Friday, November 4, 2016

What I Read in October


Me Before You // I read this book several years ago, and it immediately went onto my all-time favorites list. I wanted to re-read it before reading the sequel and seeing the movie, and I loved it just as much this time around. The dialogue is quick and clever, and it's not entirely predictable. We recently watched the movie and I really enjoyed it as well! 5 stars


After You: A Novel // I read this right after reading Me Before You, but I wish I had taken a break in between the books. Louise is such a different person in this book because of what has happened, and you can sense that disconnect. It isn't bad or wrong, in fact I think it's quite appropriate, but it didn't make for a seamless transition between the books. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It isn't as good as the first one, but definitely worth reading. 4 stars


In the Woods // My book club decided to read something a little "spooky" for the month of October. None of us had read any of Tana French's books, but we had heard good things. We read this one, the first in the series, and it wasn't what I expected. It wasn't creepy or chilling (which I was glad!), and it actually moved a little slow for a thriller/mystery book. I enjoyed reading it, but the end was very disappointing. 3 stars


She Reads Truth: Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That's Passing Away // You might be familiar with She Reads Truth: it's a popular devotional website and app. I've used it off and on over the years, and I was really interested in reading this book when it came out. I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for a review, and I'm happy to report that I loved this book! It seems like several of the Christian Living books that I've read or thumbed through lately by women that seem to be prominent in Christian circles are feel-good, girl-power, fluffy reads that aren't my cup of tea. There's a place for them in the marketplace and many people resonate with them, but I just don't. This book was not that, and I loved that! The two authors share pieces of their stories and how God's Word impacted and met them in the midst of some really tough circumstances. They both learned over and over again that God's Word is the only thing that's true and unchanging, and they beautifully weave their stories in with rich truth that can be an encouragement and challenge to anyone who's reading the book. I really recommend this book! 4 stars


Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame // This book was really eye-opening for me. Shame isn't something that I think about often, and I realized I've (wrongly) confused it with guilt. The author breaks down what shame looks like in specific areas, and I really enjoyed the chapters on shame in parenting and shame in marriage. It was a thought-provoking book that I enjoyed. 3 stars


Calling Me Home: A Novel // What I loved about this book was that it wasn't entirely predictable. It's the story of an elderly white lady and her young black hairdresser who share their stories with each other on a trip across the country. I kept thinking I knew what was going to happen, but I continued ot be surprised. It was good writing and a good story, and I really enjoyed it. 4 stars

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Crisp Cinnamon Topping


In case you're not stuffing your face with enough sweet treats today, here's a delicious banana bread recipe! This is probably in my top 2 favorite banana breads. The cream cheese makes the bread SO moist and the topping makes this bread almost like a dessert. I also love that it makes two loaves, as most of my banana bread recipes only make one. I love baking quick breads that make two loaves so that I can stash one in the freezer! 

Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Crisp Cinnamon Topping
for the topping
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans (I've also used pecan chips if I have them)
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

for the bread
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 4 medium size)
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional - I've made both with and without)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To prepare topping, stir together brown sugar, pecans, flour, melted butter, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

To prepare bread, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (8x4 inch) loaf pans.

Beat butter and cream cheese in a large bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar. Beat for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow yolk disappears after each addition.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add to butter mixture in thirds, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanilla.

Spoon batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping mixture evenly over batter and pat into batter to adhere.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool at least 30 minutes on wire racks before cutting with a serrated knife.

source: recipe from The Southern Living Community Cookbook: Celebrating Food and Fellowship in the American South

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Chicken and Poblano Stew


Today I have an incredibly easy but delicious meal for you: this chicken and poblano stew. The hardest part is roasting the poblano and chopping it up, and even that is easy. I keep cooked, shredded chicken on hand in the freezer, so after chopping the pepper and onion this was literally a dump-it-in-and-stir dinner. It is SO flavorful and tastes just as good for leftovers.

Chicken and Poblano Stew
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 poblano pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
16 oz store-bought salsa verde (I used Garlic & Lime)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
toppings: chopped red onion, lime wedges, sour cream, crushed tortilla chips, cilantro, avocado

Roast the poblano over a flame until charred all over. (Alternatively, quarter the pepper, place the pieces skin side up on a baking sheet, and broil on the top rack until the skin has blistered and charred, 8-10 minutes.) Transfer the pepper (or the pepper quarters) to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the poblano, discarding the stem and seeds if still whole. Chop the flesh.

In a large Dutch oven or saucepan set over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and roasted poblano and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the coriander and cumin and cook until slightly darkened and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the salsa verde and cook until it just comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the shredded chicken and cook until heated through.

Serve over cooked rice with toppings of choice. Serves 4.

source: recipe slightly adapted from Kitchen Confidence

Monday, October 24, 2016

So I have this thing for white pumpkins

This season I've been drawn to a more neutral fall decor, specifically white pumpkins! I love how white pumpkins can make a space feel festive without dominating the room. I'm not the type of person who does a complete overhaul of my home decor each season, so a neutral palette suits me best.  Here's some of my favorite inspiration for white pumpkin decor...

image from the grace house

image from craftberry bush 

image from tone on tone 

image from liz marie blog
image from the grace house

image from a pumpkin and a princess

Friday, October 21, 2016

Honey Oatmeal Bread


One of my favorite things about fall is spending extra time in the kitchen baking breads and sweet treats while a soup or chili simmers on the stove. My mother-in-law has made this bread a couple of times when I've been at their house, and each time I can't stop eating it. It's safe to say that this recipe is my favorite homemade bread. I made a batch a couple of weeks ago and was so pleased with how it turned out. We might have finished both loaves in five days...

Honey Oatmeal Bread
2 cups boiling water
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup honey
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
4-5 cups bread flour
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp rolled oats

In a large mixing bowl, combine boiling water, oats, 1/2 cup honey, butter, and salt. Let stand for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Pour the yeast mixture into the oat mixture. Add 2 cups of flour; mix well. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition, until dough has pulled together and isn't too sticky (I needed the full 5 cups). Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 20 minutes (or you can leave it in the bowl and knead with the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer). Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and form into loaves. Place the loaves into two lightly greased 9x5 inch loaf pans. Cover the loves with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from pans, brush tops of loaves with honey and sprinkle with oats.

source: recipe adapted from all recipes

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What I Read in September

It's time for a recap of the books I read in September! I read several really great books last month that I highly recommend!


I Capture the Castle // I heard about this book on a podcast and was surprised that for being such a classic I've not heard much about it! The book is the journal of a 17 year-old girl whose poor family lives in a falling-apart castle in England in the mid-1900's. The narration reminded me somewhat of Anne from Anne of Green Gables, with snarky, honest observations and witty conversation. I really enjoyed this book, and if you haven't heard of it or read it either, pick it up! 4 stars


Lilac Girls: A Novel // This was our book club pick for September, and I really enjoyed it! It's a long book, and I was excited to have a book that I could really sink into and enjoy for a while. This was that book. It's the story of three different women during WWII: one American, one German, and one Polish. I've read a lot of WWII historical fiction, but this was the first time to read one with the perspective of a Nazi. It brought different things to light, and I really enjoyed the added dimension. In the author's note at the end of the book, I found out that much of this story was based on true people and events! I loved finding that out, which made the book even better. Highly recommend! 4 stars


Taken // I've mentioned before that I don't read much Christian fiction, but that I always enjoy Dee Henderson's books. The plot had unexpected twists, the writing was good, and I loved the characters. I flew through this book and really enjoyed it. 4 stars


Becoming a Woman of Excellence 30th Anniversary Edition // I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review. I had read one previous book by Cynthia Heald but had never done any of her Bible studies. I really, really enjoyed this one. There's no cheesy devotional story; it's just Scripture and good questions with space to answer and reflect. I loved the format and content of this study so much that I ordered another one of her studies that I'm about to start. 4 stars


All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood // The title of this book was a little startling to me, as I do find being a parent fun! But I was intrigued. This is not at all a how-to parenting book; it's a social science book on the effects children have on their parents. There were several chapters that I really enjoyed, and a couple of chapters that I didn't enjoy so much. If this subject intrigues you at all, you can read the author's piece in an old New York Magazine article here. 3 stars


The Tea Planter's Wife // I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. To be honest, I struggled through much of this book. I couldn't really get into it, and if I hadn't been reviewing it, I probably wouldn't have finished it. That being said, I did start to enjoy it about 60% of the way through. The story finally got going, and I was eager to read resolution of the plot. It was a bit predictable, but a fairly good read. 3 stars

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake with Pumpkin Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting


Last week I hosted a girls' night at my house, and I used it as an excuse to make this pumpkin cake. The cake in itself was delicious, and it really could pass as a coffee cake or even pumpkin bread (and I'm not just saying that because I may have eaten a piece for breakfast). The cream cheese frosting with a hint of pumpkin and cinnamon is what takes this cake to the next level. It is such a good combination and the perfect treat for fall. 

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake with Pumpkin Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
for the cake:
1 15 oz can pure pumpkin, divided
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

for the frosting:
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp pumpkin puree from above canned pumpkin
1-2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray all surfaces of a 12-cup nonstick bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour, or grease and flour the inside of your pan. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars together with mixer until fluffy. Remove 2 Tbsp pumpkin from the can and set aside for frosting. Add remaining pumpkin to the butter and sugar mixture, beating until combined. Add eggs, one at at time, beating just until the yellow disappears after each egg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture in thirds, alternating with milk in between each third. Beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips just until combined then spoon batter into prepared pan. Tap pan on counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles. 

Bake until a wood pick inserted near the center of cake comes out clean, 75-90 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

To prepare frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, and pumpkin together until smooth. Add milk and cinnamon and gradually beat in powdered sugar, adding additional milk if necessary, to reach desired consistency. Frost cooled cake as desired.

source: recipe barely adapted from carlsbad cravings