Thursday, December 31, 2015

Easy Peasy Holiday Entertaining

*information for this post was in part supplied by Hormel Foods through their Hormel Extended Family Blogger program. No compensation was received for this post.
A few months back, we made the decision that since our house hunt hadn't led us to the right house for us, that we would enter into the project of updating the kitchen. Originally, we were focused on getting a quote and planning to wait for spring to start the project Then, as luck would have it, the cabinets that we had selected were on a special. We decided that we should take advantage of the discount and get the cabinets. We didn't want to pay for cabinets and not install right away, so we decided to move the whole project up. We chose a start date, knowing that with a 4 week timeline, we would be without a full kitchen on Thanksgiving, but anticipating that we would be back to normal in early December.

Unfortunately, some quality issues with a cabinet, some unexpected water pipes in a wall we removed that had to be rerouted and an issue with the counter top led to an extension to our timeline. I wasn't too worried about this, other than the holidays. We had gotten rather adept at using our bar kitchen and our oven, which was operational most of the project time-frame, to keep ourselves fed. As the holidays approached, I started to worry. I rely on baking to provide gifts to the kids' teachers, my team at work, our neighbors and family. I also have various holiday parties that I attend, where I need to bring a dish to share. All of these things are more challenging without an operational kitchen.

Fortunately, I like to think outside of the box and came up with several things that I could make that provided great flavor and could be made without a kitchen.

For the holiday food day at work, I turned to my crockpot and LLOYD’S® Pulled Pork.
The product is very flavorful on it's own, but since I was planning to warm and hold in my crock-pot I added our favorite barbecue sauce. I grabbed some slider rolls on the way to the office and voila, I had a great dish to share at lunch.

For a holiday gathering with my women's club, I turned to the microwave and Hormel Snackers dips. I took a bag of tortilla chips, some sliced baguette,
two containers of the HORMEL® SNACKERS® Cheesy Bacon & JalapeƱo Dip and two of the HORMEL® SNACKERS® Spinach & Artichoke Dip.

Of course, Hormel Gatherings snack trays would have been another easy solution.
With precut cheese, meat and crackers, it is ready to go and be part of your party in no time.

As for my holiday baking, I fortunately had a counter top and sink installed and reconnected in time to spend a weekend baking. I made over 30 batches of biscotti and one batch each of cut out cookies, Italian Christmas cookies, fudge and bruchtel bars.

How do you entertain at the holidays? What are your favorite snacks to take and share?

No compensation was received for this post. All opinions expressed are mine or those of my family. I am completing this post as a participant in the Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger program. Hormel Foods provided some product samples for my family to try. I also receive thought starters, information and photos that can be used in a post.

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
For the past several weeks, we have been under construction at my house. We decided that it was time to make some upgrades to our kitchen and a project that was supposed to take about 4 weeks, somehow stretched to taking about 6 weeks. It left me with a few days early in our Christmas break, where we had to stay close to home and yet I was unable to do the unpacking into the kitchen that I had planned to complete. On the upside, it gave me the chance to just sit around. It wasn't like I could be doing laundry or cleaning or cooking/baking or anything else, there was construction going on and I had to stay out of the way. While I just sat around, I took advantage of the time and sat around and read...and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Finding uninterrupted time to read is a luxury for me, as life as mom is a busy experience.

The book that I was reading was The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck. I have read a few of her other books, and surprisingly, although not part of the same series, there were still at least one or two references to a character in one of the other stories. Nothing is lost if you haven't read those books, but I love how the author uses that device to help make the other stories more authentic (is that the right word?).

I love how Rachel uses the multi-character approach to telling the story. It allows the reader a greater insight into several perspectives and helps them more fully understand the story. With the story spanning 60 years, although focused in year 1 and year 60, if you will, she also takes advantage of the different times to keep the story moving, both with flashback portions as we are reading the story from one view point or another and with actual sections devoted to telling the story in a current fashion simply set in earlier year of the story. Both of these wound together, really let the reader fully immerse in the story and feel connected to all of the characters. Yet, even in all of this connection, she still manages to surprise the reader with minor turns and twists in the plots. Sure, some of the secrets you start to ponder and question earlier than they are revealed, but even with pondering, it is not until she reveals the turn that you are completely sure that you are right.

The stories told in The Wedding Chapel were realistic and experienced by what I would call everyday people, both of which allow the reader to be more fully immersed in the story and more able to relate to aspects of the story that they are reading. There are two main love stories, surrounded by other stories that help fill out the background, that despite the separation in time find themselves intersecting. There is growth that takes place in the characters and hard news to share and face along the way, as the characters learn and heal on their journey of love.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more by Rachel Hauck.

About the book:

The Wedding Chapel

For sixty years, a wedding chapel sat silent, waiting for love. But times have changed and the hour has come when it just might be too late.

Retired hall-of-fame football coach Jimmy "Coach" Westbrook never imagined anything would come of his labor of love---the wedding chapel he built for Collette Greer, the woman he fell for back in '49. But now an offer has come to turn the chapel into what it was meant to be---a place for love---and Jimmy sees no reason to hang onto his dream any longer.

Photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. Leaving her hometown of Heart's Bend, Tennessee, she put a lot of things behind her, including her family's abysmal marriage rate. But love surprises her when she falls head-over-heels for Jack Forester, a top ad man. Their whirlwind romance results in an elopement, and a mountain of doubt. Jack, while genuine in his love for Taylor, can never seem to overcome his own demons to find the words of his heart.

When Taylor takes an assignment in Heart's Bend, the job does more than send her back to her hometown, but into a world of family secrets buried beneath the sands of time.

When Taylor's journey intersects with Coach's, they rediscover the heartbeat of their dreams and that the love they long to hold is right in front of them. And worth every waiting moment.

Purchase a copy here.

About the author:

Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince. She also penned the Songbird Novels with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Booklist named their novel, Softly and Tenderly, one of 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets.

Find out more about Rachel at

Connect with Rachel: Twitter and Facebook

You can learn more about the book and read other reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.
I have read a number of books by Shelley Gray, but to date, most of them have been Amish fiction. A few months back, I got the chance to read her novella An Outlaw's Heart as part of the book, Among the Fair Magnolias. So, when I saw that she had a new book coming out that was period fiction, I was excited for the opportunity to read it.

Whispers in the Reading Room is set in Chicago in 1893. It turns out that it was the third in the A Chicago World's Fair Mystery series. Fortunately, there was no need to have read the earlier works to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Even from the first chapter, I was drawn into the story and found myself wanting to read more. There were evenings that went a little later than planned, as I convinced myself to read just one more chapter (and then perhaps another) so that I could see what happened next. My husband even made fun of me as I attempted to read a few pages on a short car ride to lunch one afternoon.

As with her other works, this story has great character development. Through the course of the story, I came to know the main characters and yet, they still managed to surprise me in their action.

I frequently find passages that strike me, but rarely share them. In this case, I tabbed the corner, because it was something that I really could relate to, that feeling when you finish a book.

"She still remembered the expression on his face last week when he'd finished and closed the last tome. He'd looked pleased and just a bit melancholy. She knew those dual feelings well - the satisfaction of completing a well-written piece of literature while also coming to terms with the fact that those few moments of pure bliss would soon be replaced with longing for more."

I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those that love period history and those that love stories of mystery and love.

About the book:

Whispers in the Reading Room (Zondervan, November 2015)

Lydia's job at the library is her world---until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World's Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn't merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks-the man so many people fear-is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

Purchase a copy here.

About the author:

Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.

Connect with Shelley: website, Twitter, and Facebook

You can learn more about the book and find other reviews on the blog tour landing page.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.