Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name

Being a book review blogger definitely has its perks. There is a constant supply of free books in a variety of genres. The added blog traffic is a plus. But it also has its snags. When you get a book that doesn't tease you all the way until the end, it can be a drag to have to finish the book until you can get your next "fix."

At the end of January, I contacted NavPress and was approved as a book review blogger for them. They immediately sent out my first book, The Summer the Wind Whispered My Name by Don Locke. I was seriously impressed with the speediness of the whole transaction. I received this book before I received the material from another publishing company I had been approved for almost 2 weeks earlier. Very nice!

The book tells the story of a middle-class American boy living in Ohio and his adventures over the summer in 1960.

I was so excited that I immediately started reading that night. After the first few pages, let alone the first chapter, I knew this one was going to be difficult. Even though it is fiction, which I thoroughly enjoy, it was a period fiction piece from a recent part of history that I did not experience...the 60's. The author seemingly did not take this into account when writing the book, giving no description, or even hint, of the "iconic" characters and events included. Maybe I should have listened more carefully in my history classes. This made it more difficult to really get into the book because a lot of the allusions used went over my head.

I was also a little discouraged when it took so long to get through a small section of the plot due to the numerous side trails the author took along the way. For example, in a section meant to discuss an encounter Davy, the main character, has with his neighbor who is found lying on the front porch, he goes off (in detail) on his Uncle Frank's funeral and his first encounter with a dead body. There is a lengthy section on the cast of Father Knows Best and a four page section on Two-Ton, a kid's comedian that works with Davy's father. None of these add significant depth to the novel or contribute to the movement of the plot.

While I did enjoy the book a little more as I read further, I prefer a book that grabs me from page one, and this definitely was not it. There were some redeeming qualities, though. The overall message of the story is heartwarming. I was reminded of the need to truly be a neighbor to all those around me, even those who may seem different than me, even when it is the unpopular or uncomfortable thing to do.

Overall, I would recommend this book to someone interested in the 60’s and a good story of friendship.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Homemade Banana Pudding

I think homemade banana pudding is a staple of southern desserts. It always seems to turn up at one of our family gatherings. My grandmother often makes a regular banana pudding for everyone and then one without bananas for my dad because he doesn't like them. Either way you choose to make this one, the homemade pudding will far surpass the Jell-o variety. It is quick and easy to make and doesn't take many ingredients.

You need:

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. butter
1 box wafer cookies
2 bananas

Heat milk until bubbles form at the edges in a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a small bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Pour into hot milk a little at a time and stir until completely dissolved. Continue to cook and stir constantly until pudding thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Do not boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter. Layer the bottom of the serving bowl with wafer cookies and then bananas. Pour just enough vanilla pudding on top to cover the layer. Repeat pattern ending with pudding on top. Refrigerate until set and serve.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

I have made this cheesecake knock-off a couple of different ways. This one was not my most successful, but you get to see a picture of what it kind of looks like and learn from my mistakes. The directions below take the cake in my opinion (after numerous trials and errors).

You need:

1 graham cracker crust
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup mini milk chocolate chips (NOT regular)
1 tsp. flour

Preheat oven to 350. Beat cheese with mixer until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Toss chips with flour and stir into cheese mixture. Pour into pie crust. Bake 35-40 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touched. Cool and serve.

Note: Your cheesecake will look different than the one in the picture above. I found that when the chocolate chips hardened at the bottom, they were really hard to bite into and made the cheesecake difficult to eat. Make sure you use the mini chocolate chips because they will be easier to eat. Just trust me on this one. :-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

This is an excellent recipe for an alternative to banana bread. It combines the classic flavors of peanut butter, banana, and chocolate to create a memorable dessert perfect for any gathering. As you can see from the picture above, there wasn't much left when I actually remembered to take a picture. I hope you and yours enjoy this as much as we did.

You need:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 pkg (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour (I used half all-purpose and half whole wheat)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

In a small bowl, stir the flour, brown sugar, peanut butter and cinnamon until crumbly; set aside for topping.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in bananas and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon; stir into creamed mixture just until moistened.

Divide half of the batter between two greased 8x4 inch loaf pans; sprinkle with half of the topping. Top with chocolate chips. Repeat layers of batter and topping.

Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

Modified from (2009, February/March). Peanut Butter Banana Bread. Taste of Home, 42.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chocolate Pudding

Did you know that you can make chocolate pudding from scratch? OK, call me sheltered, but it was only recently that I learned that all pudding does not come out of a Jell-0 box. I came across a recipe for homemade chocolate pudding that whetted my appetite and my curiosity.

You need:

1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cups sugar or honey
4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk the cornstarch and cocoa powder together in a medium sized pot. Make sure there are no lumps. Add about 1 cup of milk and the sugar. Whisk together until there are no lumps. Stir in the rest of the milk over medium to medium-high heat and stir continuously. (This is the hard part. You might want to switch out with someone else if your hand gets tired.) Heat until the mixture starts to thicken. Simmer for no longer than 1 minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla. You can eat it warm (which is really yummy) or cool to set and eat cold (which is really good, too!).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Question of the Day: March 2nd

So, I'm sitting here thinking about my blog and looking at the statistics over the last month. There are a lot of people coming to my blog to read what I have to say, but very few actually leave comments. I know exactly what that is like. I read quite a few blogs myself and it has to hit me just right before I leave a comment. However, I would LOVE the opportunity to learn a thing or two from my readers and to hear where you're coming from. So, I have a question for you today. I REALLY hope that you will decide to leave a comment and answer the question of the day. I'd love to hear from you.

What is your favorite recipe to make (or eat)? It can be something you cook or bake. You can link to the recipe if you have one handy, but if not, feel free just to leave the name of the recipe. I can't wait to hear what you have to say!