Baking All Year Round by Rosanna Pansino

5 stars Cookbook

This is baking. In this book, Rosanna is creating themed desserts and other foods for the special holidays and occasions that are in her life. From a young child, Rosanna has been in the kitchen baking and she brings that love of cooking to us in this book as we celebrate with her, all these special days. I was on a sugar high just by looking at all these fantastic creations on these pages. If you’re looking for some ideas, she has them.

Rosanna has the book sectioned off into each holiday starting off with Valentine’s Day and ending with Special Occasions (birthday, school graduation, wedding, baby shower). Here are a few things that make this book special. All the recipes in this book are marked gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan, if they apply – there is an icon for each of these. Everything in this book is homemade, my friends. So, if you’re looking for a simple, quick recipe that calls for a tube of sugar dough, you will not find it in this book. There are also full-size, colorful photos of every recipe in this book. A few of the recipes also have detailed step-by-step photos, just so you get everything right. And, I found this kinda crazy but, she included templates of the shapes that she used in her creations, in the back of the book, so you could use the templates to create your own cardboard design.

The book begins with the all the tools and candy she used and the definitions of some of the words that she uses. A huge choice of frosting recipes (royal, vegan royal, vegan buttercream, champagne, honey buttercream, vegan caramel, white chocolate glaze, (just a sample). Then, the special day sections begin for which, there are between 4-9 recipes in each section. Ingredients, directions, how many the recipe makes are included with the recipe but no nutritional information is given. A conversion table, index, and resource list of the items she used, is in the back of the book also.

Valentine’s Day recipes looked really good and included homemade churros, pretzels, whoopie pies, ravioli and mini cakes. Father’s Day had donuts, whiskey caramels, cupcakes, pizza, and truffles. These recipes are interchangeable and those cupcakes would be a winner at a bake sale or a BBQ. The caramels could be wrapped up for a present and those donuts, use a different cookie cutter and the possibilities are endless. Are you hungry yet? Some of these creations are too cute, even to eat!

I liked many recipes in this book, yep again! The soft pretzels (I could make them for any occasion or just for book reading), those salted whiskey caramels (did someone say whiskey?), the blackberry cobbler, lollipop cookies, and Santa Brownies with the suit on them were so cute. I’m debating on purchasing this book. It’s definitely one to check out.

The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes & Edward Mayes

5 Stars Cookbook

I do love my cookbooks! When a message about cookbooks, popped into my inbox, I immediately started looking at my local library to see if they had any of them, as I like to sample them before I actually buy them. They had 4 of them so I felt very lucky. The Tuscan Sun Cookbook looked promising but I wondered how complicated the recipes were and how exotic the ingredients might be, but I remained hopeful. After looking through the book though, I was surprised at my finding.

First off, let me say, that the pictures inside this book are beautiful. Imagine a nice summer day, you’re in the hills of Italy enjoying lunch with your friends. A photographer has stopped by to take some shots and now, those pictures are inside this book. Although there aren’t pictures of every recipe in this book, the ones that are there, look very appealing.

Each recipe does come with how many it serves, the ingredients list and step-by-step instructions. Accompanying each recipe, is a small paragraph or two that describes a bit about that recipe. The book consists of recipes that would actually be served in Tuscany according to the authors. The book is broken up into many sections. The Essential section had a few recipes that I enjoyed. Tomato Sauce (with bay leaves -I love bay leaves!), a Soffritto (looks delicious), Besciamella, a Brine, and Pesto. The Antipasti section contained appetizers. The Primi section was pasta and it began with making pasta and Giusi’s Ragu which looked nice and hearty. Angry Pasta? Oh yes, black olives and red pepper flakes made this recipe stand out. Lasagne with Ragu, using the same ragu, as mentioned before but adding it to a lasagna. Next was the Second section which was meats and I found Chicken Under a Brick and Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes. The Contorni section was salads and vegetables and the last section was Dolci which consisted of desserts. There is an Aperitivi E Digestivi section which is the closer for their meals: the bitter elixirs. There are 2 recipes in this section (Nocino and Riccardo’s Limoncello) which accompany the author’s comments on this topic

What I didn’t find in this book was exotic ingredients or complicated recipes. That was a win for me. I did come across some new words, such as Fascicles of Summer Vegetables but as the author pointed out in their paragraph, fasces in Latin actually means a bundle of iron sticks. The author continued on in their comments, talking about Emily Dickinson’s fascicles of poems. Strawberry Semifreddo? I’d never heard of Semifreddo before but I learned that this dessert is not gelato or sorbetto but that it’s easy to make and doesn’t require a fancy machine.

I did find some recipes that wouldn’t work for me but might for others. Recipes that included ingredients like fish, lamb, veal, and rabbit. All-in-all, this cookbook was a great find for me. If you’re into Tuscan dishes or want to try something different, this is one cookbook you should check out.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

4.5 stars Nonfiction

I just have to say “wow!”  I never expected this book to be packed with so much information.  At times, it almost felt overwhelming.  Centered around the 1986 Los Angeles library fire which burned for more than 7 hours and consumed 400,000 books, this book is not just about that fire. This book is about books, fires, libraries, reading, patrons, individuals, writing, it’s about the love of reading.  If any of these subjects’ interest you, then this title should be on your list, but I warn you, this book is not one to be read quickly.  You could do what I did and listen to this book and take breaks digesting what the author read to you, because it’s a lot! 

I found the fire to be interesting as the circumstances surrounding it, were unique.  Being such a big structure, filled with flammable materials, I figured it would be a ball of flames quickly but there were other factors to take into account.  As the author takes off from this subject, she leads me into a multitude of many other subjects, before coming back to the fire many times.  I got to thinking that this book would be a great one to listen to and read at the same time.  I would have loved to make reference to some of the other subjects that she branched off on but that was hard to do while just listening to her.   

I feel that the author did some research before launching into her writing because of the statistical and elaborate facts that she presented in her book.  The author also gave some interesting details about specific individual books in her chapters which sounded like books that I might enjoy and I should look up in the future.  As the author talked about the fire, she talked about how books burn, the investigation on how it started, how they tried to stop the fire, who was affected, the damage, the rebuilding, and the years since.  When I first started listening to this audio, I couldn’t believe this book could be this long but as I continued listening, I wondered how she was going to finally wrap things up in the end.

There were a few times, I thought the book got a bit long and I had to take a break. I think it was “information overload” on my part.  I didn’t really like how the author included random books at the beginning of each chapter.  I think if I had been reading the book, I could have skipped over this but listening to the audio, I couldn’t. Listening to call numbers and titles of books for no particular reason just broke up the mood for the story.

Overall, it’s a great book that’s based on a true event.  The author takes us readers, on an incredible journey, enlightening us with fascinating facts and stories centered around a building, that many of us like to call our second home.

Girl, Stop Apologizing: by Rachel Hollis

5 stars Nonfiction

Girls & ladies, listen and listen carefully to what I have to say.  If you feel you need someone in your corner, you need this book.  If you have goals and lack the motivation to go after them, you need this book.  If you just need to hear someone fired up, to get you moving, you need this book.  I was not prepared for what I listened to when I put this novel in my car’s CD player. 

I have just recently purchased a couple of Rachel Hollis’ cookbooks which I absolutely love. They are composed of dishes that I would actually make. Its real food created from actual grocery stores, not food made with fancy bouquet food where I’d buy a jar of something that I’d never use again but actual food. With these down-to-earth recipes, I figured Rachel would be an easy-going girl yet what I heard in this novel was a woman who was driven, strong, and very motivated. Bring it on Rachel, we need to hear more of this!  

The more I listened to this novel, the more I understood where she got this ambition. Rachel just doesn’t try to motivate us women, she gives us some background on her own story so I know where she is coming from.  Listening to her read her own novel, I could feel how she owned each word that she had put down in print.  The energy and desire that she has to help others feel the same way she feels can definitely be felt while listening to her. It’s as if she’s trying to tell people: “Come on! Wake up and get with the program!”

Do you need Rachel in your life?  I highly recommend the audio of this book, the enthusiasm and the passion as she reads her own words is definitely worth it.

Betty Crocker Halloween Cookbook

5 stars Cookbook

Let’s talk about some Halloween food, shall we?  I came across a Halloween display at the grocery store and picked up some fun decorations to go on top of some baking treats.  Growing up, I had just the colored sprinkles and if you got lucky, we got the colored little balls that rolled all over the place when you went to put them on anything and of course, they tasted so much better than the sprinkles.  Now the choices for decorations are endless. I ended up purchasing a creepy pack and not your normal sprinkles, my friend. I thought I needed a cookbook to go with these so I found a Betty Crocker Halloween Cookbook at the library and voila, I now have more than I asked for.

The decorations I picked up were a candy pack of skulls, bones, gravestones, large eyeballs and bats. My other pack is a mix of orange, black and white sprinkles of ghosts, bats, pumpkins, moons, and bright Halloween tiny balls (of course). What to do with all of them was the question that I hoped this book would answer.

Boneyard Dirt Pops were chocolate cake pops with chocolate sandwich cookies on top (dirt) with bone candies on top (excellent idea!). Tarantula Treats were cupcakes that looked like the creepy spider that I could use the eyes on. Tombstone Cupcakes were, just what they said they were and another great idea.  I was coming up with some great ideas in this book and getting hungry. The Halloween Party Pops were another great idea and I could decorate them anyway I wanted although they had some great ideas especially the spider web one.  I think I had enough ideas here. I noticed the Scary ghost Pancakes (I love pancakes) as I was making my way to the treats section.  I wouldn’t be using any of my treats but I would be eating some special pancakes.   

There are recipes for having a feast in this book.  Lots of snacks, meals, drinks, and of course desserts. In the Mystifying Main Dishes, I liked the Chicken Enchilada Mummies and the Serpent Sub. They looked like fun and a simple idea to bring the holiday to the table.   Need some Bubbly Black Punch with a Wormy Ice Ring or Lemon-Slime Punch to wash it all down?  How about some Spider Bites out of jello, or Bugs in a Blanket, or the Spiderweb Deviled Eggs (which, of my heavens looks so cool with all the lines on them). 

I would say that about half of the recipes call for premade items.  Items like Pillsbury Grands biscuits, Pillsbury Sugar cookie dough, a box of chocolate cake mix, a spice cake mix, or Bisquick.  Using these items, they explain how to shape or create the Halloween item using brown sugar, milk, eggs, etc. until you have the finished item.  Other recipes have the cook taking baby back ribs, or ground beef, or instant pudding, or chocolate ice cream or whatever and creating the Halloween treat from scratch.  If you want to make it all from scratch, make your own sugar cookie recipe, make your own chocolate cake recipe, do whatever you want or make substitutes if you have allergies, the ideas and the fun is inside the book.

There are 200 pages in this Halloween cookbook complete with an index and the recipes broken down into sections.  I hate to ruin the fun but there is a calorie counter for each of the recipes, along with step-by-step directions, the time to completion them, and how many each recipe will make.  Are there illustrations/pictures? You bet, one for every recipe which are directly across from the recipe.

Another great book from Betty Crocker.  I was entertained and I will be making some of these tasty treats this year.  

Amazon has some great pictures of the inside of the book:

A Ghostly Good Time: The Family Halloween Handbook by Woman’s Day Special Interest Publications

4 stars Nonfiction

I liked how this book has a little bit of everything in it. From recipes to make, to costumes to throw together, to decorations for your little part of the world, this book is Halloween DIY. You can be a beginner or an intermediate DIY individual to be successful as the author helps you with great directions.

When I first picked this book up, I was looking for a couple easy crafts to make and after looking through it, my list of Halloween items is long. I started out just flipping through it and stopped. I decided to go page-by-page, writing ideas and instructions down, so I knew what to do later.

There are a few items that I’ve seen done already and that’s fine. There are also a few ideas that were way out of my league but hey, they’re cool ideas if you have that talent. I liked the paper witches. Tracing them, you enlarge them (as big as you want) and put them on kraft paper and place them in your window with tape. (They supply you with 3 witches on graph paper at the bottom of the page). The Unwelcome mat was fun too along with the Boo and Beware mirrors but I don’t think I’ll be making them but they look super easy to make. The costume section was really cute and clever. The crow and swamp girl were my favorites. I liked that they made using simple, cheap items that you’d be able to find and not something that you’d have to spend a lot of money on, tear it up and then get creative. The recipe section had some fun and festive ideas and if I wanted to get creative, I could make the Haunted Cookie House. I’m sure my granddaughter would love to help me. It’s mostly snacks and goodies here except for some stew, bread, and a Sand-Witch. Put that Sand-Witch in someone’s lunch and see what they have to say. Lots of fun, I say.

I liked the hand & spider cutouts and I am planning on using them on a few pumpkins this year. They work the same exact way as the paper witches, only you trace them on a pumpkin and a hand is illuminated. There are lots of other fun ideas on carving pumpkins too. As far as the crafts, which is what I got the book for, I only found one that looked promising to me. There were no directions for it, as it was used as a prop but I think I can make it. There were some recipes that caught my eye especially the cookies and the cupcakes.

This is a super cute Halloween book that I’m sure you will find something inside to try. Could I get these ideas from a magazine? Sure, probably but I like how this book is set up and it’s all put together for me. Like I mentioned before, you can try something easy like the pumpkin carving or go extreme and attempt the Colorful Cushions. Did I mention the bird skeleton in the antique bird cage? Great book to find some neat ideas.

Link to some pages in the book

Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of WWII

5 Stars Nonfiction

These stories lives came with a punch, they struck viciously against my heart as I read them. To think that all of these individuals were children, innocent little people, who did nothing yet they received such a life-altering experience, that still haunts them today. I didn’t and I couldn’t read this book, all in one sitting. From the beginning, I wanted to appreciate each chapter: each individual’s situation and account. Upon reading, I realized that this is not a book that I could read straight through. The emotions and the energy in each of their stories lives, makes it a book that needs space.

From the voices of Russian children, we hear their side of what occurred to them during WWII. From a few pages to up to six pages, they tell us what they remembered. The children were affected in a variety of ways by the war: many had to leave their homes, some watched their fathers leave to fight in the war hence leaving them with lots of questions running through their minds, some children had to prepare for the war themselves and some even tried to stay in their own homes while the war ragged outside. They told their account and it was translated but the tone and the feelings are still in the words on the page. It’s as if these survivors were sitting with me, telling me how they reacted to a world that had turned upside down on them.

I could tell you about many of the individuals in this book as every story life in this book is worth mentioning. Their stories are different but every single one of them, are forever changed. How many times I read the word, “Mama!” I cannot count them all. How many times I read, “I was hungry,” I cannot count them all. How many times I read about death, how it had become part of these children’s regular, daily schedule, I cannot count them all.

There was Marlen, age 11, who is now a member of a town council. Marlen remembers always being hungry while living in the orphanage. He remembers needing to be first in line or you might not get anything to eat. With it being -20 degrees outside, Marlen takes off his hat and had a soldier ladle some soup into his hat instead of finding a metal tin. Marlen quickly runs back to the orphanage. He now has frostbite on his ears but he has supplied frozen soup to everyone there. Now, this adventure puts a smile on my face.

This is a book worth reading. I enjoyed this book and I appreciate the individuals who shared their stories lives with me.

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

5 stars Nonfiction

I knew this book was going to be rough, I had been warned but I knew that I had to read it for these are the types of books that I enjoy.  I don’t enjoy them for the struggles and the pain that the individuals go through but for a multitude of other reasons.

I enjoyed this book because it made me feel, it brought my emotions up front and center.  And boy, did I have plenty of emotions with this book.  Most of my emotions were directed at Shaun, whether I was ready to scream at him, be scared for him, frustrated with him, or I just wished I could reach inside the book, wrap my arms around him and comfort him.  

This book also showed me how resilient Shaun was. As I read this book, Shaun faced a lot of crappy situations but when all is said-and-done, Shaun persisted. Shaun experienced scrapes, bruises, and scars during the process, and he’s definitely a changed person because of what he went through. That to me says a lot about a person and I enjoy reading how these individuals find their strength and courage. As I read these stories, I feel like I’m part of the story.  I give them encouragement (sometimes more vocal then I should) and push for them to find hope, yet I know that I’m nothing but a voice talking to a book.

This book is also one that I will not forget.  I liked how Shaun warned his readers at the beginning of the book that it contains some difficult topics.  Shaun is being real; this is his life and he’s not going to smooth things over to make his readers happy.  This really happened according to Shaun.  So, deal with it. 

Shaun discusses in this book growing up, discovering his sexuality, how he came out, and his depression.  It’s pretty straight forward and there’s swearing, homosexuality, drugs, suicide, stealing, and some sex, so be willing to walk with Shaun as he covers what his life was like and how he survived.  I thought the novel was powerful and moving.  I realize the year on the calendar has changed, yet I wonder if things have really changed in how individuals are accepted.  Parents, peers, friends, relatives, and siblings all have an impact during this time.  I appreciate Shaun honesty and I appreciate that he shared his experience with others.

Shaun never felt good enough for anyone.  He’d start to get comfortable with someone and then, internally a switch would go off and he’d start waiting for the ball to drop.  It was too good to be true, something bad was bound to happen.  Shaun wanted to fit in with his peers.  Shaun wanted to like girls but when he was with them, it just didn’t feel right.  He lied to fit in but paid the price for it over and over again.  He knew he was different yet he didn’t know why.  Shaun had his own view and opinions and these clouded his mind and judgement.  It took him a while to figure out exactly what made him different and then, he needed to figure out what to do next.

A great read that will definitely leave a lasting impression.  Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your story with others.

Real Life Dinners by Rachel Hollis

5 stars Nonfiction

I bought this cookbook after checking it out at the library.  This is another great book by Rachel Hollis.  So, why did I buy it?  Because I liked the recipes and the illustrations that accompanied them.  The recipes inside were for things that I really would make, things that aren’t too fancy and the ingredients I can find in my supermarket.

Let me walk you through this beautiful book and tempt you with one of my latest cookbook purchases.  This last week, I received/bought 3 cookbooks in the mail.  With temperatures in the 90’s this week, I might make something but likely, I will be eating strawberry lettuce salad (I could live off this), watermelon, oranges and just cold sandwiches. I don’t like to eat a lot when it’s hot out. 

There are 4 sections before we even get into the food sections in this cookbook: intro, table manners, kitchen essentials, spices.  Table manners: yep, she lists out some table manners from no electronics, to passing food, to eating. Kitchen Essentials: things you should have on hand.  Spices: four blends she created.

In the food section, there are 8 sections: Breakfast for Dinner, Kid-Friendly Dinners, Make-Ahead Dinners, Dinner on the Grill, Soup for Dinner, Salad for Dinner, Sides for Dinner, and My Favorite Dinners.  Each recipe consists of a two-page spread complete with a short story about the recipe, an illustration, ingredients list (optional ingredient list, if needed), directions, prep time, cook time, serves #, and 3 or 4 step-by-step illustrations for the recipe. She also begins each section with a intro about that section and her thoughts/memories.

Looking at the Make-Ahead Dinners section: her intro talks about being prepared and prepping.  She discusses what she does and how to use these recipes in your own life.  There are 9 recipes in this section.  I would eat any of them as they all look good.  From Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork, Homemade Frozen Burritos, Hawaiian Chicken, Mexican Casserole, Chicken Potpie, Tex-Mex Fiesta, Spaghetti Sauce, Ranch Beef Stew, and Lemon-Pesto Chicken.  I thought I might have to cut back on the lemon on that Lemon-Pesto Chicken but it’s not that much and hey, it has green beans in it! The Tex-Mex entre looks super good and so does the Hawaiian Chicken (and I don’t normally do Chinese food) but the ingredients look like something I can handle.  I’m super excited to get this cookbook and guess what?  I also picked up Rachel’s other cookbook at the same time, Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up.  That cookbook is a keeper too.

The illustrations in this book look very appetizing and real.  They don’t look all glamorous, as if someone spent weeks, spraying and angling the camera, trying to get the right shot of the bun, to make it look perfect. They look delicious and they look like something that I could make.  Thanks Rachel, for keeping it real.

Weber’s Ultimate Grilling by Jamie Purviance

5 stars Nonfiction

Meat it is, inside this book with its gorgeous pictures. I picked this book up from the library as I saw it on a cart for the cover and the name Weber caught my eye. Looking at that steak over those coals and knowing that Weber knows a thing or two about grilling, I wanted to know the latest.

This book is heavy and is more than a cookbook. This book begins by giving you lots of information about grilling, from temperature (and maintaining), the techniques of grilling (indirect, direct, smoking (doing that in a smoker and in a regular grill), timing (for all different types of grills and food), and tools for grilling. There are lots of graphs and illustrations to look at and refer to in this section.

The book has seven chapters devoted to food: starters, beef & lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, vegetables & sides, and desserts. The last section of the book is The Pantry. It you don’t get hungry looking at this book, there is seriously something wrong with you.

In each food section, they begin with a Q&A section, which answers a few questions about that section of food. So in starters, the questions pertain to appetizers, the pork section pertain to cooking pork on the grill, etc. What I love about this cookbook is the illustrations, how easy this book is to look at and follow, and the step-by-step illustrations that accompany EACH recipe in this book. Each recipe takes up 2 pages and is accompanied by a small intro about the recipe, an ingredients list, step-by-step directions with an illustration for each step, prep time, how many it serves, time required on the grill, marinating time (if any), stove time (if any, for additional ingredients for the recipe), any special things you might need, variations printed with them (if any) , and some have tidbits to help with the recipe.

You’re not just getting the recipes within that section either, you’ll get some information regarding that food too. Useful information to make cooking that food, fun and entertaining. In the beef & lamb section, there some information about putting together different flavors of burgers with wonderful illustrations (I thought they all looked good but after reading about them, I would have to substitute some of the ingredients in a few of them). There was another Q&A section about steaks and then a beautiful section of 4 toppings for steaks. Wow, there were two more sections on different type of steaks, a section about more toppings, a couple sections discussing brisket, a section about what to do with leftover prime rib, and that my friend is amongst all the recipes (18) dealing with beef and lamb, in just one section.

Lets talk about the illustrations, they are gorgeous. I really don’t need a step-by-step illustrated version of a recipe, but these illustrations are beauties. The browned chicken with its light brown skin and the grilled potatoes stuffed full with nacho goodness just needed my fork. The only issue I had with this book is that the book had trouble lying flat and I think that is because it is new, it needs a good press of my hand on the pages while I get down to some serious cooking.