Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Passage at Delphi (Book Review)

Passage at Delphi, by A.K. Patch, is historical fiction written with a different spin.  I had the opportunity to read it, at no cost to me, for review purposes.

As always, I'll first give you the official synopsis.  This is from Amazon, and it's somewhat different from the back cover material:
The lives of history and ancient language professors, Lauren and Zack Fletcher, have been upended in ways neither could imagine in this epic adventure tale that takes readers from sunny San Diego to the stunning vistas of ancient and modern day Greece. The Fletchers carry on their academic lives with relative ease but they are splintered by their contention over career goals and starting a family. Now, unbeknownst to them, they’ve been drafted to take part in events that will span millennia and decide the course of mankind’s future. Lauren and Zack have been propelled into an ancient Greek war, forcing them to confront a past that is both familiar and terrifying. To return home, they must overcome warfare on a massive scale, set aside their recent marital discord, and find within themselves the wisdom to navigate treacherous routes of survival. Dreams will be dashed and others realized as Lauren and Zack negotiate a dangerous dance of cultural wonder, calculated risk, and unintended consequences.
Chapter 1 is set in present-day Delphi, Greece, and it sets up what is to happen.  (I was glad that the author included maps of the region, because I didn't know the relative locations in which the story takes place!)  Chapter 2, set in present-day San Diego, California, introduces us to Zack and Lauren.  By Chapter 8, through a series of events, the couple is transported to ancient (480 B.C.) Delphi.  That's the setting for much of the storyline.

The copyright page describes the book this way:
This is a work of fiction based on actual persons in historical context.  Other names, characters, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner.
Most of the historical fiction I've read doesn't include real persons interacting with fictional characters.  Most also doesn't include time travel, and Passage at Delphi uses time travel both backward and forward.

It's a secular book, and it contains some some profanity, rough language, and uses of the name of God in vain.  The occurrences aren't frequent, maybe once every five or ten pages.  You can decide whether that's acceptable for you or not.

Thoughts and observations:  
  • This was one of those "Just one more chapter before I turn out the light" books for me.  (And then, because some of the chapters are very short, "Okay, one more!")  
  • I didn't know the history, but narration and dialogue filled that in.  I didn't love the way the main characters seemed to explain ancient history to each other.  They both knew it, so wouldn't have had to spell it out; however, it serves to inform the reader.
  • While Greek mythology isn't the main part of the book, the god Apollo is a central character in the story.
  • The major theme is foreshadowed in the preface with a reference to a virtue carved into the forecourt of Apollo's temple at Delphi:  "Know Thyself."  Zack and Lauren encounter many situations that force them to be tested, to uncover their core beliefs, and to make choices about what really matters.
  • The ending begs for a sequel.  No surprise, since this is Book I of the author's Apollo Series.
Links for more information:
* If you click through my Amazon affiliate link and complete a purchase, I will receive a small commission.  Thanks!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

RawSpiceBar Spice Blend Subscription Box (Review and #Giveaway)

Recently I've been hearing about a lot of subscription box companies.  Some are definitely not for me!  But I've told you about one that I like, and today I have the privilege of telling you about another.  I was given the chance to try RawSpiceBar, at no cost to me, so I could tell you about it.

RawSpiceBar sends monthly packages of spices and blends, each representing a different region.  Some are international, such as Japanese and Peruvian, while others are from U.S. cuisines, like Memphis and Baltimore.  The spices are freshly ground in small batches and shipped within a few days, so they're fresh when you receive them.  Each packet contains enough to prepare a dish for four to six people, so it's enough to try something new without making a big investment in flavors that you might or might not like.

The first package I received was the Istanbul Spice Box.  As you can see from the description, it contains two traditional spice blends and one ground chile.  As you can see from the image in this post, each packet is labeled with a description of its contents (e.g., "Thyme and sesame seeds provide a nutty flavor, balanced by floral herbs and acidic sumac") and suggestions for its use (e.g., "Stir into olive oil and serve on bread, dust on eggs or oatmeal or use as dry rub on chicken or vegetables.").  In addition, I received a recipe card; more recipes are available on the website.

Here's how it works, what you'll find in each box, and what makes RawSpiceBar so special:
  • 3 freshly ground spices & blends with a new regional theme
  • Kitchen-tested recipes for cooking 3 global dishes serving 4-6
  • Spice stories & culinary history of each new region
  • Surprises like bonus spices, toasting tips, discounts and other fun stuff
Here are my thoughts:
  • Like many, I think, I tend to fall into a routine of making the same dinners over and over.  I like to experiment in the kitchen but don't always take the time to find new recipes.  A new set of spices each month gives me a nudge to try something new.  It's a great idea!
  • At the time of this writing, the cost is only $6 per month (with free shipping in the United States).  In my opinion, that's an affordable luxury, and it would make a wonderful gift.
  • I haven't tried the Istanbul spices because my family doesn't care for Middle Eastern flavors.  However, my niece, who loves Middle Eastern food, read the descriptions and said that the blends sound both delicious and authentic.
  • In my experience, the boxes have not arrived in the advertised time window (the 15th-20th of the month).  I wouldn't plan to use them on a specific date, just in case.
So would you like to win a six-month subscription to this "way cool" subscription box from RawSpiceBar?  All of the details are in the Rafflecopter widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Seeing in the Dark (Book Review)

Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book, at no cost to me, for review purposes.  All opinions in this post are my own.

Thanks to the Tyndale Blog Network, I had the opportunity to read Seeing in the Dark:  finding God's light in the most unexpected places, written by Nancy Ortberg.

Here's the description from the back cover:
Christians are supposed to be "the light of the world." Yet we seem to spend most of our time stumbling in the dark. We want answers carved in stone, and instead we get uncertainty. We want a clearly marked path and a panoramic view of the future, and God gives us only fleeting glimpses of what lies ahead―and just enough light to take the next step.
So what do we do?
We do what thousands of Christ followers have done before us. We take the next step. 
In her much anticipated follow-up to Looking for God, Nancy Ortberg takes readers on a journey that began thousands of years ago. From an ancient cave in Turkey to the California coast, Nancy highlights the often unexpected, sometimes imperceptible, yet always extraordinary means God uses to light our way through even the most painful and challenging moments in life.
With personal experiences and historical examples, the author tells of people who have been in the dark:  unable to see what lies ahead and, often, doubting that God is paying attention to what's happening.  With wisdom learned and with scripture, she offers hope.  Here's a passage from Chapter 7:
I--we--sit at the feet of those who have lived in the darkness.  Most of them, too, had periods of resistance, or at least wishing it weren't that way.  But they stayed.  And the way they emerged on the other side of the darkness contained so much light that we are torn between needing to look at them and needing to look away.  Noble, stirring, courageous, lovely--the way a soul should look, but we forget it can and what it takes.
"My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).  On the cross Jesus despaired over where the light had gone.  The light he was so familiar with.  The light that was in him, the light that was him.
But three days later came his resurrection.  A light that the world had never before seen, the strongest light that will ever be....
I see the chapters as writings that could stand alone, rather than as a single cohesive unit.  That's neither good or bad, just a subjective observation.

I'd rate Seeing in the Dark as solidly okay.  (It's very uncomfortable for me not to be positive, but I have to be honest.)  I've read quite a few books on the topic of getting through difficult times and the perceived absence of God, so maybe my reaction is different from what yours would be.  Perhaps because I've read so many other books on this, I didn't find much new content here.  The stories and examples are, of course, new to me, but the assurances are not.

Links for more information:
Another disclosure:  Amazon.com links in this post are my affiliate links.  If you click through and complete a purchase, I will receive a small commission.  Thank you!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mary's secret ingredients Fall Box @MSIfoodiesbox (Review)

Back in July I wrote about the summer box from Mary's secret ingredients.  It was so much fun!

Now I have the opportunity to review the fall box (at no cost to me), and I'm eager to share it with you.

In case you missed the first review, I'm copying the description of the seasonal boxes from Mary's secret ingredients.  As of this writing, the prices are unchanged.
Have you heard of Mary's secret ingredients (MSI)?  The website describes the service this way:
MARY’s secret ingredients is a limited edition culinary surprise box containing unique gourmet, artisanal products along with handy kitchen tools. Every season, a limited number of themed boxes filled with lovely surprises to inspire your cooking are delivered right to your door. Mary shares mouthwatering recipes using each box’s ingredients on the LOVE – the secret ingredient blog.

So four times a year, the team at Mary's secret ingredients assembles a collection of natural, gourmet foods as well as small kitchen tools.  On the company website you can see the contents of previous boxes, but each season the boxes are entirely different.  As I'm writing this, each box sells for $25.95, or you can get a one-year subscription for $103.80.  (Those prices include shipping in the continental US.)
Now that you know the idea, I'll share with you the fun of unboxing the surprises!  This is what you see when you open the shipping box.  Looks prettier than most of the packages I gift-wrap! :)  I didn't peek at the insert papers, because I didn't want to spoil the surprise.

The first item we (my son and I) uncovered was this picture:

This 5x7 print is on cardstock, so it's suitable for use as a postcard, or it could be framed as wall art.  The original pastel drawing was done by Mary, and it shows some of the produce from her own garden.

Next up, this two-pack of jellies adorned with a small stirring spoon.

Jenkins Jellies specializes in "pepper jellies with a REAL KICK!"  Their jellies are made in small batches with fresh ingredients. no preservatives, and no artificial ingredients.  The jar on the left is Hell Fire Pepper Jelly, the company's original and best selling jelly.  It's made with seven fresh hot and sweet peppers, and it's described as "sweet-n-savory."  The jar on the right is Guava Brava Pepper Jelly, which combines Hell Fire with the flavor of guava.

I had to try these so I could tell you about them.  For each I tasted it straight from the jar and I put a little, maybe half a teaspoon, on a tortilla chip.  (I didn't have any saltines or other mild-flavored crackers.)

Hell Fire is definitely hot.  It has a little sweetness up front and a lot of heat in the middle and on the back side.  (Does that make sense?)  Even a few minutes after eating it, I could still feel the heat.  On the tortilla chip it was really, really good!  The flavors combine well (sweet, hot, AND salty!) and I'd just add a little bit of something creamy to offset the heat.  Maybe top some plain cream cheese with the jelly, or serve it with sour cream.  I wouldn't premix either of those, because it wouldn't look nearly as pretty.  This jelly could easily become an addiction.

Guava Brava does, as advertised, have more sweetness up front, and the heat wasn't as powerful.  It was good on the tortilla chip, but not quite as tasty as Hell Fire.  I think I'd rather have this on a plain cracker, maybe with a thin slice of cheese.

Sarah's Sea Salt is made by Coastal Goods, a small, family-run company that specializes in seasonings.  Sarah is one of the founders so I would imagine that Sarah's Sea Salt (Tuscan Salt) is named for her.  It's described as "a medium grain Mediterranean Sea Salt blended with a classic mix of dried Italian herbs, tomato flecks, lemon peel, and rosemary oil."  When I opened the jar, I got the aroma of rosemary and maybe thyme.  (I don't use thyme, so I'm not certain.)

I would have expected Sarah's Sea Salt to be mostly salt with some other flavors.  However, it looks like this ...

... so I think it contains much more of the herbs than salt.  The texture blend makes it look appealing, and I'm thinking it might look and taste good with olive oil on crusty bread.

The fourth item was Ultragrain All-Purpose Flour.  Unlike regular AP flour, this contains 30% Ultragrain whole wheat flour.  According to the product information, you can substitute it cup-for-cup in recipes without sacrificing taste.

I haven't tried this.  At first I wasn't sure how it differed from white whole wheat flour.  This is my understanding of the difference:  Both Ultragrain and white whole wheat flour are made from white wheat, rather than red.  Ultragrain also sells a 100% Ultragrain Whole White Wheat Flour.  The AP blend that I received combines 30% Ultragrain with 70% traditional white flour.  That would make it softer (lower in gluten), so it's better for baking foods that you want to be tender:  cakes, muffins, pancakes, and so on.  (Flours with more gluten are better for crusty, chewy breads, so I'd use the 100% Whole White Wheat flour for that.)  The blend lets you add whole grain and fiber without compromising taste or texture.

And finally, we have a set of POURfect Ultimate Measuring Spoons with Leveler Tool.

We all have measuring spoons, so what's the difference?  For one thing, these "are the only Made in USA, 100% accurate spoons that snap off one at a time, have markings in English, Metric, and Braille, and are comfortable to hold."  For another, the set includes some sizes that aren't common, such as 1-1/2 teaspoons and 1/3 teaspoon (especially handy when dividing a recipe)--and spoons to measure a dash, a pinch, a smidgen, and a drop (along with their equivalents in English, Metric, and Braille).  These are pretty neat, particularly for a new cook who might not know the difference between a dash and a pinch.  I can't imagine trying to measure a liquid--say, vanilla--into the "drop" spoon, but I think the others could be useful.  Oh, and they come in several different colors!  Mine look white in the photo, but they're light blue.

I like that the spoons easily snap on and off the ring; that makes them easier to use and to wash.  I don't see an indication that these are dishwasher safe.  The handles are too wide to fit into the flatware slots of my dishwasher, but (shhhh) sometimes I just rinse measuring spoons, anyway.

Winter boxes, which will contain a completely different set of products, start shipping on December 5.  I think this would make a great Christmas gift!

For more information on Mary's secret ingredients and the individual products I've described, visit the MSI website.  (Click on Marketplace/Partners to read about the products.)  You can also connect with Mary's secret ingredients on YouTubeon Twitteron Pinterest, and on Facebook.