9 Book Reviews From My Recent Spring/Summer Reads

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated by Tara Westover

One of my recent posts, on self-care, talked about my love for reading and how important it is in my daily life. Over the years, I have gone through phases, sometimes reading a lot and sometimes, especially when my kids were younger, not reading much at all other than magazines and newspapers. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, ever. It’s relaxing and it calms me down. It educates and entertains me. And, it connects me to periods in history that only books can do.

My earliest memory of reading is indelible: reading about Dick and Jane the summer before I entered Kindergarten. Growing up in an expat community in Saudi Arabia and reading about the neighborhoods and adventures of these siblings and their parents captured my imagination and my love for anything American. I don’t remember any other books or authors from that time of my life, other than how good I felt when I was reading.

I’m not a sophisticated reader, meaning philosophy books, poetry, and Shakespeare are not number one on my list, although I enjoy these genres from time to time. My preferred reading list includes self-help and parenting books and historical fiction. I enjoy Danielle Steel, Elin Hildebrand, Debbie Macomber, Barbara Delinskly, and Maeve Binchy. I enjoy bestsellers and thrillers, the latter more so when I’m in a certain mood. I love classics like W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon & Sixpence and all of Jane Austen’s books.

The books that resonate the most with me, and that I really love, are about immigrants. I enjoy immigrant fiction from around the world (The Lowland and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri; Pachinko by Min Jin Lee), with my favorite books set in tenement Brooklyn and the lower East Side of Manhattan from around 1890 through the early 20th century [The Rise of David Levinsky (Abraham Cahan), Brooklyn (Colm Toibin), A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Betty Smith)]. I could read stories about that specific time and place in US history all day long. There’s something about the poverty and humanity of that time period that endears me to the characters who are born into circumstances that were never in their control. And there’s something about the characters missing their homeland that resonates with me.

I thought I would start a bit of a blog series where I share my recent reads, starting with what I’ve read over the last 6 months. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen these books on my Stories or in my carousel feed. These blog posts/reviews will go into the books in a little bit more detail: nothing too long, just what I thought of the books and why I liked them. I’d love to hear your comments below and I welcome any suggestions!

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Spanning several generations, Pachinko is the story about a family of poor Koreans living in Japan in the mid-1900s and beyond. Sunja, the only daughter of a poor but ‘good’ family falls for a wealthy married man and gets pregnant. She ends up marrying Isak, a priest who lovingly and willingly accepts to raise her illegitimate son and protect Sunja. We follow Sunja and her family throughout this book as they learn to survive and do well, always against the background of what it’s like to be a Korean living in Japan, where the former always feel like outcasts and visitors, even though Japan is the only country they have ever called home. This is the story of the importance of family and loyalty, and ultimately the story of understanding that people do what they have to do to survive and that huge sacrifice is inevitable.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I’m not sure why this book was not on any of my high school reading lists, but I’m so happy I finally got around to reading it. The New York Public Library selected A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as one of its Books of the Century and this makes sense to me.  A Tree follows Francie Nolan through her poverty-ridden immigrant neighborhood childhood in the early 1900s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She loves her father, a drunk, who has a hard time providing for his family, and she loves her mother and brother and her colorful aunts and their stories. A child with hardly any friends, she reads a lot and observes what goes on around her. It’s semi-autobiographical and Betty Smith does an excellent job of showing us Francie’s daily life struggles and the lessons about the reality and cruelty of life. I thought that this book would be more of a positive ending love story, to be honest, but I was satisfied that the ending flowed with the rest of the book.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
This is a fast read, but not a book you will easily forget. Based on the interviews Heather Morris had with Lale Sokolov, this biography is a love story as well as the story of hope during the Holocaust. Lale is charged with tattooing the arms of the prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau and this is how he meets Gita, the love of his life, to whom he was married for 60 years. Lale uses his privileges with members of the SS to help prisoners get food and other items. The book is funny at times as you understand that relationships and human interactions were real and necessary during imprisonment. Ultimately, this is the incredible true story of survival, bravery, and love.

When Life Gives You Lemons by Lauren Weisberger (photo from amazon.com)
When Life Gives You Lemons by Lauren Weisberger (photo from amazon.com)

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisburger
Total and complete mind candy, When Life Gives You Lululemons does not disappoint as the sequel to The Devil Wears Prada. We meet Emily again, now a PR maven in LA, when she visits her friend in suburban Connecticut, where the story is set. Emily, who is very ‘LA’, meets her friend Miriam’s social circle and the two worlds couldn’t be more different. Emily is the same brash character from Devil and it’s fun to hear her take on these suburban women. Maybe it’s because I’m a SAHM/WAHM and I could recognize the mom characters in the story, or, maybe because it’s just a fun and entertaining novel, but I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it as a vacation or anytime read.

Next Level Basic by Stassi Schroeder
Next Level Basic by Stassi Schroeder

Next Level Basic by Stassi Schroeder
I’m a proud reality TV watcher and I’m not ashamed of that! It’s what keeps me entertained on the treadmill when I don’t want to concentrate too much on what I’m watching. Stassi is from the Bravo reality show called Vanderpump Rules, a show which follows a group of millennials who work at and around SUR, a hip restaurant in LA. This NY Times bestseller is Stassi’s first book where she is completely herself as she takes you through why and how it’s important to be yourself. She’s very honest about the mistakes she’s made because she opened her mouth before checking the facts. She’s lost sponsorships and opportunities this way, but has learned from them. The purpose of the book is to teach you to embrace who you are. Another fast and fun read.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Written in three sections, Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, is a book that you will be thinking about for a while. Each of the sections stands on its own, but there are subtle linkages. The first section follows an aspiring writer, Alice, and her affair with a much older Noble Prize winning author named Ezra Blazer (loosely based on Philip Roth) who is always worried about his next book and his waning fame. The second section is Alice’s fictional writing, which tells the story of an Iraqi-American economist and his return to Kurdistan to see his brother. And the third section is a radio interview with Ezra Blazer, the Noble Prize winner from part one. It’s up to the reader to understand how these stories connect… or not, but they certainly make you think about the different lives we all lead around each other and how our lives and events could possibly intersect.

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover
It only took me one year and 24 hours to read this book, but I wish I had read it a year ago for my book club, where I could’ve discussed this book more fully. Educated (a #1 New York Times bestseller) is the biography of Tara Westover, who grew up as one of seven children in the mountains of Idaho to survivalist parents: her dad was always preparing for the end of the world and the kids had to help. She was home-schooled and only set foot in a classroom when she entered Brigham Young University at 16 or 17. What a story. So well-written and so honest, sad, real, and yet, up-lifting.

Tara does an amazing job of taking you through the emotional hold her dad and the mountain, Buck’s Peak, had on her. We learn she was abused by her brother and that her parents never want to admit this fact. She begins to question her memory and even doubt this abuse. Confronting her family gets her nowhere and she realizes that leaving the mountain and most of her family is the only way for her to find herself…his becomes her education.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelidis
I’m a very picky reader of thrillers and I admit that I practically need a personal recommendation to read one. I saw many people I follow on Instagram reading this book, and The Silent Patient does not disappoint. This is a fast-paced book that is very cleverly written with a twist that is partially anticipated. Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who seeks out Alicia Berenson, (accused of shooting her husband) in order to treat her and get her to break her silence. I can’t tell you more or I will ruin the story, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Goodbye To All That edited by Sari Botton
Goodbye To All That edited by Sari Botton

Goodbye To All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, edited by Sari Botton
Joan Didion’s original essay, Goodbye To All That, written in 1967, is the jumping off point for 27 authors to write their own love affairs about New York City. Each author recounts his/her experience and I loved all of the references to familiar places. So many of us love New York and dream about living there, but not all of us follow this dream. These essays are written by authors like Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Melissa Febos (Whip Smart) and Chloe Caldwell (Legs Get Led Astray). I first saw this book at the bookstore in The Museum of the City of New York and knew I wanted to read it for all the nostalgic feels the authors evoke about New York.

Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed these recommendations and super-mini reviews. And, I’d love to get some book suggestions from you!

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Blueberry Peach Crumble

Blueberry Peach Crumble
Blueberry Peach Crumble

I love fruit crumbles! They are easy to make, forgiving, and always a popular dessert. You can top them with whipped cream, ice cream, or some milk. And, you can easily warm them up the next day: they taste just as good as freshly baked.

I’ve written about crumbles, cobblers, and crisps before, and you can check out one of my earlier posts, here, to learn the difference. Because I love oats, I always make crumbles. And, because I always seem to have overripe fruits hanging around in the summer, like peaches and blueberries, this blueberry peach crumble is on repeat at our summer BBQs.

Blueberry Peach Crumble
Blueberry Peach Crumble

The thing about adding blueberries to a crumble or any pie is the beauty of the dark purple caramelized fruit that bubbles around the edge of the dish. It spells summer. Even my youngest guests love watching the fruit bubble on the sides of the baking dish!

Because the best part of any crumble is the thick oat topping, I’ve adjusted the measurements of my original recipe to make a generous topping. I hope you enjoy making it.

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12 Ways I ‘Self-Care’ That Make A Huge Difference In My Day

‘Self-Care’ is a term we’re all hearing these days, and for good reason: life is busier and more stressful than ever. I often wonder why that’s the case for me, given that my kids are in their teens and need less physical attention…but it is what it is. I thought life might get a bit easier, but it’s a different type of worry that creeps in as your kids grow up. That’s why self-care is something I’m focusing on more and more.

What is self-care? It can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you’re doing things that make you feel better mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It’s also important to be cognizant of the need for self-care, because if you don’t manage your stress and energy, nobody else will do it for you.

And, what works for others might not work for you, so taking the time to figure out your best self-care techniques is important. Only you know what works best for you.

July 24th is National Self-Care Day, so I thought I would share my self-care techniques in the hopes of inspiring you to engage in the self-care that you need.

Here are the 12 things I do in terms of self-care that make a huge difference in my day and, consequently, in our family atmosphere:

Number 1: Start the day by doing stretches, mainly for my back. I take a few minutes to lie down on the ground and let my back relax. I look out the window and see sky and trees. Looking at nature and concentrating on being quiet calms me right down.

Number 2: Exercise! I am on my treadmill 5 days a week, watching reality TV and catching up on news. This is my time and I can’t do without it. Sometimes I talk to family and friends on the phone while I’m walking, and other times, I just kind of zone out. I’ve added weights to my routine and I like how that’s making me feel, too.

Number 3: Read at lunchtime, and anytime I can. This might sound very anti-social, but lunchtime is my time, unless I’m out with friends or family. I think I associate reading at lunch with the days when my kids would nap and that was my only free time. Reading is so important to me that anytime I feel stressed, it’s the number one thing I want to do! Continue reading

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Making Cream Puffs At Home Is Easy!

Homemade Cream Puffs Using Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 Brown Eggs
Homemade Cream Puffs Using Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 Brown Eggs

This post is sponsored by Conestoga Farms Eggs. All opinions are my own.

Making cream puffs at home is like discovering your inner pastry chef! Yes, they’re that easy to make. And, you can have fun with the sizes and fillings you choose to make and use. Cream puffs are also perfect for bringing to a summer gathering because they’re a finger-food dessert.

Eggs are the key ingredients in cream puffs, and recently I made a batch using Conestoga Farms’ Free-Run Omega-3 brown eggs. I love that local Southwestern Ontario farmers produce these eggs because buying food raised close to home makes me feel good about what my family eats.

Homemade Cream Puffs Using Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 Brown Eggs
Homemade Cream Puffs Using Conestoga Farms Free Run Omega-3 Brown Eggs

The Conestoga Farms’ Free Run Omega-3 brown eggs are laid by hens living in weather-sheltered barns where they can run freely to forage for food. The hens are grain-fed and their diet includes flax seeds, a high source of Omega-3 polyunsaturates. Omega-3 fatty acids can benefit heart and brain health. Continue reading

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Fattoush Salad – A Favorite In Our House!

Fattoush Salad
Fattoush Salad

Fattoush Salad, a popular salad in the Middle East, is one of the tastiest and most requested salads in our house! As my kids have gotten older, their tastebuds have evolved and cooking for them is a pleasure.

Fattoush is an easy salad that is forgiving in both the quantity and variety of ingredients. If you went to ten people’s homes, you’d find ten versions of this salad! There are so many ways to make fattoush. People refer to it as a peasant salad in that people used whatever leftover vegetables they had on hand to make this dish. I’ve even seen it made using only purslane, tomatoes, and cucumbers, which is very different from the recipe I’m sharing below.

With Ramadan entering its second week, this salad is a staple found at many Iftar meals. Iftar is the evening meal that breaks the fast for Muslims around the world. I thought it would be a good time to share the recipe my mom has taught me for making fattoush.

Fattoush Salad
Fattoush Salad

There are a few things that distinguish the typical fattoush salad from a green salad. The simple green salad has lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Fattoush adds onions, sumac, green peppers, mint, parsley, pita chips, and a dressing of oil and lemon with the option of adding pomegranate molasses. My mom doesn’t use pomegranate molasses, but many restaurants use it for a tangy taste. Continue reading

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Egg Salad + The Easiest Way To Peel Eggs!

Egg Salad With Celery Seed
Egg Salad With Celery Seed

Making an egg salad is one of the best ways to use up eggs and to pack some protein into your meals. I often find myself with eggs about to expire, either because I didn’t get around to baking or because my kids didn’t ask for scrambled eggs breakfasts. When eggs ‘pile up’ in the fridge, I boil a dozen and make an egg salad. We eat the egg salad for dinner and have leftovers for breakfast on toast, or as a snack.

There are so many ways to make egg salad! I’ve seen the simplest of recipes, like eggs mashed with a fork, with added salt and pepper. And, I’ve seen eggs dressed with lots of mayonnaise, and egg salads made with curry powder.

Egg Salad With Celery Seed
Egg Salad With Celery Seed

In our house, we like our egg salad with celery, green onions, whole celery seeds, mayonnaise, and dijon mustard. I usually use 6 whole boiled eggs, and 6 boiled egg whites. The reason I don’t use all 12 yolks is because I want to cut down on the taste of too many yolks as well as cut down the cholesterol levels.

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Cornmeal Banana Oatmeal Waffles – Vegan & Gluten-Free

Banana Cornmeal Oatmeal Waffles
Banana Cornmeal Oatmeal Waffles

My love for waffles is never-ending, and these Cornmeal Banana Oatmeal Waffles are my latest creation! (You can also check out the recipe for my Strawberry Banana Waffles).

I often have waffles more than once a day. If it’s not for breakfast, it’s as the base for a savory lunch waffle sandwich. Lately, I’ve been looking for ways to add fiber and protein to my diet. When I saw that 1 cup of yellow corn meal contains about 9 grams of fiber and about 10 grams of protein, I got very excited. I spent some time subbing out part of the flout for cornmeal, and came up with this recipe.

Cornmeal gives food a crunchy texture that you either like or you don’t. I’m a huge fan of cornbread as well as any Middle Eastern desserts that contain semolina or cream of wheat. The texture is satisfying for me. So, I didn’t need much convincing to make these waffles part of my weekly meal prep. I make these cornmeal waffles, store them in the fridge, and toast them for meals.

Although photos on my blog and Instagram include syrup, I rarely eat the waffles with syrup. Syrup is for extra special occasions! I usually eat my waffles plain, like a piece of toast, and add fruits when I have time.

Banana Cornmeal Oatmeal Waffles
Banana Cornmeal Oatmeal Waffles

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Peanut Butter Oatmeal Freezer Fudge

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Freezer Fudge
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Freezer Fudge

For the past few weeks, I’ve been making batches of this delicious peanut butter oatmeal freezer fudge and I wanted to share my recipe with you. These peanut butter oatmeal fudge pieces taste a bit like an Oh Henry or Baby Ruth candy bar! (BTW, check out this post for the recipe for Homemade Oh Henry Bars.)

I’m kind of addicted to freezer fudge these days, and for good reason: it’s easy and quick to make, there’s no cooking required, and it’s a satisfying treat. There’s something about having a cold snack/treat that makes it that much more tasty. I have a few other fudge recipes that I’ve also developed, and I will be sharing them with you over the next few months.

In the past, I’ve made tahini freezer fudge, and the recipe is on the blog, here. The main ingredient in freezer fudge is coconut oil, which helps the fudge set.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Freezer Fudge
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Freezer Fudge

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The Freshest Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

Tomato Bruschetta
Tomato Bruschetta

This fall I attended an event at the Miele Experience Centre in Vaughan, Ontario, where the Miele chefs gave us many kitchen tips and taught us how to make delicious, classic dishes, like tomato bruschetta.

The event was part of the Kitchen Stuff Plus and Henckels & Staub combined product knowledge day on the functions of the various knife offerings. Making bruschetta using the sharpest and most appropriate knives for the job was an absolute delight.

It seems strange to post a recipe that calls for fresh tomatoes in the middle of the winter, but I think this is the time of year we start to crave a variety of fresh vegetables! Continue reading

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‘Go Swimming’: A Mural In The Heart Of Toronto’s Forest Hill Village

'Go Swimming' Mural By James C Jennings In Toronto's Forest Hill Village
‘Go Swimming’ Mural By James C Jennings In Toronto’s Forest Hill Village

(A version of this post first appeared in the August 2017 issue of The Neighbours Of Forest Hill Magazine.)

Have you ever walked or driven by street art and wondered how it all came to be? Well, in Toronto, we’re lucky to be surrounded by lots of intentional, thoughtful street art – and each installation comes with a story.

The Forest Hill Village is the home to ‘Go Swimming’, a 6 by 40 foot black and white mural behind the building at the southwest corner of Montclair and Spadina in Toronto.

James C. Jennings Next To His 'Go Swimming' Mural In Toronto's Forest Hill Village
James C. Jennings Next To His ‘Go Swimming’ Mural In Toronto’s Forest Hill Village

The self-taught artist, James C. Jennings, and his friend were in the Village last fall, admiring the building. The owner, Lorne Rose, overheard them and the they soon began discussing how to turn the blank garage wall into a piece of art for neighbours and passersby to enjoy. The request was simple: a positive, whimsical, cartoonish piece that would make people stop, engage, and smile. And, it does just that!

Ultimately, this mural represents three things: community art, created with humour and meaning, about the world we live in today.

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