Friday, March 16, 2018

Guilt-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan SUPER SIMPLE Almond Meal Cookies to Make in a Flash!

I was in the mood for something slightly sweet. I LOVE chocolate chip cookies, but I don't love the high sugar, high fat, and high carbs they contain - and I can't have the gluten, so where did that leave me?

I'd been playing around with the idea of making my own almond flour. Buying almond flour at the store is so expensive. I always have almonds on hand, because they make great healthy snacks. But did I really want to take the time to soak and blanch them? I wanted my cookies then and there, and, truth be told, I had no idea if this would even work. I was about to make almond cookies with almond meal and not almond flour. There's a difference here - meal is almonds in their rawest form, flour is blanched raw almonds with the outer skins removed. *I did find out afterwards that there are some things to consider when grinding almonds and I'll mention them at the end of this post.

I set to work experimenting - hence the lack of an actual recipe.

This was SO SUPER SIMPLE and really very delicious. It satisfied my craving and even the hubs liked them (not the most healthy guy I know, but, hey, there's still hope). Here's what I did:

I literally grabbed about a handful and a half of almonds and threw them into my Ninja. It took mere seconds to grind the almonds down into a very fine meal. I'm thinking you could probably use a blender if you don't have a Ninja or Vitamix. It'll just take a bit longer.

I threw the meal into a bowl and started adding ingredients. I can't say exact amounts, because I didn't measure a thing. Remember, this was an experiment :) My goal was to wet the almond meal into a cookie dough consistency, while adding some of my favorite cookie ingredients.

Peanut butter, a mashed banana, a few broken slivers of very dark chocolate (86% cocoa - the higher the cocoa percentage, the better), coconut oil, a tiny dash of baking powder, and a teeny tiny bit of coconut sugar went into the mix. No egg, no butter...just good for you vegan, gluten free stuff!

I preheated the oven to the usual 350 degree cookie temp. Using two teaspoons, I dropped small balls of cookie dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet (flattening ever so slightly) and baked for about 12 - 15 minutes. The result was a deliciously moist, nutty, yummy, guilt-free cookie. I'm definitely going to do this one again soon and I'll probably add some coconut flakes this time.

Some things to consider...

There are differing schools of thought when it comes to eating almond skins. Since this cookie DOES NOT call for removing the skin, be aware that, while almond skins are packed with additional nutrients, some people have trouble digesting raw almonds if they haven't been soaked beforehand.

I have IBS (the main reason for my gluten free diet) and I can say that these cookies did not upset my tummy at all. Obviously, I didn't eat all nine cookies (I had to share them with the hubby), so maybe, as in most things, moderation is key.

If you have digestion problems you may wish to soak the almonds first, but be aware this means you'll have to soak them for about 8 hours and then let them dry completely before pulverizing them.

Monday, March 12, 2018

YA Paranormal Author Michael Phillip Cash Reveals His Scariest Fears - Book Swag Giveaway Included!

I read a lot of YA novels. I especially love all things paranormal. The creepier, the better. I'm a big fan of Michael Phillip Cash's novels and I reached out to ask him one important question: Name a haunted location where he'd refuse to spend a night. Here's what he had to say...

Kings Park Psychiatric Center

You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough to Spend a Night in Kings Park Psychiatric Center
By Michael Phillip Cash

I write about monsters, ghosts, haunted houses and other paranormal topics. I do it because the afterlife fascinates me. Dead people fascinate me, just as creepy buildings do. But do I want to spend a night in one? Heck no.

If I were to name a place that you couldn’t pay me enough to spend the night inside I’d have to say it would be Kings Park Psychiatric Center on Long Island. Hands down.

Kings Park Psychiatric was built in 1885 as way to alleviate overcrowding at other “insane asylums”, and also as a way to provide more humane care for patients. But by the 1950s things began to change. Experimental psychiatric procedures were implemented and overcrowding became the norm. Things were no longer as humane as they once were and hence the speculation that former patients still wander the halls in a state of eternal unrest…particularly at night.

I’ll definitely leave the overnight sleepovers at Kings Park Psychiatric to paranormal teams and ghost hunters. I prefer sleeping with both eyes closed.

Michael Phillip Cash is the author of the four-book series A Haunting on Long Island. 

Readers can connect with Michael on his website and Facebook.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Review of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I was excited at the prospect of seeing the A Wrinkle in Time movie so I decided to read the book beforehand. I’d never read the book as a child so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. 

I grabbed a copy of the book from our local Half Price Books store (which was NOT half price by the way) and began reading immediately. 

Did I think the book was the "beloved children's classic" so many readers claim it is? Let's see...

Brief Synopsis

An oddly dressed stranger blows into the Murry home one "dark and stormy night”. The stranger mentions a “tesseract”, which clearly upsets Mrs. Murry and daughter Meg needs to know what a tesseract is and why it upsets her mother so much. Meg and her five-year-old brother Charles Wallace decide to use the tesseract as a way to find their long lost scientist father. Before leaving, they meet and invite Meg’s schoolmate Calvin and the three embark on an adventure through space and time.

My Review

At about 80 pages in it became clear to me that this book is a total DUD. I have no idea what the author was trying to do here. It ends up being a book that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be.

Before I go further into my reasons for hating this book, I’ll preface things by saying that I LOVE children’s books. I read and review them all the time. I read to children’s groups whenever possible, so I know what works and what doesn’t. But with this one, I couldn’t help thinking…How did this book become a classic? How did it get so many glowing reviews? How has it been made into a movie? Is Oprah really that influential?

The plot is ridiculous and thin. The characters are so poorly developed; I couldn’t care less what happened to them. The book is far too short for the characters to have any real substance or genuine interaction among them. There was just a lot of zipping here and zipping there.

Right from the start the “it was a dark and stormy night” opening line set the tone for the rest of the book for me. The author’s writing is bland, non-descriptive and flat – describing Charles Wallace’s maniacal giggle as being “a giggle that was the most sinister sound Meg had ever heard” is just lazy writing. That means nothing to me as a reader.

The book was written in 1962, but Calvin’s character used terms that were better suited for a 1930s B movie star – addressing Charles Wallace as “old boy” and exclaiming “Golly day…I’ve been in such a swivet” sounds ridiculous. What high school boy (even in 1962) says that?

With regards to Charles Wallace, the idea of a five year old who acted more like an adult than a toddler was, to me, just creepy. And I didn’t find Meg to be the least bit likable or relatable.

This book is supposed to be geared toward 10 – 14 year olds, but I saw far too many words that just would not be understood by many children in this age group. The thinly veiled religious references did not help either – they served absolutely no purpose aside from perhaps injecting the author’s religious views into the book.

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishing houses before finally being accepted. The author herself mentions this fact in her (boring) interview at the end of the book. She also mentions that her mother put her in contact with a publisher friend, who decided to publish the book…finally. Enough said.

1 of 5 Stars, Susan Barton, DIY Mom Blog

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Book Review of Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna

I managed to snag a copy of Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna from my local library. I’d heard some good things about it and was excited to read it. For the most part, I enjoyed the book. The story was intriguing, but slowed here and there.

Two young girls are kidnapped from a strip mall parking lot while their mother is shopping inside a store. The wealthy grandmother hires PI Alice Vega, who, in turn, partners with ex-cop Max “Cap” Caplan. Although the police are investigating the case, they don’t seem to be getting anywhere so the Feds (one agent, it seems) are brought in. Eventually, all teams work together to find the girls before it’s too late.

The biggest issue I had was with Vega’s character. There was a certain amount of backstory given, but not quite enough to make me understand her “tough as nails” exterior. She seemed too one-dimensional to me. As some other reviewers have mentioned, there was an air of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” about this book – same lone wolf female with a hacker friend she could rely on for Intel, with a law enforcement sidekick at the ready.

I liked Caplan’s character much more than I did Vega’s character. I found him more relatable. I enjoyed the relationship he had with his daughter – even if she seemed to be too good to be true as far as sixteen-year-old girls go…a little too perfect in my opinion.

I could have done without the odd romantic thoughts both Vega and Caplan seemed to have about each other at inappropriate times…what the heck was that about?

There were A LOT of characters in this book, which made it slightly difficult to keep track of everyone. I had an inkling about who the kidnapper was pretty much right away. I just didn’t get the why. When all was revealed, it seemed a little too thin and farfetched, but not terribly so.

I’d like to see Vega and Caplan’s stories become a series. There are certainly possibilities for a series here. All in all, this is a good detective novel.

4 of 5 Stars, Susan Barton, DIY Mom Blog

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blogging For Books Closes Doors For Good

This is a sad day indeed. I just received this email...this very minute...and had to share it with my readers. 

I've loved working with Blogging for Books over the past few years. I was able to receive, read and review many truly AWESOME books, written by some truly AWESOME authors. But all good things come to an end eventually and the Blogging for Books teams has decided to close up shop. 

Blogging for Books, you will definitely be missed by this reader/reviewer. It's been fabulous fun and I've enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for the reading memories!

Email Message...

Hi Bloggers, 

We’re writing to you today with news that after ten years, Blogging for Books is closing down. The last day to request your final title is Thursday, March 15th and the last day to submit your final review is Sunday, April 15th

We have loved building this community with you and we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the nearly 100,000(!) reviews that have been posted over the years. Your feedback—glowing, incisive, thoughtful, humorous, rapturous, and everything in between—has been so valuable. Along the way, we hope we’ve helped you find a new favorite book (or 10). We also have several resources available that we think you’ll love when B4B is gone: 

Netgalley: The same selection of books you’ve come to expect on Blogging for Books will still be available to request as electronic copies! You can visit us here

First to Read: Each month, First to Read offers digital galleys of not-yet-published books to their members. You earn points for your interaction on the site, including reading, reviewing, and sharing. Learn more about this fun program here

Read It Forward: A website with a healthy obsession for authors, stories, and the readers who love them. Every week they host a new literary giveaway and share book recommendations, author videos, and more. Sign up for their newsletter program here

We’ll be in touch several times over the coming weeks to remind you of deadlines and answer questions. In the meantime, you can check out our sunset FAQ here

Happy blogging,
Emma Shafer 

Community Manager
Blogging for Books

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Get Started with Container Gardening - How to Window Box by Chantal Gordon and Ryan Benoit Shows You How!

I have a confession. I love gardening. Well, I love the idea of gardening. I've gardened in the past, but quickly became overwhelmed with the process. Container gardening is so much more manageable. When I received a copy of How to Window Box I was thrilled. This was my way to garden!

According to the book’s back cover, How to Window Box tells readers how to “Cultivate a few square feet of green no matter where you live.” And that’s exactly what this lovely hardcover book does.

How to Window Box is compact – just under 6 x 9 – and less than 180 pages, but it’s packed with a ton of gardening tips, tricks and know-how. After a generous and informational introduction, the authors address sixteen different types of window gardens to help readers choose the perfect garden for their individual gardening lifestyle: 
  • Sand Box
  • Herb Garden
  • Tiny Island
  • Sunny Succulents
  • Ice Box
  • Detox Box 
  • Danglers
  • Rain Forest
  • Edible Petals
  • Jungle Box
  • Salad Bar
  • Flower Stand
  • Woodlands
  • Beach Dune
  • Southern Belle
  • Window Bog

There are many awesome window gardens to choose from, readers are sure to find the perfect garden inspiration.

Each garden type includes advice on choosing the appropriate plants, sun requirements, planting and watering and more. The accompanying photos provide wonderful visual instructions. The photos of finished window boxes are wonderfully motivating. I can’t wait to try my hand at creating some of these beautiful garden boxes.

I love to garden, but large gardens intimidate me. Creating a window box with the help of this book is just what I need to motivate me.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who might be looking for a unique take on container gardening. Thanks to the publisher and Blogging for Books for providing a complimentary copy of this book.

5 of 5 Stars, Review by Susan Barton, DIY Mom Blog

Friday, February 23, 2018

Simplifying Carbs (sort of)

I’ll say this upfront – I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a nutritionist or a registered dietitian. What I am is an informed consumer, who was killing myself by eating bad, BAD foods and not getting enough exercise. 

I made it my business to take control of my health and turn things around before it was too late. That included educating myself on ways to improve my diet. One way that I did this was to severely limit my carb intake.

My Story…

After my ER visit, I knew I needed to make some lifestyle changes. Becoming active again and eliminating sugar and salt from my diet was a no-brainer for me. Unfortunately, I neglected to recognize how eating too many “bad” carbs was severely hindering my health transformation. On my second visit to the cardiologist, the answer to my lack of weight loss and continued high cholesterol levels was clear – I had to cut out the carbs. I’d long since stopped eating gluten, but I was still happily eating gluten free pastas, breads, crackers, etc. Gluten free does NOT mean low calorie. Nor does it mean low carb. Lesson learned. I was just plain too inactive to burn off all of the carbs I was consuming. The answer was two fold - far less carbs and much more activity.

I left the cardiologist’s office that day, determined to quick carbs cold turkey. To do that, I needed to educate myself on the incredibly confusing topic of carbs. Turns out that was easier said than done. This is indeed a subject that thoroughly confuses A LOT of people. I did my research and immediately started on a diet that worked for me, which is important to note here…everyone is different and it’s essential to begin a regimen that’s designed specifically for you and that often means consulting with a professional.

So What the Heck Are Carbs Anyway?

Put in the most simplest way, carbs are sugar molecules that are a blend of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbs are one or more sugar molecules, bound together and broken down into glucose by the body to be used as fuel. In other words, our bodies use carbs as fuel. That’s why we hear about athletes “carbing up” before a strenuous event – think long distance running.

Not all carbs are created equal. If you’ve been considering a low carb or Keto diet, then you’re most likely aware of the term good and bad carbs or complex and simple carbs. Going back to the paragraph above, we’re reminded that carbs are one or more sugar molecules, broken down in the body and used for fuel. The one or more is important here. The three separate types of carbohydrates can be defined by the number of sugar molecules contained:

  • Monosaccharide – One sugar molecule
  • Disaccharide – Two sugar molecules
  • Polysaccharide – Several sugar molecules

Source: Maureen Zimmerman and Beth Snow, An Introduction to Nutrition 

Monosaccharides and Disaccharides are considered simple carbs because they are easily and quickly absorbed in the bloodstream. Polysaccharides are complex because they contain a more complex molecular structure that takes the body longer to break down. Confused yet? You’re not alone. It’s like you need a PhD to understand all of this science stuff. Instead of muddling through it all here, have a look at this incredibly informative and simplified article that goes into the topic of carbs in much greater detail. There’s even a body fat quiz at the end.

The Glycemic Index (Just in Case You Weren’t Confused Enough Already)

The Glycemic Index was developed as a reference for consumers to measure how fast the carbs in certain foods break down in the body. Foods high on the list are absorbed the quickest, causing sugar spikes and have been shown to contribute to diabetes and heart disease. Foods low on the list take longer to be absorbed, thus releasing glucose into the bloodstream more slowly. 

This is why high glycemic foods are generally thought of as bad and low glycemic foods are generally thought of as good. However, what you eat with those high glycemic foods can greatly affect their absorption in the body. 

Whew! I said this was a confusing topic...

If you want to see a detailed explanation of what the Glycemic Index is and how you can use it, the American Institute for Cancer Research published a study here.


What’s the Takeaway?

The important thing is to remember that the more active you are, the more carbs you can consume. Up your activity and you can add more carbs. This is exactly what I did. In order to jump-start my fitness journey I eliminated ALL carbs and boy was it difficult. I was hungry constantly. But that was to be expected. My body was used to gorging on carbs and once I stopped this health-sabotaging habit, it was screaming in protest.  

The good news is that once I reached my goal – weight reduction, lower BP, lower cholesterol and normal blood sugar level – I was able to gradually add some good carbs. No candy, cakes, crackers, chips, pasta or breads, however, but that was a personal choice. I know my limitations. I know how active I am now and what it takes to maintain my ideal weight and good health. Like I said at the start, it’s all personal and you have to find what works for you.

I hope my carb story didn’t drag on for too long. This was a much lengthier post than I normally write, but I blame it on those darn carb explanations. Please let me know about your personal fitness journey. I’d love to hear from you!