Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Reviews for Spring

Ok so somehow, through following small authors on social media and leaving reviews on goodreads and Amazon of the books I devour, I got on a small email list of people who can get early copies of books to review. It's kind of cool because you get the book directly from the author--and I'm a huge book nerd so this makes me feel semi-connected to the worlds I absorb myself in somehow. I recently read these books and thought I'd put their info here and synopsis. You never know who is out there looking for a good read. I wasn't paid or anything, but I was provided the book for review purposes. 

Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman

Synopsis"We are the terrors that hunt the night. And we have never been human" In Greek mythology there’s a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes. Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother’s girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf? Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?

Review: The book starts out slow and sort of odd in random details and what you later discover are flash-backs. But after a few chapters it settles into a consistent style of writing and the story is so different and the main character is really likeable. I really enjoyed the plot and it was super engrossing the last 30 pages or so. It was nice to read something unique for a change. Very smart, with an intelligent female lead.  Always nice to read something where the woman doesn't cower.


Basically: Great story and great characters.
Drawbacks: Could have used the touch of a good book editor on the front end of the book.
Overall: Give it a go! It'll hook you.



Erato by Sharon Van Orman.

Synopses: "A wolf knows nothing of revenge, but a man does.” When the smoldering remains of werewolves are discovered the alpha of the Lykaonas Pack has one suspect, Dr. Sophia Katsaros, the only human to learn their secret and live. The Efarmostís, a trio of cinder colored werewolves. A law unto themselves, they have done the dirty work of the pack for thousands of years. Once dispatched, they won't stop until they catch their prey. As the body count rises, Sophia fights for her life and the lives of those she loves. Out of desperation Sophia strikes a dangerous bargain. Will she discover the truth of the dryad? What is the ancient evil that has risen? Will she find the killer before the Efarmostís find her?"

Review: I liked the first in this series a lot, enough to want the second right away. But this book totally had its ducks in a row from the beginning, fixing the kinks that the first one had. The author definitely flushed through her plot lines better in this book and it makes it a really great read. It's rare when a sequel is as good as the first, even rarer when the sequel is better than the first—and Erato definitely falls into the later. The characters are really well developed and you are starting to enjoy each one of them separately, all while watching the story move them. Can't wait to see where the story continues on. 

Basically: Very good continuation of the first story.  Characters are well developed, story line is good.
DrawbacksSometimes the characters get a little muddied in minutiae or things seem overly complex (the Tiger? what?).
Overall:  Good series and ironed out the writing kinks of the first book.


The Lazarus Code by Sharon Van Orman

Synopsis“I am Ryder of the Pentimalli, a member of the first families and Captain of the deep space exploration vessel, Serendipity.  In the centuries since our forefathers tamed an uncivilized land and revolted from a King we had grown complacent. When our government waged cyber war on us the spirit of those long dead patriots was ignited, sparking a second revolutionary war.  It was then that the First Families were born. Genetically enhanced humans who carried within our blood stream nano-bots that repair and regenerate. We were meant to be the record keepers. The vanguard of our species as we spread across time and space.  I have returned home after a decades long mission to find Earth devastated by the Weeping Death. A disease that has made it possible for the dead to rise. With the help of my brothers and my crew we will find who is responsible. They expected us to be complacent. They were wrong."

Review:  So different than you think. It really isn't a zombie novel, which is what almost prevented me from reading it.  Ryder is an amazing, strong female character hell-bent on protecting her planet when it is almost destroyed by the outbreak of "weepers".  The dialogue switches between main characters offering a lot of diverse outlooks, but like Van Orman's other works—it's the strong, yet still feminine, women where the story shines. The plot is really good, complex but not overly so, and the story envelops you.  It's really very unique the way she approaches space travel, the future of humanity, society, science, and aristocracy and diplomacy.  It seems so plausible even if currently out of our reach. 

My only critique is in the first few chapters it feels a bit forced, putting character details too quickly at the reader.  The flashbacks/current time shifts sometimes leave you reversing pages to try and make sense of it. But once it settles in, you're taken away.

Basically: Loved the premise and unique story, it wasn't a tired zombie or syfy novel at all.  
DrawbacksLike Lykaia, Von Orman could really use some help in the first few chapters ironing out her kinks.
Overall:  Super imaginative and great characters.  Totally excited to read the next installment. 

He Who Fights and Runs Away by Taylor P. Davidson

Synopsis600 years from now, mankind has left Earth behind. The Milky Way is filled with seed colonies and teems with human life. Yet despite all our advances in science, we have yet to surpass our most primal natures. We carried all of our greed, wars and decadences with us into the stars and our far flung worlds are every bit as dangerous as Earth is now. 


Lord Alasdair Donaghue, Duke of the British Stellar Dalcross Systems, has tried to remedy this with a second war on alcohol. But just as bootleggers emerged in the United States of America in the 1920’s, Prohibition has opened the door for criminals to grow rich once again. Famed for her resourceful and ruthless nature, Lisa Tant is one such smuggler. She has grown bold and confident with her ever growing infamy and it is on Calgany Space Station that she faces her reckoning. Betrayed by someone in her own crime syndicate, Tant finds herself the focus of the Alcohol Enforcement Agency and must flee the space station with her crew, cut off from her ship with seemingly nowhere to run.


ReviewNormally I am a huge scify fan girl and eat this kind of stuff up. The introductions overly verbose writing set me off of the story from the start and took me a while to sit back down to it (and I was putting off reading it, something totally unlike me). The premise picked up and it is very action packed. It reads very much like an overly star-studded, cgi-filled action movie. But I didn't find myself very drawn to the characters at all. You don't get any background on them within this book or why they are the way they are, so to me it is hard to get invested in a person or story line that has nothing drawing me to the people it surrounds. I feel no desire to read "episode 2". Which considering the book I read prior to this I reread immediately, was pretty disappointing. 

Basically: Great ideas but not my style.
DrawbacksThat introduction. Good grief, someone remove the thesaurus app from that guys devices.  The attempt to be theological was just a fail.  
Overall:  If you like the books I like, skip it. If you like Van Damme movies set in space with no character background, try it.  Or if you like action.  In a book.  I duhno.  Was not my cuppa tea.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Gluten Free, Vegan Sandwich Bread

Lately more people have been asking about the bread recipe I use for the boys.  My written version in my allergy-free notebook has seen so many revisions when I scanned it it was a bit embarrassing.  So I finally have gotten around to typing it out.  It is a bit odd the first time you make it, but trust me it gets easy--and is infinitely easier than many of the other recipes I've looked at or tried to make.  Like most breads, humidity can effect it but it always tastes good.  It just won't rise as high on a humid/raining day.  
It also freezes super well. I usually make a double batch which yields me 4 loaves to freeze at a time. I have lately also started prepping and measuring all the first set of the dry ingredients for four full recipes, two to make and two to freeze.  One batch each into my two bowls for my stand mixer (my glass bowl and then my metal bowl, love the glass bowl), and then an additional two batches into two extra tupperwares that I then freeze--just omit the yeast from these batches and write yourself a note on the top of each tupperware to add it when you mix it later.  So it ends up that I only have to do the messy measuring every other time I run out.  Which is super convenient for me.  Just let them come down to room temperature (like I mention in the recipe for all your flours since they have to be stored cold) before mixing.  It helps them come out consistent each time you make it.  Took me a while to figure that out.  Duh. 

Leave me a note if you need help, but hopefully it works for you as well as it's been working for us for almost 2 years now!

Gluten Free, Corn Free, Egg Free Sandwich Bread

Adapted from here
makes 2 loaves

1 1/3 c Brown Rice Flour
1 1/3 c Potato Starch
1 1/3 c Tapioca Starch
1 Tbsp Sorghum Flour
1 Tbsp Egg Replacer (here is the corn free version I make or you can buy it)
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Xanthan Gum
2 1/2 tsp Yeast

1/4 c Butter, melted
1 c Boiling Water
1 c Dairy-Free Milk
2 Tbsp Sugar (or honey for non-vegan)
2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
4 1/2 tsp of Egg Replacer mixed with 6 Tbsp Boiling Water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix all the dry ingredients until well incorporated.  If your flours were stored in the fridge/freezer, allow them to come down to room temperature (VERY important).  I boil my hot water kettle and pour my 6 Tablespoons of water into the egg replacer and combine, then pour the cup of water into my milk (to make it warm and perfect to help the yeast).  Add your apple cider vinegar to the milk/water mixture.  Pour the butter, liquid, sugar/honey, and egg replacer mixture into your dry ingredients and turn your mixer on low.  Scrape the bowl down a few times, then crank it up to medium-high for 6 minutes.  It will be moving fluidly and well combined.  

Grease two bread pans.  Using a wet hand, divide the dough into each pan.  Re-wetting your hand, smooth the tops and then lightly tap the pans to release any large air holes.  Place in a warm, dark place for at least an hour to rise.  

Preheat oven to 375.  Bake the loaves in the center of your oven, rotating and turning half way through, for 50-60 minutes.  Remove the loaves from their pans and place back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes.  Immediately remove and place on wire racks to cool OVERNIGHT.  This will allow them to cool completely and the crusts to be dry on every surface.  Slice and store in ziplock bags in your freezer for easy toasting.

NOTE: I have also used my French bread pans to make French bread out of this for garlic bread, crostini, that kind of thing—super great there too if you have a French bread pan.

TIP: Do not discard the heels, I cut them, allow them to "stale" a bit in the toaster on low heat, then pop them in the food processor to make gluten free, egg free, corn free bread crumbs. I store them in a jar in the freezer for meatloaf and shake-n-bake. 


Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Stuff

Ok. I, Colleen C, an staring here publicly that I am going to (eventually) write a cookbook / help book. Tentative title: 

Suck It UP Buttercup: Transitioning to an Allergy-Free Kitchen

Because, really, sometime I just want to tell people to reference Chapter 1: You Know Nothing. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gluten Free, Vegan Naan Flat Bread

You guys. I am completely addicted to this stuff.  I've made 4 batches in a week.  There's 12 in a batch.  Don't even do the math.  I just made a double batch and froze them between pieces of wax paper and they work even better from frozen.  I'm doomed.  They're fluffy and delicious and totally devious.  Beware.

Gluten Free, Vegan Naan/Flat Bread

Makes 12

2 1/2 cups GF AP Flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tsp yeast

Pour the boiling water in with the coconut milk (almond should work fine here too), then add the yeast and stir.  Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Once the yeast has proofed, add the wet into the dry ingredients and mix well--scraping down the bowl a few times to make sure everything is incorporated.  Turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for 4-6 minutes until moving fluidly.  Let rest for at least an hour in a warm, dark place until puffy and increased in size.
Using a generous dusting of flour, roll out small balls of dough into 1/4" thick rounds.  Everyone rolls dough out differently, and this dough will be sticky.  I pat the whole ball with a bit of flour, then roll it flat, dust it again, and roll it to final size.  

You can either stop here and place each piece between wax paper and freeze for later OR preheat a pan over medium heat with oil.  Fry on each side until golden, air bubbles will form and it will fluff up.  2-3 minutes per side, depending on your pan and stove temperature.  

Serve warm.  I highly recommend serving with a good hummus, a bowl of good olive oil, and za'atar spices for dipping.

NOTE: I fried these in bacon fat on my 3rd round.  Jesus take the wheel, I can't go back.  So just a thought.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Appocalypse: Can I Get a Freaking Break, Please?

I'm so overwhelmed during the last month. I just can't even think of all the stuff we have gone through in the past few weeks. It's been madness. And so expensive. So expensive. I have been in near tears so many times. So many! I need something to improve! It's just beyond my brain's processing abilities right now. So I'll start at the beginning. 

During Lloyds routine dental visit a few weeks ago (which was problematic in itself because he can't have any of the products because they contain things he is allergic to), X-rays showed quite a few large cavities. Several between teeth. The dentist recommended several crowns on the rear teeth, the ones he will have through his early teens, and about 5 (!) fillings. Also, since all they can do is polish his teeth with pumice, the doctor was tentative to fill anything in the office because of what ingredients could lurk in any of the other products since we already had to pull the fluoride rinse, cleaner, and varnish due to allergens. So he recommended we do all the fillings and crowns simultaneously, in the hospital under general anesthesia — not only because of his age, but also to ensure that if Lloyd did (God forbid) have a reaction to something they can immediately control his airway during a reaction. As you can imagine, this scared the crap out of me but what are you doing to do?  One delightful side effect/symptom of celiacs is we have no enamel on our teeth, leading to lots and lots of dental problems—something I've had loads of as well. Talking to other celiac mommies and doing some research, hopefully Lloyds permanent teeth will be ok since we caught his rather young—albeit long after his baby teeth were in. This disease never fails to make life more "interesting"; insert massive eye roll here. 

Things continued to get more fun the week of his dentist appointment as Asher somehow got, then shared (aren't kids so sweet) a virulent stomach bug that took our whole house out for almost a full week. The boys breezed through with about 12 hours of vomiting, Coach suffered for about a day, and I was laid up for 4. Mostly, we think, because I was still nursing through even the worst hours of it since Asher was completely back to normal by the time Lloyd and I were tandem bathroom dancing. 

THEN as we all recovered our hot water line between our guest/2nd bath and kitchen decided to bust a leak. We caught it in about 24 hours ("why does this floor look bubbly? Why is it so HOT where the wood is bubbling?") but the flooring in the center of our house/hallway is a disaster, and the laminate wood in the kitchen is also buckled. Yay!!!! So father-in-law to the rescue came and helped put some holes in the walls to find "plumber things" and other "important plumbing things", so the plumber friend could come actually reroute the hot water through a different way and prevent having to jackhammer our floors on Saturday. So at least there was that. Flooring people come for the estimate next week because I couldn't even deal with that until after Lloyd gets better.



Then Friday (April 3rd), we went in for the surgery. Lloyd was so incredible. We got there early with both boys in tow; Miece and Papa managed to beat us and entertain them both while I got all the minutiae taken care of. Miece to the rescue with the coolest new toy for Lloyd that completely beat out my little personalized dragon stuffed animal. We had to wait considerably longer than planned but between the iPad and his new toys we did pretty well. We also could not give him the "happy juice" because it contained dye (sensing a pattern?), but he was so calm and happy we decided to forgo it. It is often the reason kids wake up combative and cranky, and because I react so poorly all around to anesthesia I was pretty ok with avoiding it since he was being such a champ. Luckily we had also been talking to Lloyd about how he would be breathing into a Darth Vader mask and the nurse overheard and found out he loves Star Wars. She gave him her phone loaded with light saber battles he watched going back, he was in heaven as we saw him rolled down that hallway. He was cool as a cucumber. I was a wreck.  The doctor had to not only do the planned crowns but once he got in it he could a tooth so badly damaged he had to do a root canal and cap that one too. Good grief. 


He woke up cranky but the second we got back he calmed down. I climbed in bed with him and he curled right up and pretty much fell back asleep. He was so comfy he got upset when we made him get dressed to go. He felt better and was eating sweet potatoes and watching tv happily the rest of the day. Which made me feel like less of a general failure for putting him through the entire ordeal.  


Saturday he was feeling great and playing well then started a fever that night. A high fever. The doc didn't think it was related when I had to call after hours (on a holiday weekend!) to report it. He was fine—eating and drinking, just a high fever and super lethargic. By Tuesday he started to improve but any playing and he would zip back up to a high fever that night. It was just bizarre! But since it was obviously just a viral fever with no other symptoms, bringing him in was pointless. 

Then yesterday (Thursday) we did our trader joes run and he did super well; crashed on the way home and did the sleep/tv thing again. Then at 6, as I was starting dinner, Lloyd walks out of my bedroom (where he was watching tv in bed) and says his belly hurts. I do the typical "do you need to fart/poop/pee/eat/drink/etc". No. He points, without prompting, to his right side and says it hurts really bad. Every mom knows what that could mean. So I change a diaper, put shoes on, grab snacks and electronics, and scoop both boys into the car to go to the Cooks Children's Urgent Care here in Mansfield. Coach left his meeting and met us there right as I was finishing registration. Oy.


3 hours and a flu, strep, and urine test later we have a positive test for flu B but no explanations for the pain. He's running a 102.5° fever and they are upset we can't give him any of the dye-filled meds they have (seriously hospitals, get with it). So they send us to the big Cooks hospital ER to have his abdomen sonogramed. It's 9:15, so Coach goes home with Asher to get him fed and in bed while big boy and I drive to Fort Worth. They had us already in the system, thank gosh, but it was still a long night by the time we got there, went through the whole vitals routine, again with refusing the dye filled tylenol (then them calling their pharmacy, wanting to do a suppository which I refused, then bla bla bla), then waiting with 800 sick kids in a giant room (where most should have been at an urgent care NOT the ER), then being pulled back for registration, then waiting, then a sonogram, then waiting, then getting into a room and changing him into a gown (pointless since the doc didn't even touch him, so all this did was wake him up), then waiting, her coming in for 5 seconds and saying she wants an X-ray to rule out pneumonia in a lower lobe which could be making his belly hurt (but never said anything about the appendix results), getting an X-ray, then waiting, then her coming back and saying he's fine and he can go home, then waiting, then signing the discharge paper, and finally leaving that disease ridden ER. I wanted to douse us in disinfectant. I was bone tired, I hadn't eaten since my tiny lunch at 12:30, and was thirsty as all get-out. It was 1:15 and Lloyd was incredible. Just incredible; I am in awe of that child. 


Then the second I got on I–30 home the dude in front of me is so drunk he almost slams into the barriers getting onto 287S so I had to sleepily call that into 911 because he was all over 3 lanes and baking randomly. So scary. I'm sure I sounded super reliable to that poor dispatcher but I was BEAT. 

So done. This whole thing is just awful. We don't even know how much the floors will cost us and Lloyd's medical costs have me dying inside. Our health insurance is awful. Thousands. I can't even. 

We need prayers. And healing. I'm so sick of being in this house. And we have a whole other week of isolation before it's safe to not infect someone else! Shoot me!!

So that's where we are at. I'll post fancy floor updates whenever that happens when we deal with insurance for THAT. *cries* as we hemorrhage money we do not have.

I NEED A JOB. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bible Study Launch Team!

I, among many other women, was invited to be a part of the launch team for the new Seamless Bible Study by Angie Smith. I'm super excited to see the stuff they put out for us to share. So I'll be putting some up here occasionally too. Angie's book about her daughter Audrey really helped me start to heal after losing our baby the Christmas before we had  Asher. I read it and cried and cried but it helped. So I'm excited to see what this brings for a small bible study as well. She's so approachable. 

Stay tuned! 
#Seamlessbiblestudy 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Frustration

I discussed this in depth with Coach and on facebook but I'm still irritated.  I bought an old serger off a facebok buy/sell/trade over a year ago.  I love it.  It was perfect, and I really loved the way it serged (sergered? no idea).  But the knives (if you don't know what a serger is, check this out and it'll kind of explain why those knives are important) are dull.  This wouldn't be a problem if I hadn't totally become accustomed to using it for a wide variety of things I never thought I'd want it for.

I got spoiled.

Then I also tried to find new needles for it.  They don't exist unless you special order them.  Aka $$$$$$$$$$$. So I put it off hoping I wouldn't break one.  Then the knives stopped cutting through much and then the machine would jam up as the fabric got stuck.  This almost ruined a custom order dress or two.  So I got frustrated.

I spent the hour I got alone Tuesday as Coach took the kids to the park making random phone calls, then decided to use The Google to find a shop that could service it.  It should also be able to gather fabric but doesn't, which wasn't a big deal but if I was going to have to haul it to a shop for repairs might as well get it serviced.

WRONG.

Six shops around the metroplex, and all quoted me this:  service on a serger begins at $99.99 but could cost up to $139.99--not including parts.  New upper and lower knives cost about $40-60.  I just.... WHAT!  A service on my fancy-pants pilot-the-space-shuttle Bernina quilting machine only cost me $75!!!  How????

I had a freak out.  Do I sink money into this old thing or just buy a new one.  Which, by the way, would only cost me $190 and come with a warranty.  And needles I can buy anywhere and replace easily.  And it would gather fabric.

I really didn't want a new machine, I like this one.  But I did it; I bought the new one.  The gamble was too high fixing a 20+ year old machine to buy it time to possibly die.  But why did a service cost that much? I'm just flabbergasted.  Do they not realize that you can find a brand new machine for that?  I'm clueless.

Poor Coach. I had promised no new machines after the 440QE and the embroidery machine at thanksgiving.  I had just started turning profit enough to put away for the trip I'm so desperate to take to NOLA.  Now I'm back at square one.  I mean lucky I'm already booked with orders in the shop through June, so it'll be fine, but I'm still really sad about this.  Poor old serger.  You lived a good life, boo.

This came in Thursday and I set it up yesterday, which is good because I have a stack of things I couldn't serger with the old one.  Sorry buddy, you have been replaced.