Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Easy Strawberry Sonker

Berry season is upon us, where you'll find cheap and delicious strawberries in abundance at your grocery and farmer's markets. Sometimes, you end up getting so many that you don't have time to eat them all by themselves. Enter - the sonker.

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

What the heck is a sonker, you ask? I had no idea either, but I was looking for something easy and delicious to make on a weeknight, and came across said sonker. It's basically very similar to a cobbler mixed with a pie, but there's no worrying about cutting together butter into a topping, or making a crust. That sounds just about right for a weeknight dessert, doesn't it?

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

What's also nice is that you can use frozen berries instead, and it will turn out just as delicious. My version here uses just fresh strawberries, but the first time I made this, I actually did a combination of fresh strawberries and frozen blueberries because I didn't have enough strawberries on their own, and it turned out great! The recipes I've seen all seem to use just one kind of berry, but I would think you could use any combination and it would turn out fine. Have a bunch of those mixed frozen berries from Costco? Try it!

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

The topping has a nice bit of sugary crunch to it when it's fresh, but it will become a little more soggy if you have this around for a few days. I didn't mind, though, it still tasted awesome. And yes, you really do want to have the baking dish set on top of a baking sheet when it's in the oven. The berries get to some mighty bubbling, and you'll have berry goop going on to the bottom of your oven if you don't have that to protect it. No one wants that.

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

Write recipe photo description here

When you want a cobbler but don't want to go to the trouble, a sonker is just the ticket.

  • 2 pounds (6 1/2 cups) fresh strawberries, hulled, or 2 pounds (7 cups) frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside for the moment. Combine the strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk water and cornstarch together in a small second bowl, then add to the strawberry mixture and toss until strawberries are evenly coated.
  2. Transfer the strawberry mixture to an 8-inch square baking dish and place the dish on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes (1 hour for frozen strawberries) until the filling is bubbling around the sides of the dish, stirring and scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula halfway through.
  3. Remove sheet from the oven and stir the filling, scraping again with the spatula. Whisk flour, baking powder, remaining 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a bowl. Whisk in the milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract until smooth. Pour batter evenly over the filling.
  4. Bake until the surface is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, another 35-40 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through baking. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
Recipe thanks to Cook's Country

Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.
Recipe for Easy Strawberry Sonker by freshfromthe.com.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Book Review: The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth

Book Review: The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark #2) by Veronica Roth by freshfromthe.com.
The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

Published: April 10, 2018

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 450

Synopsis:  Fate brought them together. Now it will divide them.

The lives of Cyra Noavek and Akos Kereseth are ruled by their fates, spoken by the oracles at their births. The fates, once determined, are inescapable.

Akos is in love with Cyra, in spite of his fate: He will die in service to Cyra’s family. And when Cyra’s father, Lazmet Noavek—a soulless tyrant, thought to be dead—reclaims the Shotet throne, Akos believes his end is closer than ever.

As Lazmet ignites a barbaric war, Cyra and Akos are desperate to stop him at any cost. For Cyra, that could mean taking the life of the man who may—or may not—be her father. For Akos, it could mean giving his own. In a stunning twist, the two will discover how fate defines their lives in ways most unexpected.

With the addition of two powerful new voices, Veronica Roth's sequel to Carve the Mark is a chorus of hope, humor, faith, and resilience.

Thoughts: In doing a quick glance at some of the reviews on Goodreads to see if others were liking this sequel to Carve the Mark, I discovered that a lot of people really didn't like the first book in this duology. I was actually pretty surprised, as I quite liked the first one, so much so that I put it on my favorite books of 2017 list. Even more surprising: the people who didn't like the first one very much were also saying they enjoyed the second one more, whereas I, again, think the opposite.

That's not to say that I didn't like this book, because I did (indeed, I read it quicker than I have any other of my recent books!), just not quite as much as the first one. It does what a lot of stories do that I am quickly seeing that I find kind of annoying - it splits the characters up. In the first book, it was all about how Akos and Cyra were forced together and eventually came to care for each other, so I guess it makes sense that now they are "forced" back apart again, though the forced thing is really not true since they ultimately have the same goals.

The story also goes for a heavy twist a little over halfway through that certainly works for the story, but does also border on the rather implausible. I'm not going to say it because most of the story kind of hinges on this twist, but I will say I didn't really see it coming, so I guess that's good? What I did like, though, was that the story didn't go into too much war fighting. So many of these types of books end up heading into war stories, which I just... blah. Seen it a million times, and yes it may make sense, but I'm glad that here she found a way to have bits of it, but still keep it about the main characters' stories.

Speaking on the main characters, Roth also introduces some new first person perspectives into the mix. One is more limited, while the other plays a much larger role, and I'll be honest, I was just wanting to get back to Akos and Cyra whenever it was one of these new chapters. It was done, I'm sure, mostly to give a larger view of what was happening across the galaxy rather than solely focusing on Akos and Cyra, but I guess I just didn't like one of the characters very much. I won't say who as to not influence other opinions!

In saying all that, though, I did still enjoy the book. It was a satisfying conclusion in many ways, got to the action quickly, and was never boring.

Rating: 4/5

What I'm Reading Next: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Published: January 10, 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 323

Synopsis:  A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman's myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales.

Thoughts: Where to begin with this review. I'm a bit torn on this book. I feel like I should have liked it more than I actually did. It has almost everything that I normally really enjoy in a book - fantasy, a strong main character, and rich descriptions without being all about said descriptions. But here's the thing - this book is extremely slow.

Truly, you could say that nothing really happens for about 75% of the book. The story is mostly a lot of buildup to that final quarter when things finally start moving somewhere. I suppose for a lot of readers, that's probably fine. But for me, I began to wonder if anything even was going to happen at all, as there is a lot of promise of magical beings and some evil trying to awaken, but most of the story is spent on Vasya dealing with family issues.

Moving on from that, what was really interesting about the development of this story was how it delved into the clash between more "modern" religion (I suppose it would have been more modern at the time the book is supposed to be set) of worshipping one God figure versus the older religion of the area, mainly these little creatures that people are supposed to pay homage to in order for them to keep protecting their hearth and home. This clash is emphasized in the character of Father Konstantin, whose goal is to bring Vasya to heel, basically, and make her live in fear of God and cease her belief in the old ways. One of the main themes of this clash was the idea that fear was worse than anything else, in truth the real enemy of all, as it fed the evil and weakened the protectors.

Ultimately, I think the book has a good message and for those that like a fairy-tale like story, surely you would not be disappointed. For me personally, I craved a bit more action and intrigue. The question now becomes whether I will continue to read this trilogy. In reading the description of the second book, The Girl in the Tower, I might, just because it sounds like there is more actually happening.

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Supernatural 13x23 "Let the Good Times Roll"

Here we are, the end of season thirteen. Can you believe it? The little show that could just keeps could-ing. That's a word, don't even.

Mark Pellegrino as Lucifer and Alexander Calvert as Jack in Supernatural 13x23 "Let the Good Times Roll"After last week's episode, everyone was back safe in our world. Or the Supernatural world, I should say, as clearly this isn't our world. Semantics! Anyway, everyone is starting to feel like they might be okay with just staying in this world since Lucifer and Michael are stuck in the other one, but we all know that's going to be short-lived, as ole Luci made a deal with Michael to make a rift and come on over, come on over, baby. So, you know, he could get his baby, aka Jack, and walk off in the sunset, or universe, as he was arguing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yes, they all soon enough discover that Lucifer is back in town. And Jack is a little more receptive to him this time around, since he's feeling all guilty about hurting people and whatnot. He thinks yeah, maybe Lucifer's offer to head off into the universe at large and explore and make some lightsabers might not be such a bad idea. Of course, that becomes short-lived, because they find out that Lucifer didn't come over alone, he made a deal.

Michael comes a calling at the bunker while Jack and Lucifer are off contemplating the Milky Way. While Mary and Bobby get away with that Maggie girl (yeah, I skipped that whole storyline, whatever), Dean, Sam, and Castiel get beaten up by Michael. But Sam is able to shoot off a prayer to Jack, who does hear it and comes to their rescue. But of course Lucifer has to join in as well, and when Jack finds out about his dad's deal with Michael, he gets very angry. You're thinking oh he'll have to kill his dad, but instead Lucifer pulls out that archangel killing blade and steals some of Jack's grace with it, making him uber-powerful. He ends up absconding with Jack and Sam in a kerfuffle, leaving Dean and Cas with a powered-down Michael whose vessel is losing its mojo.

Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, Misha Collins as Castiel, Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester in Supernatural 13x23 "Let the Good Times Roll"Dean, knowing that Lucifer has Sam and Jack, but mostly Sam, ends up making what will surely be known as a rash decision - he decides to let himself be used as a vessel by Michael. You know, they haven't talked about this since around season give, but Dean is supposed to be Michael's "sword" aka his perfect vessel, and Sam is supposed to be Lucifer's. I'm not sure if Lucifer since got a special vessel, because the original version of this guy degraded, but I'm on a tangent here. The point is, Dean offers himself up to try to defeat Lucifer.

Because, yes, Lucifer is basically giving Sam and Jack a choice - either one of them kills the other, or they both die. Sam wants Jack to kill him, but Jack is determined to off himself, convinced that Sam has a better chance at defeating Lucifer. He's just starting to stab himself in the gut with the archangel blade when Dean/Michael shows up and gets to beating up Lucifer, with a lot of air acrobatics that just look goofy. It looks like Dean/Michael isn't going to succeed, but then Sam tosses him the archangel blade at just the right moment and BAM. Lucifer gets it in the gut.... and we finally, just maybe, have a true death of Lucifer, angel wings burned into the ground and all.

Everyone has just enough time to celebrate for a few minute before Michael makes his presence known and promptly takes over Dean's body, because duh. Obviously once he was inside he wasn't just going to leave it easily. And the show ends on one of the most hokey still frames with a slight zoom in I have ever seen of Dean strolling down the street in what I can only call a grandpa or possibly hipster cap, his eyes glowing all Michael blue. I straight up cackled at that shot, my goodness.

And that's where things are to end the season. Ciao bellas... until season fourteen.

Random Thoughts:

- The intro to the recap was a lot of fun, with Rowena saying isn't there music and then Kansas rolling in.

- Honestly, they could have at least addressed the whole vessel thing at some point before it just suddenly became important in the finale. That was basically the whole point of season five, you know?

- I didn't really think of this before, but would Mary have known Bobby? I feel like... no. John met him after she died, and he's not that much older than her for him to have been a hunter back when she was growing up. Unless I just am silly and she didn't know him? But I feel like she did? It doesn't matter, really.

- Are you happy to see Lucifer gone? I mean, finally. They've only been fighting that villain for years.


Bobby: And you call where we come from Apocalypse World?

Castiel: They're talking about whether Kylie Jenner would make a good mother. I can sense this doesn't help.

Mary: That's trouble.
Bobby: Ginger trouble. The worst kind.

Sam: You're talking about retiring? You?
Dean: If I knew the world was safe, hell yeah. You know why? 'Cause we frickin' earned it.

Jack: He's here to help.
Bobby: He is?
Lucifer: You know it, Longmire.

Dean: Well, as Shakespeare once said... eat me, dick bag.

Lucifer: I'm thinking fire-breathing dragons, sassy-talking robots.

Previous Episode

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik by freshfromthe.com.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Published: May 19, 2015

Genre: Fantasy

Hardcover Pages: 435

Synopsis: “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Thoughts: First and foremost, I have to say that it's nice to read a book that's a complete story and not part of a series! Since I tend to read mostly fantasy and science fiction type young adult books, they are almost always a series, or at least a duology. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's refreshing to have a book that tells a complete story while also being full of fantasy!

In writing reviews, I have come to notice something - it almost always takes me at least 25% into a book to really get into it. Even though beginnings, before things change, are important, they are almost always boring in comparison to the meat of the story in these novels. Luckily, in this book, Agnieszka gets chosen to go to the tower with the Dragon pretty quickly, so it was even less time than "normal" for me to get into the book.

At first, the book seems like it will mostly focus on the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon, and her slowly developing magic. However, the story takes a pretty big turn about halfway through when some unexpected twists happen, and it becomes much more about them dealing with the evil Wood that is trying to take over the land rather than focusing more on their relationship, which indeed becomes almost something of a back burner to the larger story.

The story is epic and sweeping, starting in Agnieszka's small little village, going to the tower, and eventually even exploring the capital of the land, and the politics of the royal family and the wizards and witches that surround them. It focuses on friendship and love, rage and revenge, and what it can mean to lose sight of what's important when getting too wrapped up in all of those things. And, of course, there's magic. Lots of magic.

Basically, it feels kind of like an old fairytale, but told in a modern way, and you know I'm a sucker for that. If that sounds like your jam, definitely check it out!

Rating: 4.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden