorite boutiques, BUT it really is an awesome little shop. Also, their sales cannot be beat! If you really love something, order it, but watching something sometimes pays off.

Fair warning-- some of the merchants mentioned will give me credit if you click the link and sign up. No, I am not going to tell you which ones. I will thank you for the credit, but that is NOT the point of this post. I am just sharing some of the places I love to shop online. I have been fair and objective in my description and their shortcomings. If I get credit, and it because you wanted to give something a try, on m recommendation, thank you in advance.

Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November photo contest: #capturingLife Wk2

I normally don't post photos of the kids in public. This week however is a total exception. I cannot not use this photo. It is not the best photo I have ever taken. It is hazy. I shot it totally on the fly, as I watched L's gym class. She wanted me to snap some pictures.

It is just so amazing, how she can just be upside down like that. The idea is to walk over quickly, but she is strong enough to hold it in place, to hesitate going over. Some of the other girls just flip over. Too fast to snap a photo, but L is cautious, even upside down.

I could be trite and say, look, life is about working hard. Practice, practice, practice.

But I think this photo says something else entirely.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kicked Up Sheppard's Pie

It is no secret, this year we have gotten a huge crop of very tasty local and organic potatoes from Wayward Seed. It is also no secret that I have gone mostly grain free.

I also am the first to admit, that I do not love potatoes.

So I am learning to love them and last Saturday, I boiled and mashed a huge amount of potatoes. I did not peel them. The good stuff is in the peel. I boiled, I drained and I mashed them with some butter and half and half.

I thought about freezing them this way, but decided better of it and made up a version of Sheppard's pie instead.

I basically made a version of keema. I used the spice combo from this keema recipe which I swear by. It is a process, but in this case I let the mustard seed and cumin seeds pop. Caramelize the onions and then I toss in some garlic and ginger paste. Then the spices, then brown the meat. I added cubed carrots to the onion mixture half through.

Once the meat is brown, I added some lactose free plain yogurt and cooked until thick. I would have added pea, but H does not like peas in casseroles. No idea why, he just doesn't.

I made the spice blend a bit milder than I normally would in the hopes the kids would eat this.

At this point. I filled four casserole dishes with the meat mixture.

 I used two small round casserole pans and two larger square pans.
 I used my large scoop, to portion out the potatoes. So the potato layer would be even.

Then I used a back of a spoon to smooth out the potatoes. I put the dishes in the freezer uncovered to freeze firm, then I wrapped the tops in foil and put the pan in a gallon sized freezer bag.

Yesterday I thawed one for about an hour and baked it at 350 degrees for just over and hour. H swears he could have eaten the entire thing. L was not impressed. E thought it was "amazing" and I liked it.

It was nice to have something already made and ready to bake.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Baked Squash/Pumpkin Custard

So high on the success with my pumpkin pie, I was wondering, could I just make the custard, which honestly is the part everyone in this house loves.

I also was wondering, would anyone notice, if I swapped pumpkin with butternut squash.

The answer is YES, yes you can just make the filling and bake it and NO, no one will notice if you swap butternut squash for pumpkin!

So here we go...

 So I had 2 cups of butternut squash puree. (I explain the process for making squash puree in my previous post about the pie.) Sadly I had no evaporated milk. So I googled  and found you can sub sweetened condensed milk for the sugar and evaporated milk in the Libby's recipe. Which is what I was working from.
 I prepared my pan. Since this is a custard, you need to bake it in a water bath. So I buttered my ramekins and made sure they would fit in the glass baking dish. (I am a klutz. So I placed the pan in the over and then filled it about half full with water. You can do whatever you want.)

 Make the custard. (Beat 2 eggs, mix in squash/pumpkin puree, add spices, then stir in the sweetened condensed milk.)
 Fill the buttered ramekins. Place in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350, bake an additional 30-40 minutes or until the centers are set.

 Remove from the oven and cool. Once cool, cover with foil or place in an airtight container and chill a few hours to over night in the refrigerator.
I ate this one for breakfast and it was oh, so yummy. E inhaled one for breakfast too. I think, perhaps smaller ramekins would be better. It was alot to eat in one setting, but eat it we did. Loving every creamy spoonful!

Locally handmade gifts, easy as 1, 2, 3

I try to shop local and handmade for as many Christmas/Holiday presents as I can. It just feels nicer and I like supporting local artists. Below is a list of some local craft markets and shops, which I have visited in the past and found just the right thing. They are in no particular order.

The North Market.

Who doesn't love the market. Local food and farmers. Popcorn. Ice cream. Coffee and tea and spices (btw-- love the spice vendor. Love.) Annually they have a craft show and it is a great one. Just the right size to browse before or after lunch. A great selections and tons of fun. The last two years, the kids have shopped for grandparents at this craft expo. This year the North Market Holiday Open House is December 1 and 2, 2012.

Junctionview Studios

First of all I love this place. A co-working studio for various artists. They sponsor various open houses, art shows during the year and the one for the holidays is fantastic. A good mix of crafty items and arts.

This year the Holiday Art Market is December 16, 2012 from 2-6 pm.

Glass Axis

 Glass Axis is a glass work coop. They have a retail store and host public Sales and Workshops throughout the year. The Glass Pumpkin Patch in October is worth noting. The Holiday Sale and Workshops, is likewise worth the trip. This year the Holiday Sale is December 7-9, 2012. Workshops and handmade, locally blown glass. Perfect.

Not a craft fair person or busy on those dates, the following are shops/stores where I go to find local and handmade items.

Wholly Craft -- you just never know what you will find. They have quirky hours, so check the website.

Sobo Style-- not all local and not all new, but fun and funky.

The Candle Lab -- I love this place. I could make candles all day. You can pour your own or stick with something they have in stock. I love their bath bombs. Possibly the best bath bombs ever...

Objects for the Home -- not all made here, but many items are by local crafts people. Ask. I have always found them to be very helpful and knowledgeable.

So what did I miss? Do you have a favorite, not on my list???

Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie

I love pumpkin pie. I have not eaten it in a few years, first I was off eggs, then I was friends with eggs again, but struggling to make a gluten free pie crust.

I feel I have now gotten a decent crust.

Here is the scoop.

Gluten free pastry (enough for 1 crust with some waste)*

2 cups Nameste Perfect Flour Blend (gluten free)

2/3 c very cold butter, cubed in small pieces

pinch or two of sugar

6-7 Tbs ice water

*I have no idea if other flour blends will work. I have only tried this one.

In the food processor (using the dough blade) add sugar and flour to the bowl. Pulse once to combine, then add butter and pulse until you have course meal. (since there is no gluten to develop, you need not be as careful as you would be with wheat flour.) Then add water by Tbs, until the dough pulls away from the bowl of the processor. I find it takes all 6-7 Tbs. The dough will we firm.

Without touching the dough, dump it into a large plastic bag. Once in bag, form into a ball. Then seal the bag.

I let the dough rest AT LEAST an hour, in the refrigerator.  I find the longer it rests, the easier it is to work with. Again, there is no gluten, so the dough is not going to behave like normal pastry. It just isn't. It is on a good day, slightly disagreeable dough. Fair warning.

Tear two sheets of wax paper, slightly bigger than you plan to roll the dough. I find wax paper keeps things from sticking. Sprinkle with a bit of of the gluten free flour or to be cost conscious, some white rice flour, which is the cheapest, I think. Flatten the dough ball slightly and then roll. The dough may tear at the edges or split, normal and we can work with that. Do not go as thin as you would with regular pastry dough.

Gently peal away the top layer of wax paper, once you have the dough rolled out and then flip the dough into a prepared pie pan. Use the wax paper, to help press the dough into the pie pan and then gently peal away this layer of wax paper.

Now "repair" any tears and work to fix any flaws, using the extra dough, you cut away from the overhang. You can crimp the edge any way that works.

Put this back in the refrigerator, while you prepare the filling.

Preheat over to 400 degrees.

I use a version of the pumpkin pie filling recipe from the Libby's can.

2 c fresh pumpkin puree**

1 can evaporated milk

2 eggs

3/4 c to 1 c sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw, no more white sugar in this house) also, taste your fresh pumpkin, sometimes it is sweeter or less so, then add the sugar

1/2- 1 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

Mix the sugar and spices in a small bowl. In a larger bowl gently beat eggs, add in pumpkin and sugar mixture. Pour and stir the milk in slowly.

I find putting the pie pan on cookie sheet means less mess.

Slowly pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie shell. Carefully put the pie into the preheated oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and bake another 35-45 minutes, until the center is set.

Cool. Eat.

**making your own pumpkin (or any orange squash really) puree is SO EASY. Break the stem off the pie pumpkin, place in the over at 350 for 1 hour. After an hour, turn off heat and let the pumpkin cool as the oven cools. Then let it cool a bit longer on the kitchen counter. At this point you can cut it in half, remove the seeds and easily peel the pumpkin. Place the flesh into the food processor and process until smooth. You may or may not need to add just a splash or two of water. Use in a pie or store in the fridge for a few days or freeze for up to 6 months.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Squash Muffins

Squash. I have lots of it this time of year.

Squash cooked, pureed and frozen is available well into the winter or spring.

E is not a fan of that many veggies. Peas, yes. Carrots, maybe. Green beans and broccoli, under protest. At our house the rule is you must eat fruits and veggies at every meal. (Not always breakfast, but ideally breakfast too.)

E however is a HUGE fan of sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin, in muffins.

I adapted this recipe from a Sweet Potato Bread recipe, which was in the Penzey's Spice Catalog.

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (a 50-50 mixture of white and whole wheat works well)

1 1/2 c sugar (I never, NEVER use this much sugar. Taste your puree. If it is sweet, you can reduce the sugar to 1 c for sure.)

1.5 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg (I LOVE nutmeg, but less to taste)

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 cup squash puree

1/2 canola oil (or sunflower or safflower or a light cooking oil)

1/3 c of water (less if your puree is on the thinner side)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well. In a small bowl combine the eggs, squash puree, oil and water. Beat well. Stir in dry ingredients until moistened. Portion into lined muffin tins. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until done. Cool for 5 minutes, remove from tins and cool on rake. (Makes 12-18 depending on your muffin tins.)

Store in sealed container. Freeze in baggies.

Ironically, I felt this did not work that well with the sweet potatoes. They were very dense, but with squash it is perfect.

E loves these. He will eat them for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Novemeber photo contest: #capturingLife Wk1

This month, I am participating in Allie's #capturingLife photo contest.

The goal is to take a photo that, well captures life. It is a totally open ended, unjudged personal challenge.

I shot this at the park, on election day. It was an awesome day. Perfect weather and great day to be home and enjoying the kids and H.

Go check out all the wonderful entries. Also, jump in. The ins and outs are up on her blog

As for my entry, I thought the bright green grass, popping out of a pile of dead leaves and brilliant orange leaves was very symbolic of the life cycle. We are dying from the minute we take our first breath... and on and on it goes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Music Monday: Meditation on Idenity

Natalie Imbruglia "Identify"

Footloose "Fake I.D." Music Video Official [HD] - Big & Rich ft. Gretchen Wilson


So both of these songs are new to me! Natalie I am very familiar with, just not this song. I am going to go out on a limb, because I do live under a rock, and say that some under-inspired Hollywood type is remaking Footloose. Ugh!

This election season, as annoying and divisive as it was, I do believe it raised some issues, which I think as a country, are bipartisan and need to be discussed, civilly and settled.

One is ID. In general. We as Americans like people to believe we are who we say we are because we say we are who we are. Many Europeans think we are crazy people, for not having some way to prove we are who we say we are! And before my Midwestern friends jump all over me and chant, driver's license, let us remember that not everyone drives in this country and I for one, am not convinced that the DMV, BMV or whatever you call your local license office is that high and tight with their process.  

I also think this would settle a number of issues, if implemented fairly and over a rolling period of time. This national ID would stop the crying over election fraud, medicare/Medicaid fraud and actually streamline the ID process. Everyone gets one and they get it for life. It seems updating pictures on a set interval would work too. I think it would require a study, but it might actually be cheaper, if there was one central card issuer and things like driving, social security, ect, would be add ones. (In Singapore, your national ID functions as your library card. Over kill perhaps, but it would be less to carry.)

The question however is deeper than that. It is about identity, which is different from identification.  The identification is actually just a classification. AMEX for years used the slogan "membership has its privileges." Yes, yes it does. Think about it. Every club you join has some sort of identification. Maybe a membership card. Maybe a uniform, maybe both.

I am not totally convinced, that the bulk of the election fraud crowd, isn't just a tiny, tiny bit worried that perhaps there are more and more people who don't look like them, who are voting. Perhaps the make up of their communities are not a homogenous as they used to be. I would like to refer people to the latest US census. There is a mathematical proof that the US is made up of a variety of people, even in the smallest of towns.
I am the first to admit I am ambivalent about the politics of immigration reform. Why? Because we have no clue what we are doing! We do not have a system for tracking people. I mean it is really easy, if you want to invest the funds. If someone stays over their VISA and is not trapped at JFK in the sterile zone due to a delay or cancellationyou go find them ASAP. Why don't we do this? It is storm trooperish and gonzo expensive. That's why.

Also we have this anchor baby thing going on. Again, I have no real opinion on the custom of allowing citizenship to be based on being born in the US. In the 1790s, it made sense. In the 1800s it made sense. In 2012, does it still make sense?

And let's be frank. Sending the parents back and keeping the 5 year old makes no sense and frankly, sending the 5 year old packing with the parents, isn't ok either. The 5 year is an American. This is a questions with many ethical dilemmas. I think perhaps it is time to have that conversation.
Also we hear a ton about the boarders...  

Remember the hikers in Iran/Iraq who wandered over the boarder. Has anyone seen the boarder we share with Canada? In the woods? I doubt we have agents paroling in South Dakota. Honestly, the southern boarder is only marginally better. Unless we are willing to build a Wall, like the one that cut through Berlin and divided Germany, a trickle of those who are coming illegally, will continue to happen. I also am not sure, how one would secure the miles and miles of coast line we have. Is someone really going to set up monitoring stations every 50 feet? Fence off all the beaches. 

One way we like to monitor illegal immigration is to foist it off onto the employers. I think this is poor choice. First of all, not every business has the technology to verfy driver's licenses, ect. I had a client, who acquired a factory, that had kept employment records on paper, like they had for 50 years. They paid to have the last 5 yrs plugged into excel. What did I find, as I tried to sort the file for 401k purposes. Yep, found about 2 dozen guys with the exact same social... um, hello. With pencil and paper record keeping (which as of 8 years ago, still happened from time to time) how are you to know. I also do not think it is business's job to be the defacto INS. It puts them in a bit of a quandary and we are back to, how do we prove who belongs and who doesn't.
Back in the 1800s-- it was a bit easier. Everyone knew everyone. Strangers were, well strange. Now NYC is like a pool of strangers. Maybe you know someone in your building. Maybe you don't. I love that about NYC. The anonymity. It is nice. Sometimes.

I think we vote the way we do, because back in the day, we voted that way because there were WAY less of us and everyone knew everyone else. (Like in Iceland. Everyone knows everyone or knows someone who does. Strangers stick out. There are roughly 300,000 residents on the entire island.) I barely know my neighbors. On purpose. 

This year I voted early. No ID required. I filled out the card. The lady messed with the computer and made small talk, gave me a sticker. No ID. She did not know me from a ham sandwich While I am not completely comfortable with this, historically it makes sense. When our voter laws were written, when the custom of voting was set in the US, we likely all voted in the local one room school house or church basement. (As an aside, voting in a church makes me very uneasy...)

Today, the make up of our country is very different. We cannot look at someone on the street and say, "She is an American and He is not." Visual ID isn't going to work. Shouldn't be allowed to work any longer. Skin color and clothing choices no longer are a mark of membership in the club.
E and I had a chat a few months ago. 

Someone had told his Indian buddy, he should go back where he came from. This got E wondering, "where did we come from. Where would we go back to?"

I told him that was complex and easy. If we had to go back to where Daddy was from, it was a slam dunk. Fatherland here we come! H is 100% German.

I pose a more complicated ethic picture. On my mother's side it is Wales and England. My maternal grandmother was a Jones. Her relation-- Davy Jones, was a Squirrel Hunter.   My maternal grandfather was some mix of English. It is a smidgen dubious.
On my father's side, it is even more dubious. Some mix of German, Irish, Scot-Irish, and Native American.

E commented that it would be easier to work with Daddy's heritage.

You think?

What we have is an identity crisis as a whole and an identification crisis. There aren't any easy answers to these questions.  That said, the census data is clear, the face of America is changing and rapidly. The old ways are not serving their purpose and frankly some shouldn't.
Time is changing. Are we prepared to change with it is the real question. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

A season of giving-- a food donation notation

It is no secret. I dislike the Christmas season. The commercialism, the non-stop bad music that takes over Muzak everywhere. The crowds, the gimmes, the fights over discounted televisions.

Bah. Bah. Bah.

That said, there are a lot of very charitably minded people and alot of good is done during this season. So I will try to remain positive. I will not shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. I will aim to shop local or artisan made, when I can.

I am also going to try and highlight some nice holiday options, on Fridays. These are businesses or organizations that I like. No one is giving me anything to do this (I mean they could and I would totally toot my own horn if they did but I am not being compensated as I type this post. I am however sitting in the dark, wondering why I choose not to put on socks. A different matter entirely.)

This week I will also refer to my entry a few years ago. As we enter the season of food drives, please, please think about people in need who have issues like I do. Gluten Intolerance and food allergies, are not just issues of wealthy and middle class families. While the Kroger brand of mac and cheese is great and on sale this week, many families cannot eat it for a variety of reasons. So think about more whole food choices, with no processed sauces or additives. I say look for 5 ingredient or less foods.

This could include:

shelf stable soy milk or nut milks
apple sauce -- with no added sugar
peanut butter or soy butter or sun butter
plain instant oatmeal (not gluten free, but great for people with other allergies)
plain instant rice ceral
gluten free flour blend
trail mix
dried fruit such as raisins and cranberries
banana chips
plain rice -- instant or slow cook
cooking oil
dried beans, lentils, peas
canned fruit, with no added sugar
powdered milk
instant coffee
canned milk
canned beans -- but read the labels, just beans, no funny stuff
gluten free crackers/rice crackers
all fruit jams/preserves
gluten free cereals/granola
gluten free breakfast bars/granola type bars

Call ahead, will the pantry take winter squash, potatoes, apples? Gift cards? Many pantries meet their clients needs this way.

I cannot imagine trying to meet my dietary needs, with a very limited income. Can you imagine if you were a family on the edge and a child or adult in the family was struggling with uncontrolled IBS/Celiacs or other issues due to an inability to find wholesome, whole food choices.

The reality is all the items on my list are generally healthier options for everyone. We all benefit from less processing and less sugar and less junk in our food. So while you are giving someone with allergies or intolerance some options, you are also giving everyone something very healthy.

It is a win-win.