Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brittany Hargest CD Review & Giveaway

On Monday night, my college girls were home and my youngest was already in bed. I was checking my e-mail and said to the two older girls, "Brittany Hargest from Jump 5 has released a solo album, and I have a chance to review it. Think I should go for it?" They both said "Yes!"

Fast forward a few days... I received a link to download the music, so I burned the ten songs from Brittany's new Love All The Way album to a CD and put it into the car's CD player without telling my youngest, Bethany (she's 13 years old). When I turned the car on, and the CD started playing, she turned her head very quickly to look at me, and said, "What's this? Whose CD is this? Wait! Is it that Jump 5 girl that did her own album?" She wasn't giving me a chance to speak, so I just nodded as she kept on going: "I love this music! I want this on my MP3 player so I can listen on the bus tomorrow! Oh, yeah, I'm putting this on my MP3 player TONIGHT!"

She was dancing along with the music as much as her seatbelt would allow. We quickly jumped through all ten songs on the album, trying a little bit of each, and I kept hearing, "Oh, I like this one!" from Bethany again and again.

Bethany and I have been listening to the music for three days now, and I'd have to say the album is definitely a hit at our house, very much so with the younger generation. The music is very peppy (Brittany's website describes one song as 'funky dance groove'), so it's the kind of music I would put in my workout music, but not my general listening playlist. Even though the music isn't exactly my style, I know that my girls love it, and I appreciate the fact that the lyrics to the songs aren't the ambiguous "praise songs" that have such vague words ("you're awesome, I love you") that you don't know if the song refers to God or the cute guy in your math class who can never remember if your name is Karen or Kathy. The songs have a strong Christian message, like the opening song, Critical, where she talks about life in a fallen world:  "Too many doing 95 down a dead-end road. We gotta do something quick! It's getting critical." This is an excellent album for Christian young people who enjoy music with a "dance beat." 

There is an excellent write-up on this album on Brittany's website. You can follow Brittany on Facebook or Twitter

The Giveaway! 

I have the chance to give away a copy of Brittany's Love All The Way CD to one of my readers. There are two ways to enter: 

1. By leaving a comment below (leave your e-mail address if it doesn't show up in your Google profile, so I can contact the winner)

2. Or, if you would rather not post your e-mail on a public blog, you can send me an e-mail at - with the subject line "Brittany CD"

Giveaway ends on Thursday, November 3rd at 11:59 PM. Limited to U.S. residents only, age 13 and up. Limit one entry per person per day. 

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255:
"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Crossing: A good, suspenseful read

The book “The Crossing” deals with old wounds that just won’t heal. When Claudia was on the high school cheerleading squad, she was riding home on the bus with the cheerleading squad and the football team, and a masked gunman boarded the bus and shot three people: the bus driver, the star quarterback, and the beautiful young teacher who coached the cheerleading squad. Claudia had developed a close friendship with the coach, BJ, and when BJ was shot by the mysterious gunman, Claudia refused to leave her side, begging BJ not to die.
“The Crossing” is set ten years later. Claudia has married and has a daughter, but memories of the shooting still plague her through nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. Her husband, an assistant district attorney, sees her struggles and tries to help by reopening the case. Claudia doesn’t see it the same way. She sees him reopening the wounds, and starts to withdraw from the marriage.

I don’t want to say any more and give away the ending. I found myself drawn into the book. I had a hard time putting it down, wanting to find out who the masked gunman was, and why he was targeting a loveable young woman like BJ. Usually, I have the guilty party figured out halfway through a book, but this book threw me a curve or two. There were several plot twists that took me by surprise. I liked that!

While the book was much “cleaner” than your average murder mystery (no profanity or sex scenes), one thing  bothered me a bit: the sheer number of characters in the book who were having affairs or premarital sex.  I didn’t like the way it seemed sexual sin seemed to be portrayed as fairly common, even though the characters identified themselves as good, church-going folk. Most of the characters acknowledged their wrongdoing, and the book showed that there were consequences for the sin, which was good… but it just seemed too prevalent for my tastes.

Overall, I would say that “The Crossing” was a good, suspenseful read.

I received this book from Multnomah books in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Mighty Macs

I got a chance to watch an early screening of the movie "The Mighty Macs" - about Cathy Rush, who took on the overwhelming task of coaching the girls' basketball team at a failing Catholic college. The gym burned down and wasn't rebuilt. They have to clean years of accumulation out of an old activity center to have a place to practice. They only have one basketball to practice with. The long hours that Cathy spends with the team put a strain on her marriage.

Just when it seems like she'll never make headway with the team, she finds an unexpected ally in a young nun named "Sister Sunday." Together they teach the girls about teamwork, hard work and not giving up.

This was definitely a "feel good" movie - cheering for the underdog team and seeing them transform into a team, watching the coach show her girls how much she cared for them. There were some laugh-out-loud moments, like when Sister Sunday teaches the girls how to box out their opponent, or when a group of elderly nuns take on the role of cheerleaders.

Cathy Rush isn't just fighting to take her team to the top: the college has been struggling financially, and a deal is in the works to sell off the buildings and dissolve the college. The way the team brings together the community to stand behind the college is heartwarming. The movie had me laughing, and crying.

I think this was a wonderful family movie. The only part of the movie that might bother some people who be a scene with Cathy Rust and Sister Sunday having a beer in a bar.

The movie opens Friday, October 21st in theaters... I think we may be seeing a movie this weekend!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Changing my Focus

Well, it happened again. I was doing so well with diet & exercise, got stuck on a plateau, got discouraged, and fell off the diet & exercise wagon... big time. I recommitted at the beginning of October, but history repeated itself this week. I was disappointed with my weigh-in and slacked off... I let the voices telling me "you can't do this" get to me.  so I ended up gaining a pound or so this week. When I made my way back to LiveFit a few weeks ago, Jason asked me what my goals were. I sent back a long, rambling e-mail about wanting to get down to a certain weight, but feeling a lot of doubt because of my repeated failures. 

When Jason replied to my e-mail, he pointed out that in all my rambling about my goals, I never mentioned getting healthy. True. He said, "What if you stopped thinking about numbers and just focused on being healthy and making good food choices everyday?"

So that is what I am trying to do. When I was driving Bethany around today, we brainstormed about what would constitute a "Perfectly Healthy Day." I came up with a list of actions, like staying with my Weight Watchers points, exercising, drinking plenty of water, having fruits and vegetables, etc. 

Bethany took my rough draft and turned it into a cute poster that I'm putting on the fridge, inside my dry-erase frame... so I can check things off each day, and come up with a final grade. 
My scribbled draft, and Bethany's finished product.

The Finished Product

I got a 90 today - since I was on the run all day today, putting together a costume for this year's Clue Night at church, I didn't get in enough fruits and veggies, and forgot to get my morning fiber before I left the house. I will be shooting for a 100% grade every day... and you know what? As I shoot for being healthy every day, I'll eventually lose the weight!  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gyros go gluten-free! Yum!

Tonight was time for experimenting at my house. Gyros were on the menu, but I needed a bread to go with them. Something like a whole-wheat pita, but gluten-free. I looked around on the internet and found a recipe that looked pretty good, but I didn't have a few of the ingredients. I made some changes, exchanging one gluten-free flour for another, and changed the way it was prepared... from spreading the batter into a pan and cutting it into squares to making thin circles with my tortilla press. It turned out very well!

Gyro on gluten-free flatbread

Okay, first the recipe for gluten-free flatbread: 
1 cup sorghum flour
½ cup quinoa flour (I put 1/3 c quinoa through the grain mill)
⅓ cup tapioca flour
⅓ cup cornstarch
1/3 c potato starch
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tsp yeast

1 cup warm water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Combine dry ingredients (flours, cornstarch, potato starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt & yeast) in mixer. Mix until well blended. Mix water, olive oil, honey and apple cider vinegar in measuring cup - add all at once to dry mixture and mix at low speed until the mixture resembles cookie dough.

Roll dough out very thin, 1/4 cup at a time. I used my tortilla press - using saran wrap sprayed with cooking spray to keep the dough from sticking to the tortilla press.
I ended up with 8 small (and 1 very small) flatbreads.

I let the flatbreads rise on the back of the stove for half an hour while I mixed up the Gyros. They didn't rise much. Next time, I might let them rise a little longer. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.

1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 c minced onion
Mix all ingredients. If you have the time, refrigerate for an hour or two for flavors to blend. Most days, I only let it stand for 10 minutes or so. Make into patties and fry or grill until no longer pink.

1/2 c non-fat plain yogurt
1 tsp sugar
3/4 c chopped cucumber
1/2 c chopped tomato
Blend all dressing ingredients together until smooth

To assemble your Gyro, put a meat patty on your flatbread with some lettuce and chopped tomato. Accessorize with Feta cheese, pickled banana peppers, and/or black olives. Drizzle some yogurt dressing over the top and enjoy! 

These gluten-free flatbreads held up well to being folded in half with the Gyro filling... it was almost like having a pita pocket again! 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Meal Planning at our House

This weekend, we had a very nice ladies' conference at our church on Hospitality. Ladies shared tips on hosting parties, cooking for guests, encouraging others, and much more. One thing that really struck me at the conference was the statement that "hospitality begins at home." As a wife and mother, one of the most important ways I can show hospitality is by providing a warm, safe haven at home for my family, by keeping the house in right order and providing tasty, healthy meals.

After 25 years of cooking for my family, I've got it down to a system. I have made up a "meal planning chart" that lists more than 50 entrĂ©es in a spreadsheet format. I pass it around to the family and have everyone grade each meal from 1 (nah) to 5 (YEAH!). Then I look over the list and plan on making the meals with the highest ratings for meals in the next week or two. I try to do my meal planning on Sunday, when the grocery store ads are in the paper, so I can see if items I need that week are on sale anywhere.

So, I figured I'd share my list of nearly 60 possible entrĂ©es for dinner, and give you a little help with your own meal planning.

Baked Chicken
Baked Ham
 Baked Pork Chops
 BBQ Beef Sandwiches
 BBQ Chicken
 BBQ Pork Chops
 Bean Burritos
 Beef & Broccoli
 Beef Stew
 Beef Stroganoff
 Chicken Fajita Boboli
 Chicken Finger Subs
 Chicken Parmesan Subs
 Chicken Pot Pie
 Chicken Teriyaki
 Chicken Teriyaki Subs
 Chili in Bread Bowls
 Corned Beef & Cabbage
 Creamy Seafood Linguine
 Fruity Chili Pork Chops
 Grilled Chicken Salad
 Ham/Leek Scalloped Potatoes
 Mushroom Turkey Burgers
 Honey Mustard Turkey Meatballs
  Italian Sausage Subs
 Lamb Burgers
 Lamb Chops
 Linguine with Red Clam Sauce
 Meatball Bombers
Pork Chops with Sauerkraut
 Pork Roast
 Roast Beef /mashed potatoes
 Salmon Patties
 Sausage & Bean Soup
 Sloppy Joes
 Sticky Chicken
 Stuffed Peppers
 Stuffed Pork Chops
 Swedish Meatballs
 Sweet & Sour Turkey Meatballs
 Taco Salad
 Taco Pizza
 Taco-Filled Pasta Shells

Spaghetti & Meatballs isn't on the list because it's my default meal for Wednesday nights - quick & easy, so we can get to church on time for Wednesday night services. I also make fish every Friday, but I never know what I'm making until I get to the seafood counter and see what they have.

My family's top picks this week? Baked chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Gyros, Meatloaf, Spiedies, Steak (steak always gets high marks), Stuffed Pork Chops, Taco Pizza and Turkey. I'll have to see if any stores have steak or turkey breast on sale. Italian Sausage Subs and Meatball bombers also got some pretty high marks, so they can be my "Plan B." Maybe I'll even try something new this week. When I was down in Texas at the Frito-Lay test kitchen, Chef Stephen mentioned a family recipe for Lebanese lamb kebabs, where ground lamb is seasoned and packed onto skewers to grill. Sounds delicious! Now I just need to find a recipe!