My Favorite Books of 2017

Who can believe that 2017 is coming to a close already?!?  Each year since about 2014 I have set a goal for myself in regards to books.   I loved to read, but didn’t really have any direction.  Choosing books was done by wandering the aisles of the library or book store at the airport and searching for a cover that looked intriguing.  (Yes, I totally judge and buy books because of their cover!)

Since then, I have become much more strategic.  Reading widely is important to me, but also enjoyable.  This year I read fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, memoir, nonfiction, Christian nonfiction, parenting, self-help, young adult, and even business.  This list is not meant to brag at all, but just a reminder that you may have read more than you thought because you might not have included a book you read for work. And not to mention, were you even aware of all the different categories?

I can, and do, read multiple books at a time as much for the “palate cleanser” aspect as also for my differences in mood.  Disappointingly I won’t meet my goal this year, but I do think it has been a great year for reading!  Book choices were struggling in the beginning but ended on a very strong note.  Even though I already had a gift guide, these would all make excellent gifts for the holidays this year!  Without further ado, here are My Favorite Books for 2017!

HISTORICAL FICTION

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins–This fictional account of a traveling gypsy boy in Ireland captured me.  Cummins has an amazing ability to portray the mind of an 11 year old boy, his deep connection and love of his grandfather and deep desire to be like everyone else his age.  Part coming of age, part historical fiction, this beautiful novel transported me to a time and place I may never see but left me feeling as if I traveled the road with them.  Full review here.

THRILLER

The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

The Tears of Dark Water  by Corban Addison–Though I didn’t do a full review on the blog, I did add this to my gift guide because I liked it so much.  Smart, thought-provoking and page-turning, the thriller aspect wasn’t wasted on lack of depth.  Told from three perspectives, this book has stayed with me much longer than I anticipated.  Short review here.

NONFICTION

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi–Kalanithi’s moving memoir of fighting to live his life after being told of his terminal cancer diagnosis.  The irony, though, was that at the time he was in his final days of completing residency for neurosurgery.  He was an expert in his field, helping people live and yet he quickly became the dying patient.  Deeply moving and hopeful.  Full review here.

INSPIRATIONAL/CHRISTIAN LIVING

The Lifegiving Home by Sally Clarkson      TIE!         The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell

The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson–Part practical tips for creating a welcoming and warm home, part philosophy of why family is important, I loved the way the Clarkson women offered tips but encouraged the reader to find their own rituals, rhythms and routines that make up their family culture.  Beautifully written (and that cover!) and great content.  Full review here.

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell–Beautiful call to action by someone who was tired of not knowing her neighbors…so she did something about it.  A few recipes (good ones!), practical tips and motivational inspiration for you to create a stronger community where you live.  Another beautiful cover!!  Full review here.

If you would like to follow the books I read throughout the year, be sure to follow me here on Goodreads.  If you would also like to set up your own account and track your books, it is a great motivator!  Be on the lookout for more book club info coming in 2018!

What were your favorite reads of 2017?  Do you track your books and reading?  What is your preferred system?

Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

There are times when you need to come up with a beautiful dinner and fast.  You don’t want to spend hours scouring Pinterest or magazines or old cookbooks.  (You should come here first!)  Then, I will have just what you need for the perfect meal.  Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken is holiday worthy but certainly easy enough for a weeknight.

As I have mentioned, one of my favorite things about December is our annual Book Club Christmas Dinner.  We all bring something, enjoy dinner together and chat about our year of books.  This is our third year and I anticipate it every year.

Since I love to entertain, I always feel this is an opportunity to make something elegant, try something new or challenge my baking skills for something over the top!  Because I host, I always make the main dish.  Wanting something festive but not overly fussy presents a challenge sometimes, but this year I think I found the PERFECT dinner.  Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken proved to be easy to prep (especially ahead of time!) and delectable to eat!  I can’t wait for you to try this at home!

First, add fresh cranberries, olive oil, soy sauce, real maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, garlic cloves, sea salt and black pepper to a food processor or blender.  Puree until liquified.  Pour over chicken in pan.

Marinate chicken for 4 hours or overnight.  For juicier chicken, choose bone-in, skin on chicken.  (If you prefer boneless skinless chicken, you certainly can, you will just need to reduce cook time.)

One hour before roasting, pull chicken out of the refrigerator.  Flip chicken over in the pan, roasting skin side down.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Pour remaining fresh cranberries over the chicken and tuck stems of fresh thyme around chicken.  Roast for about 25 minutes, then flip chicken.

Once chicken is flipped, glaze chicken with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar and put under broiler to crisp up skin for about 6-8 minutes.  (If using boneless, skinless chicken, broil 3-4 minutes).  Chicken is done when juices run clear and interior temperature reads 165 degrees.  Serve chicken with extra juice, roasted cranberries on top and fresh cracked black pepper.

Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken is elegant enough for company, easy enough for a weeknight and tasty enough for everyone!  Consider this beautiful meal if you are looking for a festive dinner!

Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

10 minPrep Time

35 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2.5 lbs. bone-in skin on chicken thighs or breasts
  • FOR THE MARINADE
  • 1/3 c. fresh cranberries (or frozen)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. soy sauce*
  • 2 T. real maple syrup
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • fresh thyme
  • sprinkle of dried Italian herbs
  • remainder of fresh cranberry bag (about 8 oz)
  • 1 T. EACH of real maple syrup and balsamic vinegar to make glaze

Instructions

  1. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Add to glass baking dish.
  2. Add all marinade ingredients to food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Pour over chicken, cover and marinate for four hours or up to overnight.
  3. One hour before roasting, remove from refrigerator, flip chicken to skin side down. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Add remaining cranberries to the pan and tuck fresh thyme sprigs around the chicken. Roast chicken (skin side down) for 25-28 minutes.
  5. Pull chicken from oven, flip chicken to skin side up and glaze with maple syrup/balsamic mixture.
  6. Broil chicken skin side up for 6-8 minutes until skin is deep brown and crispy. (If using boneless skinless broil only 3-4 minutes).
  7. Chicken is fully cooked when juices run clear and interior temperature is 165 degrees.
  8. Serve chicken with extra juices, roasted cranberries and a sprinkle of fresh thyme for garnish.

Notes

*If you would like to make this recipe paleo or Whole30 compliant, exchange soy sauce for coconut aminos. You will use one whole 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries for this recipe.

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http://www.thecomforttable.net/roasted-cranberry-balsamic-chicken/

Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

Happy Tuesday everyone!  Our weekend was full of pjs, Christmas crafting (just imagine giving two toddlers pattern scissors in every style imaginable.  Paper scraps e v e r y w h e r e……..) and decorating gingerbread men.  A perfect way to enjoy a quiet Christmas weekend!


Notice not many candies made it on the gingerbread…

About once a month or every six weeks I get a major craving for something warm for breakfast.  Sometimes that means pancakes, but most of the time I want baked oatmeal.  One person I dearly love didn’t want to try my baked oatmeal “because I don’t like oatmeal” when they were visiting my home.   Oh, my friend.  This is NOT gloppy, sticky oatmeal.  Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal really is probably the best I’ve made.  It is a warm hug from the heavens that just sent you a foot of snow to admire.  While you eat this.  In your pjs.  and drink coffee all day.

Apple Cherry Steel Cut Oatmeal is meant to comfort, savor and enjoy slowly.  I describe this as more of a warm oatmeal cookie fresh out of the oven rather than soupy texture we made out of those packets as kids.  (Have I convinced you yet??  Am I getting obnoxious about oatmeal yet???)  Well, anyway, it is cozy, warming and perfect for a hearty delicious breakfast.

First, in a large bowl combine brown sugar, unsweetened applesauce, eggs, old fashioned and steel cut oats.  Mix gently to combine.  Add baking powder, cinnamon, salt and milk.

Add chopped apple and dried cherries and mix until just combined.

Pour into buttered baking dish and bake for 35-45 minutes.  Press down until there is an even layer on top and oats begin to soak up the milk.

Top with brown sugar, milk and toasted pecans.

Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oats has great texture from the two types of oats.  If you aren’t crazy about oatmeal, I dare you to try this.  Not only will you feel healthy with all those oats and fruit, you will feel sophisticated.  Smarter even.  Ok, maybe not, but your standards for oatmeal may have risen.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  You just might love it!

Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

5 minPrep Time

40 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. old fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 c. steel cut oats
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 c. milk (any kind is fine)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped (I used Pink Lady)
  • 1/3 c. dried cherries
  • 1/2 c. whole pecans, roasted with sprinkle of salt
  • brown sugar, milk for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Add first five ingredients to a large bowl and mix gently. Add next six ingredients (through cherries) and mix until thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour into buttered 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown.
  4. While oatmeal cools slightly, toast pecans in DRY small fry pan over medium heat. (Do not use oil, heat nuts in dry pan). When you start to smell the nuts, remove from heat and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve over warm oatmeal with extra brown sugar and milk.

Notes

This recipe easily doubles for a 9 x 13 pan. I love the texture of the mixed oats but can also use just old fashioned oats. Feel free to use coconut oil to grease pan and almond milk to make dairy free. Finally, don't omit the pecans, they take this over the top!

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http://www.thecomforttable.net/apple-cherry-baked-steel-cut-oatmeal/

For other recipes, click here.

What is your favorite breakfast on a cold morning?  Do you have an “elevated classic” that you love?

Book Club Selections 2017

Happy Friday everyone!

Things had been lovely and unseasonably warm this last week and then poof!  Fall was gone and Winter arrived with a bang.  I hope you all are enjoying some of your favorite holiday traditions as I have been this week.  For us, that means cocoa for the kids, fires in the fireplace for my husband, and for me, my annual Book Club Holiday Dinner.

Image result for book club

Using all caps above makes it sound formal and fancy, but really it is just a chance for me to celebrate some of my favorite people who join me once a month to celebrate one of my favorite hobbies: reading.

I’m putting the cart before the horse here a bit because I plan to tell you all about my book club, how it started, how it keeps going and how you can start one too!  All this will be coming in 2018, but I decided I wanted to give you a taste of what we read.  You might consider joining us in our selections or start a book club of your own!

This list includes all the titles we read this year.  (If you didn’t find anything on my Gift Guide, consider some of these titles!)  I will also include genre and my rating for those who are curious.  You might also consider following me on Goodreads since this isn’t the full list of books I read this year.  You can be sure, I’m always reading something!  Without further ado, here is our list!

  1.  In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord  (Nonfiction)
    Author McCord (name was changed for protection) left her job in the US to minister to women in Afganistan.  Through her work with an unnamed relief organization, she was able to invest her time and energy getting to know and sharing her faith with the women of Afganistan through rich relationships.  Not only did she learn the culture and rhythms of the Afgani women, she had to learn and abide by the strict rules for her safety.
    Rating: 2 stars
  2. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House  by Kate Anderson Brower (Nonfiction)
    Spanning the presidencies of LBJ through the Obama administration, Brower interviews the staff of the six (!!) floor White House of the last few decades.  Staffers that served the president and First Family dealt with everything from the LBJ’s oddball requests and hot temper to Jackie Kennedy’s emotional moment after her husband’s assassination.  A poignant moment for Hillary and her daughter was noted as well as staff’s reactions to September 11th.  Fascinating, well-researched and thorough from multiple perspectives, the peek into one of the most fascinating jobs in America kept me turning the pages.
    Rating: 4 stars
  3. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Fiction)
    Allan Karlsson is sitting in his room at the retirement community preparing for celebrations of his 100th birthday.  The longer he contemplates the festivities, the more he wants to leave.  So he does.  His “escape” sends the town scrambling and Allan on an adventure almost too ridiculous to imagine.  Quirky, light-hearted and polarizing reviews with readers, this book will leave you laughing or just plain confused.
    Rating: 2 stars
  4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson  (Fiction)
    Retired and widowed Major Pettigrew runs into his neighbor, Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali on the day of Pettigrew’s brother dies.  Pettigrew is so stunned, Mrs. Ali kindly offers to drive him to the services and he finally agrees.  Later when he contemplates her kindness to him, he sets out to thank and repay her.  Though their differences abound, Pettigrew grows to appreciate Mrs. Ali and her kindness.  Their relationship continues to blossom, in spite of Pettigrew’s obnoxious son who disapproves.
    Rating: 4 stars
    Full review here.
  5. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis  (Nonfiction)
    Lewis’s autobiography of sorts, chronicling his early years, particularly those surrounding the death of his mother and his challenging relationship with his father.  He describes his pursuit of Joy and how his schooling and reading helped further his journey.
    Rating: 3 stars
    Full review here.
  6. Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McClain (Historical Fictional, based on a true story)
    Based on the story Out of Africa, the real Beryl Markham is moved to Kenya from England so her father could start a new career as a horse trainer.  Her mother can’t take the change, so she leaves her with her father and returns to England with her little brother.  That left Beryl in the hands of the native tribe sharing the land to raise her.  Beryl deeply felt that abandonment for the rest of her life, chasing after everything to numb the pain.
    Rating: 3 stars
    Full review here.
  7. All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg (Memoir)
    Bragg is a former journalist for the NYT and author, even a Pulitzer award winner.  In this memoir, he tells of his humble upbringing and how he owes all that he is to his mother.  Very southern and I loved this one particularly for sparse prose and fantastic descriptions.
    Rating: 5 stars
    Full review here.
  8. Jellicoe Road by Melinda Marchetta  (Fiction, YA)
    Taylor Markham reluctantly becomes the team leader in the annual battle between the Cadets and the Townies at her boarding school.  She still struggles with her mother abandoning her as a child and now her friend and mentor has gone missing.  Not only that, she learns that her opposing Cadets leader is Jonah Griggs, who brings out the absolute worst in her.  When she starts demanding questions of those around her, she finds even more questions to answer.
    Rating: 4 stars
    Read full review here.
  9. Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Fiction)
    King twists the classic Sherlock Holmes and adds a young but strong-headed and quick-witted Mary.  Not only does she pass all Holmes mind games, she has started beating her of late.  Amused by her and her mind, he begins to include her on his cases when suddenly they must work together to solve a case to keep each other safe.
    Rating: 5 stars
  10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Kalanithi is in his last days before completing schooling for neurosurgery when he discovers he has stage four, terminal lung cancer.  From treating the very sick to becoming one of the sick, he fights to live while his body is dying.  Beautiful, hopeful.
    Rating: 5 stars
    Read full review here.

Well, that’s a wrap!  I would love to know your thoughts on any of these titles.  If you would like to more about starting a book club or joining one, let me know in the comments!

Are you in a book club?  What has been your favorite read from your group?  If you aren’t in a book club, what type of books would you like to read most?

Creature Comforts: December 2017

It’s the most, wonderful tiiiiiime of the year!

Man, I love Christmas!  When my husband saw the sheer amount of Christmas decorations I owned as a single person he might have paused to consider if he was willing to live with that kind of crazy.  Oh, and when he saw the amount of ornaments?!?  He might have run for the hills if I hadn’t tripped him and asked if he wanted me to cook him dinner.

Christmas decorating at my house consists usually of him bringing up the tubs from the basement or storage and then camping out on the couch with a glass of wine while I hem and haw over each decoration and layout.  He provides the music and company while he enjoys watching me totally in my decor-frenzied element.

Well, now that our decorations are done and my husband is fed (with this delightful meal), I wanted to share a few things that have caught my eye this month!

ONE//  Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love of Food” series on her podcast

Is it just me or does it feel like eeeeverybody has podcast now???  Well, I am riding the bandwagon and now I am a new subscriber to Jen’s podcast “For the Love”.  I recently heard her series For the Love of Food and it was if the stars aligned and I joined at just the right moment, you know, for my love of food.  Not only did she interview some pretty interesting people (Aarti Sequera and Melissa D’Arabian of Food Network, Danielle Walker of Against All Grain and more), but she also had really thought provoking discussions with all of them.  I particularly loved the one with Melissa D’Arabian and her thoughts on how we have taken food to an unhealthy and unfair level as home cooks.  If you need some good listening content on road trips, check this one out.

TWO//  Advent Calendar

Do you celebrate Christmas with an advent calendar?  When we were growing up my grandmother made a beautiful needlepoint calendar with individual needlepointed ornaments to add to the tree.  I looked forward to putting together that advent calendar every year!  Now, we have a simple calendar that I bought at Target years ago and my kids are LOVING it!  Though I can’t find our Target one online anymore, here is another one that looks just as great!  If you feel like diving into the rabbit hole of advent calendars, check out this cute snowman, this pricey but gorgeous one and how fun is this beauty gift advent!  What a great gift idea!

THREE//  Christmas cookies

Soft, a little salty, and sweet pistachio linzer cookies filled with delicious raspberry jam! Christmas cookie recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com
Photo credit

Our tradition is to wake up Christmas Eve morning and start baking cookies.  For some reason, I had it in my head that sugar cookies were what you were supposed to make, but I didn’t really think they were all that fun and my kids didn’t have the patience for cooling and detailed decorations (read: decorations that made the cookies look edible).  So, I decided I would wait until a recipe grabbed my attention and after toddler attention span was taken into account, bake those instead!  Basically I just had to scroll through anything Sally makes and run with it.  Don’t these look amazing?!?!

FOUR// “It’s Christmas, David” by David Shannon

Are you familiar with this author?  He is known for other titles like “No, David”, “David Gets in Trouble”, and “Too Many Toys.”  His illustrations are fantastically fresh and stories so funny.  My son is newly obsessed with this one and all of David’s shenanigans.  If you need something different for Christmas, try this one.

FIVE// Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

Reading challenge banner

The last couple of years I have set a goal for reading a certain number of books through my Goodreads account.  Sometimes I follow a challenge, other times, I just make it up as I go.  My first year I set a goal for one book a month.  I’m currently a bit behind (and probably won’t make my goal this year) but am pretty happy with my titles this year.  Check back to see my favorite titles of the year.

Do you listen to any podcasts you love?  Are there Christmas cookies you MUST have at Christmas time?  Please share them in the comments!  Finally, do you set a reading goal for yourself?  What are some ways you accomplish your goals?

The Lifegiving Home

The Lifegiving Home:
Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming
by Sally and Sarah Clarkson

source

Genre: Nonfiction, Christian living

Summary: Home is where people become who they will be.  Every child learns about the world through experiences, rhythms and rituals taught (or caught) in the home.  Whether it be through food, celebrations, routines or activities, children learn who their parents want them to become by what they do with them at home.

After raising four of her own children, Sally Clarkson has come to the other side of raising her children: enjoying their company as adult friends.  But she would say (as her daughter Sarah would agree) that it was the rituals, routines and rhythms of home that created the environment of comfort, belonging and discipleship that everyone craves.  Sally and Sarah together wrote this book about these rituals, not only to offer ideas as a how-to, but also to explain the why.

This book is separated into two sections Thinking About Home and Seasons of Home.  Thinking About Home sets the stage and reminds us of the importance of the home.  It is not the music lessons, athletic events or foreign languages that will give our kids what they truly need (though none of those things are bad!).  Home is a place that creates an environment of belonging, comfort and rest.  You learn to be loved and to love.  It is supposed to be a haven.  We can so easily be distracted by “all the things” that we forget the most basic need we have.

“Each of us longs for a place to belong, a connection that gives roots to our wandering lives.  Our hearts hunger for a community where we are intimate members, a sense of belonging to people who love us.  Our souls crave a purpose bigger than our jobs,  a connection to a sense of meaning.  We yearn to  know that our stories have significance in the grander scheme of God’s megastory.  All of these may be found in home–a place to belong, a people to be a part of, and a purpose where God’s righteousness and design are celebrated and cherished in community every day.”  (Sally Clarkson)

The second section, Seasons of Home, offers ideas for routines and rituals that practically show how Sally and her husband created a special home for her four children.  Because they were missionaries, they knew they wouldn’t ever have home as a place but the things they did together would mean home to them.

As much as I love Pinterest and all that it entails, Sally’s suggestions are far from that or what parenting magazines tell you to do with your children.  I found myself quieted when I read this book and I believe it is Sally’s personality.  She describes a slower, quieter life when she describes the rituals her family does together.  Maybe that is not her everyday, but you can tell she is very intentional about slowing down to notice, ponder, observe, debate and think and just be with her family.

What I also noticed was Sarah’s contribution.  Not only is she a beautiful writer, but she feels such a deep connection to home, though her family lived in multiple states and she now resides in England where she studied at Oxford.  You notice how each child delights in being at home because their parents created such a welcoming space, they always wanted to return.

Finally, the simple and attainable ideas presented for each month are offered as just starting points.  It is made clear, this is how they do things and certainly not the only way.  You are encouraged to find your own rituals and routines that signify who you are as a family.  Though the purpose was very clear: whatever you decide, do all for the glory of God alone.

My rating: 5 stars

Have you read any books about creating your own family culture?  What are some of your favorite resources for creating a welcoming home?

For other book reviews, click here.