Monday, July 28, 2014

Sydney Reflections Australia

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Moby Dick

As an English teacher, I love reading classic literature, so when I discovered the Cozy Classics series, I was thrilled. These books are designed for infants and toddlers and summarize lengthy works such as Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, and Les Miserables with a few simple words. The best part, however, is the art. Each series of pages features a felted character or image as the illustration, giving the book an almost 3-D feel, and making each page enticing. The rich colors and unique take on the classics is absolutely perfect for a little one. The Cozy Classics version of Moby Dick is precious. It has Ishmael, Ahab, and of course, the white whale, but this is a book that is as amusing for children as it is for adults. For example, one of the images is of Ahab’s wooden prosthetic, and the word on the facing page simply says “Leg”. This honestly could even be fun in a middle school or high school classroom as an introductory or review activity. Obviously there are parts that are left out of the story, but as a baby’s first abridged version, this is a must, and I can’t wait to see which other classics authors Jack and Holman Wang decide to tackle.

Coco-Nutty Granola

I am a big fan of breakfast and granola is always good, but home made granola is simply the best. This recipe is not too sweet, and doesn’t have too many steps. The coconut flavor isn’t overwhelming, but if you want a more intense flavor, add 2 teaspoons of coconut extract in with the liquids. Also, because this makes about 8 cups of granola, there is plenty to share – in the picture below, I put the granola in little goodie bags to share and it is the perfect size for about 2 cups of granola.
Coco-Nutty Granola 4 cups rolled oats 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup raw, unsalted cashews 1 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut 3 Tablespoons virgin coconut oil 3 Tablespoons vegan butter 1/4 cup honey or agave nectar 1 cup sliced honey roasted almonds (regular sliced almonds will work as well) 1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. On a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick liner, toss together the oats, cashews, coconut and salt. 2. In a glass measuring cup, mix the coconut oil, butter and honey. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir to blend all ingredients. (If the oil or butter are not melted yet, microwave again inf 10 second increments until fully melted). Pour over the oat mixture on the pan and using a silicone spatula, blend butter mixture into oats so that the oats are well coated. Spread evenly on the pan and bake for 30 minutes, stirring once half way through. 3. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Add honey roasted almonds to the pan and carefully stir to incorporate.

Mediterranean Slow Cooker

During winter (the holiday season especially), I love to take advantage of the slow cooker when making meals. Often, however, it is too easy to resort just to soup as the best slow cooker dinner option. The Mediterranean Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone is full of delicious, healthy meal ideas, and while it is not a vegetarian cookbook, it has enough vegetarian recipes to make it worthwhile. With recipes from Turkey, France, Italy, and Spain, among other countries, there are all sorts of delicious flavors. Polenta with Herbs, Vegetable Bulgar Pilaf, Apricot Almond Cake, and Chickpea and Lentil Soup fill the pages of this cookbook, as do beautiful pictures and essential details about Mediterranean spices and cooking styles. This book has recipes for vegetables, desserts, and main entrees, and makes delicious recipes that are even more impressive because they were made in a slow cooker with minimal effort. The Mediterranean Slow Cooker is a great find and makes healthy cooking on a weeknight even easier.


When I first saw the cover of Buddy, I couldn’t help but wonder how interesting a book about a pet rooster would be. Sure, roosters aren’t the most common of pets, but as a girl, I had very traditional animals in a suburban setting, so I didn’t exactly know what it meant to have a chicken as a pet. After reading Buddy, however, I have a new sense of respect and understanding of all that Brian McGrory went through to make peace with Buddy. This hilarious memoir details the unexpected changes and adventures that come about when Brian, a Boston-based journalist begins to date Pam, a veterinarian and mother of two young girls. The two originally met through Harry, Brian’s beloved dog who passed away (as a note, Brian does develop the story of Harry because it allows us to better understand his relationship with Pam, but I wasn’ t really expecting a touching puppy tale in the midst of a book about a rooster). As their relationship evolves, Brian grows closer to Pam and the girls, and begins to understand that a hatching egg that started out as a science experiment is now going to be another pet in the suburban zoo that is Pam’s home. While Brian doesn’t really know what to expect, it is clear that his relationship with Buddy is very different from that of the girls (while Brian dodges peckings and sneak attacks, the girls coo over the chicken and carry him around lovingly). When Brian and Pam decide to buy a house together, Brian struggles to overcome the challenges of transitioning being a city dweller to a suburbanite, and must gain a new understanding of his role in this blended family. While this book is unexpectedly funny, there are definitely some sad moments. It was hard watching Brian struggle with the transition, but it was even harder watching Pam’s two girls ignore Brian’s attempts at easing into this new life they will have. Often times the girls come across as snotty and spoiled, despite what Brian indicates. Additionally, while Pam is consistently portrayed as patient, and Brian seems to be the only one to have issues with Buddy’s incessant crowing after the move to the new house, because we don’t have a deep understanding of her as a character, it is hard to connect with her. Overall, this book is a fun, easy read. It was refreshing and entertaining, and while it is certainly not a pet-tearjerker like Racing in the Rain or Marley and Me, it is a touching look at how much pets can teach us (even the most unexpected of pets).

Blueberry Coffee Cake

During the cold winter, I love to use frozen berries that I picked over the summer to bring some of the delicious flavors to kitchen. This is a really easy coffee cake that is not too sweet and is extra moist with a yummy crumb topping.
Blueberry Coffee Cake Crumb Topping 1/4 cup flour 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 Tablespoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 3 Tablespoons vegan margarine, melted Coffee Cake 2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup non-dairy milk 1/2 cup canola oil 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen 1. Crumb Topping: In a small bowl, mix the flour, pecans, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to mix. Drizzle the melted margarine over the mixture and toss to create a crumbly topping. Set aside. 2. Coffee Cake: In a medium bowl mix the flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, whisking to combine. In a small bowl combine the non-dairy milk, oil, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and whisk just to combine (don’t over mix). Gently mix in the blueberries. 3. Spray an 8″ x 8″ baking pan with cooking spray. Spoon the coffee cake mixture into the pan and sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake for 55 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the center comes out cleanly.

The One I Left Behind

With The One I Left Behind, Jennifer McMahon has crafted a work that is touching, real, and suspenseful. The One I Left Behind tells the story of Reggie, a successful architect who has left her past behind so that she may live a life of independence and solitude. Refusing to get weighed down by relationships or family, she has done little to show her affection for on-again-off-again boyfriend Len, or to stay in touch with her family and friends of her hometown of Brighton Falls. Perhaps it is a rebellious streak, but it is more likely that the town is haunted by ghosts of her childhood; Reggie’s mom Vera was kidnapped twenty-five years ago, and the only evidence ever discovered was Vera’s scarred right hand. Vera was the serial-killer Neptune’s last victim and the only one whose body was never recovered. For years, Reggie has lived wondering what became of her mother, and trying to put to rest her own actions from the same summer that her mother disappeared. Try as she might, however, Reggie is forced to return to Brighton Falls when her mother is discovered at a homeless shelter and diagnosed with cancer. Reggie returns to her childhood home where her Aunt Lorraine raised her after Vera’s disappearance, and begins to try to unravel the past and solve the mystery of who Neptune is. As various clues begin to surface, and Reggie faces childhood friends (and their secrets), Neptune returns too, killing his first victim in 25 years. With realistic dialogue, and a well balanced narrative that jogs between contemporary events and the events of the summer of 1985, this is an engaging novel with characters who are truly moving. The end is completely unexpected, but the last few chapters have moments that are a bit unrealistic and rushed, but these issues don’t detract from a strong story that is thrilling and suspenseful.