Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Good times in the kitchen

I've always loved baked goods: chocolate chips cookies, brownies (the fudgier the better!), double chocolate cookies, vanilla cookies (even better with a little bit of chocolate or Nutella on top), chicken potpie, baked chicken, baked potatoes, creamy scalloped potatoes, among many, many others. You will notice that chocolate is a BIG thing for me. Yes, it's my weakness...

Two finished Molten Cakes during a birthday celebration at Chili's with my chocolate loving family.
So it's no wonder I love to bake. My chocolate chip cookie recipe is simply the best. Of course, it's not actually mine. It's an old recipe from a very old book. But, nevertheless, they are delicious. And up until a few months ago (this last November to be exact) they were the only thing I could bake successfully. To everybody else, they were my specialty. But I knew better. There was absolutely nothing else that would turn out good.

However, my husband wanted badly a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, and my sister was dreaming of some pecan bars she ate once because a lady from our church made them. So I decided to give both a try. Now, the key, for me at least, to a great dish is a fool proof recipe. So I went to bettycrocker.com and got a classic pumpkin pie recipe and a pecan pumpkin pie recipe, and I followed those recipes down to the last dot. Since I do not like pumpkins, I had no idea how they would turn out, but judging from my husband's face, and my family's, it was good. I have had to make both pumpkin pies about 3 or 4 times.

But the pecan bars? Those were HUGE hits. Again, I don't like pecans, so I don't see what the big fuss is about, but everyone else? They absolutely love those bars. I have had to make them so many times I have lost count. So I thought I'ld share the recipe with you. I'm a hero in my family because of this dish. Go ahead, be a hero this weekend!

I love my time in the kitchen. Creaming butter and sugar by hand —hard, hard work—, seeing the ingredients interacting, watching closely for the change in consistencies, and oh my goodness the smells! And of course, getting to taste the finished product and knowing that it is good is so satisfying. Sometimes I'm at work and my hands feel the sudden need to mix, knead, roll... I can't wait to get home and try something new. We reap the benefits and the extra pounds, too. But it's worth it for sure.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Vanished, by Irene Hannon

Traveling home in a dark, rural road after taking a detour, Moira Harrison gets lost. With no lights, or houses or other people in sight, and with a raging thunderstorm compromising her vision, she is confused and worried. Moira reaches for her purse looking for her glasses and gets distracted when suddenly she sees a terrified person frantically waiving at her. She hits the brakes hard, looses control of the car, and hits the person. Soon after, crashes against a tree. When a man suddenly appears, and tells Moira he saw everything and that he will call 911, she is relieved and passes out. An hour later, she wakes up only to find that there's no police, no ambulance, no injured person, and no man. She calls 911, and when the police arrive and she tells her story, they believe she imagined everything due to a concussion and close the case. But Moira cannot forget those terrified eyes, and enlists the help of the only person who thinks she might be right, Cal Burke, an ex-police detective who now works as a private investigator. Together, along with his two partners, they will solve the mystery of the missing injured person and the disappearing man, trying to bring closure to the case and their unresolved hurts.

Right from the start, 'Vanished' draws you in with an intense suspense and mystery. The first few pages are enough to get you immerse in the drama. However, 'Vanished' is not a whodunit mystery. We know who the killer is from almost the beginning. The real mystery is in unraveling what really happened little by little, clue by clue, piece by piece in a very interesting, intelligent and engaging mystery puzzle. The author lets the reader in in every detail, discovery and suspicion, so we can take part in solving the mystery along with the characters.

Usually, mystery and suspense novels thrive in keeping the reader guessing, but to try to accomplish this, the authors tend to dumb down their main characters so much that it's frustrating and almost infuriating. Not here. Moira is an intelligent reporter, very much aware of everything around her and what she needs to do to somehow help the person she is sure she hit that fateful night. Cal, on the other hand, is even better. Nothing gets past him or his two partners. He's paying attention, knows what to do, and does whatever it takes to do it.

That said, the fact that the characters are smart, astute and keen observers does present a small problem. The suspense that captivates our attention and gets us interested at first is virtually gone during the rest of the story. So, although we do get to piece the mystery puzzle, it feels as if there is something missing. Aside from that first scary scene, there is not much more tension built, and, although it does not affect our interest in the story, it prevents the reader from the thrilling ups and downs of a good suspense/mystery. In the end, though, we get a small taste of suspense again when all bets are off and the killer is on the verge going crazy.

One thing that I loved was the psychological issue behind the killer's crimes and motives. It is a great statement on how parents' mistakes, and selfishness can be the undoing of a child, and how they can haunt a child all his or her life. Whatever parents do, say or ask of their children have an impact in their lives right until the end. Also, there is a nice complexity in the killer's thinking, what he thinks compassion is and the ways he expresses that through his crimes and his works. Furthermore, the way he interprets "signs" as coming from God is a mirror image of how much we misinterpret what happens around us.

The killer and his background story are very believable. The main characters are likable, and their stories are interesting and credible. Moria and Cal have both been hurt in very different ways, but they each decide to move forward. So as they solve the mystery, their hearts start mending, too. But in the end, it is Cal who has to finally learn how to let go and start over. A little painful to watch, but very heartfelt.

This is a very smart mystery, with a very cute romance in the middle and a nice closure (though not necessarily theologically correct) in the end.

4.5 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book through The Christian Manifesto in exchange of an honest review.