Dandelion Jelly Recipe

So as many of you know, I am really into canning and preserving. We are gearing up for quite the season this year, and so, as part of that, I have been looking into new recipes. I came across a violet jelly recipe and was quite enamored with it. Then, as that was floating around in the back of my head, I recalled a friend of mine who had made her own dandelion jelly [CLICK HERE to see her great blog!]

That was about the time I went outside and picked a bunch of dandelions and decided I needed to give it a go. While I was picking the dandelions, I thought of my great grandfather, who I have never met, although I did get to use his cardoon knife last year! I felt like he would be proud of me. 

Of course, me being me and all, I couldn't just follow a recipe--I made up my own. I didn't process the jars because this was a small batch and also because I gave away most of it to my canning club gals and a couple others, too. 

The jelly is a real hit. Very simple to make--whether you want to process or not is totally up to you! Either way, this is sure to put you in the canning spirit for the season ahead. I know it sure did the trick for me! 


First things first: separating those petals from the stalks. You wanna get rid of all that greenery--which can be a little bitter. This is the most tedious part, I promise. After you get this done, it'll be a cinch! 


It's really cool picking them up in your hands. It's like a thousand little petals. 


Put them in a pot with two and a half cups of water and bring it all to a boil. Once you've brought it to a boil, go ahead and reduce the heat, allowing them to simmer about ten minutes. 

If you want really strong dandelion flavor, you could also let this steep overnight. But I'm impatient, so I didn't. 


Drain the petals from the water. 


Look at that dandelion water! 


Now put it back in your pot. 
Stir in your small packet of pectin. I use low sugar pectin because I don't like mucking up my canning concoctions with nutrient sucking sugar. It's how I roll. 


Now, because I wasn't processing my jars, I used some lemon essential oil to bring that lemony flavor to my jelly. If you are processing the jars, just go for the real stuff--two tablespoons of lemon juice. 

Bring it all to a hard boil that cannot be stirred down and then add your sugar in all at once. 
Bring it back to a hard boil that cannot be stirred down and allow it to boil one minute. 


Now it's ready! 


Put in your sterile jars. Process if for ten minutes in a water bath canner, if desired. 
If not, then stick some lids on these puppies and allow them to cool. Refrigerate and allow them to set 24-48 hours. 


Seriously, easy right? And cool. 

Billie's Dandelion Jelly 

Time: 1 hour, start to finish | Makes: 2 half pints or 4 4-ounce jars | Difficulty: Easy-Medium 

You Will Need:

2 cups of dandelion petals, greens removed
2 1/2 cups of water
1 small packet of pectin (.4 ounces)
1/2 cup sugar
7-10 drops lemon essential oils OR 2 tablespoons lemon juice (if processing)

5 4-ounce mason jars OR 2 8-ounce mason jars, with lids and bands

Method:

Rinse your dandelion petals.

In a medium saucepan, combine water and dandelion petals. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Using a strainer or coffee filter, drain the petal water, reserving the infused water.

Add the dandelion infused water back to the pan and bring back to a boil. Slowly add the low sugar pectin to the water, stirring constantly. Add the lemon essential oil (or juice). Bring it up to a hard boil that cannot be stirred down.

Add the sugar all at once. Bring it back to a hard boil. Remove from heat. Skim foam, if there is any.

Put the jelly in the jars, leaving a half an inch headspace.

Wipe jars and put on lids and bands. If processing, process 10 minutes in a water bath canner.

If not, cover with lids and bands and allow them to cool. Once they cool, put them in the refrigerator. The jelly should set completely in 24-48 hours.

We Need To Talk: About Diets


Whenever I hear the word “diet” I cringe a little. It’s like a fairy made out of cookies and cream dies or something. I dislike it completely. Maybe it has to do with the fact that “diet” implies that there is something you need to fix about yourself...maybe it is the fact that I spent nearly my entire high school career on a diet until the day...I crashed.

High school girls can be, well, shall we say a little moody. So being on a diet amps them up a notch. My reasoning for dieting was that I was in theater. I had a teacher who told me that my image--the way I looked, how much I weighed--was important. How people saw me was therefore very important. Hence, all that horrible dieting.

I would try the not eating thing, but thankfully I wasn’t cut out for that at all. I tried the vegetarian thing, which worked for a number of years until the tenth grade when I was seduced by a MacDonald’s cheeseburger. Then I went on the Atkin’s diet. No carbs. I loved carbs. I missed carbs, but I stayed faithful in the name of art.

That is, until the day when my “well-meaning” theater teacher pulled me aside and told me that if I wanted to get into a good theater school for college I was going to need to lose “this” and she reached down and patted my stomach. I was horrified. I couldn’t believe that after the years I spent dieting that someone had the nerve to say such a thing to me. I was hungry for god’s sake!

I was also at my skinniest weight ever.

That was when I made a command decision, well, two really. Right then and there, I swore off dieting and in the coming months I quit theater as well. And I ate--by god, did I eat! Who was I kidding all those years? I loved not being on a diet!

Cultivating a healthy body image takes a lot of work in this day and age. We’re bombarded by branding and messaging that tells us the way that we are supposed to look. As much as I love Pinterest, I get pretty sick of their “diet this” and the picture of the really heavy woman next to the skinnnnnnnnnny one with some caption about how she finally won the battle--who knows if those people are really the same.

If you want to eat vegetarian, or like a  cave man, or like you live on South Beach, fine. Some women use diets like Grateful Dead fans use drugs. I get it. But for gosh sakes, if you are sick of it, please stop. Cultivate a healthy lifestyle and drop the diet label. People  on “diets” don't generally seem to reach their ideal weight while feeling good about themselves. People with healthy, well rounded lifestyles, DO.

Most of all, no matter what you do, you should feel good about yourself at the end of the day--no matter what your size. Love yourself as you are today. Because who you are is fine and good.

The Friendship Fizzle

Things change over time. It’s a lesson I am continually learning, so I am willing to bet that there are a ton of others out there who feel the same way. Relationships are no exception to this rule be they friendships, family relationships or love involvements. That’s why today I want to take a moment to talk about the “friendship fizzle.”

Most of us have experienced friendships that, for whatever reason, fizzled out for a time, or possibly, forever. Most of the time we look to place blame on who ended the friendship, what that person did to make us mad, or we point the finger at ourselves and focus on our own contribution to the friendship ending. While it seems to be largely human instinct to function this way, I also believe it’s unproductive.

Sure, there are times when we screw up and we need to eat crow, apologize and learn from our mistakes. Other times we catch a case of life circumstances and we need to just chock it up and move on. This happens in friendships. All. The. Time.

Being in my late twenties, I find that my friends can be all over the place in terms of their lives. I am married with three dogs, a cat, and ten chickens, for instance. I work at home in what can be a competitive field and also an unforgiving one. I have a routine that corresponds to that set of circumstances. Some of my girl friends are single, they have weekends free and can decide on a whim what they want to do. I have friends who are on the brink of marriage and their schedules are so packed I can barely get a moment of time with. Still I have other friends who are on the verge of parenthood and the only time I am likely to see is at the baby shower.

We’re all in different places. I find that at certain times, I have friends whose circumstances jive more with mine and we hang out more and then there are others who fizzle because we just aren’t on the same path. I used to look at this and say, “What are we doing wrong as friends? Why aren’t we hanging out?”

The more time that goes by, the more I realize that these relationships ebb and flow, like the tides, and it’s a natural occurrence that can be good. It’s a part of the natural cycle.

True friendships endure the test the time, no matter how long you have spent apart doing your own thing. In my life, I have never lost a true friend. So if you feel a friendship fizzling, don’t fight the inertia of it, just let it take its course; though it may be a disappointment, it could also be a blessing in disguise.

Tell me...have you had a friendship fizzle recently? Did your friends change as your life circumstances (marriage, babies, or work promotions) came about, or have you had the same group of friends your entire life? Discuss in the comments section below!


10 Things I LOVE About Myself


It can be super easy to focus on our flaws, am I right? You get a little confidence going and before you know it, the little gremlins come out and are all like, “Who do you think you are?! You should be less [fill in the blank] or more [fill in the blank].” So today, I want to take a moment in celebration of things I love about myself.

The goal is for you to do the same. If today you can think about 10 things you love about yourself--and maybe even write them down to recall over and over again--you can cultivate a little self love. And it’s all about the love. So here are mine, (in no particular order.)

I hope that you will share a few things you love about yourself with me in the comments section below.

Here we go! 10 things I LOVE about myself:

# 10- That I am not afraid to try new things whether that is to travel someplace new, tackle a new recipe, or a new form of exercise.

#9- That when I love, I love with my whole heart. I’m all in, baby! Let’s get vulnerable!

#8- My sense of humor. I love a good laugh--clean or dirty! Laughter is contagious and it’s great medicine for my soul....and it doesn’t take much to get me on a roll.

#7- My ability to be open with others. I love that I am not afraid to share my emotions or what is on my mind with other people....I am grateful because it allows me to connect with the people around me.

#6- That I can admit I need some work. In the past year or so, I have been recovering from perfectionism...I need some work, but I can admit that and it feels GREAT!

#5- My healthy body image. Loving my body hasn’t always been easy for me, (remember my dressing room melt down?!) but cultivating a healthy body image has been worth it. Worth. It.

#4- That I am hardworking. Type A, I think they call that? Haha. Really though, I enjoy the fruits of my labor and I couldn’t get there without the hard work. It feels good and I value that aspect of my personality.

#3- My beauty marks. This is esthetic, I know, but I love them, especially the one by my lips. Not too big, not too small...and don’t even TRY to call it a mole. It’s a beauty mark.

#2- That I write letters. You know, with pens and paper. This is one thing I enjoy doing and I love this about me. It’s wonderful to hold a letter someone wrote in your hand and I love telling people I love them this way.

#1- My compassion, which is always evolving. Compassion is a journey--a life’s work--and I am happy that I have an evolving understanding of it. I am always striving for a deeper sense of compassion, but I happy that I have gotten to this point with it.

Quick Fix: An Acceptable Scone Cream

My sister-in-law and I were searching for an All-cream recipe--what you also might call "clotted cream." What we got was a recipe that seemed a little too good to be true. So, we made up our own based on what we saw, and though we were skeptical, we pressed on. After all, we had already bought the scones, so.....

This is nothing anywhere close to clotted cream. No.Where. Close. However, it was sweet and yummy... if you've never had clotted cream, you will like it. Heck if you've had clotted cream, you will still like it. But if you have your heart set on clotted cream, quit while you are ahead. Or, if you've already bought the scones, you may also want to go ahead because this takes about five minutes and is a satisfactory output for those five minutes.



Really simple ingredients going in here: vanilla, confectioners sugar, heavy cream, and sour cream. 



Add the vanilla to the sour cream and stir. Set aside. 




In a standing mixer, or using an electric mixer, pour your heavy cream. Beat on a high speed until stiff peaks form. 


Looking stiff to me! 


Now add your confectioners sugar.... 



...and your sour cream and vanilla. And beat it again. 

Now, at the start when we thought it just might be anything like All-cream, we beat the heck out of this mixture. You can too, it won't hurt it...but 4 minutes will do the trick, really. 


Serve with your scones! We also served with blueberry jam...and some peppermint tea. It's the perfect afternoon delight! 


My sister in law puts hers on the plate and then sort of doubles up on the jam and cream together. Most effective. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate her nail art?

An Acceptable Scone Cream 

Time: 10 minutes | Serves: 4-6 for scones & tea | Difficulty: Easy 
You Will Need:

1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Scones (we bought ours in a store)

Method:

In a small bowl combine the sour cream and vanilla, set aside.

In a standing mixer or using an electric mixer, add the heavy cream and beat about 4 minutes or until stiff peaks form.

Add sour cream/vanilla mixture and confectioners sugar and beat another 4 minutes.

Serve on scones with blueberry jam and tea. 

On Being Uncomfortable [And not running away!]

Featured on BlogHer.com
As a culture, we’ve become uncomfortable with the notion of being uncomfortable. We’ll do a lot of things to avoid being emotionally or physically uncomfortable. Some of these things are small, like going the long way on the backroads to avoid waiting in traffic. Others are bigger, like lying to ourselves about who we are so we don’t have to face the things we don’t like about ourselves.

First thing to keep in mind: we all do it; no one is immune. Second thought to keep in mind: you can slowly but surely change this. Lately, I have been actively working to lean in to my discomfort. It isn’t always easy, but increasingly, it is worth it. While we all try to different extents to avoid uncomfortable moments, in the process we miss that when we are uncomfortable, we are in a place of growth.

Never being uncomfortable is like never taking risks, in a way. If you don’t take a risk you can never fail, but you also won’t succeed. If you are never uncomfortable, you will remain comfortable, but you will miss the opportunity for growth. While it may seem a bit counterintuitive at times, once you get the hang of leaning into discomfort, it becomes less scary--like the quote above.

So how in the heck do you begin leaning in to something as vague as discomfort? One thing I try is in the moment of discomfort, asking myself “why am I uncomfortable” and “what do I stand to learn here?” This way, I can take the proverbial view from the top. Sometimes it’s an easy process....I can pinpoint it right away and make a new decision based on the information.

Other times, when it’s something big, for instance, when I have screwed up, it can be harder. I’m going to give you an example, hopefully one you can relate to. I was on the phone with my mom, discussing a personal conflict I was having. She asked me a question that made me very defensive, so immediately I reacted in anger. The conversation completely unraveled and got more and heated to the point where my mom said, “I’ll just talk to you later.”

I hung up the phone, practically fuming. Then I took a moment to lean in. I asked myself why I was uncomfortable. At first I tried to talk myself out of it...I tried to put it on my mom for asking me the heated question. Then I realized: her question hit a nerve, and it made me feel ashamed. I had a choice to make: I could take responsibility for the way I reacted or I could put it on her.

I picked up the phone and called her back. “I’m sorry I acted that way. I was ashamed because you pointed out something that really struck a nerve. I shouldn’t have treated you that way and I would like to talk about it.” It was a hard to do that for me. I began crying, but I also felt better.

Leaning in was uncomfortable, but from the top, I conquered two big things: having the strength of character to admit when I was wrong, and also the opportunity to discuss the personal issue that was obviously hard to discuss.

The next time you feel uncomfortable, I urge you to lean in.  Start small and work your way up if you have to, but don’t lose a moment to learn something or surprise yourself. Tell me, what is one way (big or small) that you have or could lean in to your own discomfort? What is something you stand to learn? Leave it for me in the comments section below.




Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Breast Recipe

I struggled with what to name this recipe... it's chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in prosciutto ham, but "chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella cheese and wrapped in prosciutto" seemed a bit lengthy. I could have also called it meat stuffed with fat and wrapped in meat because to me that sounds delicious, but I didn't think the appeal would be as universal. So, I settled on  prosciutto wrapped chicken breast recipe, which, if you ask me, is enticing enough.

At least I hope so.

Anyway, this is a pretty easy recipe and interestingly enough one I came up with when I was in Scotland. We were only a couple of hours into the country, horribly jet-lagged and I had a mean case of vertigo from flying, so to me this recipe is a bit of a gem. If that's all it takes to get a good recipe out of me, I'm ready to book another flight...hehe.

More to the point, this easy recipe will have your family running to the dinner table.


Here I've got my prosciutto and my mozzarella, sliced. 


Three big breasts... mmmm. I am going to cut these in half, but if you find smaller breasts, you don't have to cut them. Also, if you just really want some big old breasts, go for it. 


Now, cut them in half, lengthwise. Then salt and pepper them suckers!


Now you are going to make a cut so you can stuff it with cheese. Sort of like butterflying the halved breast. 


I took my slice of cheese, and I halved that and put them side by side in the cut I made in my breast. 


Looks good and stuffed, right?! 


Now take a nice slice of prosciutto and wrap it around the whole thing! 


As you roll them up, place them in your pan. I place mine with the seam of the wrapped prosciutto down to hold it all in place. 


Sprinkle them with a little dried basil. 

Now you are gonna bake them for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven.


SHA-BAM! How good does that look? It's easy, it's yummy, and it's what's for dinner. 
I served mine with some roasted brussel sprouts! 

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Breast Recipe 

Time: Prep- 10 min. Bake- 30 minutes | Serves 4-6 | Difficulty: Easy

You Will Need:

3 large chicken breasts
8 ounces of mozzarella 
3 ounces (or 6 slices) prosciutto 
Dried basil
Salt & pepper 

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Slice your chicken breasts in half, lengthwise to create 6 pieces of chicken. 

Salt and pepper the chicken generously. 

Using a sharp knife, create a pocket in each piece of chicken you have sliced, being careful not to slice them in half. (See picture above.) 

Slice your mozzarella into 6 slices, and then slice in half again.

Stuff your chicken with the mozzarella, using two half slices of mozzarella to fill each chicken breast piece. After stuffing the breast piece, wrap it in a piece of prosciutto and place it on your baking pan with the prosciutto seam down to hold it around the chicken. Repeat until you've gotten all the chicken stuffed and wrapped.

Sprinkle it all with some dried basil.

Bake in the oven on 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until internal temperature of the chicken reaches 160 degrees.

Serve with a salad or roasted brussel sprouts! 

Our First Eggs!!!!

The other day I was gardening over at my friends' house. Martha and Kevin have set my mother-in-law and I up with a premium planting area, and we are so very thankful! Kevin also helped get us set up with our chickens this season, and he got chickens the same time as we did from the same people. While gardening, Martha approached, opening her hand, and revealed the sweetest little egg that one of her chickens had laid.

I was spellbound because I heard that they wouldn't lay for at least eight more weeks. "You should check when you get home," she said. When I got home I told my husband and we immediately made our way over to our pen. We opened the laying boxes and there was not one, but three sweet, little eggs! I felt so proud!!!!

A week in and our chickens gave us some eggs! I take it as a sign that they are really comfortable and very happy. So, here they are: our very first eggs!!!!!!!!!!!!



Aren't they sweet!?!?!? 

ALSO, our chickens have continued laying eggs since we first discovered these lovely three. AND, miracle of miracles: one was a double yolk! How cool is that?! 




In other news.... 


This chicken jumped on the roof of the hen house, which I thought was pretty funny. 



And my husband has them eating out of the palm of his hand. 
(He is seriously in love with these chickens.)

Bring Out YOUR Inner Bossy Italian Wife!!!

Some people say “bossy” like it’s a bad thing...and I get it, really I do. I just also happen to disagree. I am a woman who knows what she wants and I frequently tend to get it because I go after it fiercely. That’s not to say that I don’t have hang-ups, or downfalls, or whatever. But there are clear advantages to my “bossy” status.

If you wanna bring out more of your inner bossy, here is a list of how to do just that. They are essentially my tips on how to find your inner Bossy Italian Wife and get well on the way to getting what you want!

“To Thine Own Self Be True”
Shakespeare was a genius. And this simple line clearly defines one of the most important things you can ever commit to in life: yourself. I don’t care what other people are doing--I do what I think is right and what works for me. I am true to who I am because no one else has to live my life.

Be Less Afraid to Fail 
If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. Failure is a part of life and a part of the learning experience....and all a part of the fun! I love to test my limits, see how high I can jump--that sort of thing. So when you feel the fear of failing nipping at your heels, give it a kick and shake it off! Whether you are trying to make your first quiche or going for a new job, go for the gusto!

Tell Yourself You’re Great 
When someone really hurts my feelings I remind myself all the reasons why I am great. It may sound cheesy but a little self confidence goes a long, long way. When you believe in yourself, others believe in you too. It’s contagious, in a good way.


Don’t Take “NO” For An Answer 
You will get a lot of no’s in this life, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. When it comes to business, if someone tells me “no” it makes me more determined. Someone is bound to tell you “yes”--you just haven’t found them yet. Go find them.

Carve Out Your Niche 
I am immediately drawn to people who have a defined personal style--their little niche. Whether it’s a hobby, or a certain type of decorating, or just wearing red lipstick all the time, carve a personal style niche for yourself and rock it out. People love things that are different and authentic and it draws them like a magnet!

Now that you have heard some of my tips, I want to know, what are yours?! Share with me in the comments section below!!!! 

In Defense of Pregnant Celebrities...And All Women, Actually

PIN THIS IF YOU AGREE! 

If I have to see one more caption slamming Kim Kardashian for her baby weight I am going to scream....too late! I already screamed. Luckily I did it into a pillow and no one heard me. I know that Kim K isn’t the most popular celeb on the block, but I like her, and also I am sick of the media picking on women who gain a little weight.

The woman is pregnant and you know, if she’s putting on weight, who cares? I find it tasteless that the media would even obsess over the weight of a pregnant woman to begin with, let alone pick on her. And I know that she cannot be the only one who faces this kind of scrutiny. I hear men say things like, “She looks big, what’s with her?” only to hear someone else answer, “Um, she’s pregnant.”

This obsession with size has got to end. It’s driving me nuts. The truth is that it’s not just the people on the extreme ends of the spectrum that suffer--most of us fall somewhere in the middle, anyway and it’s us who is suffering from these bloated ideals. They aren’t realistic, and we’ve got to stop buying into them. I know it’s tempting to want to see every headline, each story, each caption, but you can stop and it won’t change your life all that much.

When it comes to pregnancy, it seems like everyone is having babies. And that is totally cool. However, society is increasingly unrealistic about the “bouncing-back after baby thing.” It’s fine if you can flaunt your perfect body that you had professionally trained post-baby and *surprise* just in time for bikini season--but for the love of god, I wish that celebrities would stop feeling like they need to. I am not even pregnant and can’t maintain that size...not that I would if I could.

The mission is to love yourself--flaws and all--the way you are right now. For women out there who do actually strive for the unattainable, it’s just too much. We’re already bombarded and the pressure to want to be perfect is already mounted. The last thing we need is low self esteem at a time when we are supposed to be enjoying the fresh glow of expectancy.

People may think that a little harmless Kim K bashing on People magazine is no big deal, but there are women out there who are pregnant (or not pregnant, for that matter) thinking to themselves, “Do I look fat?” when what they should be thinking is, “I feel great, I’m excited about being pregnant.” It sends a message to children that if you gain a little weight, baby or no baby, that it’s okay to make fun of or publicly shame that person. And that pisses me off.

So who’s with me? Do you feel that the pressure to maintain perfect size, even in pregnancy, has gone altogether too far....or do you think it’s okay to make fun of people for their size if they are living in the public eye? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

BIW Vs. Not Growing Up [VLOG]

I hope you all have been enjoying my video Vs. series as much as I have!!! Today I am going up against the notion that growing up stinks. See what I have to say in the video below--and don't forget to chime in. I love to hear from ALL my readers, whether I agree or not! Let's talk about it!

video





Quick Fix: Pork Chops w/ Mayo & Breadcrumbs


I realize that for two weeks I have been hitting you with pork chop recipes, but I am in love and I don't care who knows it. This one is a bit funny because I have been making the chicken version of this over and over...but then I ran out of boneless skinless chicken. So I figured, let's try a pork version!

I love this recipe. It's super simple and it makes me feel sinful when I eat it--slathering mayo of stuff has that effect on me. Some people don't like mayonnaise...or at least that's what I hear. I love mayonnaise and I don't have time to sit around and feel bad about it because I am too busy putting it on my pork chops and loving it!

If you feel the way I do, this recipe is for you. Also? This recipe is a man-pleaser. My husband loves loves love LOVES this recipe. Like I said you can also apply this same recipe to chicken, and if you do up the cook time in the oven by about 10 minutes.

Either way, you are gonna love it. Because it's so very simple, I skipped the step by step pictures on this post.

Pork Chops with Mayo & Breadcrumbs 

Time: 25 minutes, start to finish | Serves 2 | Difficulty: Sinfully Easy 

You Will Need

2 boneless pork chops
2 tablespoons mayonnaise 
Italian-style breadcrumbs
Parmesan cheese 

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Place your chops on a baking dish. Divide the mayonnaise between the chops evenly and spread it on. You can, of course, use more or less mayonnaise (as you like.)

Sprinkle the chops with a bit of breadcrumbs, and next a bit of parmesan cheese. Then sprinkle a few more breadcrumbs. 

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes in the 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 155-160 degrees. 

Bossy Italian Book Review: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

Image from Beeridgway.com
There are times when a book grabs you and sucks you in so completely, that you are lost in it. The River of No Return is one of those books. An amazingly creative race through time, the main character Nick, jumps through time into a world he can barely comprehend.

Nick is thrust into the arms of the Guild, the organization that manages time jumpers and protects the river of time. There are a few rules, of course, the most important being "there is no return." Or is it?

Nick's adventure seems already underway in a new, modern world, it turns out that nothing is really as it seems. Ridgway creates a truly glorious world filled with three dimensional characters who leap from the page.

I was spellbound by this book. Hands down one of the most captivating books I have read in a long, long time. It has something for everyone--there is the aspect of time travel, which Ridgway creates with such mystical depth that it begs you to believe in it. Then there is the Regency-Era setting in England, which transported me to a time and place of lords and ladies, of coming out seasons, and balls.

It is in 1815 Devon, England that we meet Julia Percy, a 22-year-old young woman who has been living in Castle Dar her whole life at the whim of others. She seems ignorant of the world around her, and yet eager to learn....but Julia has a secret that is pulling her toward the River of Time.

Interlaced beautifully through the story of time, the love story emerges and tugs at the heart. I found myself rooting for these characters, feeling afraid for them, and loving every page-turning second! Will the worlds of Regency-Era England and modern 2013 collide? What is behind the power of the Guild and those who jump through time? This book is a gem--a truly unique, creative fantasy that transports the reader through time--and a must read!!!

The River of No Return is hitting shelves April 23, 2013. Do not miss this book! 

Blueberry French Toast Casserole

Though I have been known to have some breakfast issues, french toast and I have no issues at all. If I am making breakfast, it's likely that I am making french toast. A few weeks ago, when I had a breakfast meeting, I decided to make a french toast casserole. Since then, I have been experimenting with making it my own.

That was when I was struck with a brilliant idea: adding blueberry jam to the casserole! It tastes positively heavenly. There isn't a huge amount of sugar in this, surprisingly, and for the size of the casserole, it is fairly well behaved in the butter department. However, if you're eating this at all, chances are you aren't altogether worried about the calories.

It takes just a bit of planning ahead because you need to let it it overnight, but that makes it perfect for the weekend or for a brunch that you are planning. Plus, it feeds a small crowd!




Here I have a loaf of Challah bread. I made it myself, but it should be available in most bakeries if you don't have a bread machine. This is a two pound loaf, so if you are buying it, you will likely need to get two one pound loaves. Spray your pan with some Pam or grease it will some butter. Break it up the bread using your hands...which I call "rustic."


Looking good. 


In a bowl, mix together 10 eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk (I used almond milk), and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Then pour it over your bread. You will then want to cover the whole thing and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. 


In the morning, you are gonna top it off and bake it. 

For starters, get your blueberry jam ready. Of course you could probably use strawberry jam, but I felt blueberries really stood up in this recipe. 4-6 tablespoons really do the trick. I did two rows, laid out lengthwise so that everyone got a blueberry laden slice! 


Next take a stick of cold butter. You want the butter to be cold. Cut it into pieces. 


Toss those pieces in a bowl with a cup of brown sugar. 


Using a pastry cutter, combine the brown sugar and cold butter so that it's basically nice little "crumblies" 


Oh! And I nearly forgot, sprinkle in several dashes of cinnamon as well. I used 7 dashes because I'm crazy like that...but you can use 5. Whatever floats your cinnamon boat. 


Now, take your butter-cinnamon-brown sugar crumbles and sprinkle them evenly over the whole thing. Resist the urge to pop a crumble in your mouth. Or heck, live on the edge, DO IT! 


Looking good already, right?! 

Pop this puppy in the oven for 35-40 minutes on 350 degrees..... 



IT'S MAGIC! Okay, it's baking, but it feels like MAGIC! 


Slice, serve, consume, and realize that this french toast casserole makes everything right in the world. 
*sigh*

Blueberry French Toast Casserole 

Time: 10 minutes prep, overnight, 40 minutes to bake | Serves 8-10 | Difficulty: Easy! 

You Will Need: 

11 x 7 Casserole dish
2 pounds Challah bread 
10 eggs
1 1/4 cup milk (I like almond milk)
1/2 cup heavy cream 
4-6 tablespoons of blueberry jam
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces 
1 cup brown sugar 
5-7 dashes cinnamon 

Pam or butter, to grease pan

Method:

Grease your pan. 

Using your hands, break up the bread into "rustic" pieces and put them in your greased pan. 

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and heavy cream. Pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. Using a spatula, make sure the bread is moist all the way through, stirring a bit if necessary. 

Cover the casserole dish and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. 

In the morning, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

Uncover your casserole dish. Using a tablespoon, spread your blueberry jam over the casserole. I do mine in two lengthwise rows so everyone gets a bit of blueberry goodness in their piece. 

In a small bowl, place one cup of brown sugar. Add the cold butter, which is cut into small pieces. Add several dashes of cinnamon. 

Using a pastry cutter, combine the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon into little "crumbles." 

Sprinkle the crumbles over the entire casserole. 

Place the whole thing in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. 

Slice and serve. 

If you are feeling extra frisky, serve with maple syrup!