Archive | July, 2016

The Sugar Queen

Book Picks

It’s time for some book picks again.  We always love to share what we have been reading with people.  The stories we read become a part of our life and what better way to share our life then to recommend books to people we love.  This month we thought it would be fun to highlight some books we have read that have food as a character in the story.  We have said in the past how often we love reading about food, so these are fun, having food as a main component of the novel.

This month we have The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig which is the sequel to The Cake Therapist that we previously highlighted, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe  by Mary Simses and The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen (one of our favorite authors).

The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

The Memory of Lemon

From Amazon:

The author of The Cake Therapist returns with another sweet and emotional tale featuring Neely, the baker with a knack for finding exactly the right flavor for any occasion…

A crisp tang of citrus that is at once poignant and familiar, sharpening the senses and opening the mind to possibilities once known and long forgotten…
 
Claire “Neely” Davis is no ordinary pastry chef. Her flavor combinations aren’t just a product of a well-honed palate: she can “taste” people’s emotions, sensing the ingredients that will touch her customers’ souls. Her gift has never failed her—until she meets a free-spirited bride-to-be and her overbearing society mother. The two are unable to agree on a single wedding detail, and their bickering leaves Neely’s intuition frustratingly silent—right when she needs it most.

Between trying to navigate a divorce, explore a new relationship, and handle the reappearance of her long-absent father, Neely is struggling to make sense of her own conflicting emotions, much less those of her hard-to-please bride. But as she embarks on a flavorful quest to craft the perfect wedding celebration, she’ll uncover a family history that sheds light on both the missing ingredients and her own problems—and illustrates how the sweet and sour in life often combine to make the most delicious memories…

May’s Review: A continuation from The Cake Therapist, I enjoyed Judith Fertig’s second book, The Memory of Lemon. Make sure you read The Cake Therapist first, because this book pretty much continues where the last one left off with Clare and her bakery, The Rainbow Cake. I found the book  entertaining, and of course loved the mouth watering descriptions of her sweet treats. In addition to Clare’s gift of tasting the flavors of her customers personal backgrounds, Clare is also working on her own personal relationships including a new romance and reconnecting with her estranged father. There is also a second story intertwined within this one that takes place in the past, involving women who are healers. This was a fun read for summer.

June’s Review:  I really enjoyed the previous book, The Cake Therapist, so I was excited when this one came in for my at the library.  After reading it, I think I liked this one more than The Cake Therapist, but if you have not read The Cake Therapist make sure you read it because it provides a lot of background that you need for this story.  I love Clare’s that gift to taste flavors of other people tells her about that person’s story.  Some of the insight she gets is a little sad.  This book gives a little more background about where she gets that gift.  This book alternates between Clare’s current story of running her bakery and wedding cake business and her personal life, with a past story taking place in the Appalachians, the underground railroad and women who are healers.  I loved the past story.  The description reminded me of spending time in the Ozarks.  And the women who are healers have a spiritual side which is lovely.  I also liked how the story had a connection to Clare’s current life.  I recommend this as a read this summer.

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop

From Amazon;

A high-powered Manhattan attorney finds love, purpose, and the promise of a simpler life in her grandmother’s hometown.
 
Ellen Branford is going to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish–to find the hometown boy she once loved, and give him her last letter. Ellen leaves Manhattan and her Kennedy-esque fiance for Beacon, Maine. What should be a one-day trip is quickly complicated when she almost drowns in the chilly bay and is saved by a local carpenter. The rescue turns Ellen into something of a local celebrity, which may or may not help her unravel the past her grandmother labored to keep hidden. As she learns about her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that a 24-hour visit to Beacon may never be enough. THE IRRESISTIBLE BLUEBERRY BAKESHOP & CAFE is a warm and delicious debut about the power of a simpler life.
May’s Review: I read this one in a weekend. It was a fun book to get lost in on a hot summer day, and of course included some yummy dessert recipes with blueberries. It was the story of a big city girl with a high powered career, finding comfort and love in a small town in Maine. It was light and romantic, another great summer read.
June’s Review:  This book is sweet much like the desserts that are made with the blueberries described in the book.  I could identify with Ellen and her high powered career that maybe she does not like so much.  This book is similar to Them Memory of Lemon in that there is a past story to be unraveled that is important to the main character’s current life.  A great read if you are looking for a sweet and happy book that will make you feel good.  Plus there are some great looking recipes.
The Sugar Queen

In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut,Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

May’s Review: My first book by this author was Garden Spells, which I enjoyed and I liked this one too. Set in the south, this book is about three southern women, all eccentric and going through a bit of an identity crisis. Each chapter is named after a kind of sweet treat which was fun, there were a few twists, and even a few moments where I shed a tear or two.
June’s Review:  I love Garden Spells by this author and this was her follow-up and is my second favorite of all of her books.  This is a book full of quirky characters that have special gifts.   Once again food plays a big role in moving the story forward.  I read this book a few years ago but I remember that I loved it and it made me miss the characters when it was over.  Pick it up and if you haven’t read Garden Spells either pick that one up too.
Have a great weekend!  –May and June
“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” -Paul Sweeney 
 
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Childhood Movies

Childhood Movies That Never Get Old

Recently, my niece and nephew spent the night with us and we decided to watch a movie.  Because we did not want to be the bad aunt and uncle, we tried to find an age appropriate movie which proved difficult.  They are young teenagers so a children’s movie was not going to hold our interest, and an “R” rated movie was out of the question.  So I delved back into my childhood and suggested Adventures in Babysitting.  Elizabeth Shue plays a teenage babysitter that ends up having to go into the city from the suburbs to rescue her friend.  She has to take her charges with her and a series of mishaps occur.  I think my niece thought it was a bit corny (let’s face it a lot of those 1980’s movies had a bit of the “cheese” factor) but I found watching a childhood movie to be comforting and nostalgic.

Adventures in Babysitting

When I think back, there were several childhood movies that I could watch now without them getting old.  I was in the generation that was the first to have movie titles almost at demand.  I remember getting our first VCR, which resulted in being able to watch the same movies over and over and over again.  We had a little library of VCR tapes that were recordings of some favorite movies from when cable had a free weekend of a premium station.  Those tapes were sometimes mismarked and the recording sometimes started a couple of minutes into the movie because someone was not fast enough with the record button, but the novelty of being able to watch them whenever we wanted made it not matter.  We did not care that the quality was a little poor since we had no idea that someday we would have high definition and digital and could just get any movie by scrolling through our TV menu or an app and ordering it.  Instead we relied on that little library of black VCR tapes with the white labels, or we hoped that the library would receive a favorite movie that we could check out.  Later, we spent many an evening browsing the shelves at Blockbuster trying to get there before the weekend rush so that a new release would be in stock.

I’ve already written about how Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was in frequent rotation.  Other movies that were watched way too many times included Annie.  The original Annie movie with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan.  My brothers and I would watch this movie whenever we could.  We still know many of the lines and some have become part of the family lexicon  such as saying “She had to go bathroom” in Miss Hannigan’s silly voice.  A favorite memory with this movie is that we visited my grandma for Thanksgiving one year.  My grandma was probably in her 80s and was pretty hard of hearing so often if we had the TV on she would not pay any attention to what we were watching unless it was the news and then we had to turn up the volume so loud that the neighbors across the street probably heard it.  Because it was Thanksgiving night one of the network stations had family movies on and Annie was the movie that night. My grandma noticed the movie and become so interested that we had to turn the volume up for her.  We enjoyed that movie, all together watching it at high volume as if Annie herself was singing live in living room.  Of course my brothers and I were then able to recite some of our favorite lines with no one being none the wiser.

Annie

As a young teenager, the movie The Outsiders was seen plenty of times.  All those cute boys were in it.  It’s funny now to watch it and see how young Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, and Matt Dillon were.  Tom Cruise had such a small part in that movie, definitely before he was a star.

The Outsiders

There were other favorites such as Dirty Dancing, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and Top Gun.  These tended to be a little more adult and do not quite bring back that feeling of childhood.  Thinking back on the list of those favorite movies, it is fun to go back and rewatch them now and remember what it was like to watch them as a child.  They held a kind of magic to the world that you could not imagine.  And the memories of having so little responsibility, that an afternoon of watching favorite movies was not a special event.  So, on one of these hot summer afternoons where the only place you want to be is the pool or the air conditioning, pull up your Netflix or on demand app and indulge in a bit of nostalgia with a favorite childhood movie.  It will take you back and make you feel young again. –June

“There’s no place like home.” -Dorothy

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Green Smoothie Mornings

Have you noticed lately that green smoothies seem to be taking the world by storm? You can select from a wide range of yummy choices at Jamba Juice, or even your local supermarket, sipping on your greens as you shop. I personally prefer making my smoothies at home, where I have a little bit more control over what’s going into them, making them perfect for my taste buds every time. I’m really enjoying morning smoothies right now because we have such an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables in season.

I love smoothies because you can drink in a ton of your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, it’s easy, versatile, super delicious, and you are really packing a punch when it comes to nutrition. You are also getting a good dose of fiber, which as we age becomes oh so important.

I don’t have one recipe to share with you because my smoothies are a little different every time I make them, according to what is in my fridge. However, I can give you a list of some ingredients so you can make your own perfect smoothie. We make ours in a Ninja, which is also great for frozen margaritas by the way, but you can use a regular blender as well.

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Liquid: I usually use almond milk, but you can use coconut water, coconut milk, water, or even green tea. Try to stay away from fruit juices because they have a lot of added sugar.

Greens: I love to add kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, avocado, basil which is in season right now, and mint. Some other add ins are broccoli, parsley, and collard greens.

Fruits and Veggies: Oranges, apples carrots, pumpkin, fresh ginger, pineapple, peaches, really whatever is in season. I also like to freeze really ripe bananas, and add them to thicken the smoothie and make it super cold. You can also use frozen fruit or even ice.

Protein Powder: I found a great plant based protein powder from Whole Foods, called Vega protein and greens. You have a choice of flavors and it has 20 grams of protein. There are lots of options for protein powder, so do your research and see which one works best for you.

As add ins, I put in a teaspoon of chia seeds, as well as a teaspoon of flax meal.

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Just blend, pour, and you are ready to start your morning!

In life, much like smoothies, you get out what you put in it. Bolthouse Farms

Have a great week. ~May

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Some Things We Are Loving In July

Something we both love to do is pass along recommendations of things we love.  This may be a great product, food, item of clothing, or just a seasonal present moment that we are enjoying. So, we thought it might be fun to share some things we are loving in July.

What June Is Loving Right Now

Both May and I love Tarte makeup.  It claims that it is made with high performance naturals and is cruelty-free.  But honestly, it is just plain pretty.  They have some gorgeous colors and their products feel good and don’t irritate my eyes.  Tarte just came out with a limited edition palette Swamp Queen eye and cheek palette.  I found mine at Ulta, but I am not finding it online right now.  I also picked up the lip paint as well, it’s not sticky and adds beautiful color to my lips.  I am not sure who the YouTube star, Grav3yardgirl, is that came up with this collection, but check it out.

Tarte Palette

Tarte lip gloss

I am also loving big statement rings right now.  They are a fun accessory to add some bling to any outfit, and you can find them pretty inexpensively.

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Sometimes I get bored with my workout routine and my yoga practice.  However, lately I am really feeling my yoga.  Through some good in person classes, I am noticing my practice changing and growing.  I have also been taking an online class called Yoga For Creativity with Mary Beth Larue that I really enjoy at home.  I am not very dedicated to practicing on my own, so this has been a great resource. Plus, Mary Beth Larue is a wonderful teacher.  Maybe someday I can attend an in-person class.

What May Is Loving Right Now

We are at the height of the summer season and I am all about being outside as often as possible. I love to sit on my patio to read and write, and found these great reading shades by A.J. Morgan. Good Morning America often does a segment on Thursday mornings called Deals n’ Steals where you can purchase some really great items at a huge discount. The deal only runs for the day, but don’t worry, if you aren’t able to tune in, you can simply go to gma.yahoo.com and check them all out. These glasses come in many styles for men, women, and children, they are a great price, and for those of you who are a little visually impaired, they offer readers too.

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This is also the time of year that I crave tomatoes fresh off the vine. As much as I love them, I generally don’t eat tomatoes other than my own because I personally feel that store bought tomatoes have absolutely no taste. Along with tomatoes, I also plant basil and cilantro which I love to add to salads and light summer sauces. Even if you don’t have space for a traditional garden, tomatoes grow great in pots as well.

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Years ago, a friend of mine gave me a book of daily meditations called The Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beattie.

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It’s a book that I always have at my desk, even though I don’t always read it. Lately, however, I find myself reading it almost every day. I have to say, the last few years life has been pretty uneventful not only for me, but my family as well. We were comfortable in the rhythm of our lives without a lot of change or drama. After my dad passed away in January, it seems our lives have quickly started down a new road, not only for our family as a whole, but individually as well. For me, a lot of change at one time can be a little overwhelming and I can sometimes get caught up in the minutiae of life, instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride. This is a wonderful little book that reminds me to focus on what is important.

What May And June Are Both Loving Right Now

We are both loving the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.  For people not indoctrinated into the world of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, it is an annual event in July with all new fall merchandise.  This is not the leftovers at the end of the season, but the items  you are going to want in a few months. We admit that it is hard to think about fall clothes when it is 100 degrees outside, but the prices are too great to pass up. The sale opened to Nordstrom credit and debit cards last week and opens to everyone today.  We are fortunate because we live close to several Nordstrom stores, but if you do not live near one they offer free shipping all of the time, including returns. So take a chance on something you love.  Things to consider buying are jeans, purses and boots.  We also found some great items that we both bought because we loved them, and they are so functional. We will just have to make sure we consult when we are going to be together, so we don’t look like twins.

Baby blardigan

This is the Barefoot Dreams Circle Cardigan.  We both have another version of this cardigan and we can tell you it is the coziest thing ever.  While it’s sold as loungewear, we are sure that it can be worn out on the town.

Kut from the Kloth Jacket

June bought this faux leather jacket and when May saw it, she decided she needed it too.  In the early fall it can be worn as an outdoor jacket, but it is light enough to be worn as a blazer as well.  Plus, it makes us feel like we look tough.  And it looks much richer than the price suggests.

Zella Crop

These Zella crop leggings are a steal at $24.90 (normally $48.00).  We know the website says they run small but we found they run true to your regular legging size.

Zella Live In These are the Zella live in legging.  Neither of us had tried the Zella leggings before this sale and we are both now fans.  They are super soft and on the sale are a great price (the full length ones are $37.90, normally $58.00).  They are thick enough that you do not have to worry about them being see through and showing things off that you would rather remain private when you bend over in wide legged forward fold.  And, you would think this striped pattern would not be flattering, but it flatters every figure!  Somehow it makes your legs look skinny!  And if you are short like us these still work because they are super tight at the ankle, so you can just bunch them a bit.

On these hot days, one of our favorite drinks is the Mango Black Tea Lemonade from Starbucks.  If you do not like your drink super sweet, we recommend getting half of the mango flavoring.  So on the grande size request 2 pumps of the mango.  It also cuts back on the calories.

Mango Black Tea

We are loving that it is still sunny when we get out of our evening yoga class.  We know that this won’t last, so we are enjoying the long summer days while we have them.

Finally, we are loving girl’s road trip weekends.  We are going out of town this weekend to a creativity and writing workshop with the University of Iowa Summer Writer’s Festival.  Since we are leaving this morning and the workshop does not start until Saturday morning, we are going to goof off for the day. We think some great vintage shopping, yummy food, a little yoga,  and a glass of prosecco may be in our future for the day.

We love the things we love, for what they are. Robert Frost

Have a great weekend. –May and June

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Practicing Mindfulness In The Everyday

Do you ever get to work in the morning and then realize you have no idea how you got there?  You don’t remember any part of your routine that morning.  You don’t remember showering, or when you were in the shower, you don’t remember washing your hair so it is either very clean because it was washed twice or dirty because it was not washed at all.  You do not remember what you ate for breakfast.  You do not remember kissing your husband goodbye and telling him to have a good day.  You and your car are in one piece so you figure you must’ve stopped at red lights and braking traffic.  It’s always a little disconcerting when this happens.  And it happens because you are not practicing mindfulness.

I do these things all of the time.  It is always a function of my mind being elsewhere.  I am either multi-tasking, and not paying attention to the multiple things I am doing at once, or I am thinking about things other than what I am doing at the time.  I am not being mindful in my everyday.

I recently took a seminar on mindfulness and one of the exercises we did was to eat a single raisin mindfully.  We were encouraged to look at the color, shape and texture of the raisin.  To smell its scent.  To roll it around our mouth with our tongue before chewing.  To chew it several times before swallowing.  By doing this exercise, I really paid attention to how a raisin tasted.  I realized how sweet it tastes.  I realized that the texture is very bumpy.  I learned that I really don’t need more than two or three raisins to be over them and not want eat anymore of them.

As a writer, I have to try and observe details of the world to enrich my writing.  I find it hard and tiring to always be paying attention to the small things.  I was challenged once to go out and simply walk around a shopping district of a town and observe details of people and places, using all five senses.  I was supposed to take notes about the things I observed, the conversations I overheard, the way people walked and moved, the smells my nose detected.  Other than feeling like a weird stalker spy, trying to surreptitiously watch people and take notes while standing on street corners, I found it to be fun.  I noticed that the air smelled like chicken noodle soup when passing a restaurant.  I overheard part of a conversation that included “I got to get rid of the back fat.  Ain’t no way I can run with that cute top on.”  I noticed that the tall man sitting across from me was wearing red suede tie oxford shoes to coordinate with his outfit of white skinny jeans and a red t-shirt (I guess his fashion guru told him that shoes that matched the color of his t-shirt was a debonair look).  It ended up being a really fun exercise and one that at times I have tried to continue to follow because it made my day so much more enriching and colorful.

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Lately, I am trying to practice mindfulness more often and pay attention to experiences and details in my life.  There are certain habits I know that take me out of the practice of mindfulness, and multi-tasking is definitely my biggest enemy.  One thing that I have been consciously doing is leaving my phone in my purse when I am in the car, especially when I am the driver.  I already do not look at my phone while driving (that is a terrible and dangerous practice), but I do find myself checking emails or dashing off a quick text at stoplights.  However, I have realized I do not drive anywhere for any length of time.  Most days I probably stick within a 5 mile radius of home.  So any message that needs to be addressed can wait until I arrive at my destination.  Not only is this making me a more observant driver, but I have found I feel calmer when I remember to do this.  At stoplights I am now taking a moment to breathe and to just practice patience.

This past Sunday, as I sat on the porch reading all of the important things on the internet like Facebook, email and general nonsense, my husband came out to join me.  I took that as the opportunity to close up and set aside the laptop.  We chatted a bit but then we just sat.  I noticed that the ceiling fan spinning, making its loop to create a cool breeze, and the cicadas starting to gear up their cacophonous mid-summer evening song.  I noticed that my body was still, my legs still felt like jello from my weekend workouts and my mind was still.  I was not ready to leave that back porch despite having not eaten dinner and the clothes dryer was buzzing at me that the cycle was done.  The peace and the joy from mindfully being in that moment was a lovely way to end the weekend, and start a fresh new week.

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May you have some time this week to practice mindfully living life. –June

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention.  This is how we cultivate mindfulness.  Mindfulness means being awake.  It means knowing what you are doing.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

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Finding Peace in an Angry World

Last week, as I was driving home from my Thursday evening yoga class, I received a text from my son that read, “Did you see what happened in France?” At that particular time, I did not yet know that  France was hit with yet another terrorist attack, so many souls lost. The Zen I was feeling at that moment flew right out my car window, only to be replaced with a knot of anxiety in my stomach that felt like a bowling ball, something I feel much too often these days. Of course when I came home I put on the news- and we all know the rest.

In addition to the unrest we are experiencing on this planet we call home, we are also experiencing a simmering hatred in our own country, practically outside our front door. As the mother of a police officer, unless you are walking in my shoes, you cannot begin to understand the heaviness I carry in my heart every morning when I know he is on duty- or the immediate relief I feel when I know at the end of the day that he is ok. You see, my son’s life matters. This post is by no means going to be politically charged, and although I have very strong opinions on these topics, they belong to me. However, I do want to talk about how we as humans can find a way to live a peaceful life in a world that is anything but. I have had conversations with people who are so afraid by recent events, they find themselves avoiding crowded venues, preferring to stay in the safety of their own homes. Honestly, I feel that way sometimes too, and yet I know that life continues to march forward and we must too, even if it is painful, even in the face of adversity.

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Lately, I’ve been working hard at practicing the principles I teach my yoga students, and a large part of that involves living in the present moment. That can be very difficult when we are constantly worrying about what may happen in our world at any given time. The truth is, in the end, we only have ourselves and it is up to us to do everything we can to stay healthy in body, mind, and spirit. I personally started cutting back on the amount of news I watch. I am way too affected by the images and stories behind them and although I don’t think it is healthy to keep my head buried in the sand, limiting the amount of news I watch or read has definitely reduced my level of anxiety. Plus, my husband is a bit of a news junkie, and if there’s something important, he always fills me in. A little time everyday on my yoga mat, even if it’s just to sit and count my breath for a few minutes can make a world of difference in how I feel, and it is almost immediate. Immersing myself in whatever I am doing, no matter how mundane, is so important to keeping my mind engaged, so it’s more difficult for my mind to wander. That is challenging for me because when I’m doing something pretty mindless, my worrisome thoughts tend to take up space in my head and I lose my connection with my body.

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Yesterday, I was washing the dinner dishes, and forced myself to pay attention to what I was doing, being mindful of the soap bubbles, the texture of the sponge, the warmth of the water. I was aware of my surroundings and was actually given a gift. Outside my kitchen window was a beautiful hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a summer bloom. I would have missed that had I not been fully engaged in what I was doing. The tagline for our blog reads living in the beauty of the present moment, and we have to remember that even when the rest of the world is having a difficult time seeing that, we as humans, as beautiful souls always have a choice. How do you find peace?

~May

“If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear. ” – Confucius

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Don’t Miss Outlander

May and June are loving a new, well not so new since season 2 just wrapped up, but new to us Starz series called Outlander.

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The show is based on the series of historical fiction novels written by Diana Gabaldon, and in her words these books are filled with:

history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…

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And the television series is much the same. The story begins with a 20th century nurse, Claire Randall, (Caitriona Balfe) who accidentally time travels to 18th century Scotland. As there is tension between the English and the Scots, Claire is immediately thought to be an English spy, and is taken prisoner by the Scots, but soon earns their respect as a healer after tending to the injured arm of a dashing Scotsman, Jamie Fraser. (Sam Heughan)

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Naturally a love affair begins, and it’s a hot steamy one at that!!  We don’t want to give too much of this story away, because there is so much to it. A cautionary note though- make sure you watch it after your children have gone to bed.  Back in the “old” days we all knew what it meant for a show to be on CABLE!  And it certainly is true here.  This show gets very steamy at times and also a little violent.

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May has known about the Outlander books and was interested, but with so many other novels to dive into, she didn’t want to commit to a long series, which this is (a ninth book is going to be published in the near future). She recently heard about the Starz production on the radio, found it on demand, and was hooked after the first show. She watched all of season one in a weekend, and has now caught up to the end of the season 2 finale, which aired last week. Of course now she has to read the books, and just ordered all of them on Amazon. In fact, they should be arriving today.

June had read the first and maybe second Outlander novels years ago and enjoyed them.  However, there was probably a lull between publications, or she got busy, or could not take on another epic book at the time (these suckers are lengthy) and has not picked up the novel series again.  She had heard about the television series last season from a woman in her yoga class, but had paid no mind until May started raving about it. June has finished the first season but had to take a breather before starting the second. The end of the first season is intense man!  Once she has a little downtime she intends to start the second season.  And those novels are going to get read too.  Since she has heard May has ordered all of them, she may find a way to borrow them.

We have both debated whether Claire should find a way to return back to her modern times of the mid-1940s.  Something within is keeping her back in time. As depicted, that time period was not an easy time to live in with the lack of modern conveniences and political turmoil.  We have concluded that if either of us were Claire, the lack of indoor plumbing would probably send us back to modern day, despite the sexy Jamie Fraser :-).  The show is an excellent escape from the summer heat and mediocre shows that are currently on while our regular programs are on hiatus. So as the summer heats up and you are looking for something to do while enjoying some air conditioning, check out Outlander. You won’t be disappointed, plus the show has been picked up for a third and fourth season.

Have a good weekend! –May and June

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A Family of Flavor

I recently read the book The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig (a more detailed synopsis and explanation is coming on our monthly book post in a couple of weeks) where the sense of taste and the experience of flavor, is an important component of the story.  As I was reading the discussion questions at the end of the book (yes I weirdly read the questions even when I have no one to discuss the book with), one question intrigued me which was whether dessert flavors run in families and, if so what flavor is a favorite in your family?

I started to think about this a bit.  First, I think we can all agree that food plays a huge role in every family.  Every family has food traditions around a holiday, a day of the week or some other special occasion.  For some of my favorite memories, I can remember food that was at the event.  I remember that when we would visit my grandparents in the summer, we often would make homemade ice cream.  It was always vanilla.  And we would like to crank the hand churned ice cream maker until it became too hard to do that.  Then my dad would take over and we would be commissioned to sit our little behinds on top of the ice cream maker (on top a stack of newspapers) to help the ice cream maker still while it got harder and harder to churn.

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I remember that at my wedding, we had a formal sit down dinner with a first salad course.  I loved the salad at our tasting that had strawberries and goat cheese as a topper on spring greens.  Tom, though, hates mixing fruit in anything where he thinks it does not belong like a lettuce salad.  A compromise was reached and he received a regular garden salad because after all he was the groom.

In our house, we always had hamburgers for dinner on Saturday night after mass.  This was a tradition my dad grew up and funnily enough when Tom and I do not have a social commitment on a Saturday, we eat hamburgers on Saturday night as well.

I think because of those memories and experiences there are flavors in your family that everyone gravitates towards.  I am sure many of us have had that Thanksgiving dinner away from “home” where something doesn’t seem quite right because the turkey stuffing doesn’t taste the same.

And maybe some of it is genetics.  My mom, my youngest brother and I tend to gravitate toward desserts that are not overly chocolatey.  We tend to select desserts having more of a vanilla flavor like pound cake, plain cheesecake or shortbread cookies.  My dad and other brother, however, really preferred chocolate.  My dad’s birthday cake of choice was always German Chocolate.  None of my brothers or I like coconut which was very telling when my youngest brother at a young age requested his slice of Dad’s birthday cake without the German.   However, everyone in the family really likes angel food cake and chocolate chip cookies.

And possibly some of the flavors you prefer can indicate compatibility.  If you ask Tom and I, who obviously are not genetically related (thank goodness because that would be a disaster), about what kind of birthday cake we prefer, we will each tell you independently that we would like a yellow cake with chocolate frosting for our birthdays.  This has always been my favorite birthday cake as well as his.  And, he thankfully hates coconut as well.  Also, if we both love coffee (good thing since that was our first date) and if we occasionally have a treat with coffee it a sugar cookie or a piece of lemon pound cake.  Always a good thing when you can share a dessert to spread out the calories.

The sense of taste and flavors is such a powerful memory trigger.  It is interesting to think that we share the commonalities with the members of our family or loved one as a bond over our shared experiences and memories.

Does your family have some favorite flavors?  And you are welcome to share recipes with me 🙂 –June

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Piña Colada Pops

Now that the weather has turned hot and steamy, I’ve been doing less baking, and focusing more on treats that are cool and refreshing. I love slicing up watermelon and eating it cold from the fridge, and of course it isn’t summer without a pitcher of iced cold lemonade. I was recently looking in my pantry, and thought it would be fun to try a popsicle version of a Piña colada. You just need a few basic ingredients and of course, popsicle molds, and you’re all set! I got my popsicle molds from Amazon, but they are readily available at most stores such as Target and Walmart.

Ingredients: (makes 12 popsicles)

1 can unsweetened coconut milk

12 oz. pineapple juice.

1/4 cup chopped pineapple

1/2 cup toasted coconut

12 popsicle molds

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To toast the coconut, preheat oven to 350 degrees and spread coconut out on un-greased cookie sheet. Bake 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Keep your eye on the oven, because the coconut browns quickly.

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Place all ingredients into a bowl and stir until well mixed. Pour into molds and freeze for at least three hours. When you’re ready for a treat, pop off the top of the mold and enjoy by the pool, or relaxing under the shade of a backyard tree in your hammock. The girls loved these and said they taste “just like summer”.

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I love making my own popsicles because you can experiment with all kinds of wonderful fruits in season, and control the sugar. Freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice is really refreshing with chopped fresh fruit. If you like green smoothies in the morning, make a little extra and pour the leftover into your molds for a late afternoon or after dinner treat.

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.” -Charles Bowden

Have a great week! ~May

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Enjoying the Sights at Raised – Rooftop Bar

We’ve enjoyed some lovely summer weather lately and last week, May and June decided it was time to celebrate summer (and do a little work of course because we work better with a cocktail!) at a recently opened urban rooftop bar called Raised, located on the third floor of the Renaissance Hotel, in the heart of downtown Chicago. Hotel guests as well as locals like us are invited to experience the raw finishes of this very eclectic indoor/outdoor lounge. We arrived shortly after it opened, and found a great table overlooking the Chicago River.

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We enjoyed a glass of Prosecco and shared a few small plates as we watched the hustle and bustle of the city below. The menu has as assortment of beverages to choose from, along with some delicious appetizers, perfect for getting together after work.

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What we like about Raised is the third floor location. Although we had great views, we still felt like we were part of the action below.  If you like to watch people and the river traffic, the views cannot be beat.  We also were in love with those cloth napkins you see in the picture below.  We think that they were small tea towels, and something we are now on the hunt for to incorporate into our table decor.

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In addition to tables and stools, there is an array of sofas and comfy chairs surrounding small fire pits, great for conversation. We suggest you get there early if you want to sit outside, tables fill up fast.  By a few minutes after 5:00 on a Tuesday evening, there were very few seats to be had.  And we were lucky because the weather was perfect, but the indoor section of the bar was pretty cool and cozy and could be a fun place to visit, once the weather turns cold or rainy.

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There seems to be more rooftop lounges opening up here in the city, and we look forward to sharing a few more great finds with you while the warm weather lasts. We definitely think Raised is worth checking out.

Live every hour like it’s Happy Hour- Lily Pulitzer

Have a great weekend! ~May and June

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The Curse of the Library

If you know me, then you know that I am an avid reader and that is probably an understatement.  It is not unusual for me to read at least one book a week, and depending on the genre, author or story, more than one book in a week.  Because of my reading habit, I use my local public library a lot.  I love the library because I can read to my heart’s content for free.  However, the thing about libraries is that you have to share the books.  I keep on top of “book news” of new releases, buzz about books and a new novel from any of my favorite authors, so I tend to put books on hold at the library so I can get my hands on anything I want to read.

But the curse that I have with the library is, it seems all of my books are ready for me to pick up at the same time.

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This is my current stack of books from the library (and this does not include books that I have bought that are also in the to-read queue or my book club read which while read needs to be quickly skimmed).  The borrowing period for most of these books is two weeks.  And while I am a fairly fast reader, I cannot read all of these books in that time period.  It never fails that all of my books on hold come in at almost the same time and lately there have been a ton of new releases that I want to read.  I am not Speed Reader from the Great Space Coaster  so many of these books will be returned without the spine being cracked.  So I look at this stack, slap my hand to my forehead, and think how am I ever going to choose which book to read next, and which one may be sacrificed back to the library, sadly unread.

I curse the library every time this happens so you would think that would teach me not to put so many books on hold, but it does not.  Instead I love seeing that email in my inbox telling me that a much anticipated book is ready for me to pick up and make it a part of my experience.  I cannot help myself at all, but I guess there are worse vices to have in this world.

So tell me, am I the only one who has this problem or are there others that are addicted to the siren call of the library, and all of those books? –June

 

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” 
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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Celebrating America with Great Food

The 4th of July holiday is here!!  We are celebrating America this weekend and will be filling our days with parades, carnivals, BBQ’s and of course, fireworks. Today we have a quick and easy pasta salad to serve as a main course or a great side, and a fun festive dessert.

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Pasta Salad: May often makes pasta salad at backyard gatherings because it travels well, is easy to make, can be prepared vegetarian and gluten free, and you can do so many variations. This salad was made using Trader Joe’s gluten free brown rice pasta and fresh seasonal vegetables.

1 lb. pasta (you can use any pasta)

1 can great northern beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups fresh broccoli

2 cups shredded carrots

2 cups grape tomatoes

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

**optional: fresh basil

Serves 6 to 8

Boil pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place in a large bowl.

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Steam broccoli until tender, drain and rinse under cold water and add to bowl. Add shredded carrots, tomatoes, and beans.

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In a measuring cup mix oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture, add salt, pepper, and fresh basil if using. You can adjust the dressing to your taste, or use your favorite vinaigrette. May kept this recipe as a simple vegetarian side, however you can add just about anything you want to it. Sometimes she adds sliced pepperoni, olives, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, sugar snap peas….etc. Go ahead and experiment with it!

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If you’re looking for a dessert that’s easy, healthy, and very festive, June has the perfect one for you. You’ll want to make it look like the American flag.  If you are travelling to a barbecue, you may want to take the parts and assemble once you arrive so it maintains the shape of the flag.

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American Flag Fruit Tray:

1 package of strawberries

2 pints of raspberries

1 lb of bing cherries

1 pint of blueberries

1 bag of yogurt covered pretzels

Wash the fruit.  Slice the strawberries into halves or thirds depending on the size.  Take the stems off the cherries (if you are feeling like doing some work you could also pit the cherries).  On a small cookie sheet make a row of the raspberries, then a row of the yogurt pretzels, then a row of the strawberries, then a row of the yogurt pretzels, then a row of the cherries.  In the left hand upper corner of the cookie tray place a small bowl of the blueberries (I put them in a bowl so they would stay in place but you could skip the bowl).  As an alternative to the yogurt pretzels, you could also do white chocolate chips, yogurt covered peanuts or raisins.

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We wish you all a fun and safe 4th of July holiday!!

~May and June

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.  ~Elmer Davis

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