Sunday, September 22, 2013

How NOT to Make Homemade Apple Cider

Well, I think I can now write a book on what NOT to do when attempting to make homemade apple cider! At the end of two plus hours of slicing apples, several more hours of trying to run the things through my food mill, giving up, cooking the apples just slightly (to soften them), running them back through the food mill creating applesauce, squeezing the applesauce through a towel (since I couldn't find cheese cloth at Wal-Mart today-thanks Wal-Mart!), throwing out the rancid tasting apple juice, putting the next batch of apple sauce through the sieve without the towel this time, creating apple juice instead of apple cider (which doesn't taste that bad considering I don't really like apple juice), remembering that the kind Mennonite farmer who tried to teach me how to make apple cider told me NOT to cook the apples or we'd have apple juice instead of apple cider, cutting MORE apples, pulverizing them in the food processor, decided that they weren't pulverized enough so I put them in the blender (which did absolutely nothing except frustrate me further), put the pulverized apples into a different sieve (since the other one is still occupied trying to make apple JUICE), squeezed the heck out of it with my kitchen gloves protecting my beautiful nails, I now have (okay, HAD - I drank it already) exactly 1/2 cup of apple cider (which was pretty good, not great), about two cups of apple juice, two large bowls of compost (apple cores & seeds), three large stock pots coated in syrupy apple parts, a sticky blender, a sticky food processor, a sticky food mill, two sieves full of what looks like dehydrated apple sauce, two sticky large slotted spoons, three sticky mixing bowls, two sticky rubber spatulas, sticky sinks and counters...and it's way past my bedtime. I need a magic wand to clean this mess up so I can go to bed. And I'm not sure I can look at another apple for a long, long, long time. Should I try again tomorrow? I still have a LOT of apples!

This is my favorite food mill...which did NOT work for this particular project, but makes great apple sauce, tomato paste, etc.

This food mill is one of the best investments I've ever bought for my kitchen. I love it! Just not for making apple cider. Have you ever tried to make homemade apple cider? What's your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book Review of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol starts off much like every other Dan Brown story chronicling the adventures of Robert Langdon: a creepy guy, a secret ritual, a visual description of Robert that captures his personality by describing his clothes, traveling to an exciting city late in the evening having been called there by some mysterious rich friend with the allusion that he is there to help solve a mystery, a story about Robert’s fear of elevators and flashback to some traumatic childhood event with the hint that this story will be essential to the plot, and obelisks. Always there is an obelisk. But maybe that’s what we really, really like about Dan Brown novels. He knows how to tell a story. This one’s a page turner. It has a lot of cliff-hangers. I kind of like cliff hangers, but I think it’s a little over-done. Just when you get into the story, it stops and leaves you wondering what’s going to happen next and then the story switches to another part of the plot.

I love how Dan Brown novels have a healthy dose of intense, cutting edge science that makes me want to go out and study whatever topic he’s describing. In the case of The Lost Symbol, Noetic science is discussed in just enough detail to pique my interest and make me want to learn more. I actually did some searching and found some interesting websites about it. There is also a good deal of religious teachings that are so close to being right, yet are missing key points of the truth so that I wanted to yell and say “Wait! There’s more to that than what he’s telling you!” Also, with regards to religion, Robert is always such a skeptic; to the point of being repetitive. If he really trusts this old, wise friend of his, then why does he not believe him when the truth is explained to him? Robert is a scientist and thus has to question everything religious. Or does he? Science and religion prove one another. Isn’t that what science does? Prove that something is real or not real? If there is proof right in front of him, how can he not trust it? And what does religion do? Bring to a clear understanding the true nature of God. Thus religion makes science understandable.

Dan Brown novels also include multiple villains, or perceived villains, and chases involving law enforcement agencies with seemingly endless resources at their disposal. It is very difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and there is a constant sense of ‘who is really trying to help Robert’ and ‘who is actually out to hurt him.’ In The Lost Symbol, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gets involved within a few chapters and spends much of the rest of the novel chasing Robert Langdon. It is obvious to the reader who the true villain is, yet also obvious that multiple people in the story are actually working with the villain rather than against him. It makes the reader question the integrity of the characters and see conspiracy theories and hidden agendas throughout the story.

The symbols and imagery throughout the book are great, but I’d love to be able to see all of the art and buildings and maps that he describes. I’d like to read an illustrated version of the book.

There are a few really profound quotes from the book that I enjoyed. I’ll share a few of them here:

These were the thoughts of the (fictional) Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Reverend Dr. Colin Galloway: “From the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to American politics – the name Jesus had been hijacked as an ally in all kinds of power struggles. Since the beginning of time, the ignorant had always screamed the loudest, herding the unsuspecting masses and forcing them to do their bidding. They defended their worldly desires by citing Scripture they did not understand. They celebrated their intolerance as proof of their convictions. Now, after all these years, mankind had finally managed to utterly erode everything that had once been so beautiful about Jesus.”

These are the words of Peter Solomon while speaking to a lecture hall full of college students: “Truth has power. And if we all gravitate toward similar ideas, maybe we do so because those ideas are true…written deep within us. And when we hear the truth, even if we don’t understand it, we feel that truth resonate within us…vibrating with our unconscious wisdom. Perhaps the truth is not learned by us, but rather, the truth is re-called…remembered…re-cognized…as that which is already inside us.”

Have you read The Lost Symbol? What’s your opinion? –Julie

I'd like to read it again alongside the illustrated guide!

Other Books by Dan Brown:

His latest novel: Inferno (which I'm reading right now! I'll share a review later!)

The first in the Robert Langdon series: Angels & Demons

Dan's most famous novel: The Davinci Code

I've read Deception Point, but I don't remember what it's about. Guess I'm going to have to read it again!

Digital Fortress is different than other Dan Brown novels in that it mostly takes place in one location; the main character doesn't travel the world like in others of his novels.

Several of Dan Brown's novels have been made into movies! The Davinci Code and Angels & Demons

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer

Book Review of Glimmer of Hope by Sarah M. Eden

I love Sarah’s writing style! It’s not very often that I find a good book written in a third-person omniscient narration. It’s how I always write, and I love it because I can express the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters and how they relate to one another. But back to Sarah! I liked the high level of romance in Glimmer of Hope. It felt like the whole book revolved around Carter and Miranda’s relationship. It wasn’t a story that contained characters; it was characters with a story swirling around them. The story was the characters. One of the first things I noticed was an underlying hint of Miranda’s illness. It was obvious in the way she mentioned several times being tired, even though she was quite young. It was also evident from the beginning of the story that although she was living a life of luxury, she was kind to her hired workers and even tried to improve their lives. I was glad that Sarah introduced both main characters right away. I also liked how they didn’t mess around with being angry at each other for too long before they were drawn to one another. They stayed angry for a long time, yet they couldn’t stop seeing each other. It was an interesting dynamic, having a married couple separated yet living (if only briefly) in the same house. Again, I’m glad that Sarah chose to share the story with us from Carter’s perspective as well as Miranda’s because had I not known his thoughts I would have thought he was a heartless jerk who was borderline abusive. Knowing why he was acting the way he was, and realizing how hurt he was by the thought that she had left him, helped me as the reader to feel some compassion for him. I thought it was funny that someone else had to point out to Carter how mean his mom was to his wife. Typical male! Did I say that out loud? Anyway, as a whole I liked the book and it has drawn me to want to read the rest of Sarah’s books. Put ‘em on the ever-growing list! Have you read Glimmer of Hope? What’s your opinion? -Julie L. Spencer

Other books by Sarah M. Eden:

Check out my book review of Seeking Persephone here.

I recently lost 42 pounds on the Take Shape for Life program! Want to check out my weight loss transition? Click here! -Julie L. Spencer