Saturday, July 19, 2014

The American Heart Association Go Fresh Cookbook

Go Fresh: A Heart-Healthy Cookbook With Shopping and Storage Tips by The American Heart Association, Clarkson Potter Publishers, $19.99 list price, paperback.

It's easier to achieve a heart-healthy lifestyle when you can cook at home with ingredients you've chosen yourself. The American Heart Association has compiled a collection of more than 250 recipes that helps the home cook do just that. The recipes are not only healthy but the editors have also compiled those that are quick and easy to fix, making this a good cookbook for beginners as well as experienced cooks. They are also great for everyone, with or without heart health concerns.

The book begins with a section offering tips for the best times to shop for fresh foods and how to store them, how to cultivate healthy eating habits, and suggestions for leading a healthy lifestyle. The recipe section includes chapters for appetizers, snacks, beverages, salads and dressings, seafood, poultry, meats, vegetarian entrees, vegetables and side dishes, sauces and condiments, breads and breakfasts, and desserts.

I was able to try two recipes from this cookbook that I liked - Lemon-Tarragon Chicken and Turkey Pasta Salad with Feta. The recipes seem family-friendly and use regular ingredients I would be able to find at any local grocery store, with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and lean meats. That's a plus when you live in a rural area as I do, and don't have easy access to specialty stores. There are a a few photos of some of the recipes in a center section of the book but I would like to see more. I always prefer the kinds of cookbooks that have a photo for nearly every recipe.

Overall I do like this collection of recipes and would recommend it to anyone wanting healthier meals.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sight Unseen by Iris and Roy Johansen

Sight Unseen by Iris and Roy Johansen, St. Martin's Press, $27.99 list price, hardcover

Kendra Michaels is an agent for hire by both the CIA and the FBI because of her amazing senses and the ability to see what others miss. Once blind and now with sight restored due to an experimental surgery, Kendra uses the heightened senses she developed as a blind person along with sight to catch clues that most other agents overlook.

It was this extraordinary talent of observation that led her to determine that a traffic accident was in fact murder. It turns out she was right but more disturbing is that this crime scene was just the beginning of several to follow as a disturbing pattern emerges. Someone is recreating the murders from Kendra's most notorious cases. She has a fan - a stalker - who is now targeting her loved ones and then her as the final victim in his gruesome game.

I'm a fan of Iris Johansen. This collaboration with her son Roy featuring one of her characters from previous novels is well done. I enjoyed the suspense and the fact that just when I thought it was over and Kendra was now safe, the authors threw in a surprise ending. I'm looking forward to the next novel featuring this character and recommend this book for a good summer read.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck

Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck, Thomas Nelson Publishers, $16.99 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
In our increasingly shallow, self-centered world, quaint notions such as timeless truth and reverence for a holy, awe-inspiring God seem irretrievably lost. They’re not.

Many of us have fashioned a domesticated deity—a casual, malleable source of love and good feelings as we define them—and yet our spiritual lives are sedate, dry, devoid of passion or purpose.

Even so, today’s postmodern epidemic of rampant restlessness—and our failed, often destructive attempts to ease it—may be evidence of an ancient ache, a deep hunger for transcendence in all of us.

Drew Nathan Dyck makes a compelling case that the more we all seek is available by knowing and worshiping the dangerous God of Scripture—a God who is paradoxically untamable and accessible, impossibly mysterious and intimately knowable, above and beyond our physical world yet powerfully present within it. He is a God who beckons us to see him with fresh eyes and let him lead us to a faith that is wild, adventurous, and rooted in a deep understanding of his eternal character.

Yawning at Tigers charts a course away from the “safe” harbor of sanitized, predictable Christianity, into deeper waters where, yes, danger lurks, but where God’s majesty, love, and power finally become more real and transformative than we could have imagined.

This book challenges readers to not take lightly the holiness and all-powerful nature of God as we also embrace him as our loving savior and father. At times it seems the two are incompatible but as the author points out in scripture, God himself says he is both.

I appreciated how this book helped me acknowledge the fearful, holy side of who God is. I've lately been bothered by the trend in the church to make Jesus just like one of us - a good ole' boy we can hang out with and who overlooks our faults under grace. Yes, he is loving and his grace covers "a multitude of sins" but we must not lose sight of God's power, holiness, sovereignty, and transcendence. Just as we would have a healthy fear of a tiger or lion - especially if encountered outside of a cage - so we must have a respectful fear of God and not confine him to a cage of our own making that makes us comfortable.

Because he is holy, sin and disobedience cannot be tolerated yet he still reaches out to us. One attribute of God (his holiness) doesn't diminish the other (his grace). Instead of these views being incompatible, they actually work together to give us a true picture of who God is and helps us appreciate his love all the more. As Dyck writes, "Don't lose sight of God's holiness and power. Those very qualities make his love significant. Without a healthy respect for God's greatness, his affection loses value. ...The affection of a familiar, buddy deity is one thing; the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who dwells in unapproachable light, is something else entirely." (pp.101-102)

This message is needed in the body of Christ. We need to embrace the grace of salvation while at the same time acknowledging the holiness and majesty of God with respectful fear, seeing him as both lion (or in the author's words, tiger) and lamb.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Extending the Table: Recipes From Afghanistan to Zambia by Joetta Handrich Schlabach

Extending the Table: Recipes From Afghanistan to Zambia in the spirit of More-With-Less (Revised Edition) by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, Herald Publishing (Menno Media), $24.99 list price, hardcover.

From the publisher:
Cook with neighbors from around the world as you prepare flavorful dishes and feel the warmth of their kitchens. This revised edition of Extending the Table simmers together the best-loved recipes from the first edition of this global cuisine cookbook with the enticing flavors of new recipes.

Extending the Table contains stories, proverbs, and recipes from more than ninety countries. Extend your table in the spirit of the More-with-Less Cookbook by experiencing the gratitude, hospitality, and foodways of friends near and far.

Book Two of the World Community Cookbook series. Royalties fund global relief, peace, and community efforts.

What is New in the Revised Edition:

•Colorful photographs of mouthwatering dishes and of people from around the world.
•Recipes and stories from places like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Thailand, and Cambodia.
•Labels and indexes for gluten-free and vegetarian recipes.
•Regional menus to help cooks plan special meals from a particular country or continent.

I enjoyed this interesting cookbook with its focus on the foods and hospitatlity from around the world and appreciated being made more aware of how other cultures respect the sources of their food and use simple ingredients to prepare sustainable and tasty dishes using what one has on hand. No matter where one is from and no matter how impoverished or wealthy, one thing all people have in common is gathering to share a meal, however simple.

The recipes reflect the cultures they come from, making it easy to prepare a menu with an international theme in order to try new dishes or raise awareness of another culture. There are many photos and stories of people throughout the book, making it more than just a collection of recipes.

Chapters include:
1. Extending the Table
2. Beverages: An Invitation to Friendship
3. Breads: Rising, Breaking, Reconciling
4. Soups: The Hospitality of Poverty
5. Salads and Vegetables: Caring for the Earth, Caring for One Another
6. Everyday Main Dishes: Honoring the Everyday
7. Festive Dishes: Flavors of the Feast
8. Appetizers, Snacks, and Condiments: Nourished by Diversity
9. Desserts: A Season for Sweets

The index also includes lists of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes.

Some of the recipes I intend to try include Chicken and Rice, Zucchini Soup, Spicy Lentil Pot, Wild Rice Casserole, and Enchilada Casserole.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Loving Kitchen by LeAnn Rice

The Loving Kitchen: Downright Delicious Southern Recipes to Share With Family, Friends, and Neighbors by LeAnn Rice, Thomas Nelson Books, paperback.

"The kitchen table is a place where memories are made and cherished for years to come. It's a place to connect with those we love - to encourage and support one another and to celebrate the many blessings in our lives. Gathering around the table provides the opportunity to share life with those we hold dear."

So writes the author LeAnn Rice in the introduction, setting the tone for the cookbook which encourages readers to not make food that is complicated but rather to prepare meals that extends love to family and friends.

The recipes themselves are simple enough for any home cook to prepare and are both family and company friendly. It is a complete collection of recipes that includes breakfast dishes, breads, salads, soups, sandwiches, main entrees, side dishes, and desserts. The recipes I was able to try so far with good results included the Italian Meatloaf and Split-Pea Soup. I have several others bookmarked such as the Southern-Style Beef Tips Over Rice, Cheese Overload Macaroni and Cheese, and Caramel Apple Crisp. The recipes have common ingredients that can be found at any grocery store, which I appreciate. If I have to hunt for ingredients that aren't easily found locally, I'm not likely to make the recipe.

There are plenty of photos included which is always a plus, although some of the photography is amateurish and makes the food look less appealing than if a professional did the photos. But that said, including some photos is better than none and the good recipes make it worth having. The personal notes by the author about the stories behind some of the recipes, or her suggestions are good and lend themselves to the homey feel of the book.

Overall I did like this cookbook. It is one I can see myself using on a regular basis as well as giving it as a gift.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest For a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth

Reposting this review of one of my favorite books that encourages simple living.

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest For a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth, Tyndale House Publishers, $14.99 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
Have you ever stopped to think, Maybe the Amish are on to something? Look around. We tweet while we drive, we talk while we text, and we surf the Internet until we fall asleep. We are essentially plugged in and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rather than mastering technology, we have allowed technology to master us. We are an exhausted nation. No one has enough time, everyone feels stressed out, and our kids spend more hours staring at a screen each week than they do playing outside.

It’s time to simplify our lives, make faith and family the focal point, and recapture the lost art of simple living. Building on the basic principles of Amish life, Nancy Sleeth shows readers how making conscious choices to limit (and in some cases eliminate) technology’s hold on our lives and getting back to basics can help us lead calmer, more focused, less harried lives that result in stronger, deeper relationships with our families, friends, and God.

I admire people who are able to do what this author did in making the choice to limit or even eliminate technology that wastes time and resources, and choosing instead a simpler lifestyle patterned after that of the Amish.  I live in an area that has large Amish and conservative Mennonite communities so I'm aware of the kinds of things the author is writing about and while I'm careful to not put the Amish up on a pedestal as being more holy or better than everyone else, I do admire their thriftiness, respect for natural resources, and the focus on relationships and community instead of Facebook status updates or following friends on Twitter.

What I liked about this book is that, while based on Biblical principles, it isn't preachy about "save the earth" but instead offers tangible ways we can live a more sustainable lifestyle that benefits not only the environment but our overall health as well.  Incorporating conscious choices about how we will eat, what kinds of homes we will live in, methods of transportation, how we will dispose of trash, and how we will spend our waking hours can all add up to a life that is less stressful and often more economical.

The chapters include the topics of home, technology, finances, nature, simplicity, service, security, community, families, and faith.  In each, Sleeth compares the standard American way of living in each of these areas to that of the Amish.  She isn't suggesting that anyone live without electricity, meet in homes for Sunday services, resort to horse and buggies for transportation, but she does offer tips on how to transition from a wasteful, technology based lifestyle to one that is more simple.

The chapters I appreciated the most were the ones on home (Amish homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean) and technology (technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master).  The chapter on security was also good as it points to the truth that the only true security, despite technology and everything else, is found in God.

This is a great book for anyone who desires to live a simpler life.  For me, it serves as a motivational resource without guilt or feeling I have to "go Amish" in order to achieve that kind of life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Persecuted: I Will Not Be Silent by Robin Parrish

Persecuted: I Will Not Be Silent by Robin Parrish, Bethany House Publishers (a division of Baker Publishing Group), $15.99 list price, paperback.

John Luther is among the most popular mega-church pastors and televangelists of his day, able to influence thousands every time he speaks. What he wants most is to simply preach the gospel and enjoy life with is wife and daughter but when he refuses to support a sweeping religious equality bill that would ultimately restrict religious freedom and speech, he is targeted by some of the most powerful people in Washington who will stop at nothing to see the bill passed.

Luther is framed for the murder of a teenage girl and in a single day goes from beloved pastor to fugitive. He is on the run while trying to gather evidence to prove his innocence and expose the truth behind the religious equality bill and those supporting it. As he uncovers who is behind framing him and why, he also discovers the heartbreaking truth of who his true friends are while finding help from unexpected sources. The trail leads him all the way to the White House and the plan of a powerful Senator to simply ruin Luther's reputation as punishment escalates to sending an assassin to silence him permanently and puts everyone he cares about in danger.

This was one of the best political/suspense thrillers I've read, as good as any Tom Clancy novel. It is actually based on a Daniel Lusko movie by the same name, due to be released in July 2014.

The topic of limiting freedom of speech as it relates to religion is timely as political correctness in Washington more and more means religious censorship. This story entertains the idea of how far some legislators might go to limit religious freedom in the name of equality and political correctness, and makes the case that it is not a matter of if but when such legislation will be passed and persecution will follow for those who refuse to comply with silence.

Although the story itself is a well-written fiction thriller, the theme of censorship and persecution for holding to one's religious and personal convictions is a real topic that should concern everyone, which is why I recommend this book to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Chronological Study Bible: Explore God's Word in Historical Order

The NIV Chronological Study Bible: Explore God's Word in Historical Order, Thomas Nelson Publisher, hardcover.

The Chronological Study Bible in the New International Version presents scripture in the order in which the events actually happened. Included within the chapters are notes, articles, and full-color graphics and maps that help the reader understand the the culture of Bible times in their proper historical and chronological context.

This bible is divided into epochs, each of which represents a period of time that is characterized by peculiar features or events. For example, Epoch 8 is about the life and ministry of Jesus and includes the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the accounts of Jesus' acts arranged in chronological order, meaning that the chapters from the four gospels are mixed together. In other words, you won't read the gospel of Matthew from start to finish without some chapters from the other gospels mixed in so that the chronological order of the actual events is intact, as witnessed by each of the disciples.

This arrangement takes some getting used to as it is different from the traditional order of scripture. It takes a little more effort to find specific scriptures but the extra commentary that this Bible includes makes it worth the adjustment. As the contributors explain, the goal was not to replace "the time-honored canonical arrangement, but instead to honor time as the setting in which the biblical record appeared" and becomes a tool to equip readers with the historical and cultural perspective of the time in which various scripture was written.

The helpful features throughout this bible include lots of illustrations as well as notes on politics and government, cultural practices, science and technology, and arts and literature that influenced people during certain time periods, all of which help the reader understand the context from which scripture was written.

Over all I think this is a very helpful resource for students of the Bible as it keeps scripture intact while providing an historical and chronological perspective.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ladled: Nourishing Soups For All Seasons by Kimberly Harris

Ladled: Nourishing Soups For All Seasons by Kimberly Harris, Victory Belt Publishing, $29.95 list price, paperback.

From the publisher:
A hearty stew on a cold winter night; a light, clear soup as a start to a meal; a spicy pho soup to warm the body and soul…It’s hard to imagine a more comforting, nourishing food than a homemade soup or stew. And it is even harder to find a food more steeped in history. The art of creating homemade stocks and soups has known no borders, leading to such delicacies as Scottish yellow broth, Vietnamese pho soup, Indian lentil soup, and English pea soup. But these types of tantalizing creations, once a part of most households, have been largely replaced with canned foods or overly salted and MSG-laden restaurant fare. With homemade soups and stews being nourishing, delicious, frugal, and simple to make, this has been a great loss indeed.

Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons seeks to rekindle a love for making soups and stews at home, with instructions for every part of soup making. It details how to create a wide variety of stocks and how to salt a soup correctly. It describes how to create soups and stews both simple and complex, offers a detailed shopping guide that helps you find fresh ingredients, and breaks down all the healthy benefits of making your own homemade stocks.

As a busy mother, Kimberly Harris shares many soups that are simple enough to enjoy on an everyday basis and shows you how to integrate this traditional art into a busy modern lifestyle.

In Ladled, you will visit the past, travel the globe, and help revive a lost form of art.


This is a wonderful collection of soup recipes I'm happy to add to my family menu planning. Not only can soups and stews be economical, but when homemade they are also very healthy without all the added salt and MSG found in canned and restaurant versions. This cookbook also makes soup unintimidating and easy to make, using ingredients readily found in local grocery and health food stores.

There is a chapter of recipes for basic broths and stocks that can be eaten plain or as a base for other soups. Other chapters include Simple Soups with Eggs, Soups With Noodles, Creamy Vegetable Soups, Soups Centered on Legumes and Grains, Hearty Soups and Stews, Seafood Soups, Chilled Soups, and Garnishes.

I especially enjoyed the beautiful photography throughout the cookbook, which for me serves as an inspiration to actually try the recipes. Another unique feature is that the recipe index includes thumbnail photos of each one, organized by chapter.

I've only tried a couple of recipes but plan on making many more. The Italian Zucchini and Sausage soup was great and I substituted turkey sausage for pork with good results. I also made a version of the French Lentil and Vegetable soup using the veggies I had on hand, also with good results. Many of the recipes lend themselves to substitutions which makes this cookbook all the more usable for a home cook.

This is a collection of recipes that will become staples in my family menu planning and one I recommend to anyone who loves the comfort and nourishment of homemade soups.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Distortion by Terri Blackstock (Moonlighters Series)

Distortion by Terri Blackstock (Moonlighters Series), Zondervan, $15.99 list price, paperback.

Juliet Cole has spent most of her adult life as a devoted wife to a successful doctor and mother of two sons, but her world changes forever when she witnesses the murder of her husband of fifteen years. As she deals with the trauma of the loss and tries to make sense of what she believed was a random shooting, she discovers a threatening voicemail message on her deceased husband's phone, hinting that his death was in fact a planned execution, and that she and her sons could now be in danger as well.

Juliet turns to her family to help find answers as she finds herself the focus of questioning from the FBI as the details of her husband's secret life in the drug world come to light and the devastation of betrayal consumes her. As if this isn't enough, she must also fight to protect her family from an enemy who will stop at nothing to retrieve the drugs and money they believe she has.

This is the second book in Blackstock's Moonlighters Series and for me, was even better than the first. One thing I like about this author is how she builds the suspense even when we know who the bad guys are, bringing it to an exciting end with an element of surprise.

This book is of the Christian Fiction/Suspense genre and I appreciate that the references to faith fit in naturally with the characters while not being preachy or compromising, and in a way that would also appeal to non-Christians who just want a great suspense storyline. Blackstock also isn't afraid to be realistic with the characters and storyline, and doesn't hold back on addressing real issues. Sometimes difficult people remain flawed, good people get hurt and even die, and justice isn't always realized, but in the end the one thing that remains true is faith in God despite the challenges, which is as it should be in real life.

Fans of a good suspense mystery will enjoy this series in general and this book in particular. While it always helps to have read previous books in a series, enough background information is given in this one so as not to confuse the first time reader.