Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Three Graves Full

I love a good mystery and Three Graves Full hooked me even before I opened it because it has a truly unique plot. Jason Getty is a socially-awkward loner who is adjusting to life after becoming a widower. Within the first chapter, readers learn that he has a body in his back yard, a body that he buried after killing a man that “nobody would miss.” After one year of agonizing his every move and stressing that someone will discover his dark secret, Jason decides to move on with life; he hires some landscapers to clean up his front yard. As they labor through the day, Jason begins to feel more comfortable with putting the past behind him, until the landscape contractor finds Jason to tell him that something unusual has been discovered on his property: two buried skeletons (neither of which is the one which Jason buried). Panic washes over Jason and he slowly begins to fall apart, reliving the past. As the investigation into the two bodies unfolds, Jason fears the worst, but assumes that he will not get pinned with these murders. As the detectives begin the investigation, things seem to be going Jason’s way until the lead investigator discovers an unrelated blood pool that leads him to dig further into the matter. Meanwhile, two of the loved ones of the buried dead begin an “investigation” of their own (one hoping to put her fiancees memory to rest and the other hoping to escape before his secret is revealed). This ultimately only leads to trouble in the most twisted and unexpected way. I was captivated by this book and got sucked into it quickly. Jaime Mason’s writing style throughout Three Graves Full is natural and conversational. The descriptive details are powerful, yet worked seamlessly into the plot of the mystery. This book is worth a read and has plenty of fodder for discussion if you are looking for a new book club pick.

Veganissimo A to Z

As a dairy-free vegetarian (okay, I realize that as someone who eats vegan daily, I really need to work on making that label a bit smoother), I am always looking for resources to make my meals healthier and my decisions wiser. I like to stay informed and truly understand the products that I use in my kitchen and on my body. Because of this, I had high hopes for Veganissimo A to Z. This book which is arranged as an index of almost every non-recognizable food and product ingredient. Each entry clearly communicates whether the ingredient comes from plant or animal sources and explains what the purpose of the ingredient is (i.e. a preservative or thickener). The depth of each entry makes it possible to truly understand the additives that are in each of the products in your home. Some of the ingredient details are horrifying (Reuben Proctor and Lars Thomsen spare no details in order to ensure that readers fully understand why specific additives are not vegan-friendly). There are specific details about musk and lanolin, for example, and information about lesser known ingredients that are sure to crop up in shampoos, conditioners and lotions. While the wealth of information in this book is vast, it was a bit overwhelming for daily use. Additionally, because the book couldn’t specify whether a specific ingredient actually came from, it often left me with more questions than answers. This book is definitely a good resource for someone trying to be completely in tune with their understanding of the products that they use, but with a stronger sense of consumer awareness, and excellent online ingredient databases, I think that this is too overwhelming for me, and I will stick with a good online resource instead.

Chipotle Veggie Soup

I love a little spice in my foods, and this soup has a bit of kick along with hearty vegetables. Even my husband (who is far from a soup fan) enjoyed this. Plus, it is so easy to make in the slow cooker that once you have all the ingredients mixed, you have time to focus on other things. It doesn’t get much easier than this. For this soup, I used Field Roast Chipotle Links, but any comparable brand will work.
Chipotle Veggie Soup 1 medium onion, diced 2 links vegan chipotle links (crumbled) 4 cups broth 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced 2 Tablespoons minced garlic 1 medium sweet potato, peeled, diced into 1/4″ cubes 1 tsp. diced jalapeno 1 can (1 can) pinto beans, drained and rinsed 1 can (15 ounce) fire-roasted diced tomatoes 1. In a medium skillet, heat the onion, links and red bell pepper over medium heat, just until tender and fragrant (about 3 minutes). 2. Add skillet mixture and remaining ingredients to a slow cooker. Cover and cook over low heat for 4 hours or high heat for 2 hours.

Goodnight Baseball

With baseball season drawing close, this is the perfect book for young fans who are just beginning to understand the game, and for adults who love the classic Goodnight Moon. This book, written in rhyming verse, is charming and the perfect read to get young ones excited about upcoming games in the stadium or on the local ball field. Goodnight Baseball by Michael Dahl tells the story of a young boy who goes to a major league ball game with his dad and watches as the game unfolds and his team wins the game. The cartoonish pictures are adorable and because it is a Sports Illustrated Kids book, it has a feeling of authenticity for little guys. My favorite part of the book, however, is the ending in which the little boy says goodnight to all of his baseball paraphernalia as he rides home from the game: “Goodnight popcorn boxes under the stands. Goodnight mascot, and goodnight fans! Goodnight friends, goodnight cars…goodnight stadium under the stars!” It doesn’t get much cuter than this perfect bedtime story. Goodnight Baseball is definitely a home run!

Mango Coconut Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is such a yummy dessert, but sometimes it can feel a bit rich and heavy. This version brings a tropical flair to the traditional rice pudding and is easy to make (the hardest part is stirring). To get the best mango flavor, choose two ripe mangoes that are not hard and don’t have any bruises. Frozen mango would work as well, but make sure to allow it to thaw completely before pureeing, otherwise there will be too much water in the mixture.
Mango Coconut Rice Pudding 1 cup Arborio rice 2 cups water 2 large mangoes, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (or 2 cups fresh or thawed from frozen mango chunks) 1 (15 ounce) can coconut milk (you may use light or regular depending on preference) 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut 1/3 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ginger 1. Add rice and water to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. 2. Add mango chunks to a blender and blend on high until a thick puree forms. Scrape mixture from sides as needed, but do not add any liquids to mixture. 3. When rice is boiling, reduce heat to medium and stir until the mixture is thickened, but still slightly soupy, abut 6 minutes. 4. Add mango and remaining ingredients, stirring into the rice mixture completely. Stir consistently over medium heat and cook until thickened into an oatmeal-like texture, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. You may serve the rice pudding warm or cool depending upon your preference.

Curry Spiced Potatoes

I am a big fan of potatoes because they are so easy, and these are a fast, delicious side dish. They were great with Indian-style Veggie Burgers. The only bad thing about these potatoes is that they will be gone before you know it.
1 package frozen potatoes (I used Trader Joe’s brand that also has the peppers and onions in it, so I didn’t need the next two ingredients) 1/2 cup frozen bell pepper cubes 1/2 cup frozen diced onion 1 Tablespoon oil 2 Tablespoons curry powder 1/2 teaspoon each, salt and pepper 1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all ingredients and cook, stirring often to coat potatoes, peppers and onions in curry seasoning. Cook about 10 minutes, or until heated through. Serve immediately.

Tomb of Ten Thousdand Dead

I am always looking for alternative ways for my students to connect with literature, so I often look into audio books. While some have been good, it wasn’t until I had a chance to listen to Tomb of Ten Thousand Dead that I heard some really great stories that my students (especially boys) could connect with. Just one of a series of CDs by Golden Age Stories, Tomb of Ten Thousand Dead is like a 1930′s Indiana Jones. When Captain Gordon, a respected pilot, is hired to bring some archaeologists to a desert dig site, he has no idea how much trouble he is about to get into. The researchers intend to look for an ancient treasure site, one that has been hidden in the desert since the age of Alexander the Great. Gordon quickly discovers that the treasure will only cause trouble, and finds himself in a fight for his life in a tomb of 10,000 dead soldiers. With great sound effects, diverse voices (as opposed to one person trying to do different voices), and a thrilling plot, I loved the story (as well as Price of a Hat and Starch and Stripes, the two others that came in the CD set). The stories are each less than an hour, so they are a good length for some of my struggling students who have a hard time retaining information. Additionally, because these are all recorded versions of L. Ron Hubbard’s classic adventure stories, the entire Golden Age Stories collection is action-packed. Golden Age Stories (www.goldenagstories) has recorded dozens of audio stories that can be used on road trips, your daily commute, or in my case my classroom.