Mystery and Poetry, Two Constant Companions

Since my seventh birthday, I have pretty much been addicted to mysteries. My mom’s friends, Pat and Judy, gave me a couple of Nancy Drew mysteries that year and my mind was opened to the scary, thrilling, who-done-it genre and I’ve never looked back. Sure, I’ve read some disappointing ones full of boring characters or convoluted plots that made me yawn, but, overall, I’ve found mysteries to be soothing and reassuring that no matter what is wrong in the world, by the end of the book, the odd little detective will have solved it and I can go to sleep confident that right triumphs.

I received Louise Penny’s latest book, Glass Houses, as a birthday gift this past year and I just finished it on Sunday. Her series is a little bit cozy, but only on the edges. It has all the depth of a novel, because she goes deep with her characters and most of them carry on from book to book. If you haven’t read her books yet, this is the year to give them a try. Three Pines is an imaginary village outside of Montreal, full of lovable, quirky people that you will want to read more about. No matter what evil they come up against, the townspeople live their unique lives and pull together when they’re needed. This story has to do with a hooded figure showing up in Three Pines, the drug trade in Montreal, and, of course, a murder. That’s all I’m saying. Read it for yourself and let me know what you think.

The other genre I’ve always kept close to me is poetry. I’ve got a poetry book or two going at all times…and so should you. Poetry is for everyone. If you don’t think so, maybe you need to keep looking. Mary Oliver, anyone? I just finished reading (again) Everything Is Waiting for You by David Whyte. Do you ever get days where life seems too much? Where emotions are overwhelming and tears break out for the smallest reason? Maybe it’s my Italian blood, or because I’m an HSP/ INFJ, or because I’ve been through lots of change in my life the past few years, but this happens often. On those days, I read poetry. Something elegant, simple and deep that speaks to the heart of sadness, the edge of elation, down to the bottom and all the way to the top of the emotional gamut. Thank you, David Whyte for breaking open your soul and writing down what spills out. I suggest you, dear reader, get one of his poetry collections and let it sink in. You need it, I’m telling you.

So, what are some of your favorite genres? What are you reading right now?

Baked Oatmeal for a Cheery Morning (Recipe)

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I was first introduced to baked oatmeal many years ago by my Mennonite in-laws and I’m forever grateful. It was a revelation! A breakfast unlike any I’d ever had: in between a soft, custard-like cake and a bowl of oatmeal. Only it stuck to my ribs longer because it contained eggs, butter, milk, and sugar.

If you know me at all, you know I can’t eat dairy, so I altered a recipe I found in a Cooking Light magazine. This is what I fed to my two kids several times a month and they gobbled it up happily. They would even eat it left-over the next morning. Recently, I made it for Alan, who’d never tasted Baked Oatmeal before, and he liked it enough that he ate it left-over the next morning as well.

 

So here it is:

If you’re feeding more than two or three, I’d double the recipe and put it in a 9×13 baking dish.

Baked Oatmeal

  • 2 cups rolled oats (mine are gluten free)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups milk ( I use dairy free milk, such as almond or cashew milk)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons butter (I use coconut oil, vegan butter, etc.)
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350. In large bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk, applesauce, melted butter or coconut oil, and egg. Mix well. Add in the rolled oats, brown sugar, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 baking pan. Bake 20-22 minutes. Serve warm.

Wasn’t that simple? I hope you like it as much as we all do!

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Other Books I’ve Been Reading Lately

Now that I’m not writing two or three songs a day, I can catch up on sharing my reading life with you.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. I honestly hated this book until halfway through when a body was discovered, and suspicion was cast on the narrator and another person. The ending was not satisfying and left plenty unexplained. This felt a bit like a mystery written by someone too lazy to figure out the details–leave it all up to suggestion and imagination. Meh.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. Be prepared to laugh. I haven’t seen this HBO show, but the book was part hilarious autobiography, part commentary on what it’s like to be a young, educated woman with both an African and African-American heritage.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown. There’s no one quite like Brene Brown, with her very own intelligent and distinct way of telling stories and sharing research with every day people. She is so down-to-earth and salty, being vulnerable with the world as she talks about the need to belong, to be accepted and at the same time learning to live true to yourself. She talks about love, accountability, being nonjudgmental, having a generous heart, knowing boundaries, being reliable, etc. She has a chapter entitled “People Are Hard To Hate Close Up. Move In.” that challenges people that like to sling nastiness, political in particular, using social media, because they don’t have to look each other in the eyes. It was so good, I put some of it in a song I wrote. I need this book; you need this book. Read it and pass it on.

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything was Anne Bogel’s (Modern Mrs Darcy blogger) debut book and she did a great job with it. It’s all about personality frameworks and how they can help you understand yourself, your children and partner, co-workers, friends, etc. Here you will find a straightforward and practical introduction to Meyers-Briggs, the 5 Love Languages, Highly Sensitive People, Strengths Finder, the Enneagram, and more. Anne peppers the book with personal stories and the tone is friendly and fun, yet intelligent and thoughtful. I recommend it!

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell was the first novel I’ve read by her. Light, but not candy-sweet, amusing, heart-warming and feel-good about a young guy who reads the emails of a pair of female co-workers and falls in love with one of them. Since I read several heavier books lately, this was good for entertainment and diversion. If you’re interested, borrow it from the library.

I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading lately!

Educated, (Book Review)

When I started reading Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, I was expecting a story about a homeschooler–an unschooled, perhaps. Within a few pages I realized my error; this was no homeschooling family she belonged to.

Tara was born into and raised in a very dysfunctional and dangerous environment within a large family ruled by fear of their mentally ill father. As she described her experiences out in the wilderness of Utah, her and other family members’ scrapes with death, how her father treated them, and how she perceived these experiences, I just shook my head. This was her normal.

She was indoctrinated to think anything else was “of the devil” or “worldly”, due to her father’s mix of Mormonism and mental illness. I kept wanting her mother to stand up to him, but she rarely did. I cheered when Tara finally escaped in her late teens to attend college, and couldn’t believe it each time she returned to her family home over and over again. Her education outside of her home life, over time, had enough of an effect that she came to view life, religion and the meaning of family differently, but I don’t know if any education could ever erase the effect of those deep roots of shame, guilt, neglect, abuse that she suffered.

I am thankful Tara was able to share her story with the world, that she could find enough courage within herself to walk away from everything she knew and start again. If you haven’t already, you will hear a lot about Educated this year. I suggest you pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

* I was given a free e-copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are completely my own.

Song of a Captive Bird (Book Review)

When I requested this book, Song of a Captive Bird, by Jasmin Darznik, from NetGalley, I knew I’d be in for a reading adventure. I know nothing about Iranian poets, past or present, and not much about Iranian history or culture. Because this was about a poet from Iran, Forugh Farrokhzad, who was also a woman drew me to it–that and the title. The book read a bit like a movie, opening with a mysterious and violent scene that became clear as the story continued and the cultural traditions and expectations were explained.

As it takes place in the fifties and sixties, in a land very far away and different from my own, there was much to be discovered about the way people lived and thought about life in general, and about women, in particular. Forugh suffered at the hands of men–her father, her husband, her lovers, and a male-dominated publishing industry. Her suffering marked her, but her resilience and independent spirit shaped her into who she became. Again and again she defies cultural expectations and pioneers a path for herself and women after her with the words she writes, her work in film, and the way she lives. The poetry that is woven into the chapters is exquisite; I savored the lines and felt closer to the woman whose story was being told.

In addition to learning a bit about Iranian women struggling to become respected and independent during that time period, I learned something of the struggle for Iranians to own their oil and of the violent political turmoil of those days. To me, Forugh is a symbol of progress, of the artistic voice that speaks in every culture and time period, and of every woman working toward being respected and heard with equality.

Reading this book stirred up a desire to read Iranian poetry, of which I am unfamiliar. If you’re like me and know little to nothing about Iranian history and culture, and particularly, Iranian poetry, then I recommend you read this story and start your own journey of discovery.

*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Juicy Update

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Well, it’s been a week since I began juicing daily. For those of you who read my post on habits, I mentioned my painful eye condition (Recurrent Corneal Erosion Syndrome) and how it’s incurable. I also wrote about how if I juice every day, I don’t wake up to eye pain, tearing, swelling and a migraine–I actually wake up like I should, with no eye pain. This week I missed juicing one day and that was the only night my cornea tore once, but it was still minor compared to what I’ve been dealing with.

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So, although I’m no medical expert, I’m also no idiot: juicing helps my eyes, folks, and most likely is benefiting other parts of me as well. (I’m hoping to see the rosacea-red skin on my face calm down eventually). If you have a juicer at home, why not dust it off and put it to work boosting your health, especially with all the cold and flu flying around.

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Here are two easy-peasy recipes I’ve made a few times this week. I do make a lot of juice at once and drink it throughout the day–and I give a glass to Alan too. Feel free to cut the recipes in half if it’s too much for you or come up with your own combos. Obviously, mine are carrot-heavy because…my eyes.

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Kim’s Favorite Winter Juice #1

  • 10 carrots, rinsed, ends trimmed and cut in half
  • 5 celery stalks, rinsed and cut in half
  • 2 oranges, rinsed and sliced into fourths
  • 2 limes, rinsed and cut in half
  • 4 apples, rinsed, peeled, seeds removed, in fourths or large pieces
  • 1 yam, rinsed, peeled, cut into large pieces

Kim’s Favorite Winter Juice # 2

  • 7 carrots, rinsed, ends trimmed, cut in half
  • 3 celery stalks, rinsed and cut in half
  • 3 oranges, rinsed and cut in half
  • 3 apples, rinsed and cut in half
  • 2 yams, rinsed peeled, cut in large pieces
  • 1 bunch of parsley, rinsed

Cheers! Please share your own favorite recipes in the comments.

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My Favorite Gluten Free Bread Recipe

 

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In January, I marked five years of eating gluten free. Food restrictions are challenging, can cause stress (what am I going to eat) and friction with family or friends (a little bit won’t hurt you will it?), but, if looked at through a positive lens, can take you on a lifelong adventure of learning and experimentation.

Hands down, the thing I miss most from my old life is real bread. Fresh, artisan loaves of ciabatta, focaccia, boule, baguette made with local, organic flour in a bakery right down the road…OK I’ll stop torturing myself now. One of my early purchases was Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a DayLet’s be honest, nothing will ever quite taste like bread full of wheat and gluten yumminess, but the breads I’ve made with this cookbook definitely satisfy my cravings. The deal with the “five minutes” is that you mix up the flour blend and then make the dough and store it in the fridge. Then any time you want bread, it takes five minutes to shape the dough, let it rise, and bake it. I love refrigerator doughs! So, if you’re gluten free, I recommend you get a copy of this book.

My favorite sandwich/toast bread, however, was given to me by a good friend back in 2014. And this is the recipe I will share with you here.

 

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I tried these without parchment paper this time.

Ellie’s Gluten Free/Rice Free Multigrain Bread

Dry Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup millet flour
  • 1 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 cup brown teff flour
  • 1/4 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/4 cup flax meal
  • 2 3/4 teaspoons xanthan gum
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Yeast Mixture:

  • 1 1/4 cups hot water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

 

Instructions:

  1. Combine dry ingredients, mixing until evenly blended.
  2. In separate mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, molasses and vinegar.
  3. In small bowl, combine honey and hot water. Sprinkle in yeast and stir to combine. Allow to proof for 7 minutes.
  4. When yeast is bubbling, add wet ingredients to dry while mixing on low speed (about 30 seconds), stopping to scrape bowl to ensure even mixing.
  5. Add in yeast mixture and mix on medium for 2-3 minutes or until dough is smooth, making sure to scrape bowl occasionally.
  6. Pour dough into a parchment lined, well-greased, metal 9×5 bread pan. Cover with cloth or plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Remove cloth when bread has risen enough to almost touch it. Allow to rise another 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  8. Bake 35-40 minutes, until firm all through.
  9. Remove loaf from pan and allow to cool on wire rack.
  10. Cool completely before slicing.

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Great crumb, real-deal bread texture!
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These loaves got a little overdone as I was rehearsing music for our Sunday show…