Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Monday 1/27! What Are You Reading?

Monday! We had quite a week last week, with the Monday holiday, two more snow days, and my son's knee surgery. Exhausting and hectic, so we spent a pretty quiet weekend at home.

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Raven Boys, a supernatural teen novel by Maggie Stiefvater, and loved it! I was thrilled to see that we already have #2 waiting here at the house - I can't wait to read it.
  • I also finished The Real Boy, a middle-grade audio book by Anne Ursu. I always enjoy Ursu's novels, and this one was no exception.  I haven't chosen my next audio book yet; I did a lot of podcast catching up this weekend!
  • I am now reading Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the February choice for my family book group (I started an online family book group last year on Facebook - it is so much fun sharing books with my far-away cousins and aunts!). It's a novel about a little Hawaiian girl who is exiled to a leper colony on Moloka'i in the 1890's. I just started it a couple of days ago, but it is already amazing! So compelling I hate to set it down.
  • I am also still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam - I worked on it in the hospital waiting room. It's an excellent book, but this is why I don't normally read two books at once!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Bat by Jo Nesbo, the first book in the Harry Hole series. He's read several other Harry Hole novels and enjoys this renowned Scandinavian crime writer. 
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy. 
I did manage a couple of reviews last week:

Review of The House Girl by Tara Conklin, which my entire book group enjoyed.

Review of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a teen/YA historical novel.

And also, a Weekend Cooking post, featuring several easy, healthy, tasty weeknight dinner recipes.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?   

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekend Cooking 1/26

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

We had a hectic week here, with a Monday holiday (which we spent driving home from a weekend trip), two more snow days, and knee surgery #4 for my 16-year old son. So, we had several meals of left-overs and take-out this week (my son always requests a Panera Italian Combo and a chocolate croissant after his surgery!).

But, I did do a bit of cooking. When we returned home on Monday, I made a double batch of our favorite Red Beans & Rice, at the request of my 19-year old son who is home from college. This is our idea of comfort food, and the left-overs provided us with another dinner plus several, we don't ever get sick of it!

When my younger son got home from the hospital, I made my own version of Beef Macaroni (see recipe below), figuring he could use some comfort food - and something nutritious after that nasty hospital food. I have never understood why hospitals feed sick people such horrible, unhealthy food. Dinner on Thursday at the hospital was grilled cheese (processed American on white bread, of course) with French fries. Beef Macaroni is a bit healthier than the classic, with lots of veggies. And I forgot to take a picture of it!

And last night, we went for an easy dinner recipe from Cooking Light, Chicken with Paprika and Potatoes. It uses chicken thighs and a tasty spice rub with potatoes, onion, and bell pepper all in one pan (we love easy clean-up). Everyone likes this one - no left-overs!

Hope you have enjoyed a week of good cooking and delicious food!

Beef Macaroni
(Serves 6)
A low-fat, healthy version of a family classic – perfect comfort food!

1 1/2 cups whole grain elbow macaroni
Cooking spray plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef (I like Laura’s organic)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red or green bell pepper, chopped
5-8 large mushrooms, chopped
2 teaspoons crushed or diced garlic
40 oz. (2 16 oz. cans plus 1 8 oz. can) tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup grated reduced-fat cheddar cheese (optional)

Cook macaroni in saucepan of boiling water, per instructions on box. Drain when finished.

Sauté ground beef in cooking spray and oil over medium-high heat in large pot (like a Dutch oven) until crumbled and mostly cooked through. Add onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms and continue cooking over medium-high heat until soft. Add garlic toward end of sauté. 

Add all other ingredients (except macaroni and cheese) and stir. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

Add macaroni and cheese (or if you have some family members who are dairy-intolerant like we do, you can leave the cheese out and allow people who want it to add it at the table instead). Stir well and continue to simmer on low heat for another 5 minutes.

Serve with grated cheese on the side, if you didn’t add it already.

NOTE: This version of Beef Macaroni has plenty of veggies. If you have picky eaters, use a red bell pepper (it doesn’t show up as well in the red tomato sauce) and chop the mushrooms up very small. My kids have no idea this dinner has mushrooms in it!

© Suzan L. Jackson 2014
(Do not reprint or publish without written permission from the author)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fiction Review: The House Girl

My neighborhood book group recently discussed The House Girl by Tara Conklin (one of my suggestions) and enjoyed this unique historical novel very much. What makes The House Girl unique is the way the author takes two separate stories – one modern and one historical – and gradually brings them together.

Chapters alternate between two subjects. Josephine is a 17-year old slave, a house girl, living in 1852 Virginia. Lina is a 24-year old first-year lawyer, living in Brooklyn in 2004 and working for a high-powered law firm in Manhattan. Lina’s firm, which normally deals in contract law, has taken on an unusual case dealing with slavery reparations that is being spearheaded by one of their largest corporate clients. One of Lina’s assignments in this class-action lawsuit is to find a lead plaintiff, someone whose ancestors were slaves, who can represent the class.

Lina’s father is a well-known artist, a painter, who tells her about a hot controversy in the art world. Some art historians suspect that the famous painter Lu Anne Bell, well known for her antebellum portraits of a plantation and the slaves who worked there, did not actually paint the pictures previously credited to her. Instead, they suspect that her house girl, Josephine, was actually the real artist. With more than a century of being denied credit for her paintings, Josephine would make the perfect example for Lina’s lawsuit, if the story is true and if she had any descendants. So, Lina sets off on a mission to learn more about Josephine and to answer those questions.

Meanwhile, in the chapters about Josephine, the reader gets a glimpse into what her life was like as a young, orphaned slave who was trained to be a house girl from the age of seven. Her relationship with her mistress, Lu Anne, is particularly interesting because Lu Anne treats Josephine well, though her position as a slave is still obvious. Josephine feels she can no longer tolerate captivity and plots her escape, while her mistress’s illness gets worse.

I enjoy novels like this, where two disparate stories slowly come together. Josephine’s chapters reminded me very much of The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, which I read last year for another book group; one of the narrators was also a house girl. There were many similar elements there, with the same sort of glimpse into the hidden lives (and the horrors) of the slaves’ experiences. There were some surprising plot twists (though not the one that I expected from the beginning!), and the story moves along at a fast pace. Everyone in my book group enjoyed The House Girl, and it got one of our highest group ratings ever!

370 pages, William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins)

Monday, January 20, 2014

It's Monday 1/20! What Are You Reading?

It doesn't feel like a Monday because we were still away for the weekend, since the kids were off school today. We took our sons and two friends on a snowboarding weekend (staying at my mom's house) to celebrate our younger son's 16th birthday. They all had a great time, and I enjoyed some much-needed quiet time on the couch with a book in front of the fire!

We all enjoyed some good books this week:
  • I finished The House Girl by Tara Conklin just in time for my book group meeting Wednesday (actually, I read the last few pages after I arrived there!). It was very good and inspired some great discussions. Our group gave it one of our highest ratings!
  • After a glut of historical fiction, I am now reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen novel that I've been wanting to read for a long time. I'm enjoying it very much.
  • I am still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, but, ironically, I am having trouble finding time to read it! We will be spending a lot of time in medical waiting rooms this week, so I am planning to carry it with me. I am already putting some of her insights to use.
  • I am still listening to The Real Boy by Anne Ursu on audio, a middle-grade novel by one of our favorite authors. It's very good so far, but I haven't had a lot of audio time with my older son home from college.
  • My husband, Ken, just finished The First Rule by Robert Crais, a thriller he picked up at the library last week.
  • Now Ken is reading The Bat by Jo Nesbo, the first book in the Harry Hole series. He's read several other Harry Hole novels and enjoys this renowned Scandinavian crime writer.
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy. It's a long one, plus he's been totally absorbed in playing video games during his winter break from college!
 I had such big plans for blog posts this week! But, between my son's birthday, my mom's visit, a flare-up of my chronic illness, and our weekend trip, I only found time for one post:

Weekend Cooking 1/19, with recipes for Banana Cake and Black Bean Soup.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekend Cooking 1/19

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

I had a difficult week, with a lot going on and a bad flare-up of my chronic illness, so we relied a lot on take-out and left-overs (and went out for my son's 16th birthday). But two recipes stand out:

My son requested his favorite cake for his birthday, Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. I used the Cooking Light recipe at the link, but left out the coconut and pecans on top (two things both of my sons hate!) and instead decorated it with sliced bananas and strawberries, like my mom used to when I was a kid. Everyone loves this cake - both of my sons request it for every birthday!

And on Friday, though I was still feeling bad, I managed to make my Black Bean Soup (recipe below), a very easy, quick soup that is delicious. I got to finally try out the new immersion blender my husband gave me for my birthday last summer - so cool! I love it, and it is so much easier to use and easier to clean up than using a regular blender. I can't wait to experiment with it some more.

Hope you are enjoying good food and fun cooking this week also!
Black Bean Soup
(Serves 6)
This recipe is very quick and easy, resulting in a tasty, low-fat, vegetarian soup that is creamy and filling (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

1 large onion, chopped
3 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic
1 jalapeno, minced
3 medium carrots, chopped small or grated
2 teaspoons olive oil
32 oz. (2 cans) chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
4 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
Bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Sauté onion, jalapeno, and carrots in oil over medium-high heat until soft.  Add garlic toward end of sauté.  Add broth, water, beans and spices.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At end of cook time, remove soup from heat, and use an immersion blender to process it to your liking (we like ours with some chunky beans left in) or scoop out 2-4 cups and process until smooth in a blender (leave center of lid off to allow steam to escape) or food processor, then return to pot and stir.  (If you prefer the soup completely smooth, you can blend or process it completely).

Serve with a dollop of sour cream (regular or non-dairy) and freshly ground pepper on top.

© Suzan L. Jackson 2012
(Do not reprint or publish without written permission from the author)

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Monday 1/13! What Are You Reading?

...And it's also my youngest son's 16th birthday today! How did 16 years go by so fast? He has to take 2 mid-terms on his birthday, but he is also frantically trying to squeeze in his last driving hours with the Driver's Ed teacher so he can go get his license tomorrow!

So, besides all the birthday excitement, we read some great books this week:
  • I am still reading The House Girl by Tara Conklin for my neighborhood book group meeting on Wednesday. I'm enjoying it very much, especially how it moves back and forth from the past to the present.
  • And I am still listening to The Real Boy by Anne Ursu on audio, a middle-grade novel by one of our favorite authors. It's very good so far.
  • I also started reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, in search of a little inspiration for feeling less overwhelmed and more in control in the new year. It's good so far, but I'm having trouble finding time to read it!
  • My husband, Ken, just finished Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back. I was asleep when he finished it last night, but I'm sure he enjoyed it - this is his favorite author and his favorite series.
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy.
 Lots of blog posts last week, though no time for reviews:
Summary of Books Read in December

 Best of 2013 and Year-End Summary - check out my favorite books read last year!

Kids/Teen/YA Best of 2013 and Year-End Summary

Final Tally for my 2013 Reading Challenges

Weekend Cooking post, with several easy, tasty weeknight recipe links.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week? 

16 years ago today: my youngest was born!

Last night's birthday dinner - 16 years old today!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weekend Cooking 1/12

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

We had lots of delicious, nutritious meals this week, all using recipes from Cooking Light. I focused mainly on easy dinners this week since my stamina's been poor (just recovering from bronchitis and a flare-up of my chronic illness).

We started the week off with Smothered Chicken and Barley, but unfortunately, that recipe isn't available online (it's from the 1/98 issue) - it starts with spice-rubbed chicken thighs that cook in the skillet with veggies and pearl barley. Very tasty.

We had a couple of weeknight favorites this week. Everyone in our family loves the slightly spicy sauce in Mongolian Beef. I added a head of chopped broccoli to make it a full meal. We served it over 10-minute brown rice this time, but sometimes we have it over noodles.

Another night, we had Tiny French Beans with Smoked Sausage, another family favorite. I love the flavors, but I also love that I throw it in the crockpot in the morning, and we have a hot, comforting meal ready for dinner! I use Navy beans in the recipe and add a chopped red bell pepper and lots of sliced carrots (I always add extra veggies!).

I made another favorite for a potluck dinner last night at a friend's house: Tuscan White Beans. This side dish is super-easy with only a few ingredients, but the flavors are fabulous! Everyone likes it and bonus - my kids will eat it.

And, we tried one new recipe this week, Chicken and Orzo Skillet Dinner. This was a very fast recipe, perfect for weeknights. My son and I are lactose-intolerant, so I subbed a small amount of grated Romano cheese (an aged cheese with very little lactose) for the feta called for in the recipe. It's got a little spice to it, and everyone liked it, though we all agreed it was a bit bland, in spite of the spice. I think next time, I might try adding some sauteed onion and garlic at the beginning for added flavor.

And tonight, we are going out for dinner to celebrate my son's 16th birthday (which is tomorrow, but it's mid-term week) - he chose a Japanese Hibachi restaurant, one of his and his brother's favorites for birthday dinners since they were little kids.

Hope you have enjoyed good food this week!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2013 Reading Challenges Final Tally

I just posted my Best of 2013 Lists (grown-up books at Book By Book; kids/teen/YA books at Great Books for Kids and Teens), so now it is time to tally up my 2013 Reading Challenges.

I did well on my reading challenges this year and enjoyed them all. You can see all the details on my 2013 Reading Challenges Page, but here is a summary:

Big Book Summer Challenge: This was the second year that I hosted my own challenge, Big Book Summer Reading Challenge, and I plan to host it again in the summer of 2014. I love this challenge because it gives me some incentive to finally read the larger books that tend to pile up on my TBR shelves. You can check out my Big Book Summer Wrap-Up post. Here are the Big Books I finished this summer for the challenge:
I already have some Big Books lined up for this summer!

2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge: This challenge, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey is one that I enjoy every year. I read books this year that took place in 27 different states (same as 2012!) and 13 different countries (my best-ever international year). You can see my full list of states and countries and books on my 2013 Challenges page. She is hosting it again this year if you want to join the fun!

2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge: This was one of my favorite challenges this year, hosted by Evie at Bookish. I have overflowing shelves of books waiting to be read - an entire bookcase devoted just to TBRs (for the sake of this challenge, I counted any book that had been in my possession for a year or more). My goal was to read between 11 and 20 books from my TBR shelves, and I ended up reading 26 total (you can see the full list on my Challenges page). Woohoo!! So, how come my TBR shelves are still in double layers? This challenge provided excellent incentive for getting to some of the books I've been meaning to read for a long time, and I definitely plan to sign up again this year!

2013 Audio Book Challenge, hosted by Theresa's Reading Corner: I definitely wanted to listen to more audio books this year (and the availability of more books as digital downloads helped). My goal was to listen to 12 audio books, and I listened to 14! You can see the full list of audios I listened to on my Challenges page. Another successful challenge.

Those Books I Should Have Read 2013 Reading Challenge, hosted by Reading with Martini:
And, finally, another challenge I was very excited about. I have a very long list of books that I have always meant to read but never seem to have time to get to - some are classics, some are more modern books that it seems everyone has read, others are books my kids are reading for school. I had hoped to read 6 such books last year, and I managed 7, so that is another successful challenge! I'll include this list here since it is so short:
  1.  The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  2. American Pastoral by Philip Roth 
  3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 
  6. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  7. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Agawa 
So, I had a very successful year for reading challenges. Now comes the fun part - choosing new challenges for 2013!

What challenges did you enjoy in 2013 and which ones do you recommend (or host!) for 2014?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Best of 2013 and Year-End Summary

I'm a bit behind, but I have finally put together my Best of 2013 List - whew, it was a hard choice! I read so many great books this past year.

All together, I read 79 books last year (that's 15 more than in 2013!). Here's the break-down:
  • 32 were adult fiction
  • 23 were teen/YA fiction 
  • 16 were middle-grade fiction
  • 4 were memoirs
  • 4 were nonfiction but not memoirs
Of the 79 books, I listened to 12 of them on audio.

As always, I had a hard time choosing my favorites! In no particular order, here are my Top Ten of 2013  (you can check out my top ten list of kids/teen/YA books read in 2013 at Great Books for Kids and Teens).
 And I couldn't resist a few Runners Up! I just didn't want to leave these out: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, Redfield Farm by Judith Redline Coopey, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, and The Yokota Officer's Club by Sarah Bird

And, for a little extra fun, here are a few superlatives:

Best Book of the Year and Best Book by a New-to-Me Author:

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
(I agree completely with the Pulitzer committee - it blew me away - I am still thinking about it 8 months later!)

Best Book from an Old Favorite Author:

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
(just LOVED it and also The Bean Trees, read in 2012)

Best Audio Book of the Year: 

  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne  
(I counted it as best audio for both adults and teen/YA)

 Best Memoir of the Year:

(can't wait to read the rest of her memoirs!)


Best Nonfiction Book of the Year:

In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood 

You can also check out how I did on my 2013 Reading Challenges.

What were YOUR favorite books read in 2013?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Books Read in December

December, as always, was crazy busy, filled with travel, family, holiday celebrations, and more. Thank goodness for reading, to provide a small pool of calm in the midst of such hectic days! Here's what I finished reading in December:

  • Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater, middle-grade audiobook (New Jersey)
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Agawa, fiction (Japan)
  • Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, teen/YA novel

So, that was 8 books total for December - a very good reading month for me! It was an all-fiction month, and I read 4 adult novels, 3 teen/YA novels, and 1 middle-grade novel. A whopping 3 of those novels were audiobooks (lots of time in the car traveling to see family!) I enjoyed all of these, and several were excellent, but I think my favorite on the month was The Housekeeper and the Professor. It was such a warm, gentle story that I wanted it to last forever.

Update on 2013 Reading Challenges:
I added just 1 new location to my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge (Utah). That brings my totals up to 27 states and 13 countries. I focused on clearing off those TBR shelves this month, with all 8 books I read from my own shelves (sitting there a year or more!), bringing my total up to 26 for the 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. I added 3 more audios to my 2013 Audiobook Challenge, and also added 2 more books to my 2013 Those Books I Should Have Read Challenge. I will sum up all of my reading challenges for the year, plus choose my favorites from 2013 in my next post.

What were your favorite books read in December? 

Monday, January 06, 2014

It's Monday 1/6! What Are You Reading?

Finally, a quiet Monday morning to myself! As much as I enjoyed the holiday season, I am also happy to be starting a new year and getting back to my normal daily routine. I am planning to review my 2013 goals today and set new goals for 2014. And, in the bookish world, I will post my Best of 2013 lists this week and decide which challenges to sign up for in 2014. So, let me know if you know of any good reading challenges!

Between holidays, travel, and snow days, the whole family was still off school/work most of last week, so we still had plenty of reading time:
  • I finished Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, a gift from my husband last Christmas, and posted a review. It is hilarious though also sometimes a bit gruesome and shocking. If you enjoy satire, it's a fun little book.
  • I also finished Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a YA historical novel and a Christmas gift from my husband this year! It was excellent, just like everyone had said, and kept me occupied all the way to Oklahoma and back last week.
  • I am still listening to The Real Boy by Anne Ursu on audio, though not making much progress with the whole family at home every day. It's good so far.
  • I just started The House Girl by Tara Conklin, another historical novel and my neighborhood book group's pick for January.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Wool by Hugh Howley (a Christmas gift from me) and loved it. Now my son and I both want to read it.
  • Ken is now reading another Christmas gift from me, Never Go Back, the latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child.
  • Jamie, 19, finished Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard. He didn't like the format at first but said it got better. I plan to read this one, too.
  • Jamie is now reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy, another fantasy series (his favorite kind of book!).
I managed to catch up on some blog posts last week while I was in Oklahoma:
First Book of the Year post

Review of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Review of Rotters by Daniel Kraus, a teen/YA award-winning audio book

Weekend Cooking post, including my recipes for Hoppin' John and Gumbo.

Review of Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am, a teen/YA novel.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week? 

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Weekend Cooking 1/5

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

Happy New Year!

We spent the first half of the week visiting my father-in-law in Oklahoma, and the last few days happy to finally be home! My cooking this week was all very traditional - almost entirely using my own recipes - because I wanted to make stuff that my FIL and my sons would all enjoy (and I wanted to fill his freezer, too, as he is 88 and can no longer cook for himself). So, we had classic chili, pork roast with mashed potatoes and veggies, and Hoppin' John for New Year's Eve (black-eyed peas for good luck!).

After arriving back home, I stuck with more traditional meals, perfect for the record-setting cold and snow we're experiencing: Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo (see recipe below), my own chicken and bean enchiladas (a family favorite!), and classic chicken stew with dumplings last night. My older son and I have been sick, so I have also been focusing on comfort foods!

Hope you enjoyed a lovely holiday season and are enjoying a great start to the new year!
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 bag (about 8 oz.) frozen cut okra
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons flour
3 cans (14 oz. each) chicken broth
1 can (14.5 oz.) petite diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 package (12 oz.) chicken or turkey Andouille sausage (like Trader Joe’s brand) *
1 pound uncooked, peeled shrimp
4 cups cooked brown or white rice

* You can substitute 1 package (16 oz.) reduced-fat smoked sausage instead of Andouille sausage.
1.     Heat oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sauté onion, celery, bell pepper, okra, and garlic until soft and tender. 
2.     Add flour and stir until heated through (about 1 minute).
3.     Add the rest of the ingredients, except shrimp and rice, and bring to a boil.
4.     Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.  Add shrimp and simmer 5 more minutes or until shrimp is cooked and pink.

Serve in a bowl, with 1/2 cup rice added to each serving.

This gumbo is mildly spicy, but if it’s too much spice for your family, you can substitute reduced-fat smoked sausage for the Andouille sausage.

© 2009 Suzan L. Jackson

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Snapshot Saturday 1/4

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Here are a few photos from our New Year's Eve celebration and a snowstorm yesterday:

My sons and I on New Year's Eve at my father-in-law's

Bitter cold but the snow was pretty on the branches!

Our Christmas decorations looked nice against the snowy backdrop.

Happy New Year! 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Fiction Review: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

In an effort to try to read last year’s Christmas gifts before Christmas came around again, I recently read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris, a slim novel of unique short stories that my husband gave me last year. I wish I hadn’t waited so long! This book is completely different than anything else Sedaris has written but still features his trademark sense of humor and absurdity.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a series of brief stories about animals behaving like people, and Sedaris uses this vehicle to satirize various human behaviors in a way that is incredibly clever and often hilariously funny. For instance, the title story is about a squirrel and a chipmunk who are dating, much to the dismay of their families and friends. The first weeks of their courtship are exciting and passionate, until they realize they have little in common:

“The squirrel and the chipmunk had been dating for two weeks when they ran out of things to talk about. Acorns, parasites, the inevitable approach of autumn: these subjects had been covered within their first hour; and so breathlessly, their faces flushed. Twice they had held long conversations about dogs, each declaring an across-the-board hatred of them and speculating on what life might be like were someone to put a bowl of food in front of them twice a day. “They’re spoiled rotten is what it comes down to,” the chipmunk had said, and the squirrel had placed his paw over hers, saying, “That’s it exactly. Finally, someone who really gets it.”

Sedaris builds these stories so cleverly, often combining a well-known animal characteristic with some nugget of human behavior with hysterical results. I laughed out loud in the doctor’s office (much to my son’s embarrassment) while reading the story about the mother stork who doesn’t know what to say when her child asks where babies come from! Then there is the Irish Setter, known for loyalty, who stays with his wife even though she is a mixed breed with a foul mouth who has cheated on him with the English bulldog across the street.  Adding to the fun are illustrations by Ian Falconer whom I recognized as the illustrator of the acclaimed Olivia picture books the moment I saw his drawing of a pot-bellied pig. I just loved the satire and ingenuity of these stories!

Another story features a baboon hairdresser who is gossiping while grooming a cat, the migrating songbirds who brag (and complain) endlessly to their friends about their annual trip down to Central America, and the lab rat who believes all illness is caused by a negative attitude, right up until she is injected with AIDS (as someone who lives with a chronic illness, I especially liked that one). I kept imagining Sedaris encountering various boorish behaviors among the human race and translating them to the animal kingdom in these stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this slim volume of very clever and very funny stories that are wholly unique. Lots of fun.

168 pages, Back Bay Books