Tuesday 22 July 2014

Last Chain on Billie: Book Review

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic preview edition of this book from Net Galley. I have not received any compensation for writing this review.
Wow, poignant and powerful, without being excessively graphic, Last Chain on Billie is a good read. Carol Bradley not only tells Billie's story, but gives some background in each chapter on the plight of elephants in captivity, without getting boring or heavy. Very well written, this book shares Billie's life in such a way as to develop empathy not only for Billie, but for all elephants who are forced into this existence. I was deeply saddened to discover the cruelty that captive elephants endure. Long ago, I swore off circuses, and this book only reinforces that decision. Unfortunately, circuses are not the only venue where this abuse is perpetrated. Why do human beings feel it necessary to exhibit such inhumane behaviour? I was ready to stand up and cheer when Billie was finally given her freedom. But why should she have had to endure so much? And why do elephants - and other animals - continue to be abused? This book is an education, but it is also a call to action. We should not rest until laws are in place - and enforced - that will make this kind of abuse a thing of the past.
If you want more information about Billie's new home, visit The Elephant Sanctuary.

Sunday 20 July 2014

My Martingale Prize

Hey everybody. I entered a couple of quilts in the Bloggers Quilt Festival held by Amy Ellis at Amy's Creative Side. While my quilts didn't win anything, I did win a "door prize," or rather a "comment" prize - anyone who posted a comment was entered to win. And I won a $50 gift certificate from Martingale. That was pretty exciting, especially since they have free shipping in Canada and the US if your order totals $40 or more. 
Wow, it was hard to decide, but here's what I finally chose:
I've been wanting to try Tunisian Crochet for some time, so what better time than when I could get the book free! I've already started on my first project. I also like to try out vintage quilt ideas, so it was a toss up between this 30s one and a Civil War one, and the 30s won out. Finally, I ordered the Ruby Beholder, used to help determine fabric value. Using something transparent red was mentioned in a couple of places I've read recently and I thought I'd give it a try. Especially since I was getting it basically free. I think Martingale has a new customer. 

Sunday 13 July 2014

Eat Your Vegetables: Cookbook Review

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic preview edition of this book from Net Galley. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review.
Refer to my page, Cookbook Criteria, for what I look for in a cookbook.
First off, let me say that I don't like reviewing cookbooks on a kindle. I have a basic kindle, so the food photography is in black and white. I can't flip back and forth readily between recipes when I need to find one in another location that I need to use for a recipe in my current location. Ingredients and instructions might be on different pages on the kindle. So, I was hampered in my review by the format.
I was attracted to this cookbook as I live alone and the product description bills it as "A collection of eclectic vegetarian and vegan recipes for singles as well as lone vegetarians in meat-eating households." However this isn't a vegan cookbook. It isn't even a vegetarian cookbook. But what I found really startling is that in all my years of life, I never realized an egg was a vegetable. At least, that seems to be the case in a cookbook called Eat Your Vegetables that employs a liberal use of eggs. There are even instructions for making the perfect poached egg - in the salad section, no less, although it does join tofu in the salad recipe following. Why does one need both egg and tofu in the same recipe?
This cookbook is a little topsy-turvy in that it gives the instructions before it lists the ingredients. I'm not sure if it does that in the paper version, but it just seems rather odd to me. I feel that I need to know what I need first, before I need to know what to do with it. Another quirky thing about this cookbook is that the author insists on starting with raw seeds and nuts and then roasting them. In our busy lives, how many of us have time to roast our own nuts and seeds? I've done it occasionally, but I don't want to have to do it as frequently as this cookbook mandates. He also states that roasted ones get stale faster than raw, something I find hard to believe.
On page 43 is a recipe for Vegan Sloppy Joe, which I planned on using as my trial recipe.  With vegan in the name, this one, at least was guaranteed to not contain eggs or dairy. but what it does contain as the main ingredient is chorizo-spiced seitan or other vegan meat. Big disappointment. No lentils or bulgar or other naturally vegan food, but I've got to run to the city to find chorizo-spiced seitan. How unimaginative! In addition, other hard-to-find ingredients include Peppadews, raw peanuts, brioche, challah, miso, Israeli couscous, and so on. And mushrooms, a plethora of mushrooms.
When I read some of the recipe names, it actually dampened my appetite: Tomato, Beet and Peach Stacks? That doesn't excite me in the slightest. Most of the recipes are for more exotic flavours and combinations, not the typical North American fare. I suppose that's why it has bold recipes in the subtitle. After wading through about half of the exotic flavours, funky combinations, anchovies (is that a new vegetable?) and fungus aplenty, I gave up on trying to find a recipe that I considered worth trying. My enthusiasm was exhausted. While other vegans who don't mind mushrooms and miso will find a few recipes they might like to try, it's just not worth the price of this non-vegan cookbook. For the lacto-ovo vegetarian and the carnivore who enjoy exotic flavours and combinations, this cookbook might be for you. But it definitely isn't for me. If it hadn't mentioned vegan in the product description, I probably would not have requested it.

What I Look for in a Cookbook

I love cookbooks. I always have. And now that most of them have wonderful food photography, they're even more exciting. And I have quite a collection. As a matter of fact, I've come to the conclusion that no one needs to own as many cookbooks as I do. Unless you're running a lending library. So, I've gotten fussier about what cookbooks I want in my library, and drew up this set of guidelines. And when I do a cookbook review, I'll be referring to this list.
Here's what I look for in a cookbook:
1. Plant-based or vegan. While I do have some non-vegan general purpose cookbooks with basic preparation and cooking information, I don't really feel I need any more. I also have some niche cookbooks, like 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes or 660 Curries, that either have some plant-based recipes that I like or are easily veganizable. But, as a general rule, I don't want any more of these. I really find it gross when a cookbook tells me how to bone a chicken. Eeeewww! Or a picture of something made with shrimp. I could never figure out how anyone can eat something that looks like a grub from the garden. So, basically, I want only vegan cookbooks.
2. Whole foods. I don't mind the occasional bit of white flour or maybe even a small amount of refined sugar (I use organic). But I'm really disappointed when a plant-based cookbook uses mostly refined products. Remember The China Study? It's a whole foods, plant-based diet that's healthiest for us. It's all well and good to go vegan, especially for the animals' sake, but I think some meat eaters might be healthier because they eat less refined foods. Remember: potato chips and soda pop are generally vegan, but definitely not healthy. 
3. Limited use of meat analogues. Meat analogues, that's what we used to call those pretend meats. And there are pretend cheeses, too. And there are more and more available. And that's great, because it does help make the transition to a plant-based diet easier. And they are nice upon occasion. I love some good veggie bacon. But most of these products fall under category #2 above. They are highly refined foods. They also tend to be much more expensive than less refined products, like whole grains and legumes. And when you live in a small town in red-neck cattle country, like I do, there is limited availability as well. I'm not happy when I want to prepare a recipe, only to find out that it requires vegan sour cream or some other product that would require a trip to the city - about 90 minutes drive away - to purchase. And if I'm trying to turn people on to the plant-based lifestyle, I don't want them to give up because it's too expensive or inconvenient.
4. Limited use of obscure, exotic and specialty ingredients. My local health food store carries nutritional yeast, Bragg's Liquid Aminos (or whatever they're calling it now) and quite a number of other useful products. But still I sometimes open cookbooks and end up having to google some of the ingredients. See above under #3. Being a vegan should not be expensive or inconvenient. If I'm making a special meal, like a curry, for instance, I don't mind going out of my way occasionally to find unique ingredients, but I don't intend to do that on a regular basis. I don't live in Los Angeles, or wherever it is people find those things.
5. Easy to follow instructions, simplicity of preparation. Yes, I will occasionally make a recipe that requires a lot of preparation, like Vegan Trifle or Frozen Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake. These are worth the effort, but I don't make them on a regular basis. I work full-time. I also have outside interests besides cooking, so I don't want to spend most of my free time preparing food. Oh, and it's frustrating when one recipe calls for you to cook several other recipes first, though, on the other hand, if a recipe calls for vegan sour cream and it gives me a recipe option for it, that's a bonus. Even better if it gives me the page number to find it.
The above are the most important points in this list. The following are more about personal preference. 
6. Limited use of ingredients I don't like. Cilantro makes me gag. Ditto for seaweed. I find mushrooms quite unappetizing as well. Trust me, you can be a vegan without ever having to eat fungus. So, why is it in so many recipes? I can tolerate mushrooms raw, if I have to, but cooked - they make me shudder. So, when I heard that there is a naturally occurring carcinogen in mushrooms, I found that a good enough reason to dispense with them altogether. Beets and parsnips I tolerate, but I don't want to eat too many of them. I'm not at all fond of black licorice, so anything with a flavour reminiscent of licorice (anise, fennel, tarragon) is also out. In addition, as an abstainer, I will not use any alcoholic beverages in my cooking. And when I found out where Tempeh comes from - moldy beans - I haven\t eaten tempeh since. And Tempeh also falls under the meat analogue/exotic ingredients category. I certainly can't find it in my town. 
7. Awesome food photography. I am a food photography junkie. Let's face it: some well-done pictures can really make your mouth water and long to try that recipe. I have some older, pocket novel sized cookbooks that have no pictures. Are they ever boring! I don't even use them most of the time, unless I know there's a favourite recipe in there.
8. A glossary of unique ingredients and cooking techniques. Always great for the novice. And not everyone knows how to google.
I think that sums it up. 

Saturday 12 July 2014

Picking Scabs

Yes, I know: that's a gross title for this post. But you have to admit, we've all done it as children. Even though our mothers told us not to. And even though the result was usually a painful sore which is open and bleeding all over again. Some people pick scabs throughout their lives. And some pick as a result of a mental imbalance or dementia. But as our mothers told us, it's really not a good idea. However, in my nursing practice I do a lot of wound care, and sometimes as part of aiding the wound healing process, I do pick scabs. I can hear generations of mothers gasping in horror, but sometimes it is in the best interests of that wound to have the scab removed. A scab can actually slow down the healing process. I need a moist open wound bed for proper healing to take place. A scab is dry and crusty. Now I am not recommending that everyone start picking their scabs. On the contrary. You can do more harm than good. Even for a professional like me, picking scabs can be a delicate business. I need to remove it in such a way as to prevent bleeding, which will only lead to another scab, avoid further pain as much as possible, and not remove healthy tissue along with the scab. 
Reproving someone is kind of like picking scabs. There are definitely times when it needs to be done. As a matter of fact, the Bible even instructs us to "reprove, rebuke, exhort." 2 Timothy 4:2, but it's something that must be done delicately and knowledgeably, lest we leave a painful, bleeding wound. The rest of this verse says "with all longsuffering and doctrine," or "Do this with great patience and careful teaching." (ERV). Reproving, like picking scabs, should never be done with impatience or agression, and it should always be accompanied by patient teaching in the correct course to take. And just as a nurse evaluates whether picking the scab is the best course to take, or whether it should be referred to a physician for debriding, so, too, if we feel someone needs to be reproved, we need to evaluate if it's our work or if we should refer it in prayer to the Holy Spirit. After all, Jesus said that it is the Holy Spirit's job to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." John 16:8. Let's make sure we are not trying to do the Holy Spirit's job. Let's not wound unnecessarily someone that we should be trying to heal. 

Sunday 6 July 2014

Pattern for Romance: Book Review

Pattern for Romance: Quilts of Love Series 

by Carla J Gade 

I was looking for a quilt-themed novel with a Christian message to offer as part of a giveaway on my blog. However, I wanted to read it first so that I knew if it was worth offering. When this one became available on Net Galley, I requested it and was given a free electronic preview edition. I have not received any compensation for this review. I also apologize as it's nearly a year late. 
The story opens in Boston in 1769 to a heroine, named Honour Metcalf, not bright enough to get out of a hailstorm. Of course, she must be rescued by the hero of the story, who somehow or other, while carrying her out of the same hailstorm, manages to emerge relatively unscathed, while she suffered a concussion. Did they even know what a concussion was in 1769? I wonder. Amazingly enough, she is able to carry on a reasonable conversation with Joshua Sutton, after he carries her into the church, until she is "taken in a swoon." At this opportune moment, the pastor arrives, as he manages to do at the most opportune moments throughout the book. This pastor is actually my favourite character in the book and he always offers great wisdom in his comments, with a bit of a wry sense of humour. The other characters are rather flat, and I mean this literally as well as figuratively in the case of the heroine. Due to her repeated accidents (at least 3, as I recall), she spends most of the book flat in bed. Makes for rather dull reading. 
The plot takes the predictable twists and turns, misunderstandings and misadventures typical of the romance genre. I feel that the author adds too many subplots, none of which are well developed. If she had taken just one or two and developed them throughout the story, it could have been much more effective and made for a more interesting read. 
To me, there is too much familiarity between the hero and heroine for 1769, and at one point while they are kissing, the writer states, "He deepened the kiss." What? That's a line from one of those steamy romance novels and it left me rather dumbfounded. Not really appropriate for a Christian romance, especially not one set in a time when a couple wouldn't have even been allowed to be alone together unchaperoned, let alone deep kissing! 
Other things annoyed me, like the fact that the hero's brother is a total jerk and turns into a wonderful guy once he gets the woman he loves. And, of course, everything is all wrapped up nice and neatly by the book's end. And Honour gets her quilt back, as it had fallen into the villain's hands during the course of the novel. 
The thing I liked best about this book is that the characters do not fail to turn to God in prayer and the Scriptures when trouble strikes. Otherwise, I found it a rather lame read. Unless I'm reading science fiction or fantasy (which I generally don't), I expect the characters and the story to be relatively believable. These ones were not. This book can't even begin to compare with the quality of The Devil's Puzzle. I found that one much more enjoyable and entertaining. 
Now, how do I delete Pattern for Romance from my Kindle?