Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes - Book Review

I love reading and with this blog writing reviews has been a treat, but in this case the review was very yummy. I formatted "Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes" by Trudy Hanks nee Pilliner, Maureen Tapper nee Pilliner, and Rebecca Marshall nee Tapper and I was so interested in the recipes that I decided to cook several of them and invite friends over.

"Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes" was created by three Jamaican daughters remembering their Mothers' cooking. The book is filled with family anecdotes, cultural tidbits, and traditional recipes. The recipes themselves are explained very clearly and, in my case, even though I knew nothing about Jamaican food, I was able to follow the instructions and make delicious food.

My favorite anecdote is the one that accompanies the pig trotter's recipe:
The only son in the Tapper family was very mischievous and cunning as a boy. He somehow convinced his youngest sister that pig's trotters were not good eating, and that he would "help her" by eating her share.
Sister was happy that he was so nice to her, and it was almost a year before she wised up and noticed how much he enjoyed this food that he claimed was neither delicious, nor good for her. She decided to make the sacrifice and try a piece herself...and that was the day his double portion of pig's trotters ended!
A Tapper Family Memory
The cookbook contains Soups (beef soup, pepper pot soup, red peas soup), Entrees (curried shrimp, callaloo and salt fish, oxtail and butter beans, and many more), Side Dishes (corn fritters, macaroni and cheese, fried dumplings, and more), Desserts (bread pudding, egg custard, sweet potato pudding, and more), Beverages (ginger beer, sorrel drink, rum punch, and more), Misc (jerk seasoning, solomon gundy) and Notes. The notes section describes the uncommon ingredients like ackee, bammy, breadfruit, etc.

Each recipe and note has a photo, which came in very handy when I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. I live in San Diego, which doesn't have a large Jamaican community, but I was able to find all the ingredients at my local Mexican grocery store.

I went wild making eleven recipes, most of the ingredients were inexpensive and easy to find at a good price. I selected recipes that my guests and I would be able to recognize and one of my guests is very sensitive to spicy food so I went light on the scotch bonnet pepper. Now let me show you my cooking:

Crayfish (Janga) Soup
Made with crayfish - I used large shrimp for this recipe - chicken, vegetables and dumplings. I made the recipe early that day and put it on a crockpot to keep it warm until dinner time.

Cook-Up Rice with Bully Beef and Cabbage
Made with cabbage, white rice, corned beef and vegetables. This was one of my favorites! Very easy to do and satisfying, after the dinner party I had this dish for lunch, super yummy.

Escoveitch Fish
Made with red snapper - yellow tail and flounder can also be used - the fried fish is marinated with onion, juliened carrots, allspice seeds and vinegar. The acidity of this dish complemented the other ones perfectly.

Fricassee Chicken (brown stew chicken)
Another favorite! The chicken is marinated in soy sauce, scallions, tomatoes, and more. The dish has a very rich savory flavor, this is a recipe I know I will be doing more than once.

Jerk Chicken
This was last minute - as if I wasn't cooking enough things! - I made the jerk seasoning, marinated the chicken and roasted it. So good!

Banana Fritters
So easy to do! I was fortunate to have eaten one when I made them, by the time I served my plate there was only one left. No leftovers here.

Cabbage, Carrot and Tomato Salad
One of my guests made the comment that this salad was very refreshing to the palate. I forgot to take a photo of this salad, the image below is from the cookbook, but mine looked just like it!

Rice and Peas
Made with red kidney beans, bacon, coconut milk, veggies and white rice. The red coloring comes from the red kidney beans. Very tasty side dish!

Coconut with sweet spices baked on top of pastry dough. I cut these in half so more people could try them.

Plantain Tarts
I thought this recipe would be hard, but even though it was a little time consuming, it was very simple to follow and the tarts came out great!

Ice-Box Cake
Super easy to do. Layers of pound cake and a buttery fruity mixture. The whipped cream on top wasn't sweetened so it balanced out the sweetness of the bottom making it taste just right.

Nine of us ate that night, everyone had seconds and I still had some leftovers to eat during the week. This is an excellent cookbook done from the heart.

You can find "Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes" at Amazon.com in print and digital format.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mystic series - Book Review

Jo Michaels, author of Yassa and The Abigale Chronicles, now gives us the Mystic series, a young adult paranormal tale geared towards finding strength from within. I read Mystic: Bronya (book 1) and Mystic: Lily (book 2), the series will include five novellas and one novel that will bring everything together.

The premise behind the Mystic series touches upon the paranormal. Markaza, a teen-aged tattooed blue hair girl has visions of a powerful being trying to destroy the Earth. Markaza has one year to go all over the U.S. recruiting specially selected women with powers they don't even know they have. From the first book in the series Mystic: Bronya, we learn who are these women, though I've only read the first two and can only guess at the story behind the rest of them:

  • Bronya Thibodeaux from Houma, LA, she has physical strength and as a Lesbian suffered prejudices in her small town. 
  • Lily Conyers from San Diego, CA has the ability of sight control, her glamorous life was destroyed by a car accident.
  • Sheila Morgan from Chattanooga, TN - Mood control - Child abuse.
  • Melody Acworth from Atlanta, GA - Sound control - Anorexic.
  • Coralie Meyers from New York, NY - Cunning - Abortion.
  • Markaza Turner from New York, NY - Future seer - Depression.

The series aims to give positive messages emphasizing themes like how cruelty can hurt people, the dangers of drinking and driving, and how beauty and strength come from within. The situations the heroines face are not sugar coated and the characters themselves have flaws that make them relatable.  

In the case of Bronya, her problems come from being a Lesbian in a small town in Louisiana  where she suffers ridicule and a humiliating heartbreak. On the other hand Lily is on top of the modeling world, beautiful with great life and handsome boyfriend. It all ends when she decides to drive drunk, crashes her car and her face is disfigured.

In both cases Markaza appears at just the right time, her mission is to befriend them and in some way convince them to leave their current lives and move to New York, where they unknowingly join WSTW - Women Save The World.

As the stories unfold we get to see glimpses of the future, in Mystic: Lily we see the terrible danger Sheila is in, as well as the reason why all these women are being recruited. The women all have a special ability they don't even know they have and they will need to dig very deep down in order to find it...plus the clock is ticking because the danger has a due date, Markaza'a 18th birthday.

The novellas are written in a way that you will read them in one to three sittings, the stories have a way to keep your interest and the description of each hometown is dead on - at least I know it is with San Diego since I live here!

In a way this review is incomplete because the series is just starting, there are many questions, character and plot development to look forward to in the months to come. Mystic: Bronya is available on Amazon and will be free from 10/27 to 10/31 in celebration of the publishing of Mystic: Lily on October 30th.

You can read the interview with author Jo Michaels or connect with her through the following sites:

Website: http://www.writejomichaels.com/#!home|mainPage
Blog: http://jomichaels.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writejomichaels
Twitter: https://twitter.com/writejomichaels
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5833874.Jo_Michaels

young adult paranormal

young adult paranormal

Interview with Jo Michaels

I met Jo Michaels several months ago when we both participated in a 28-day blog challenge and since then she's been on my list of authors to read. Finally I had a chance to read her and it's great that its at the beginning of the Mystic series, a young adult paranormal tale of strength from within.

Each story deals with a particular deep emotional problem, how did you choose the issues to give to each character?

I looked around at the world and considered what people are judged for. Things that really bring out the hate or fear in other people because they don't understand those things. I have friends with every issue I address in the books and I wanted to show my readers what kind of struggles people face before the cruelty is put on top of it. Add that on, and you have a pretty messed up person that's fighting a lot of personal demons. Putting a name or a face on an issue makes it more personal, and showing what someone else feels about things that happen to them (either by their own screw-ups or nature) is important to bringing forth understanding. I'm hoping to help people see there are two sides to every story. People that are different from you or me aren't bad; they're just different. It doesn't mean they need to be judged, feared, or hated.

Even though the stories deal with women in their teens, I've noticed that cigarettes are very prevalent in their lives, especially Markaza's. Is there a certain significance to this habit?

A few of the girls don't smoke: Lily, Melody, and Shelia (who does it a few times while telling her story but it's very out of character). Markaza does it to help with the stress. She started when she had her first vision and never quit. Truth be told, a lot of teens do it and a lot of teens don't. I just want my characters to feel very real and, sometimes, real people smoke. But no, there's no significance to it.

From glimpses Markaza has seen on her crystal ball and dreams, it looks like the thing to battle will be a physical monster of some sorts. Can you say anything more on that?

It's a physical monster that's the embodiment of something prevalent in the world that grows stronger every day. When the girls pick up on what it is, they'll have an idea of how to defeat it. Can't include the spoiler! But what I can say is: Once you, the reader, realize what it is, you'll see it alive all around you. It may very well terrify you when you see how much it encompasses your life without you knowing it. My call to action is: Do something about it. It's all about the small things we do every day that make a difference.

So far I'm picturing WSTW (Women Save The World) as The Justice League. Once everyone is together and ready to go, will they have super hero type costumes?

That's an awesome comparison! While costumes could be cool, I think these ladies are unique enough without them. Adding costumes wouldn't make sense because we're celebrating their individuality.

Will the whole story be told in a series of novellas or will there be a novel at the end?

Bronya, Lily, Shelia, Melody, and Coralie are all novellas. Markaza (book six) will be a full length novel because it will tell her story as well as the final battle.

Will there be a story dedicated to Markaza?

Yes and no. You'll find out about her in book six but you'll also get the story of the battle and how these chicks kick butt and take names. It won't be done the way you may think and there's a scene in Shelia that will bring you closer to understanding what it is they have to do to win.

How often do you plan to publish the rest of the stories?

Every two months. Shelia will be released 12/21/12, Melody in February, Coralie in April, and Markaza in June.

You can read the review of the series or connect with Jo through the following sites:

Website: http://www.writejomichaels.com/#!home|mainPage
Blog: http://jomichaels.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writejomichaels
Twitter: https://twitter.com/writejomichaels
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5833874.Jo_Michaels

Author Jo Michaels

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dangerous Waters - Book Review and Giveaway

Some of my favorite stories have to do with people starting a new life in a new city or country. In the case of Dangerous Waters Jeanne Le Page starts her new life by coming back to her hometown of Guernsey.

Jeanne left the island at age 16 after her parents died in a boating accident which she survived and can't remember. The death of her Grandmother and a painful break-up brought her back to Guernsey where she began to reconnect with childhood friends. Her initial intention was to settle her Grandmother's estate, sell a property she inherited and get back to London.

Jeanne is in deep need for healing, and the process began as she approached Guernsey and had a panic attack. Once she was back at her Grandma's cottage, Le Petit Chêne, she began to re-introduce herself in Guernsey's way of life and made the decision to stay, renovate the cottage and confront the biggest mystery in her life: the amnesia regarding the accident.

During the renovation Jeanne discovers documents that will change her life. Some of them are old traditional French recipes and something she never expected: love letters between her Grandma and someone other than her Grandfather. This part of the story touches on a romantic and sad love story that happened in the time when Guernsey was under German occupation during WWII. It is fascinating to join Jeanne as she slowly uncovers the truth.

Le Petit Chêne is a distinct character in the book, the renovation goes very deep into its foundation and its a metaphor for the self-discovery Jeanne is going through. Cottage and person are gutted and renovated, coming out at the end looking almost the same but with an inner strength that will get them through anything coming their way.

Another important character is Guernsey itself, a tiny island in the English Channel. The descriptions give a great sense of what is like to live there, and at least personally, the more I read about it, the more I want to visit it.

And before I forget, there is romance in the air for Jeanne, but won't comment on that part, it will be a treat for the readers to find out more about it!

Now for the giveaway, Anne Allen is providing a free copy of Dangerous Waters to two lucky winners. Leave a comment before October 17 telling us a little something about your hometown and you will be entered in the giveaway. Best of luck!

Check out interesting tidbits about Dangerous Waters in an Interview with Anne Allen and if you're interested in more information about the book or author, please visit:

Website: www.dangerouswaters.co.uk
Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Waters-Mystery-Guernsey-ebook/dp/B007P1EIAU
Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dangerous-Waters-Mystery-Island-Guernsey/dp/1780882300
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13632950-dangerous-waters
Twitter: @AnneAllen21

Interview with Anne Allen

I met Anne Allen thanks to Twitter and this book blog, she asked if I would be interested in reading her book and once I read a few reviews I was convinced. Dangerous Waters offers a story of self-discovery, healing, love and a few mysteries that need to be solved. To learn more about Dangerous Waters, please read my review and check out the giveaway!

I'm glad Anne agreed to be interviewed and give us a little more insight about the story:

After reading the story I Googled Guernsey, it's such an itty bitty island, and from the descriptions in the story it seems so charming. Have you visited Guernsey?

It’s certainly small! About 5 miles by 7 and you can drive round the coast line in about an hour. Mind you, there are even smaller islands in the Channel Islands and one, Herm, also figures in Dangerous Waters. Here there are no cars and both residents (about 50) and tourists walk everywhere. I lived in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years from 1988 and then made a very reluctant return to England. I’ve left behind not only one son but a number of friends to give me a valid reason for frequent returns. I fell in love with the island and the people after enjoying a holiday there in 1987 and vowed to move there as soon as possible. And you’re right, Ellie, it’s full of charm and has a lot to offer visitors as well as residents.


The love story between Jeanne Le Page's grandmother and Wilhelm, the German soldier was so tender and interesting in a historical sense. What can you tell us about the research you did about that time period?

I was fortunate to be able to talk to people who had lived through the Occupation, gaining first-hand accounts of what life had been like at that time. Also, luckily for me, that period is well documented locally, providing me with a rich source of historical material. The Islanders still celebrate Liberation Day every year to mark the arrival of British forces on May 9th 1945.

Where did you get the inspiration for the cottage Le Petit Chêne?

I had lived in a farmhouse in the area where ‘Le Petit Chêne’ could be found and knew the local cottages well. I’d actually undertaken a large-scale renovation of my home so knew what would be involved for Jeanne. Including the stress! Her cottage wasn’t the same design as mine but the garden had similarities. However, mine had a small pine forest instead of an orchard. And the German bunker mentioned in my book actually existed – in my garden! We had it professionally renovated – it had been prone to flooding – and even had the original German signs re-painted. My sons had an illicit party in it while we were away one weekend and we only found out because a neighbour complained about beer bottles being thrown in to the adjoining lane. I had decided early on that my story needed to include an old cottage with secrets and I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. 

Guernsey Cottage

Jeanne Le Page's journey of self-discovery and memory recovery through hypnosis seems to parallel Le Petit Chêne's renovation. Both went through mayhem at their foundation and both came out of it stronger. While you were writing the story was it your intention to link Jeanne and the cottage this way?

Most definitely! For me it was a key strand of the plot and I’m so glad you’ve picked up on it. Both Jeanne and the cottage were in need of TLC at the beginning of the book and I wanted the renovation of the cottage to reflect the changes taking place in Jeanne. For her, the cottage had symbolized her lost, loving family and by bringing it up to date in the 21st century she was echoing her own progress towards renewed life and love. I’ve often found that people take on a big project like a house renovation when they’re searching for something new in their lives – a fresh start. And there’s a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when it’s completed. We can pour our ‘love’ energy into a home instead of a person if we happen to be single.

The book has yummy recipes at the end, have you made them? Are they family recipes?

Guernsey Bean Jar

I’ve only made the ‘enne jarraïe d’haricaöts’ – Guernsey Bean Jar and it was delicious! The recipes are genuine old Guernsey recipes passed down through the generations and are well known locally. I’ve also eaten loads of Gâche , a fruit bread smothered with rich Guernsey butter. No calorie counting allowed!

Gâche with butter

What are you working on now?

My second novel, Finding Mother, the story of a young woman who, as her marriage crumbles, seeks to find her natural mother. She feels the need to understand herself and her roots while re-evaluating her life. The story also focuses on the history of that mother and the grandmother who have kept secrets from each other for years. The setting is predominantly Guernsey (shows how much I love the place!) but there are excursions to England, Jersey (another Channel Island) and Spain.

Thank you very much Anne for such a great story and donating the books for the giveaway.

If you want more information about the book or the author, please visit:

Website: www.dangerouswaters.co.uk
Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Waters-Mystery-Guernsey-ebook/dp/B007P1EIAU
Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dangerous-Waters-Mystery-Island-Guernsey/dp/1780882300
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13632950-dangerous-waters
Twitter: @AnneAllen21

Anne Allen, author of Dangerous Waters