13 June 2011

Summer Reading: 2011-- REVISED

So I'm adding or altering my list... I haven't decided yet.  While out and about with my husband today, I made the mistake of going to Barnes & Noble. After collecting a stack of young adult novels, reading summaries and the first couple chapters of each, I now find that there are some books I'd like to add to the top of my list.  I know I know... I do this to myself every year! But what can I say, I still had leftover gift card money in my Amazon account.

Here are the new titles--

(Book 6 in the Sookie Stackhouse series-- thanks for tempting me, Lori!)

Also, I'm dropping The Cookbook Collector for now.  I've read several chapters and well... I'm BORED. There's some kind of romance in there but the author-- who critics claim writes like a modern day Jane Austen (liars!)-- is doing her damnedest to get into it ASAP ("As SLOW As Possible"). Well now, it's time to keep reading so I'll talk to you soon!

12 June 2011

Summer Reading: 2011

After what seemed like an endless winter-- blizzard in April, snow in May-- the sun started shining, the days have grown longer, and despite the gray skies and temperatures in the 50's this weekend, warmth has finally reached Wisconsin. Watching the water shimmering on our quaint "lake" (I think of it more as a pond) inspires me to reassess our library along with recommendations from friends and create my annual summer reading list. Though I begin a new job June 20th that will keep me fairly occupied, here is my list to share with all of you.

Feel free to contribute your own thoughts on the books or add to the list-- I'd love to know what you're reading!

Currently I'm reading The Emerald Atlas and The Cookbook Collector.

This is #5 in the Sookie Stackhouse series and what better book to read during the summer than a sexy supernatural romantic thriller. So excited.

First: I've seen the film. Second: I saw the interview on Oprah with Elizabeth Gilbert. Thus, I have an expectation that Eat Pray Love (the book) will read more like a travel journal than a narrative story with plots, subplots, and well-formed characters. Hopefully I'll learn something and be INSPIRED.

I love the Mitford Series-- if you're looking for a great character driven story set in a small mountain town I HIGHLY recommend the books <3--  and this is, to put it in TV terms, the spin-off series from Mitford, following the lovable Episcopalian preacher Father Tim and his free spirit wife Cynthia to Ireland. The first book is Home to Holly Springs and worth a read before continuing with this one. Can't wait!

The Complete Works of John Donne. What can I say, his poetry is beautiful.

Love and Friendship and Lady Susan are early works by Jane Austen and although I'm an uber Austenite, I must confess I haven't read these.  Not for long...

Ever read the super popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan? No?!  Stop reading this and go get the books! This is the first book in the second Greek mythology demigod series by Riordan-- should be a blast for summer. Oh, and you really should read Percy Jackson before stepping into The Lost Hero.

Got this as a birthday present a few years ago and I'm FINALLY going to read it. I promise.  Never read an Oprah club book before and I have no idea what this is about... so yeah, I haven't seen the film either. I'm so bad.

Usually Jane Austen fan fiction follows an Austen romance plot and is a light read. A murder plot should be interesting.  Ooooo suspense!

The reason I want to read this novel is because I fell in love with the Masterpiece Theater Miniseries (if you have Netflix it's on Instant Play). It took me a long time to watch the film because I thought it'd be really depressing BUT turns out there's a great love story intertwined in the complex story. Score.

This was recommended by a classmate because I loved North and South. Also it was free on the Kindle. Sadly the Masterpiece Theater miniseries is NOT on instant.  I'm going to send an email about that...

I've heard good things about this and the movie comes out in August. Must... feed... curiosity.

I bought the first 2 books in this trilogy 3 years ago and it's high time I read one of them.  That's all.

And if I have extra time...

A Wrinkle in Time (series?)
The Mysterious Benedict Society
Jane Eyre

The Last Apprentice: Attack of the Fiend
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe

Usually my summer reading list is unrealistically long-- and it was after my first draft of this blog-- so I'm hoping I will actually get through all of the books listed.  

10 June 2011

Current Favorites: A New Syndicated Column

When unable to think of an interesting Facebook status, I will occasionally update with my current favorites (I like to think of myself as the poor college graduate's Oprah). Thus came the idea for a new segment on the HPG blog.  This is also a testament to my indecisiveness and inability to choose concrete faves-- they are always changing.

Let the first round of favorites begin!

1. Food

Salted Sweet Caramels                                  
After discovering I loved pretzel M&M's, my MIL recommended the above chocolates from Vandewalle's sweet shop... and boy was she RIGHT. Salt brings out the sweetness in desserts and makes for a delectable treat. 

     Iced White Mocha from Starbucks 
To further my Starbucks addiction, I switch from hot to iced beverages during the summer and find the White Mocha to offer the best combination of sweetness and coffee. Here's the "Jamie" version: Iced Grande 2 pump, nonfat, no whip white mocha-- delish!

Tofu Pad Thai
Rice noodles, peanuts, lime, scallions, tofu, and spices... Perfect.

2. Fashion

Dexter - Loop Twisted Wedge (Payless)
     Kassidy Huarache Sandal (Payless)
Who doesn't love a good wedge shoe? And since you can't keep this 5'11" frame out of heels these are both a must for my summer wardrobe.  Sadly, I own neither pair (the bane of unemployment until the 20th then bills to take care of... boo to adulthood), but they're on my wish list.

  Ring Strap Sleeveless Knit Dress  
Embellished Sleeveless Top
I received these two amazeballs pieces from Lane Bryant as early birthday presents: my husband got me the dress and my mom got me the top. There were a few other pieces-- like the World's Most Comfortable Crop Pants-- but these are definitely my faves. Also, I got the dress in a deep purple, not black, because the consensus from my shopping buddies was a big "WOW!" when I stepped out of the dressing room in that color.  The best part? I won't have to stop wearing these clothes come Fall.

For all things accessories...

Francesca's Collections
 Charming Charlie's
For the woman on a budget (or the woman who just loves to purchase purses & jewelry on a consistent basis), these shops are where it's at. They both have clothes and shoes as well, but since my clothes shopping is greatly limited by my size, I'll focus on the accessories.  Francesca's has great BoHo style and is the place to find statement earrings, necklaces, and rings.  Charming Charlie's has EVERY style, affordable prices, and is sorted by color so you can shop easily for that new coral top you just bought for the season. I warn you, when you walk in the door of CC the first time, you will gasp at the size and variety of the place... heavenly.

3. Fun

Sarah Jarosz - "Follow Me Down"
I heart Sarah Jarosz. This album is beautiful, from the fast-paced "Anabelle Lee" to the haunting "My Muse" and is worth every penny on iTunes or Amazon. Sarah is a young singer/songwriter with an old soul, talented in a number of instruments in the guitar family, and writes in the styles of bluegrass/folk/country. Such a beautiful, soulful sound...

Ke$ha - "Blow"
Yes this is the second time I've posted a Ke$ha song on my blog, and I should know better than to listen to music by someone who substitutes a dollar sign for the 's' in her name-- but I can't help it! Her songs are catchy, and she can actually sing (heard her perform live at the Billboard Music awards). She might be on the ridiculous end of the spectrum, but I've shed a lot of calories to this song.

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

This is a great young adult fantasy adventure novel with one of the more horribly creepy villains I've come across in YA Lit, and three different yet dynamic and layered main characters.  Loving it.

Amazon Kindle
And I've been reading the book on my Kindle (a Christmas present) and I'm more and more enthusiastic about this device as the months progress.  It's convenient, easy to use, stores a TON of books, and I love all the options for text size, annotating, and playing games.  Plus I never have to worry about losing bookmarks (this happens to me more than it should). For you old school book lovers, the switch will be an adjustment-- still is for me-- but it's worth saving the storage and money-- did I mention all pre-1923 books are FREE?!  I'll never get rid of all my hardcovers, but I like having the option of a tangent as well as a digital library that saves space.

4. For the deeper side of me...

Long Walks
On my seemingly never-ending quest toward weight loss, my husband and I began walking.  It's become an almost daily activity of ours. Walking, talking, enjoying the beautiful open spaces in our area (we live near a nature preserve and a little out of the way of civilization)-- it's been therapeutic.  Though we haven't walked anywhere near a beach, I chose this photo as a foreshadow of the new life awaiting us in California. You bet your ass there'll be long walks by the beach.

Coffee Talk
Can you believe I found a coffee talk photo with "marriage" on it?! How perfect is that!  One of our favorite past-times is journeying to a local coffee shop (or Starbucks), ordering a latte (or macchiato), and discussing... well... EVERYTHING. Our plans for Cali came to be while sipping coffee, as well as choosing an apartment, working on our webisode series, purchasing a minivan, and all other manner of creative & life-altering conversations.

Though I don't cook all the time, I find myself more and more dissatisfied with restaurant food and their prices, and am turning more and more to my cookbooks for a solution. And honestly, there's nothing like creating something beautiful and delicious from scratch.  As my skills and courage with recipes progress, I'm loving the idea of me as a grandmother chopping, simmering, and baking away in my kitchen for children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren (God willing).

What are you LOVING at the moment??

09 June 2011

Hawt Summer Television

Before I had cable and before cable had an endless array of networks, summer television-- for lack of a better word-- sucked. Either reruns of shows you already watched during the previous mainstream seasons or crappy test shows that hardly ever got picked up by a Primetime network.  

Now, however, the Summer Season is becoming almost as important in terms of programming content as the Fall. Networks want to keep viewers tuned in with fun reality TV and more supernatural programs. Here are few of the options ready to record in my DVR.

Vampires, werewolves, witches, sex, and violence accented with a fabulous soundtrack: the perfect ingredients for one hell of a show. Yes, I've read some of the books (I'm starting #5 for my summer reading list... post to come later) and both are different but equally great. Check out "True Blood" on HBO starting June 26th and the "Sookie Stackhouse books" by Charlaine Harris.

This show is all about analyzing facial expressions and body language to solve crimes and catch lying criminals. Sounds somewhat interesting, but when you add a quirky, slightly insane character played by the underrated Tim Roth, this is a program you can easily get sucked into.  Unfortunately "Lie to Me" has been moved to Fridays in the summer at 9/8c starting June 10th-- Fridays and Summers being the two death sentences for a syndicated show.  Ah well... can't wait for the box sets!

Masterpiece Mystery-- a PBS program I've obsessed over since I was a kid-- is now hosted by the wonderful Alan Cumming (previously the elegant Diana Rigg) and contains the best British actors portraying the best British detective characters. David Suchet as Poirot, Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, and Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox as Inspector Lewis and DS Hathaway: the best people to spend Sunday nights with at 8pm on PBS.  Also, come the Fall, keep your eyes and ears open for Series 2 of Sherlock Holmes: a modern day take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective and a visual feast!

On to Reality TV...

Ah "The Bachelorette"... what can I say? I love the overly dramatic, totally unrealistic romantic setting of 25 men trying to win the heart of one woman (this season it's Ashley Hebert-- see above photo). The drama, the romance, the 'villain,' the epic trips-- it's FUN! The one thing I must admit about this season: Ashley is ANNOYING... and kind of clueless. In case you're curious-- Mondays on ABC at 7pm.

NBC's "The Voice" has proven to be a surprisingly entertaining show with the blind auditions, battle rounds, and coaching provided by 4 of the biggest stars in the music industry.  Some of the talent is absolutely incredible, but the pretend bickering between the judges gets old and isn't amusing.  It's drama free and perfect for anyone who appreciates live performances by great vocalists. Tuesdays @ 9/8c

And now... my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE reality show and one of my favorite TV shows ever: So You Think You Can Dance!!! I can't tell you how much I look forward to this every year.  Because I have no dance ability whatsoever, the art form fascinates me beyond words. The expression of emotion and telling stories through music and body movement is utterly beautiful and even though it's surrounded by stage lights, a huge audience, an overly exuberant host, and judges, none of it matters when you're watching the performances. They just picked the top 20 tonight-- now the fun begins.

And the premiere I'm looking forward to the most this summer:

I haven't read the books so I'm jumping into this blindly, but the promos have me intrigued. Young adult angst in a supernatural setting: can't get more entertaining than that!

What shows do you watch in the summers?

05 June 2011

Apple Cinnamon Crumb Bars with Cherries

In honor of my mom coming to visit (and the fact I couldn't make it down to Chicago for her birthday), I decided to make a celebratory treat that would be easy, yummy, and appealed to Mom's taste buds. Mom claims she's not picky, but having grown up a baker's daughter adds tons of pressure on my amateur baking skills.  Since I avoid chocolate unless I have the odd craving and because I knew Mom loves apple-cinnamon anything, these bars sounded PERFECT.

I got the recipe from Erica's Sweet Tooth and made a couple slight adjustments. Very slight. Accidentally. I also took pictures of the process because I'm a goober and like visual aids when giving a presentation.

First, whenever attempting a new recipe or complicated cooking, gather all ingredients and tools before beginning.  Yes that's a Mickey Mouse spatula and yes, that's my iPod. No I did not bake it.  I find good music essential for good baking. This dish pairs nicely with the album "Follow Me Down" by Sarah Jarosz.

You have to peel, core, and slice the apples and as I do not own a device that does all three at once, I peeled them by hand-- check out my uber long strip (I'm especially proud since this was my first time ever peeling apples. Not too shabby.)

Slicing away.

Can you smell the cinnamon?! A perfect answer to canned apple pie filling.

The recipe requires you to mix the flour, sugar, 1/2 cup of butter with a pastry cutter (???) or two forks until the dough has the consistency of bread crumbs. This is what it looks like for reference.

While the dough is baking, prep the fillings: apples, jam... or in my case cherry preserves (I'll get to that later), and the brown sugar streusel (it looks like the dough but I dug my hands in that time and tried to get bigger clumps).


These look more like cherry bars but I promise there's plenty of apples and cinnamon.

Hodge Podge Tips:
  • Double the cinnamon from Erica's recipe. I actually used 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cinnamon spice blend from Williams-Sonoma.
  • Pick any apple you want. I chose Granny Smith since they're used for baking pies.
  • Note: the recipe calls for JAM not preserves. Apparently there's a big difference that hadn't registered in my brain plus I had a coupon for preserves not jam. So there. If you do "pull a Jamie" (that's my name, Peeps), go ahead and use the preserves, they still taste good.
  • I'd recommend picking a jam flavor that pairs well with apples, such as plum, strawberry, or cherry. I especially like the idea of apples and cherries as I hail from northern Wisconsin where apple and cherry picking are prime for the autumn.
  • Next time I think I will add more brown sugar to the streusel.