Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review: Close Knit Killer by Maggie Sefton

Cozy mystery and Ponzi schemes usually do not go well together; too recent is the news of Madoff and others that defrauded so many out of their hard earned money. But Maggie Sefton has written an entertaining mystery story that has as its center the perpetrator of a Ponzi scheme being murdered. Maybe it is the unsavory character of Jared Rizzoli, who shows up in Fort Connor after having served his prison sentence for a Ponzi scheme that makes this murder not an obstacle to the cozy mystery which combines knitting a la Miss Marple with modern sleuthing by Kelly Flynn. 

Everything could be so nice, Kelly’s good friend Mimi Shafer has had so much success with her knitting store called the House of Lambspun that she is looking into expanding. But then Rizzoli is found dead in a car outside of Mimi’s shop, Kelly must find out who really killed Rizzoli because she knows that Mimi, who is the prime suspect, did not do it. And there are plenty of candidates, who would have seen Rizzoli dead rather than alive. After all, several of Fort Connor’s residents lost money and sometimes more to is nasty Ponzi scheme. 

Sefton has written a mystery that shows how the strength of friendship can overcome hardship and betrayal by others. The knitting group works together to lend each other support when Rizzoli turns up in town and then led by Kelly, the ladies start sleuthing to solve the mystery as to who killed Rizzoli because the police, as so often, is on the wrong track. And regarding the Ponzi scheme hurting so many people, do not feel bad if in the end you almost feel sorry for the murderer, I hoped for an understanding judge as well because Rizzoli was just that kind of unsavory character.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review and upcoming movie notice: The Mortal Instruments - City of Bones

Through I received a book from the The Mortal Instruments series. City of Bones is the first book in the series and describes how the heroine, 15-yeard old Clary Fray, gets introduced to the Shadowhunters. The series is aimed at young adults, but even adults can enjoy the series. Because let's face it  that too many of us pretended to read Harry Potter since our kids wanted them, but we secretly enjoyed them as well. It is no different with the fight that the Shadowhunters wage for the survival of the humans, who they must continuously protect against demons.

available on here

And this book starts off with the bang. Outside a night club in New York City, Clary Fray witnesses as the Shadowhunters, more specifically Jace Wayland, kill what looks like a wild teenage boy. It is only when the boy is dying that the reader and Clary realize that he is not quite as human as he initially seemed. From the darkly colored blood that covers his body to the hissing threat voiced against Jace, we realize that the accusations by the Shadowhunters were true. While Clary was initially defending the boy against Jace and still is shocked by the brutal killking she witnessed, she is soon drawn deeper into the mystery involving the fight against demons. Her mother disappears the next day and Clary herself is almost killed by a creature that she realize is as demonic as the teenage boy killed by Jace.

The rest of the book delves into the secret that Clary was harboring and that explains why Clary is all of a sudden attracting the attention of the demons and also why she has the ability to see the Shadowhunters. Maybe Clary and her mother are not as mundanely human as initially thought? Clary joins forces with the half-angel warriors Shadowhunters and immerses herself into Downworld, an almost parallel New York that is filled with demons, including vampires, werewolves and warlocks.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the first book in the series describing the war between Shadowhunters and demons.

Set in contemporary New York City,
Crowdtap provided the book to me and a digital party kit because at the end of August the movie version of the first book is coming out. City of Bones is premiering August 21, 2013 and has an all star cast including Aidan Turner (from The Hobbit) as Luke Garroway, Jonathan Thys Meyers (The Tudors) as Valentine Morgenstern, Jamie Campbell Bower (Twilight Saga and Harry Potter) as Jace Wayland, and Lena Heady (Games of Thrones) as Jocelyn Fray. Clary is played by relative newcomer Lily Collins, who American viewers may remember from the TV series 90210.

So if you like fantasy stories, especially vampire-based mysteries, this movie should be perfect for you. With the actors listed, you can anticipate the acting should be superb and the book is truly action packed. You can also sense some similarities to Harry Potter. Another human, who realizes through interaction with a special group of individuals protecting earth that they are not really human - see the first book in the Harry Potter series. But unlike Harry Potter, this series is a lot darker and geared towards older children, such as teenagers. This also makes it easier for us adults to justify reading this book, whereas with Harry Potter is seemed a little bit more difficult.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the upcoming movie is for the book of the series, more books are already out!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book and a digital party kit through Crowdtap in exchange for an honest review and hosting a party with friends to discuss the book and the upcoming movie. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party

Fun Shapes Baking Cups - a great way to liven up plain cakes and make them fun for kids to eat!

Kids often demand frosting to eat plain cakes because a simple cake is not fun enough and I try to bake healthy, often substituting applesauce in lieu of oil to reduce the fat content and add some more vitamins.

But Reynolds used to make Fun Shapes, which were aluminum foil baking cups that came in a variety of shapes. Shapes available have included ghosts, which are perfect for Halloween parties. But you could also by stars, which work yearround, or hearts, which are perfect around Valentine's Day. The price was usually around $10 for a set of 24 cups. I hate to use the past tense because I do not believe that Reynolds is making them anymore, which is a real shame because I used to use them all the time for parties to generate individual cakes of adult portions. The seasonal ones were great for holiday parties. Now I have been using regular baking forms out of metal to generate individual cakes, but the Fun Shapes were in my opinion better because you could leave the cake in the form and simply serve it like you serve a cupcake.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a star-shaped plain cake looks so much better than a simple slice!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - mom must have worked forever cutting these perfect stars out of the sheet cake!
I have some of the Reynolds Fun Shapes at home and so yesterday for a party I decided to splurge and tap into my precious reservoir of Fun Shapes. I used the star shapes to make a plain lemon cake more exciting for a party and people were commenting on the fun idea to make individual cakes for get-togethers. The baking time is identical to regular cupcakes or muffin pans. It is just recommended that you put the Fun Shapes on a baking sheet because they are regular foil and so not very sturdy. But I loved using them for parties because it was nice to serve individual cakes and the Fun Shapes were a nice change from the usual cupcakes, plus gave a more adult portion to serve. So I hope Reynolds reconsiders and will come up with a substitute for these Fun Shapes because the star shaped cake looks so much better than simple cupcake or a slice of lemon cake. 

another week of peppers and tomatoes - now the sweet peppers come in all shapes and colors

We finally had rain last night and even though it rained on our neighborhood party, I was glad to see some much needed rain for my garden. I have currently a lot of tomatoes and peppers ripen and so the rain will help since I am trying to cut back on watering my garden.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - just another day in my little garden - supplying me with organic veggies!
Today I had a few cherry tomatoes and a regular sized tomato ready as well as a bunch of sweet peppers in all colors from yellow to red in my garden. The cherry tomatoes are like candy and usually get eaten like candy without cutting or adding any spices - just pop them in your mouth and enjoy! I have already a few regular tomatoes in my fridge, so I will make a tomato salad and will serve some plain tomato sandwiches for lunch this week. The tomatoes from the garden are so much better in flavor and you have never eaten a good tomato sandwich unless you have used tomatoes from your garden.

Here is a sample of a tomato sandwich from Pinterest that contains the staples of bacon and real mayo.
recipe from here
If you do not have your own garden and really cannot or want not start one, consider splurging ever so often on organic tomatoes or visit a Farmer's Market to get some real flavorful tomatoes and treat your family to an old-fashioned tomato sandwich!

For the sweet peppers I found another easy recipe that I will try since Aldi now carries regularly Mozarella.
recipe from here
In the recipe they used mozzarella string cheese, but I will use the regular mozzarella that comes in round shapes because it is softer and to me complements with its even milder flavor the sweetness of the peppers better than packaged string cheese. Good thing I have another Aldi trip coming up soon, so I can put mozzarella on my shopping list and use my plentiful sweet peppers as a snack that is both healthy  and flavorful.

shout out to my neighbors who participated in the The Grill Master Competition at West 94th St. Pub (Woodcroft Shopping Center)

At our block party last night, my neighbors arrived with a cooler full of cole slaw, all perfectly portioned in little plastic containers. I asked why go through all the trouble of pre-portioning the slaw. No one has ever gone through that much trouble for a side dish at our block party. I found out about a benefit event in my neighborhood that I would have never heard about, if I had not asked my neighbors about their slaw.

Turned out my neighbors decided to participate in the Grill Master Competition at West 94th St. Pub in the Woodcroft Shopping Center. The benefit event was intended to raise money for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC and involved volunteers showcasing their best grill recipes. My neighbor decided to participate out of competition by supplying what I can only presume was a much needed side dish to go with all the grill recipes that involved, as can be expected, mostly meat. 

copyright Durhamonthecheap - smoked sausage on a bun and some homemade neighbor cole slaw
The competition started at Noon and free public tasting started at 3PM with a donation of  five non perishable food items to benefit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC. I am sad I missed the event and wished for better publicity to go with this event. Kudos to my neighbors for providing the side dish.

It tasted wonderful for lunch today. The slaw had some kick to it, which I was assured was a secret recipe. So it shall remain a secret, but let's hope for more publicity next year or whenever West 94th St. Pub has more such wonderful benefit events going on. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Goodies box from July 2013 - a couple of my favorite items + a big thank you to their customer service

I have previously reviewed the Goodies boxes that I receive each month and this month was no different. But for the first time I had a hick up in the box. The initial box that I received was missing some items. I initially only received three items instead of the five items planned for this box. Bot no worries, I contacted their customer support and also posted on their Facebook page and within a few minutes I had received a response and an assurance that the missing items would be shipped to me soon. No kidding, I had both missing items on my door step within a couple of days and so a big thank you to the customer service at Goodies for doing things right!

Because the box for July appeared in stages, I will post a review of a couple of items instead doing the full box review as usual. What I will present is the beverage included this month, which was a sparkling orange mango flavored water, as well as a bag of jelly beans-type candy that contained a variety of cherry-flavored candy which contained real cherry juice.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the fruit water in orange mango flavor with zero calories
 The fruit water was awesome. It really tasted like the perfect combination of orange soda and mango flavor and, best of all, it contained no calories. I loved the little sparkle that was added and made it fizzy. The water was refreshing and tasted great. I added lots of ice to keep the beverage cold because despite the zero calories, the soda was quite sweet. But the flavor was intense enough that you could add lots of ice and still maintain a very flavorful beverage.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the cherry candy in 9 different flavors, all shaped like cherries and rich in Vitamin C
The next item I will review was the cherry-flavored candy that was made with real cherry juice and contained lots of vitamin C. The bag contained cherry candy in 9 flavors including cherry vanilla, chocolate cherry, Bing cherry, cherry kiwi and cherry daiquiri. While I was not too fond of the cherry daiquiri, I loved all the other flavors and it was certainly a gourmet-type treat that could be enjoyed as a little snack in between meals.

In addition to these two items, I received the following three items:
  • JalapeƱo and Sea Salt Chips by Sugar Foods
  • Grain Crisps Sea Salt by Crunchmaster
  • Cinnamon Crunch by Cosmo Creations
All three items were excellent. My favorite was probably the Cinnamon Crunch, which were little corn puffs sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. A very light, but flavorful treat.

Overall, for $7 a month I still believe that Goodies is a reasonable priced treat. We do not go to the movies and really for less than the price of one admission to the movie theater, you get a little treat box that you can enjoy and that exposes you to new products each month. Very little risk for the money involved and ever so often you find a product that you really fall in love with and then you can order a regular size product from Goodies. Goodies currently runs a special on many of their products, which makes them cheaper sometimes than Amazon since Goodies also offers free shipping from time to time. 

Disclaimer: I received the items in the Goodies box by paying a $7 subscription fee and all opinions expressed in the blog post are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Aldi recipe: Spaetzle prepared like a carbonara dish with egg, ham and vegetables.

I made one new recipe with all Aldi products because I love comfort food that does not cost a lot. As a regular Aldi shopper, I was able to get a hold of some of the Spaetzle they had on sale during a German week some time ago and felt like cooking a comfort-type pasta dish with them. Spaetzle are associated with German cooking and usually come as a side dish to an entree that has gravy with it. But in Germany, we use Spaetzle like regular pasta and enjoy them because they taste like eggs and give a simple pasta dish a richer flavor.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - Spaetzle with ham, egg, vegetables and cheese.
So I decided to prepare the Spaetzle as usual by boiling them in salt water. Then I added some vegetables from Aldi. I chose the Prince Edward Blend consisting of green and yellow beans and carrots that Aldi had as a weekly special. I quickly sauteed the vegetables in some oil - you do not need a lot to thaw the vegetables and I try to keep the beans crispy. I then cut some Honey Ham into small pieces, added the precooked pasta and heated everything thoroughly. To make the dish a little bit richer since I planned to use it as an entree, I added a scrambled egg that I simply scrambled in the pan. I then portioned out the dish into bowls, added a little bit of shredded cheese and ended up with a quick dinner that was filling, but provided a nice change from the usual pasta dishes that contain lots of tomato sauce.

Best of all, all the ingredients came from Aldi and so the total cost of the dish was a bargain. I like the Prince Edward Blend because it adds some color to the dish, but you can certainly add peas and carrots or any other vegetable that your kids enjoy.

Idea for personalized desserts for your next party - personalized cakes with individual frosting choices

I had gotten some time ago small bundtcake forms at Michael's and figured they would come in handy for personalized cakes. They were very cheap and so I was never quite sure how useful they would be.
Today I decided to try them out since I had some dough left from cupcakes and used one of them to make a little cake.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - individual cakes ready to be personalized by the guests
The cake turned out great and is just enough for one person to eat. I was thinking about offering some fresh fruit, such as berries, as well as some whipped cream and possibly hot fudge sauce to go with the cake and allow guests to personalize it to their liking.

Pinterest has other examples of personalized cakes, often used for formal receptions. But I think a small party can also do with a special dessert and a personalized cake is something that is not seen all the time. These little cakes were still simple to prepare and since I have two cake pans at home, I would only need to do three rounds of baking for six cakes. This is certainly doable; especially if I can combine the baking with some other use of the oven, like today in which the oven contained two muffin sheets and the little bundt cake.

Below are some individual cake from Pinterest. As you can see, you can go simple or fancy. But providing individual cakes is just a nice idea that allows guests to be creative, share and enjoy their little after meal present.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book review and Giveaway: Robert Griffin III Athlete, Leader, Believer by Ted Kluck

Brad new, this book is slated to be available around August 6th, 2013. This book is currently available at here for less than $20.00 on pre-order only, but I am also raffling off a copy of the book. Requirements:
  1. subscribe to the blog
  2. post a comment which athlete (living or dead) inspires you - 1 entry to the raffle
  3. for an extra entry - post a comment which sport you like - 1 entry to the raffle
Deadline is Noon EDT on August 10, 2013. I will notify the winner by email and you will have until 5PM EDT Monday August 12th 2013 to respond. If no response is received by 5PM, I will select another winner.
Good luck!!
Please note: Giveaway is for the hardcover book!

Ted Kluck has made a name for himself by covering various sport-related topics in his books, from boxing through college football. But he also incorporates Christian themes into his book, if a book, such as the "Why We're Not Emergent" is not solely focused on church and religious subjects. In this book, Ted Kluck tackles one of the most enigmatic figures to enter college and pro-football in years, Robert Griffin III. With a foreword by Jim Kelly, Hall of Fame quarterback, this book describes the rise of Robert Griffin in the competitive college football machinery to become a franchise player for the Washington Redkins in the NFL.

The book starts off by mentioning some of the more well known draft busts that were blamed on over eager fathers, coaching their sons from a young ago to be an NFL quarterback and the sons that suffered burn out way too early and never lived up to the hoped-for NFL career. Kluck draws an important distinction between these players and Griffin because Griffin wants to be challenged and wants to be driven by his father. He wants to be the best and sees his father's input as help rather than a must. Moving from describing the style of running quarterback that Griffin represents and the history of draft day, with its uncertainty about what is the best pick for the team, Kluck then goes into a more detailed analysis of the role that Griffin has to play within the Redkins franchise, while also carefully analyzing the potential and limitations of Griffin.

The book concludes with an analysis of the quality of quarterbacks from various draft years and then moves into a quite significant appendix that will be loved and appreciated by every NFL fan. Kluck ranks the current quarterbacks into tiers based on potential and proven record. But also includes a glossary of football terms that every reader, especially those less familiar with football but fascinated by Griffin's story, will appreciate. The latter part of the book is exemplifying how adept of a sports writer Kluck is. His love of analyzing sports and delving into the details of a players potential are details that will make this book relevant for years.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free book through booksneeze. The opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Book Review: Town in a Pumpkin Bash by B. B. Haywood

A couple of women, Candy and Maggie, that try to bring some holiday cheer and make some extra money by transforming the largely underused pumpkin patch into a Halloween extravaganza, complete with home-made goodies for sale and a wonderful hayride that stops at the piles of pumpkins of various sizes and fake graveyard. Nothing could go wrong? Well not quite since for starters among the fake graves and piles of pumpkin a real dead person is found, who has been murdered. 

But Candy would not be Candy, if Cape Willington’s very own sleuth would not get personally involved in solving the heinous murder. It turns out that the dead person was a potential client that Candy was supposed to meet regarding a vacation rental. But Candy gets further drawn into the mystery when one of the hayride visitors asks Candy to look into a missing journal of his relative. And if that is not enough, Candy finds out that the location of the present crime was the exact location at which a long time ago another dead body of a young woman was found, who died under mysterious circumstances. No one was ever able to identify the identity of the woman or what precisely happened to her. Will Candy be able to solve both crimes or will she be stumped? 

This is a book in a series, in which several prior books were issued. I encountered some references that likely make more sense if you start with the first book of the series and read your way through the books in chronological order. But even without knowing anything about the prior books, this is an enjoyable book that proves a quick read. The book is not describing several mysteries combined in one plot. Despite this complicated sounding storyline, the book is straightforward and the author does a good job to guide the reader through the developments. I would describe this book as a vacation book, something easy to read that you can put down and pick up again, whenever the bad weather prevents you from hanging out at the beach.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Butterfly Bush for butterflies and hummingbirds

I grew up with a butterfly bush in our backyard and so one of the first things I bought when we moved into the new house was a butterfly bush or Budleia seedling. Aldi had them on sale for around $2 and since it is a hardy shrub that requires little maintenance, the little seedling has grown into a significant shrub in our front yard after 3 years.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - purple Budleia in the front yard

I wanted to attract butterflies since they are useful in the garden and also beautiful to look at. I remember looking out the kitchen window as a child and observing the butterflies on our Budleia back home. But for the last two years I noticed that I got bonus critters with our Budleia. Hummingbirds are regular visitors to the shrub as well.

I initially thought I may be mistaken, but googling found this online reference that actually lists Budleia as a possible component of a hummingbird garden. And while I blogged about the Budleia and its use to attract butterflies before, looking outside the window this afternoon I saw the rapidly moving wings of a hummingbird near the shrub, indicating that it is now hummingbird season as well.

So really, consider adding a Budleia to your garden. They are hardy shrubs that need little maintenance, except maybe some watering in really dry summers, and they reward you with butterflies and regular visits by hummingbirds.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book Review: A Bride for All Seasons: The Mail Order Bride Collection by Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Mary Connealy, and Robin Lee Hatcher

What attracted me first to the book was the opportunity to read four short stories by different authors in one book. The four female authors got together to collaborate on a book about mail order brides back in 1870, when single women from the East moved to the then Wild West seeking marriage. 
available on here
As if the likely culture clash between the urban East and the cowboy and farming-dominated West was not enough, in each of the four stories further mishaps occur. In part, the romance is off to a bad start because the marriage broker Melvin Hitchcock, who manages the Hitching Post mail order brochure, embellishes the bios for the prospective husbands to make them more attractive to women.

To me it was interesting to see how the style of the authors came through in the individual stories, even though the topic is identical and how each author decided to incorporate the topic into a story. It was as if I was a teacher reading four assignments from students on a given homework topic. I would give all students an A+ on this assignment. Every author managed to bring their own style to the story, some even tied the story into prior books by them, while some wrote totally new stories with new characters. Every single story is entertaining and presents interesting twists that the prospective brides encounter in their search for love.

The mishaps precipitated by the less than truthful biographies of the prospective husbands range from unexpected children present, nowhere mentioned in the letters, to the bride assuming more responsibility and quicker than anticipated. Overall, the stories are funny, witty and keep the reader entertained. While the different styles of the authors come through, the identical topic generates enough of a common thread that the book does not seem like a forced co-existence of these stories. Some background reading also indicated that the authors actively collaborated on this book and that strengthens the common tie that weaves through the stories.

This book comes from a Christian publisher and while some elements of the Christian belief do come through in the stories, this is not an overtly religious book and should entertain people of all faiths.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from booksneeze in exchange for an honest review. The opinion expressed herein is solely my own and has not been influenced by any third party.

Music Review: Amelita by the Court Yard Hounds

You may be more familiar with the Court Yard Hounds than you think because the duo was formerly 2/3 of the Dixie Chicks. They now bring out their second album, entitled Amelita and consider this duo a band. Which I think is important. The are not the Dixie Chicks or a duo project by members of that band, they are their own band and create their own sound as Court Yard Hounds. As Emily Robinson stated "We like our sound, and we’re going to continue to do this, and share something new this time around"

So a few years after taking a break from music in the limelight, Emily and her sister Martie Maguire got together, formed a new band and now  present Amelita as their second album. Its 11 tracks differ markedly from their 2010 debut album because Robinson comes fresh off a divorce and feels that newly single, she is now open to new ideas and ways of looking at life. In her words, the album is therefore "not only a more hopeful album, but it’s more… well fun." You can convince yourself about the more hopeful album by ordering it from Amazon or iTunes. They even have some of the tracks available for free and the best way to have a quick listen to the preview songs is by following Court Yard Hounds on their Facebook page here. One of the available songs is a free recording of Divided that the Court Yard Dogs did for Yahoo Music.

Before going into more detail on how I liked the album, here are the tracks included on Amelita:
  1. Sunshine 
  2. Amelita 
  3. The World Smiles 
  4. Aimless Upward 
  5. Guy Like You 
  6. Rock All Night 
  7. Phoebe
  8.  Divided 
  9. Gets You Down 
  10. Watch Your Step and
  11. The Road You Take
I also want to include how the second half of the band feels about the Court Yard Hounds and their new album because Martie has added her own impressions of where they stand as a band. She states "I love this band...the way we explore new aspects of ourselves and what we can expect from each other, both musically and as people." She actually feels that being on the road and in the studio is a like a retreat from being a mom, which has its own everyday challenges. 

To find out more about where you can listen to the Court Yard Hounds and get preview samples of their music, you can follow them on Twitter. Martie's account is here and Emily's account is here.

I have listened to the album now several times and I know why they made Divided available. I love the song. It is mellow, reflective, but also and maybe despite of the rather slow melody, beautiful to listen to. The harmonies between the sisters are fantastic. Another song that I really liked was Phoebe, slightly more upbeat and actually kind of feisty. It reminded me more of a typical country song, but still had the gorgeous harmonies by the two sisters. I find that the variety of songs is great on the album, offering something for almost every (country)taste, from slow moving harmonies to fast paced modern country/pop crossover records.

  1. Disclaimer: I participated in this campaign for One2One Network. I received a free copy of the CD to facilitate my review. By posting, I am eligible for incentives. All opinions stated are my own.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: A Friendly Game of Murder by J. J. Murphy

Dorothy Parker hosts as New Year’s Eve Party in the famous Algonquin Hotel and for entertainment devices as Whodunit game, in which each guest draws a card to determine the murderer and detective. Sound like a fun time, until one starlet is found really, really dead and that was not part of the game. With Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among the hostel guests, Dorothy Parker and her sidekick Robert Benchley do not need to look any further than the hotel guests to solve the mystery, preferably before the real police shows up. 

And without police the guests will be for quite some time because the hotel is under quarantine and so the guests are stranded in the hotel like on a deserted island with a killer in their midst. The author allows us to enjoy the wit that Dorothy Parker was known for and gives us at the same time a snapshot of New York in the roaring twenties. The book is a quick read, in part because of the witty comments that are thrown in during dialogues and kept my laughing out loud while reading the book in one afternoon. 

Dorothy Parker, known for her witty remarks, is captured perfectly by the author in this fictitious book and adding a character such as Arthur Conan Doyle to the mix presents to the reader a wonderful experience of seeing these two characters interact while solving the crime at the Algonquin which survived to this day. Do you need to be familiar with Dorothy Parker to enjoy this book? No, certainly any reader enjoying wisecracks will be amused reading this book. But fans of Dorothy Parker will especially enjoy this creative adaption involving Ms. Parker. 

Overall, this a quick read, in part because the dialogue between characters is broken up by enough Dorothy Parker comments to make the reader chuckle along. I found this book to be a well researched period mystery, some romance thrown in, but overall the focus is clearly on the author trying to imagine how someone like Dorothy Parker would solve crimes in her day. I believe the author succeeded in doing this and generated an interesting mystery book at the same time.

Kroger grocery trip - free items and lots of Manager's Special

I got a discount for a Redbox rental and had to get gas, so off I was to Kroger and since it was Friday I also planned to pick up the freebies that Kroger had advertised the last two weeks - Quaker Chewy Bars and Clean Total Care Shampoo.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - a total of $12 was spent for this grocery haul, which included beef for stew
 And I score several bargains. The bakery had reduced donuts (dozen for $1.99) and apple turnovers for $1.49. The turnovers are a rare treat since they are regularly priced at $3.99 and totally out of my budget. I may buy the cherry flavored turnovers, but the apple are our favorite and rarely on clearance and now we had them two weeks in a row - definitely getting spoiled!

I also grabbed the freebies, the shampoo and the granola bars. This meant I saved $4.99 and $2.39, respectively. I love Digital Coupon Friday at Kroger and lately have been lucky enough to get the bargains. Again the shampoo would not make it on the list because it is so expensive, but I have had it before as part of a product sampling campaign and love it. So I really appreciate Kroger making it available for free!

The bread was free  and so for the first time in a long time we will be eating fresh bread, no managers special for the artisan bread. The nectarines were on sale for 99 cents and I decided with all the savings I could splurge and buy this treat for the weekend. Mushrooms were reduced and reasonable, so we will be having a meal with the mushrooms as meat substitute.

The  biggest and most welcome surprise were the Healthy Choice Lunch Express in Sweet and Sour Chicken. I have never bought them before because they are close to $4 and too expensive for a lunch meal. But they were reduced at 67 cents and the expiration is not until the end of 2013. So I even did my best climbing wall imitation because of course the last two portions were on the top shelf and way in the back. But I managed the grab them and now I am a happy camper because we love sweet and sour chicken and rarely get this treat. They are fairly healthy with 17% of sodium RDA and at less than 400 calories. So the enjoyment will be double, sweet and sour chicken for lunch and not feeling guilty about eating sodium bombs.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - even if the beef was a good deal, it will be stretched with vegetables into meals ...
The last item I bought was meat. I rarely buy meat these days because the prices are outrageously expensive. Not just Kroger, but everywhere, meat prices, especially for beef, have just skyrocketed. But I gave in and bought some stew beef that will be mixed with garden vegetables to get several meals out of this portion of beef. I have plenty of peppers. The above image shows one week worth of peppers and a few tomatoes will be added. I may also add some of the mushrooms to be able to make several meals and also freeze a good portion.

So overall, a very good shopping experience and all that for not quite $12. Now I have scanned in all my items for my Nielsen points and can finally relax with a cup of iced coffee and a fresh donut - YUMMY!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

TV review: Adam-12 on Me-TV - when a fictional TV show is so realistic that the actors can win real LA Police Department awards!

I will start with a clarification first: I was selected by the Classic TV Blog Association to participate in their Summer of Classic TV Blogathon. I was very happy to be honored by having my blog included in this campaign because I love watching the crime shows from the 50s and 60s. Having emigrated to the USA in the late 80s, I never got an opportunity to watch shows like Dragnet, Adam-12 or even Rockford Files when they appeared on TV during their original runs. There was no financial reward offered for writing this blog post and the opinions expressed in this blog post regarding the specific shows are solely my opinion and have not been influenced by any third party. 

I love to watch TV shows from the 50's and 60's. So you can imagine my excitement when I finally upgraded to a new flat screen TV and my channel line up expanded to include Me-TV. The crime shows are my favorite and currently the weekday line-up includes such as favorites as Hawaii Five-0, Perry Mason, Ironside, Dragnet and Adam-12 on Me-TV.

I had heard of the other shows before, but Adam-12 was totally new to me and when I mentioned it at work, barely anyone younger than 50 years of age had heard of the show. So I want to use this opportunity to introduce a show that I think it a well made and still relevant crime show.

photo taken from Ken McCord's website at

Adam-12 was created by Jack Webb of Dragnet fame and follows the adventures of two LA policeman starring Kent McCord and Martin Milner. Milner's character Malloy is the senior member of the team, while the show picks up with Reed (played by McCord) about to graduate from the police academy. In the initial episodes we see Malloy having to provide advice on proper procedure to Reed repeatedly because it is clear that while you may graduate from the academy, you still have a lot to learn as a rookie cop. This is picked up in subsequent episodes as well as some other characters join the force or join Malloy and Reed on patrol. We also gain some insight into the family life of Reed, who is married and will have eventually a son. The worries of the wife of a cop and the strain that the constant danger can put on a marriage are also a frequent theme, especially in the earlier episodes. Malloy is a bachelor, through not for lack of Reed trying.

What really sets Adam-12 apart from other cop series and where you can clearly see the influence of Webb is the emphasis on educating the viewer about procedure. So while Malloy has to advice Reed on procedure and safety, the viewer is participating in the lessons as well. In subsequent years, as Reed needs less advice from Malloy, the partners need to educate other characters in the series and again we as viewers get the benefit of this advice as well. Similar to Dragnet, realism of police work was the central theme of Adam-12. Codes for calling in lunch breaks, proper procedure for asking a driver to pull out the registration from the glove department and the interaction between cops and neighborhood groups all figure into the scenes that make Adam-12 a typical Webb production. I immediately fell in love with Adam-12 and continue to watch it. Even reruns seem to have little things that I missed the first time around. Another wonderful experience when watching Adam-12 is the cast of future stars that got their start on this series. Included in this list are Royal Dano, a well known character actor that was present in many shows in the 50's and 60's and later could be seen on Little House on the Prairie. Also making guest appearances are a young Mark Harmon, Frank Sinatra Jr, and June Lockhart.

the fictional cops received real LAPD awards (image from

Interestingly, both McCord and Milner received awards from the LS Police Department (see image above from For those readers familiar with Dragnet and Jack Webb, you may recall that Webb was buried with a replica LAPD badge for the rank of Sergeant. I think the fact that Webb, Milner and Reed all were honored by the LAPD is an indication how well the series Adam-12 was written and how close to reality Adam-12 was and is. I therefore rarely miss an episode and even watch reruns because the series, lasting only a 30 minute timeslot, is so fast-paced that almost each sentence is important. One episode, in particular, comes to mind when talking about LAPD awards. Reed risked his life getting Malloy, who was wounded to safety. As a result Reed is supposed to be given an award recognizing his bravery. Normally a joyous ocassion, Reed's wife is not happy since she is worried about him getting killed on the job. It looks like for the longest time that Reed will get going solo to the award event because this episode put a serious strain on his marriage. In the end, things turn out okay, but the episode underscores that many cops risk their life each day on the job and that their families carry a heavy burden as well. So providing McCord and Milner with a real LAPD award is justified, considering that they starred in a series that realistically showed the dangerous job of a policeman.

Usually each episode will have several plot lines that sometimes merge, but often stay separate. Add into these plots the scenes in which the routine of the LA cops is shown from how reports are a never ending part of the day to trying to call in a lunch break, only to find out that a bank robbery got called in. If you enjoy Dragnet or any well-made crime drama, give Adam-12 a try, you will not be disappointed.

Disclaimer: This post is part of Me-TV's Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to to learn more about Me-TV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows. The opinions expressed in the post are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Get a FREE Goodies box with Promo Code - limited number available, must subscribe before 7-25-13

I got a great surprise from Goodies today. My subscribers can get a free, yes that is rigt absolutely free, Goodies box. I have posted images of prior boxes in the post, so you can see for yourself what variety has been included and keep in mind - a box is only $7/month = bargain in these times.

Goodies, as you may know from prior blog posts, is a subscription service box that ships for the price of $7/box a sampler box with an assortment of new treats, snacks and beverages. All you have to do is go to their website (make sure it is .co and NOT .com) and sign up for a new account. You will have to enter a credit card, but with the promo code, your first month is free. So you can now sample Goodies boxes without any risk.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - June 2013 box

So here is the PROMO CODE: - just click on the hyperlink below. 

Subscribe now with promo code: PSsJ6kXrP

While at the site, check out the shop tab and look at the contents of prior boxes. I have been quite happy with Goodies and so far have not considered leaving the company. This is in stark contrast to other subscription services, which I either never subscribed to because I had no use for the items included or which I stopped my subscription to because the quality of the boxes decreased too quickly to justify staying with the company.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - I think this was the February 2013 Goodies Box
Goodies has really consistently brought great selections and now also includes a beverage. The drink can either be a sleepy drink to calm you down at night or a fancy aloe-containing fruit beverage. They really try to give you a variety of items and so the box usually has something for every taste. And at $7, the price is low enough that you can subscribe to it and not break the bank.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - I think this was the March 2013 Goodies box.
 I have randomly picked some images from prior boxes because I had them on my computer stored from earlier blog posts. I have been consistently happy and I do not believe that any of the items pictured are still in my pantry. Normally, everything included in a Goodies box will disappear within a week.

Disclaimer: Let me just add a disclaimer to be clear - I received the promo code because I have been using Goodies for almost a year. I did not receive any other benefit from the company, other than that I can provide a code to friends and family and blog readers. So yes, the opinions expressed on this blog about Goodies are my own and have not been influenced by Goodies or Walmart or anyone else. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who knew? Kazakhstan, you know "Borat", makes pretty good chocolate

I was never really a fan of Borat and his ridiculing the country of Kazakhstan and really felt bad when the fake Kazakhstan anthem was played by mistake at a sporting event, which a woman from Kazakhstan had won. But a colleague of mine had just returned from a vacation in Kazakhstan and brought back chocolates. Yes, many of you will wonder why vacation in Kazakhstan. But quite frankly, why not? Certainly off the beaten path and by his accounts visited by plenty of Germans. The Germans visiting Kazakhstan in good numbers can easily be explained by the history of German migration and settlements in Kazakhstan. For several centuries Germans were invited to settle in Russia, forming a quasi independent colony, with its inhabitants commonly referred to as Volga-Germans.

Like many things, WWII brought this life to a grinding halt. Stalin force-migrated many of the Volga-Germans from their "native" Volga area to more remote areas, including Kazakhstan. Today, still around 1.4% of the population of Kazakhstan are considering themselves Germans. So that explains why so many Germans visit Kazakhstan. After WWII and particular in the 1980s many of the Volga Germans emigrated to countries such as Germany. If you visit North and South Dakota in the USA, you will also find that a lot of the "Germans" trace their heritage to Volga Germans and Sen Tom Daschle is one of them.

But enough of history and back to the chocolate that I got to sample. Of course being a dedicated blogger, when opportunity strikes to sample something unusual, I need to blog about it. Below is an image of the chocolate. It came in a little box of 24 individually wrapped pieces. Each piece showed a different golden artifact traced back to the nomads in Kazakhstan.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the foil says " the gold of nomads" and shows a gold seal-ring
 The chocolate was really quite good. It was not too sweet and more bitter than American chocolate. But it was not simply a bitter milk chocolate. It was bitter in a way that you expect dark chocolate to be. I am fan of dark chocolate, so I actually really like this Kazakhstan chocolate made by a company called PAXAT.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - the chocolate, not too sweet, has PAXAT embossed on it
Google is your friend when doing any kind of research these days and so googling PAXAT and chocolate did show a number of results. I rarely go to visit any Russian or ex-Soviet Republic-associated sites on the internet because malware is often associated with foreign sites. But this one I was brave enough to click on since I got to it from an associated German company, who partners with PAXAT to import sweets. So be brave, here is the site for the company that produced this delectable chocolate.

website in Kazakhstan for PAXAT here
And you can recognize on the image above the little box of chocolates that I took my sample from. The box in the center with the 24 little chocolates, wrapped in green and gold, and now I actually know that at least that product of Kazakhstan tastes very good.

Looking around the site some more, they really seem to have a nice selection of milk and dark chocolate. Based on my little sample, I certainly would not be opposed if they started importing this chocolate to the USA. So now you know something besides Borat about Kazakhstan and the next time you have a lull at a dinner party mention that Kazakhstan makes really good chocolate!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I love the summer - fresh vegetables from the garden

copyright Durhamonthecheap - some of my peppers that I keep harvesting from my little garden
With all the rain we have had my garden is more plentiful this year than in past years and especially the peppers are doing well. I bought a variety of pepper plants, including some green bell peppers, some colored bell peppers and some banana peppers. Now the bell peppers are growing well and I have all colors and shades of peppers in my house and keep cooking and freezing on a weekly basis.

If you have never had a garden because you think you do not have the time or the space or the green thumb, think again. I never expect a lot from my garden because I do have deer and I usually travel in the summer, which means the watering will be irregular at best. But each year I have enough to freeze for the winter. If you have a balcony, get a pot and put a tomato or pepper plant in it. So what if you only get a couple of tomatoes. Having a garden is fun and good for you. I spent about 30 minutes each sunny day cleaning out weeds  and making sure that all is well. That is 30 minutes outside on nice days that I would not be outside at other times.

I encourage all my readers to start a garden. No matter how small, maybe even a little herb garden. It is fun, good for you and you may even get enough vegetables for one salad!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This book deserves to be called epic. With close to 500 pages of text, the author tells the story of two people, Ciro, and Enza, that spans several decades and takes us from a small village in the Italian Alps to the New York City. In the process, we relive two World Wars as well as changes, such as the emancipation of women and first generation immigrants becoming American citizens. 

Adriana Trigiani understands masterfully to draw complex characters and lay the foundation early for developments occurring much later in the book. We meet Ciro as he and his brother Eduardo are dropped off at a monastery by their mother, who relies on the nuns to feed her two young boys. We follow the brothers as they grow up among nuns and in this village, Ciro first meets Enza. But fate does not bode well for their relationship as Ciro is forced to leave the nuns and is shipped off the USA. Enza stay behind, but soon fate forces her as well to immigrate to the USA in hopes of a better economic future. 

Ciro and Enza meet again in the USA, but Ciro is about to deployed during World War II and their meeting is brief, with Enza determined to make something off herself as an independent business woman. She does end up having business success and when Ciro comes back from the war, I had hoped there would be a happy end. And maybe there is? 

This book had me turning pages slower than I hoped. I really wished I could be a speed-reader so I could finally see whether the two lovers meet and can find happiness. Credit goes to Ms. Trigiani who describes the characters in the book with such detail that I was not surprised to learn that the inspiration for this story came from her own family. I have to say, having several Italian friends, the characters in this book reminded me of some of my Italian friends and how they approach a good or a bad ending.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: The Secret of Happy Ever After by Lucy Dillon

Who has not envisioned the old fashioned English villages that had to move on from the time of Miss Marple to present day? But I personally can never quite see them lose their character and for me they will always be a wonderful mix of tradition and modern conveniences. In this latest book by Lucy Dillon, we delve into one of these villages, Longhampton. This is the place, in which Michelle and Anna work and live, with an emphasis on living. Because Longhampton, despite its everyday problems, is a wonderful community and Michelle, a woman with a knack for business, has a bookstore that is a meeting point for the locals. 

Through the viewpoints of Anna and Michelle we learn about village life, the characters of the people living here and slowly but surely although about the personal problems faced by both women that even the most wholesome of villages cannot hide, because both Anna and Michelle do have problems. The women are the center of the story and their relationships that grows and strengthens through the story is to me an important aspect of the “action” in this book. 

This book by Lucy Dillon is described as a novel, but to me it is also a story about the friendship between two very different women. Michelle, the business women, outwardly strong and determined, who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. On the other hand, Anna is more relaxed and intend on ensuring peaceful relationships between her family members. But Anna also has a strength that Michelle comes to appreciate as we find out that Michelle is a very troubled person, in need to help and support from others. 

Lucy Dillon has written a wonderful story, Uplifting in the end despite a few stumbling blocks along the way. If you value friendships and consider honest friends that stand by you no matter what an important asset, this book will confirm that you are right in valuing these friends for the lifesavers they sometime turn out to be.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer Time in a salad!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the rain has certainly helped my garden. This is an average week!
 I love the summer because it means that my garden is actually producing vegetables that I can put on the table and all the removing of weed and mulching the rest of the year actually paid off. The above image shows an average week and this year is definitely better than usual. This is in part due to the ample amounts of rain we have had this year. I have not even once watered the garden, but then we have rain on a regular basis and that certainly helps letting the garden look lush. I have only peppers, tomatoes and herbs in the garden, but at the rate everything is growing that selection seems to be plenty.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - a fresh salad with home-grown veggies and some store-bought extras
One of my favorite ways to use vegetables from the garden is in salads. So tonight, a home-made salad with fresh garden tomatoes and peppers was on the menu. I added some olives out of the jar, cheese and a lettuce base. Since there was some left-over pork schnitzel in the fridge, this got cut into small pieces and added as protein source. There was also some left over cole slaw from the July 4th stock and so each plate got a spoonful of that added. The result was a very filling salad plate that had a variety of textures and flavors. In terms of the salad dressing, I use mostly oil and vinegar since I do not like the salad dressings available in stores. Often they use too much garlic, are too rich or have some other ingredient that creates an off taste.

So if you want to save on organic vegetables, start your own garden. A porch or small balcony is enough for a couple of pots with tomatoes or pepper plants. And an herb garden can be grown on a window sill.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The New Neutrals - nail polish by L'Oreal from the Color Riche Nail Color Shades Collection (new in 2013)

Through House Party and Redbook I had received several new nail polishes by L'Oreal and was pleasantly surprised that not all colors were red and red and more red. L'Oreal has really created some great colors this season, almost neutral in hue and for someone like me who loves to wear neutral colored clothing, these colors work out great.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - in the upper right the new colors by L'Oreal for nail polish - love them!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - above I am using Royally Reinvented by L'Oreal, a light lavender shade

Today, despite it being in the 80s and humid as usual (we just had another rain shower), I ventured outside to work in the yard. The shrubs needed cutting - badly. Not my favorite job, but it is also good exercise for my shoulders since I get to lift the heavy duty hedge trimmer above my shoulders for more than an hour. Then raking up all the twigs and branches and trying to stuff them into the yard waste container, I was definitely exhausted coming in around Noon and then noticed that my toes had lost most of their polish. No problem, this just gave me an excuse to apply a different color and I was overdue for a change anyway. So I picked a blueish color and figured it will go well with workday clothing.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - this time the shade is Now You Sea Me - a grey/turquoise combination.

As you can see, the colors are more muted and thankfully not all in various shades of red. I do not like red as a make up color and prefer greens, blues or more neutral shades. For both color, two applications was enough to achieve a good coverage. I just bought a new pair of open toed shoes and the Now You Sea Me will go well with the light brown color.

So after all this work, I allowed myself a nice iced coffee made from regular coconut-flavored coffee and regular milk.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - working in the yard & doing nails, now I deserve an iced coffee - AHHHHH!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: A Killer Maize by Paige Shelton

What starts out as a small town fair with some rides and a few market stalls changes quickly into a murder scene swarming with police. In the middle of it all is Becca Robins, who was asked to set up a small market stand to sell her products and help attract more visitors to the fair. While neither she nor the Swayton County Fall Festival saw a marked increase in visitors, that changes when the operator of the ferris wheel is found dead.
The day before all hell breaks loose, Becca had started a conversation with the murder victim and had intended to learn more about his background. Now she wished she had not delayed this talk because she is looking at very few useful clues to solve this mystery. But she muddles through and with the help of the local police she can sort things out in the end. The storyline has some interesting twists and additional facets, such as a gypsy curse, are thrown in to make the storyline more complex. Despite the twists and turns, the author never gets distracted from the actual goal of solving the crime and the reader can leisurely follow the step Becca takes to determine the identity of the killer. 

With the mystery moving along at a good speed, the author also manages to weave a good bit of romance into the storyline. Becca, while trying to solve the murder, also needs to solve her problematic love life. She is torn between two equally attractive men, her boyfriend Ian and police officer Sam. Since she had to work closely together with Sam to solve the murder and Sam, much to Becca’s dismay, is a tad old-fashioned in his moral view of commitment, Becca is struggling equally to sort out this mess as she is to determine who is responsible for the murder. Add in that her ex-husband Scott is operating the shooting gallery at the fair and her personal life can be at times overwhelming. Despite this tumultuous build-up, the author manages to lighten these problems through witty comments by Becca. The tone of the story is definitely light and the book overall is entertaining the reader in the tradition of cozy mysteries that have a bit of romance thrown in. 

I like this book because having lived in the Midwest for a number of years the fictional town of Orderville is reminiscent of many small towns I encountered during these years. Even the fair resembles some of the fairs I attended. And while I was initially wary of the many lovers and personal connections that Becca has, the author does a very good job of interweaving the romance with the mystery story without confusing the reader. Overall, for a mystery story that has a very strong romance subplot, this book is excelling at keeping both angles separate enough throughout the book to avoid that the reader feels being sidetracked by the subplots.