Sophie Mae and her best friend decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) as soon as the opportunity popped up in their small town. One day when they’re volunteering at the farm, a dead body is found in the compost heap. Sophie Mae is determined not to get involved this time, after all, she’s got enough on her plate with her soap making business and trying to make a baby with her husband, Detective Barr. But Barr’s boss asks her to help identify the body by talking to the folks in the community , and she just can’t say no.
Cozy mysteries consist of a mystery (that’s not too explicit or bloody) paired with an unlikely investigator, some sort of crafting, a good dose of humor, and a punny title. In other words, they were basically made for me. (Some even come with recipes!) So when this one popped up on NetGalley, I snatched it up, and I’m so glad I did! McRae successfully pulls together everything that makes a cozy great.
The plot is excellent. The murder mystery isn’t too gory, but is also realistic. The body is found in a compost heap, yes, but it’s just a dead body. There aren’t slashed off heads hanging out in tea kettles or something. Everyone is appropriately disturbed by the finding. There’s no ho-hum just another day element at play. Although I admit I had figured out whodunit before the end, the why and when were still a mystery. Plus I never felt that Sophie Mae was being stupid and just missing something. Why it was taking her a bit to see whodunit made total sense. I also really appreciate that GLBTQ people are included in the plot without a big deal being made out of it. They are just another character, which is just how I like my diversity in genre literature.
The characters are fairly three-dimensional for a cozy. Everyone had something I liked and didn’t like about their personality, even the heroine, which is key to characters seeming realistic. There were also a wide variety of people present from Sophie Mae’s best friend’s daughter to an elderly friend of the family. This range is something that is often missing in literature, and I liked seeing it here.
What I really come to cozies for, though, I admit, is the integration of crafting. In this case the theme is participating in a CSA, so parts of the book are devoted to how a CSA works from acquiring your weekly allotment to figuring out how to use it to cooking with it. I really appreciated the quips about having so much of a certain produce that they’re coming out your ears. I also really enjoyed the scenes that discussed taking real time out to cook dinner and what that feels like, such as talking about how garlic smells when you first throw it into a hot pan. I know not all readers enjoy this, but honestly that’s part of the point of a cozy. Taking the time to linger on crafts and talents that take time to cultivate but are well worth it, and McRae incorporated this element very smoothly into the book. I do wish some recipes or CSA tips had been included, but it’s possible I just didn’t see them since I had an advanced copy.
Overall this book has a dash of everything enjoyable about a cozy mystery. Recommended to cozy fans, particularly those in or considering a CSA.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers! I know you can all tell I’ve been very busy since there hasn’t been a Friday Fun from me in….over a month. I am pleased that I managed to at least keep a few posts trickling in, but even so I have three books waiting to be reviewed. No one thing in particular has kept me busy, it’s just….life is busy! So, beyond my usual work, reading, exercising, cooking, general hanging out, what have I been up to?
First off, a friend told me all about Boston Organics, and I signed up for it! Basically you get a box of fresh produce delivered to your door either every week or every other week. You can choose organic or organic and local. I chose organic and local. So far it has been totally awesome and removed my sense of boredom I had recently acquired over choosing recipes. Getting produce chosen and sent to me challenges my cooking skills, and I’m really enjoying it! Plus knowing that my food is coming locally, organic, and fresh makes me feel good both about what I’m feeding myself (and my boyfriend), but also makes me feel good about supporting local farmers.
Of course Halloween also happened. Friends of mine are on the organizing committee for a Boston area scifi/fantasy group (I am so nerdy), and so boyfriend and I went to their costume party. We were Gem and Sam from Tron, and it was awesome. My friends did a great job organizing, and it was the nicest Halloween I’ve had in a while. We also carved pumpkins! Since my current work in progress is set in the Lovecraft universe, I decided to do Cthulhu!
Hurricane Sandy also arrived. Thankfully, it really did not affect Boston very much. Most people either didn’t have work or got sent home mid-day. The T stopped running partway through the day as well. I briefly lost power, but frankly Nstar did an amazing job maintaining power to homes in Boston during this storm. I was a bit disturbed that my building was shaking, but truly nothing adverse happened. My cat spent the morning trying to dive out the window to chase the wind-whipped leaves (her survival instinct is clearly amazing *eye-roll*) but by afternoon needed some serious snuggles. I actually had to wrap her up in her favorite fuzzy blanket to calm her poor little kitten nerves. I was saddened to see that the National Park I worked at through Americorps in New Jersey suffered severe damage. Almost every single historical building was flooded, but more importantly, the dunes that the endangered piping plovers nest on were demolished. It’s very sad, and I can only hope that Americorps will have enough funding to send larger conservation teams than usual there in the spring.
Currently, I’m revving up for Thanksgiving this week! Since neither boyfriend nor I can make it home to our respective home states to visit, we’ll be making our own vegetarian Thanksgiving. The planned menu is chili and pumpkin pie with vegan maple whipped cream. Nom!
Be expecting some book reviews to come up! I’m hoping to get caught up writing them this weekend.
Happy weekends all!
Hello my lovely readers! It is finally fall in lovely New England. If I was forced to pick, I’d choose fall as my favorite season, although winter would come in a very close second. I might not feel this way in other areas of the US where there is no leaf changing or crisp autumnal weather or orchard season. But here all of these awesome things exist, so yayyyy!
Things I love about Fall, in no particular order:
- Cooler weather, which means I don’t immediately look like I ran a 5k when I step out my door
- Fall fashion, particularly knee high socks! And denim jackets! And getting to wear my hair down periodically!
- Also my hair no longer looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket.
- Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. (with soy)
- Fall leaves
- Kicking fall leaves
- Hiking in the woods
- Hot chocolate
- Spiked hot chocolate
- Giant pots of tea
- The perfect weather for snorgling
- Did I mention pie?
- Squash dishes
- Slow cooker season!
- Long hot baths
- Related: horror everywhere. Oh how I love horror.
- Cinnamon and nutmeg in everything
- CIDER for the love of fsm, I almost forgot cider.
I had a long weekend this weekend, which was partially a reward to myself for making it through what I have been told are the toughest two months in medical academic libraries’ calendar year and also partially to spend some time with my bf who just got back from a two week trip abroad. Many things on this list were covered, including pumpkin spice latte and pie. We made an apple pie together with apples we got from the orchard ourselves, and it was amazingly delicious. Special thanks to my daddy for sharing his pie crust secrets.
As for the blog, you may have noticed that my most recent read was actually four books in one, and you really should check it out particularly if you are a scifi or 1950s American culture fan. That slowed the reviews down a bit, but I have this new rule where I won’t kick myself over my book numbers being lower because I read a long book (or two. or three!). Big books shouldn’t be left on the sidelines purely for being big.
Happy weekends and happy fall, all!
The idea of this book is great, but the execution is poor, particularly compared to other eat cheap vegan cookbooks such as Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson or The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon. The recipes simply lack creativity and skimp on flavor.
The book features an interesting introduction on why veggies and fruits don’t get ad space, followed by chapters on financial planning for grocery shopping and veggie nutrition and cooking. Both of these chapters are kind of common sense, but I am fully aware a lot of adults, particularly young adults, are completely lacking in this common sense, so these chapters are good to have.
The recipes are divided into: breakfasts, soups, salads, salad dressings, entrees, spreads and sides, and desserts and snacks. Now, I have nothing against soups or salads, but to have three chapters really devoted to those two things (I mean, a whole chapter of salad dressings? Come on!) is not offering up much variety or doing anything to dispel the myth that vegans just eat salad. To top it off, the entree chapter starts with a chili and a stew, which are basically chunkier soups.
I also feel that a lot of the recipes are pure common sense. There is a recipe titled rice and beans. COME ON NOW. You make rice, stir-fry up some beans and veggies, boom, rice and beans. If you’re offering up a book on eating vegan on the cheap, don’t offer up recipes that we all already know anyway and that are commonly thought of as a poor man’s food. What a person looking at this cookbook wants is creative, cheap, delicious vegan recipes. What we are offered is basic stir fries, basic pasta and sauce, basic salad, etc… For instance, the salad “recipe” on page 50 just offers up a list of veggies and nuts then says “combine any five of these ingredients.” Gee, thanks, I had no idea that a salad is made up of a combination of veggies. What a help!
Now, I did try making a recipe in the cookbook, “Sweet Potato Muffins” on page 35. The pros: it was cheap and edible. The cons: it was barely edible and I felt like I was having hockey pucks for breakfast. There has got to be a better way to make vegan sweet potato muffins. There just has to be. And, side-note, I’ve been cooking long enough to know that when a recipe fails this badly, it is most likely not my fault. Particularly when I try it a second time, and it still fails.
So overall I suppose if you are an absolute complete beginner in cooking and wanting to eat plant-based, you might find this book moderately useful. I’d recommend to you that you get Vegetarian Cooking For Dummies instead though. (Seriously, that’s what I used when I first went veg).
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
Cookbook Review: Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Mars
Vegans beware. When this says it’s a vegetarian cookbook, it really means it! Almost every recipe is drenched in animal products, primarily dairy and eggs.
The Introduction explains the various food cultures that have sprung up in Jewish communities around the world, complete with maps and such. This part was fascinating, although I felt that it was a bit too Old Wold focused. I know for instance that there are strong Jewish cultures in Argentina and Brooklyn, but they are not included in the book.
After the Introduction is an explanation of vegetarian foods incorporated into Jewish holidays. I found this part rather averagely done and skimmed over it.
The recipes are oddly divided up. The chapters are: cheese and dairy spreads; pickles, marinated vegetables, and relishes; salads; soups; savory pastries; cooked vegetable dishes; vegetable stews; legumes; grains; dumplings and pasta; eggs; sauces and seasonings. As you can tell, some of the recipes are put together based on the type of dish (salad, soup) and others based on the ingredients (eggs, legumes). This makes the book appear disorganized. Also the complete lack of dessert is sad.
Beyond the maps in the Introduction, there are no pictures. Additionally, the recipes are mostly designed to serve 6 to 8. I’m not sure what planet the author is from, but that is not a typical family sized meal in America. I must admit, that I didn’t try any of the recipes because I couldn’t find a single one I wanted to try. They are all completely swimming in cholesterol and insane food portion sizes. Looking at the soups, which should presumably be a healthier option, the Persian Onion Soup on page 123 contains 3 eggs and the Hungarian Cream of Mushroom Soup on page 125 contains TWO CUPS of sour cream. Similarly, almost all of the breads and pastries are fried. My cholesterol practically spiked just looking at the cookbook.
Essentially, then, this book is a good introduction to Old World style Jewish food but ignores the healthier options that I know from experience exist in Jewish communities in the Americas. It is difficult to enjoy the cookbook since there are no pictures or colors. Additionally, all of the recipes are designed for 6 to 8 servings, which is a bit large for the typical American household. Overall, then, I would recommend this book to those with a vested interest in Jewish culture and cuisine who can see past the dull layout and design of the cookbook.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
I’m finally doing cookbook reviews! I’m afraid mine won’t be as in-depth as on some blogs. I simply don’t have the time to snap pictures as I cook and copy out recipes. But I will tell you the basics of how the cookbook is set up, how well it works, and whether I would recommend it.
I have no intention to go full raw food, but I did think incorporating some raw recipes into my week might help up my veggie and fruit intake. I also am a busy young professional so don’t have tons of time, so clearly the title appealed to me. So are these 5 minute recipes? Um. Not for me they weren’t. I’d say that on average the recipes took me anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to accomplish, and I don’t think learning the recipes or improving techniques would help with that. Five minutes is definitely an understatement.
The book is set up with a list of all the ingredients she uses, a suggested weekly meal plan, and then divided into your typical breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts, etc…. categories. It is a convenient size, although you will need something to hold it open for you. It is wonderfully illustrated with gorgeous full-color pictures.
I selected a breakfast, lunch, and dinner to try out since snacks are best kept simple (in my book), and I’m not much of a desserts person.
Breakfast was a smoothie. Something I am incredibly skeptical of keeping me full. It consisted of freshly squeeze orange juice (TIME-CONSUMING), half a banana, almond milk, and ice cubes. It tasted surprisingly good, but did it keep me full? HAHAHA NO. I was hungry again by the time I got to work. So that was kind of a fail. Especially with all the effort that went into making it. Seriously, I think I expended those calories purely in squeezing out the oj.
Lunch was….a salad. A salad that did not taste nearly as good as my salads I usually make. Plus, I was bothered by the fact that she wanted half of your leafy greens to be iceberg lettuce when spinach and kale are so much healthier for you. I consider this salad kind of a fail. It did keep me full, though, and others might like the proportions and such better than I did.
Dinner was a raw avocado “soup,” which basically was a bunch of things blended in the blender. You guys. This did not taste like soup. It tasted like a good dip, so that’s how I ate it. It totally would score 4 stars as a dip, but as dinner it failed. Really. A lot.
The main problem I had with this book, then, was a) the recipes take way more than 5 minutes and b) I kind of like to chew things periodically. All of this blending made me feel like an invalid.
That said, the book is definitely not bad, it is just not my cup of tea. Others might enjoy the tastes and style better than I did, and it is well-organized. Plus others might be less irritated by the fact that the recipes take 10 to 15 minutes rather than 5.
Recommended to vegans with an openness to incredibly simple raw meals being integrated into their diets.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
I saw something when I was out grocery shopping this weekend that I can’t stop thinking about. There were three young 20-somethings in front of me in the self-check-out. They had a very full cart. I’m assuming they were roommates shopping for the household. In any case, I had a bit of a wait, so I started to look at what they’d bought. I’m always intrigued to see what groceries other people buy. Anyway. Their food consisted entirely of prepackaged meals, almost all of them Hungry Man frozen dinners. We’re talking enough frozen dinners to feed all three of them for around a month. It took all of my self-control to not let my jaw drop open. There was not a single piece of fruit, vegetable, or even, heck, a box of pasta in the mix! Not even some canned applesauce! Every single item was a frozen dinner.
This rather dramatically demonstrates a trend I’m seeing among my generation that frankly worries me. I’m not one to rant in a pretentious way about what you should eat, but what the hell happened to the art of cooking?! Why are people reaching their young 20s with absolutely zero knowledge about how to make dinner from scratch? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are my age who know next to nothing about cooking. One of my meals that never fails to impress these friends who can’t cook I call Poor Man’s Pasta. I take some fresh veggies, chop them up, stir fry them for a bit with herbs, water down some marinara sauce, add it to the pan, and cook it until it simmers down. I toss pasta in with this, and we have a meal stuffed with fresh veggies and herbs and far more health than a frozen meal that god only knows where the food came from, how long its been frozen, or how much sodium is in it. It’s basically frankenfood, and it disturbs me that people my age don’t know how to make anything better.
Cooking is one of those things we need to know how to do as human beings. We should know how to make ourselves food! This seems obvious, but it apparently is not. Why are parents letting their kids grow up without knowing how to cook? Isn’t this a basic human need that should not be ignored? It reminds me of the kids in my undergrad who arrived at college with no clue as to how to do their own laundry.
So, I call out to my fellow 20-somethings. If you don’t know how to cook, please learn. It is cheaper. It isn’t that time-consuming to make a freshly-made meal. Ask a friend who knows how to cook. Take a lesson at a local adult learning facility. This is a basic skill you should at the very least know how to do. Even if you only cook your dinner yourself once or twice a week, it’ll still be better for your health. Not to mention, then you can pass the ability of cooking on to your kids, if you decide to have them. Don’t let the future be a world where only professional chefs know how to cook a meal.
After pondering the possibilities for the price limit they set, I decided what I really needed was a shelf for my kitchen. Boston apartments are notorious for being cramped spaces, and much as I love mine, it seriously is lacking in cabinetry/places to put shit. My cookbooks were stacked up in messy piles under the microwave. Not the best for ready reference while cooking! Anyway, so I measured one of the narrow nooks in my kitchen, found a shelf that matched the proportions and was within budget, and ordered away. The delivery was faster than the spacing of my blog posts implies. It arrived a couple days or so after I placed the order.
It arrived in a nice, plain box. This is good because some companies have a tendency not to wrap the box in another box, and then it gets left on my porch for hours announcing to the world the free awesome stuff inside they could steal. So yay for plain packaging! Also, it was really easy to open. (My cat at this point in time was taking a brief break from rubbing her face all over the box. She REALLY loves boxes).
This is exactly how it looked right out of the box. Not too intimidating, eh? (To those wondering, at this point in time my cat was attempting to stuff her tubby self into the very narrow box. Hilarity ensued). I was a bit surprised that there was exactly one page of instructions for assembly, but it turned out to be quite easy. Anyone who has assembled Ikea furniture would find it to be a piece of cake. I had a few doubts at first that it would be at all stable, but actually once all the pieces are in place, it’s pretty darn stable. I wouldn’t go putting super-heavy things on it though. It’s not made for that.
Here it is all set-up! Later I moved it to be centered in that space. I don’t know why I had it in the corner for the picture. Who knows. Anyway, it fits the space well, and I now have two open shelves to do what I want with. I actually am enjoying using the top shelf as extra counter-top space when I’m cooking. It comes in handy.
And here’s a close-up of the cookbooks, because I know at least a few of you love shelf p*rn! It turns out I have a lot fewer cookbooks than I thought I did. I think this totally justifies me acquiring a few more when the budget allows it, don’t you? If you *must* know what books are on the shelf, from left to right:
America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Perfect Vegetables, Vegetarian Bible, Adventures in Microwave Cooking (college), stir-fry cookbook, vegetarian cookbook (the actual names of those two elude me), Vegetarian Cooking for Dummies (from when I first went veg, it’s an *awesome* book!), Vegetables, The Little House Cookbook, Pumpkins, Vegetarian Italian Cooking, a vintage southern cooking cookbook (bday present from my dad), Nestle’s Best-Loved Cookies, and a family cookbook from my dad’s side of the family.
Hokay, back to the review! Overall, my interactions with CSN Stores were entirely pleasant. The site is easy to navigate with convenient left-bar search features such as price, size, color, etc… Many items on the site ship for free, and the shipping was *fast*. The item arrived well-packaged, and assembly was fairly easy. I do wish the shelf was a bit sturdier, but it does its job well enough, particularly for the price. Overall I would definitely recommend buying items from CSN Stores. Their prices are competitive, they have good customer service, and their products are items any home would need.
People tend to not realize pizza’s versatility. When it’s home-made, you can actually make sure it is quite healthy, including being low-fat and low-calorie. It all comes down to what you put on it and what type of crust you make. There’s red pizza (using marinara for sauce) white pizza (using olive oil and garlic for sauce) and pesto pizza (obviously using pesto for sauce). You can put pretty much any veggie on top of pizza. If it’s something that takes longer to cook, like broccoli, just quickly boil it for a couple of minutes to prep before slicing it up and putting it on the pizza. Even carrots and potatoes can go on the pizza. Just grate them up and put them on right after the sauce. The super-thin slices couples with the sauce makes them cook by the time you take the pizza out of the oven. Also, don’t be afraid to put beans on your pizza for extra protein! I’ve put everything from chickpeas to black beans on mine.
It took much experimenting with many pizza crust recipes and a bit of tweaking on the one I finally found that was close to what I wanted. The crust is the core of the pizza, so I present to you–the perfect pizza crust.
A wonderful warm, slightly crunchy, slighty bready, tinged with rosemary crust that perfectly holds its own to however many or few toppings you want. It works for thin or thick crust. If you want thin crust, either roll it out super thin and use a large pizza pan or divide it into two and make two regular-sized pizzas. For thicker crust, just roll it out to a regular pizza-size.
1 cup warm water
1 packet yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon dried rosemary
2 Tablespoons olive oil
pinch of sea salt
1 1/8 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/8 cup white flour
More flour for rolling out the dough
Put the water in a large bowl. Add the yeast and the sugar. Allow the yeast to work for about a minute.
Add in olive oil, rosemary, whole wheat flour, and white flour.
Mix. I use a hand-held electric dough hook, but it works by hand or with a real electric mixer too. If you’re using a dough hook, the dough is ready when it starts to climb up the hook. If you’re doing it by hand, it’s when the dough is no longer watery but still kind of sticky.
Put the dough in an oiled bowl in a warm location. I use my microwave, personally. Allow to rise for 30 to 45 minutes. 45 minutes is better, but if you’re pressed for time, 30 minutes is ok.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prep your toppings.
Spread out flour on a surface. Flour your rolling pin. Plop the dough on the surface. Flip it a few times to spread out the flour. Roll to your desired size.
Top with whatever toppings you want.
Cook for 15 to 25 minutes. How long depends on how many toppings you put on/what your oven is like/what mood the dough is in.
Source: Tweaked recipe from Emeril Lagasse
This was a busy, but overall fun week for me. One of my closest friends, Nina, was on a two month trip to Israel, and this week she returned home! (She kept a blog of her trip, check it out!) She and one of my other good friends came over Wednesday night, and we all cooked together. Well, Nina and I did. E was the cheering squad. Also, she brought the chocolate. Nina made tehini the way they do in Israel, and we had that with whole wheat bread for an appetizer. It’s a lot like hummus, only more bitter. For dinner we had whole wheat crust pizza topped with vodka sauce, marinated tempeh, shredded carrots, avocado, onions, spinach, and cheese. You guys, vodka sauce lends such a nice sweetness to a pizza. Swoon. Also, Nina brought me a lovely tapestry from Israel. I believe she said it was made by the tent dwelling Arabs, but I was also tipsy when she gave it to me, so I could totally be wrong about that. Although it is many colors, it is predominantly a vibrant shade of red with hints of black, so it will go really well with my living room. I’m so happy Nina is back, and she and E are going to be roommates, so I’ll be seeing much more of both of them.
In tidbits of news, my state refund came in, so there’ll be a bit of shopping this weekend. I was going to get a Wii, but I think I’ll wait for my federal refund for that. Instead, I’ll probably get a new tv, mostly so I can finally hitch up my mac to it and stream Netflix. Also, what’s the point of having a Wii if you’re playing on an old tv? (Don’t worry, budgeting types, some of the money will be going into savings and some into the terrifying undergrad debt).
I’ve decided (partly spurred on by my librarian friend, Kristi, check her blog out), that come hell or high water I will get some gardening done this year in spite of the fact that I have neither yard nor balcony and a kitty who is very determined not to share windowsills. I found a windowbox that is a bit sturdier and fits on the windowsill better, so hopefully she won’t knock it off. I’ve also got some other ideas up my sleeve (such as the topsy/turvy planting thing). I’m planning on growing tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and strawberries. I’m also considering potatoes via an indoor method Nina learned about in Israel. I am, however, known to have a brown thumb, so hopefully this pursuit won’t be in vain.
Happy weekend everyone!