Saturday, November 28, 2015

Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy

I read Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy for the Amazon Vine Program that I am part of. It is the second book in the Mary Handley series, the first being Second Street Station. If you have a chance I would read the first book in this series first as the second book builds a bit on the first book. However, Brooklyn on Fire is fine as a stand alone book. I liked the book and gave it 5 stars while I noticed others were not so thrilled with it. Is this book going to go down in history as a pivotal piece of literature? Hardly. Undoubtedly within 10-15 years people may no longer even care to read the book which happens with a majority of cozy mystery books. I do think that at times you might enjoy a book more than if you had set down to read it on a different day and time. I needed a book to relax with and get absorbed in so that I would forget some of the pain I was in. I did find it interesting to read all the historical portions and how life was lived in the 1890's. I hope you enjoy the book as well.
I’ve read many books, but it is rare to find one that jars my way of thinking in the very first paragraph. This book began with an old woman talking to her friends Vicky and Albert while thinking on her life. As she reminisces she realizes that she is in her 7th decade at the age of 64. That might not mean much to some of you younger readers, but nearly a month ago I turned 60 and I never thought about the fact that I was in my 7th decade. In my mind that means you are in your 70’s and that does sound old.

Age aside, this was a rather interesting cozy mystery novel. The author took a chance that most authors don’t and that is including many historical figures in the story. And I’m not talking about someone obscure in history, but the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, and the Vanderbilts including Geoge Vanderbilt that built the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina. Even the main character in the book, Mary Handley, was a real person and worked at one time under the Chief of Police and helped bring a murderer to justice for which she earned a $1000 reward.

Needless to say this book this book was a bit different with a very different heroine for the era that she lived in. Women detectives have come a long way since the first one appeared on the scene and it is interesting to seeing authors lately that instead of having the sleuth working during the current era, they have gone back into history such as several WWII female sleuth novels and now this book goes even further back to 1890 where ‘Ladies’ apparently had weaker constitutions than they have now and all news and crime stories were kept from them as much as possible. So it is very interesting to see a book where they have no telephones or fancy cars to get around in. No internet to research from. Families that are embarrassed and shocked that their daughter would want to do so masculine a job and how would she ever get married if the eligible men found out what she was doing. But Mary Handley didn’t care about that. She was thrilled with her office that was located in a used book store and her 20 business cards that a friend had had made for her. Once the call came for her to help, she didn’t waste time and took no thought for herself physically to the point that in one scene she needed a blood transfusion. At that point only 50% of those getting them survived the process (no blood typing at the time). She also donated blood and when she later passed out for lack of fluids and food a doctor was about to do a ‘bloodletting’ procedure to help her when someone remembered she had donated some blood that day. Interesting thought, you pass out due to low fluid balance only to have a doctor try to fix the problem by cutting you and letting more blood out.

These item mentioned, not to spoil the book for you, but to let you know some of the interesting things about life over 100 years ago in the life of a young woman that was not following the normally mores of the time. And interesting book that is also a fairly quick read.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reynolds Oven Bags - Best Pork Roast I've had in Years!

When I signed up for the Amazon Vine program I assumed that I would only get books and at the beginning that is what I got. However I now get all sorts of products and my latest one was a box of Reynolds Oven Bags. Below is my Amazon review of the bags which I found to be great and gave them 5 stars.

I gave up trying to roast pork years ago since except for one roast, they all were dry and nearly impossible to chew. I got these bag in the mail right as I was about to go grocery shopping. So I read the instructions on how to use them and thinking I would try to make a roast using one I shoed up at the meat department and when I saw the prices of beef vs. pork, I decided I would give pork one more try. The only other time I had made a decent pork roast I had cooked it with a canned pineapple. So I decided to try this again except in the Oven Bag. Well I didn't realize I had no pineapple at home, but I did have all the other ingredients that I used when making sweet and sour sauce so I mixed that up and poured it into the bag with the pork. If I had it to do over, I would probably have marinated the meat in it enough ahead of time so all sides of the meat would have had the taste of the sauce. Following the instructions, I popped it in the oven and was totally surprised when I cut into the meat after letting it set for a few minutes. It was juicy. It was tender. It tasted good. It almost melted in your mouth. It was wonderful. I suspect we will be eating more pork (especially with it's lower price than beef currently). These bags truly made the difference as I had tried doing something similar with roast before long ago.

Here is what I did (for something like this I measure by eye, not by measuring cups):
~4# pork butt roast with bone it
~3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
~1/2 c. Apple Cider Vinegar
~1/2 c. Brown Sugar
Onion powder, garlic powder, red chili pepper flakes
1 tablespoon flour
1 Reynolds Oven Bags (large size)
If I had one, I would have stirred in one can of crushed pineapple in it's own juice (not canning syrup)
I coated the inside of the bag with the flour as instructed on the box.

Inserted the roast in the bag and placed in a 13" x 9" glass pan.

Mixed the other ingredients in a bowl and then poured them in (next time I will let the roast have a soak on each side before putting it in the oven bag).

Stabbed 6 holes in the top of the oven bag as instructed on the box (this is why you need to coat the roast all over with the sauce before roasting as you won't be able to turn it over while cooking as the sauce would come out through the holes.

Placed in a pre-heat oven at 350 degrees using the convection setting for about 90 minutes until a thermometer registered 160 degrees at least.

Let rest for at least 5-10 minutes to let the internal juices stabilize. Carve and enjoy.

You may not like this recipe, but I hope you do. This is what I did and I enjoyed the roast very much, especially the pieces that were on the bottom that cooked in the sauce. Make a cooking sauce to please yourself or try cooking the roast with just salt and pepper and in the floured bag to see what happens.

While the price of these may seem high to some, at the price of meat these days, you waste money if your meat comes out dry and inedible. So try out these bags to reduce the possibility of that.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Gingham Aprons of the '40s & '50s by Judy Florence Book Review

This is a copy of a review that I also posted to Amazon. I received this book as a birthday present from my incredibly long Amazon wish list and was very happy to get it.

I enjoyed reading the book very much and loved seeing the many close up photo details although I am stumped in why these aprons look so pristine! I am an apron wearer and I make my own aprons and most of them with use would never make it to a collection of 'Aprons of the 1980's to 2020's'. They are pretty mucked up within a five to ten year span, but then that is the whole point of an apron isn't it? I can see that some of the apron would have been set aside for good, or like my Christmas apron only for certain special occasions.

Most of the aprons in the book were homemade using machines, while some were completely sewn by hand. The worse looking aprons were made in factories and it certainly shows the difference between tender loving care when sewing and seeing just how many you can whip up in a day when being paid via piecework.

While it was nice to see some approximate values on the aprons, you have to remember that the book was published in 2003 and with the plethora of on line selling venues available since that point, those values are most likely highly inaccurate at this point. My favorite thing was seeing how the makers worked all sorts of rick rack into the aprons as well as embroidery and 'Chicken Scratch' embroidery. I have all sorts of vintage rick rack that I have acquired at my local thrift store and it was good to see the different and attractive ways I can use it. It is obvious though, that the ladies of long ago who made these aprons had no access to Pinterest and its many ideas and links to websites that showed some magnificent ways of doing Chicken Scratch embroidery! If they had they would have really gone to town with Chicken Scratch! It seems that the more ideas spread on Pinterest the more people are trying to out do each other.

All together a very interesting book to those that love aprons, embroidery, rick rack, vintage sewing and/or vintage garments. It is about research and study and has no instructions for making any of the aprons although it does reference a few vintage apron patterns as well as embroidery transfer patterns. The author does have a legible photo of a vintage apron pattern instructions in the book and you should be able to follow them if you like since there are no tissue patterns involved and it even includes two different charts for doing counted cross stitch to embellish the apron. For more apron patterns, you should be able to find both current and vintage as well as vintage pattern reprints on sewing pattern selling sites including mine at Moonwishes Sewing and Crafts. Since reading this book, I have put the author's other book; Aprons of the Mid-20th Century: To Serve and Protect (A Schiffer Book for Designers and Collectors)on my Wish List.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Shirtmaking Workbook by David Page Coffin

My latest book review was one dedicated to making shirts, so I slipped it into my craft blog. If you would like to read my review and additional comments on The Shirtmaking Workbook by David Page Coffin You can pop over to my blog Moonwishes Crafts and read it.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Creative Kids: Complete Sewing Guide to Sewing

On the Amazon Vine program that I am in to give product and book reviews, I rarely get a sewing book to read and review. The other day I was offered two, so I grabbed them. This one is Creative Kids: Complete Photo Guide to Sewing by Janith Bergeron and Christine Ecker. Published 2015 by Creative Publishing International. Softcover. 144 Pages. ISBN 9781589238237. Full color photo illustrations.

I had some problems with this book and many times, other than for the projects, I felt like I was reading a beginning sewing book for adults with children's projects thrown in to make it a 'child's' book. Here is my review:


I really, really, really wanted to like this book. I am all for teaching children to sew and to love and enjoy the experience. My life revolves around sewing as I have made 50+ quilts, have made most of my own clothes for 45 years, and also embroider both by hand and machine, I also sell sewing patterns on line under the name Moonwishes Sewing and Crafts and studied education in college, so I think I have the sewing knowledge to critique/review this book.

The first thing I looked for when I got it in the mail was what age group was the book for? Unless I missed it in several times going through the book it was not mentioned, nor did the Amazon product page. Why did I want to see the age group it is geared for? So many things hinge on the age factor when producing a book, such as font size, word usage, phrasing, clarity of photos and the need for adult supervision. The only hint as to age in the book was the actual photos with child models that looked to be in elementary school and photos of one of the author’s two children that were hand models. They also looked to be in elementary school. I grew up in a home where sewing was happening so I was ahead of the curve when it came to learning for myself. The author’s children most likely had been around sewing much of their lives also so if they had been asked if the understood something, then most likely they did, but that doesn’t mean other children would also find the instructions clear or easy to read at that same age level.

Why am I concerned with font size? I have a children's book sitting next to me that I will be reviewing next and the fonts in it are more than twice as big as the fonts in this book. Younger children that might be fairly new readers could have trouble with the smaller font. I know with my bifocals I was having trouble reading the book as the text was too close together. Of course if the book is for young or older teens, then that might not be a problem. There were words and phrases in the book that a younger school aged child probably can't read or understand yet. If a book is written for them, they should be able to read it without difficulty and with understanding.

I found it difficult to follow the photos and think a child might as well when the text says to do one thing but the photo is showing something else as well as there being photos that are literally hiding what the needle is doing. The text is poorly edited and does not always have the correct letter to signify each photo. The text also references using at one point a circle pattern that is not included in the book but is supposed to be. There is a tooth fairy pillow pattern at the back of the book that runs across two pages. I’m not really sure how the authors expected a child to trace it out when the lines go right into the gutter of the book on both sides. I would expect that to accomplish this, either the pattern will be the wrong size or the spine of the book will break leaving the book in danger of falling apart sooner than normal.

When it came to instructions on sewing techniques, they showed making a knot on the right hand finger. I’m not sure how most sewers do this, but I have always used my left hand for making a knot in hand sewing thread. There was no indication from the author that the child might want to try different hands if they couldn’t do this fine motor action of making a knot on a thread wound around your finger. They also instructed on how to thread a needle by pinching the thread around the needle and then threading the needle by pushing the thread bend into the needle eye. I’ve seen occasional references o this technique over the years in other books and have tried it previously but couldn’t get it to work. I tried again using the largest chenille needle with the biggest eye that I had and 6 strands of embroidery floss. It took 5 tries before I semi-accomplished it. This is yet another fine motor skill that might not yet be developed depending on the age of the child. How much easier it would have been to give the child a feeling of satisfaction of learning something new by using a needle threader. When the authors mentioned pinning a pattern to felt, they depended on the photo to teach as they didn’t explain the ways to pin something so that you aren’t poking yourself or getting your threads tangled when working with the pinned item.

When it came to giving instructions on sewing on the sewing machine, the child is instructed to read the manual (and I assume comprehend it). I know when my mom got a new machine when I was in 12th grade, I was not allowed to touch the machine until I read the manual thoroughly. This is yet again a problem perhaps with younger children. Are they able to read the manual with understanding. When discussing presser feet it seemed as if the author’s were expecting the child to possibly be buying more accessory feet as they got better with the machine. Whose machine is this, the child’s or an adult’s? At times they throw in the mention of doing something with adult supervision but it is rare. Most of the time it seems like the child is on their own on their own voyage of discovery.

The first project that the child was supposed to do with the sewing machine was sew on lines on papers without thread in the machine. Some computerized machines will not run without thread in them and the book doesn’t mention this. Sewing on paper, in my opinion, is a total waste of time as it just does not really give the same sense that sewing on actual fabric can. So much better to learn with fabric and feel like you have actually learned something. The first machine project, Scrappy Cards, would give the same learning focus with something to show for it at the end.

I suppose that many of the projects might interest a child depending on their age and personal interests in learning to sew. There are three garments to make, shorts, kimono robe and hooded poncho. All use the child’s measurements which are used to draft a pattern. None of those instructions suggest that they might want a sewing buddy whether an adult or child to help with the measuring. There is no explanation of using a simple manufacturers sewing pattern to make a garment so that would need further instruction.

You might want to try to see the book in person or download a sample, if available, before deciding to spend your money on this book. Take the time to go through it and be sure that you understand the project and what is being taught so you can be ready to handle problems and questions from your child.

After posting my review and trying once more to find an age group, I saw that the book was for grade school students. Depending on a school district that could be anywhere from K-6, K-4 or any other set up. It still remains that the younger students, won't have the vocabulary to understand what they are reading. Young teens who may come upon the book might find it and it's projects 'babyish'

Monday, June 1, 2015

DII Kitchen Millennium 4-Piece Heat Resistant Seamless Non Stick Dishwasher Safe BPA Free Silicone DII Kitchen Tool Set, Red

In my time as a reviewer of books and products for Amazon and some other companies that send me things, I have received some great products. Other products are such a waste and yet they garner so many positive 5 stars reviews that I wonder if the reviewer had even tested them (much less seen them or taken them out of the package). Such is the case today. My son Steve and I were making spaghetti last night, both sauce and noodles. This gave me a chance to try out this silicone kitchen tool set. I ended up giving them one star because no stars isn't an option. I thought they were absolutely worthless. I never read other reviewer's reviews until I have actually posted mine. I was shocked to see all the 5 star reviews and they had an average score of 4 stars with 80 reviews done at that point. What did I miss or did they 'cheat'. I will never know.

I also found it interesting when I saw more of the product information on the product page. They made a big deal about them being hygienic and that the red color stimulated the appetite. Since most kitchen tools are left in the kitchen when the food gets served I wouldn't count on them being much in the appetite stimulate department. Anyhow here is my review for these poor excuses for kitchen tools. Hygienic, possibly/probably but I have cooked with wooden spoons for years without dropping dead from a food borne pathogen hiding in the wooden spoon.


This is my third time attempting to try out and use silicon kitchen ware. Even the one item that I had thought turned out while even after scrubbing it clean I discovered it to have congealed grease several months later when I went to use it again. Other than prep to be able to use these, I haven't technically washed them and I'm not sure they are worth the time. I tried the spatula while making a scrambled egg and it is a good thing it was scrambled as the spatula has a very thick and short 'ramp' up onto the flat part of the spatula. I don't think I could have gotten a friend egg out without scrambling it since it was too thick to get under food in a pan without the food being damaged.

Yesterday I made spaghetti sauce and tried out the spoon. Just stirring the sautéing onions and garlic the spoon didn't want to do much and as soon as I included thawed, loosely packed hamburger and tried to stir it in the spoon bowl literally bent in half! Again and again and again. Nor was it possible to scrape up the fond (those yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan) without the spoon bowl bending in half. It was only once I had some tomato sauce in the pan that the spoon stopped bending with every stir. I would it consider impossible to stir things like cookie or bread dough by hand with this spoon and certainly won’t try as I don’t need the frustration.

Then I tried the pasta server thinking there couldn't be much difference between this one and the super cheap one I have used for years. Wrong. The tines or whatever you call them were so thick that they pushed the noodles out of the way in colander instead of collecting them so I got about half the amount of noodles in it at a time as my other one.

I haven't even tried the slotted spoon and doubt if I will. Working with these things made me honestly wonder what the manufacturer was thinking and did they even give them a casual test in a kitchen? These are worthless and don't waste your money on them! And just to be clear, I'm not a newbie to a kitchen. I've been cooking for about 50 years now at this point. I know that cooking with a spoon that bends when you need it to be stiff while stirring something.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Joy of Kindle Unlimited!

I love to read. I mean it. I read lots and lots of books. While I thought I would never enjoy reading on a Kindle, I discovered it was much easier to hold for my hands. I could read while eating since I don't have to hold pages open and with Kindle Unlimited I have so many books at my finger tips I'm in readers heaven. I truly thought that the only 'free' books would be cheap romance novels written by 6th graders. Instead I have found some terrific authors that write serious pieces of work.

Before you download any book to read on the Unlimited program or buy for that matter, most have book samples to read of around 5-10% of the book. If you get through that sample and go argh! because the book is so enticing, exciting, etc. when the sample is finished it is so great to be able to download the book and find your places and continue reading. This is one thing that I would like to see improved since the Kindle can keep track of our places in all the books we may be reading at one time, I don't know why when we finish a sample and then download the book we have to manually find our place where the sample left off. Perhaps there is a way and I just haven't found it yet on my Kindle keyboard which I don't think they make anymore and if someone knows how to do that, please let me know!

I read serious books as well as cozy mysteries and vintage books that are hard to find in print anymore. My constant companion when reading any book taking place in the US is my large print atlas (10 cents at the thrift store!). A book that takes place in other parts of the world I have an atlas for that as well, but much more difficult to find some countries that keep changing their names and boards. The worst being the former Soviet Union and the eastern side of Europe where battles seem to be continually fought and the boundaries keep changing. It would be nice to have an atlas built into the Kindles as well with maps for the different time periods. But even with a current atlas that shows only our more modern world, I'm still learning more geography. One of the last books that I read to review on Amazon, took place between 1912 -1922 mostly in Russia and India where boundaries constantly where changing then. It was hard to follow the character's travels without getting lost.

Now that was a 'serious' book which meant I had to clear my mind out before reading another serious one and so I found a new cozy mystery writer who writes in a series and so far I have been able to read her books for 'free' through the Kindle Unlimited program. Why do I need to clear out my mind? Many times on the Amazon review program that I am on I get books by new authors and lets just say they may never get past that first book. I rarely ever do reviews here of books that were disappointing to me. I would prefer to review here books and products that I truly like and if most of my recommendations are ones that you find that you like as just as I do so why bother with the lousy books? You can always find my reviews on Amazon here.