Posts filed under ‘book review’

Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia

Maria Loggia’s kitchen door is always open. Her home and garden are a gathering place for friends and family, who come to share her easygoing enthusiasm and generosity – and her inspired Italian cuisine. In this, her second book, Loggia celebrates the seasons with 16 sumptuous menus – from a spontaneous al fresco garden party to a slow-simmered midwinter feast and a traditional Sunday family lunch.

Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia is on a spotlight tour from July 14 to 18.

Author & Chef: Maria Loggia

Category: Non-fiction

Genre: Cooking, Food & Wine, 176 pages

Publisher: Cardinal Publishing

Published: Oct 1, 2012


Try One of the Recipes!


Petto di Pollo Farcito con Uva e Noci

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Grapes and Walnuts




For filling:

1 tbsp (15 ml) unsalted butter

2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

¾ cup (180 ml) walnuts, coarsely chopped

½ cup (125 ml) red seedless grapes, quartered

2 tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh chives

2 tbsp (30 ml) bread crumbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

7 oz (200 g) soft goat cheese, cut in 6 slices


For chicken:

6 tbsp (90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

6 bone-in chicken breasts, skin on

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tbsp (45 ml) unsalted butter, softened

1 orange, cut into wedges

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, each cut in half

5 bay leaves

To serve:

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange


Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

To prepare filling: Heat butter and oil in a large skillet and sauté shallots until soft, 1 to 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in walnuts, grapes, chives and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly. Leave goat cheese aside for now.

To prepare chicken: Oil a 14-inch (35 cm) round earthenware tiella or roasting pan with 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the olive oil and set aside. On a baking sheet, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise slit in each chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through. (This will form the pocket for the stuffing.) Rub remaining 4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil into the chicken (including in the pockets). Divide stuffing equally among chicken breasts, stuffing it into the slit in each breast, and top with a slice of goat cheese. Pull the chicken skin over the filling and secure with toothpicks. Smear butter over the skin and season again to taste with salt and pepper.

Gently transfer chicken to prepared tiella. Scatter orange wedges, rosemary and bay leaves around chicken. Roast 35 to 40 minutes, or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the breast is pierced. Then broil 2 to 3 minutes, or until skin is crisp and golden. Drizzle with orange juice and serve warm with pan juices.

Serves 6

Tips from Maria:

Consigli di cucina (kitchen tips)

The chicken breasts can be assembled the day before, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. When ready to serve, bring chicken to room temperature and cook as instructed. Doing it this way allows the flavours time to meld together beautifully.

Che cos’è? (what is it?)

I’m convinced food tastes better when cooked in a shallow, glazed earthenware dish known in Italian as a tiella. I find earthenware dishes distribute heat slowly and evenly as the food cooks. Aromas and flavours are intensified and casseroles never stick or dry out.

To season a tiella: Before using your tiella the first time, immerse the dish in cold water to soak overnight. The next day, empty the tiella and wipe it dry. Rub the inside with olive oil and place in a preheated 300°F (150°C) oven for 1½ hours. Remove seasoned tiella from oven and place on a wooden board or thick tablecloth to cool. (If placed on a surface like granite or a cold stovetop, it will crack.) To clean a tiella, soak it in warm, soapy water, then scrub with a soft sponge.


Meet the Author


Maria Loggia is one of Montreal’s best-loved Italian cooking teachers. Her Tavola Mia cooking school in the village of Hudson is a warm, inviting place to learn about Italian cuisine. She also appears regularly on television, is featured in newspapers and magazines, and leads culinary tours in Italy.

Maria finds inspiration in her Italian heritage and draws on family recipes that go back generations. She founded Tavola Mia, her at-home cooking school in 1999. Through her study of Italy’s regional cuisines, which has included numerous sojourns back to her native country, she has acquired great expertise in the art of Italian cooking. Her passion, humor and dedication to excellence have made her an inspiring teacher. Using fresh local ingredients, Tavola Mia celebrates the seasons in authentic, irrepressible Italian style.


An Interview with Maria Loggia


Maria Loggia from Pierre Blais on Vimeo.



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July 15, 2014 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

Book Review: Effortless Savings

Effortless Savings

I received a copy of Effortless Savings: A Step-by-Step Guidebook to Saving Money Without Sacrifice a few weeks back and finally found the time to settle into a comfy chair to read it.

The book is a simple read. I probably read it from cover to cover in less than an hour. It’s broken down into eleven main chapters, which cover saving money in the following categories:

  1. Telecom Services
  2. Insurance
  3. Home Energy
  4. Grocery Shopping
  5. Health and Beauty Products
  6. Clothing and Household Items
  7. Automotive Expenses
  8. Additional Shopping Strategies
  9. Restaurants and Entertainment
  10. Vacations and Travel Expenses
  11. Credit Cards and Banking

While we all know that we can clip coupons we also recognize that the big ticket items can help us save much more money. Syrop provides a list of simple yet cost effective strategies for saving a bundle. For example, increase the deductibles on your insurance coverage and you can save hundreds a year; wrap a cover around your water heater and save a hundred more.

I appreciated the author’s point of view, reviewing a few policies here and there, keeping an eye on your water and energy usage and spending wisely will certainly help you save. Syrop’s book provides a lot of suggestions and choosing to implement just a few would go a long way to helping you hold onto your money.

Effortless Savings focuses on ways to save without feeling deprived. While a lot of personal finance gurus might suggest attending a matinee to save money, Syrop explains how to save and still see the evening show.

The author suggests using the Entertainment Book or Costco to attain discounted tickets. You won’t save quite as much as you might be watching the afternoon, but the evening experience might be worth the slightly elevated price.

Syrop recommends the Entertainment Book to help with a number of different spending categories. He suggests maintaining a list of offers that appeal to you by reading through the book and recording the name of the business, value of the coupon and it’s corresponding page number. That way you’ll be able to perform a quick glance at your notes when deciding where to eat or what activities to partake in.

I haven’t had much luck with this particular savings mechanism in the past, (I think I used one coupon in the Entertainment Book that was gifted to me), but I will admit that part of the issue was forgetting about the coupons before heading out on the weekends. Syrop’s suggestion to maintain a running list is a good one.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Effortless Savings. It’s an extremely quick read with a lot of helpful advice for saving money. I implemented many of the suggestions listed in this book before I read it, but I still found quite a few suggestions I never considered.

June 18, 2014 at 11:58 PM 2 comments

Book Review: Let There By Light

Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light was written by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and illustrated by New York Times best selling author Nancy Tillman. I was unbelievably excited to receive this book. Tillman is the author of On the Night You Were Born, which is one of my favorite children’s stories.

I received that book as a gift just before my son was born and could not read it aloud without crying for the first few months after his birth. In fact, since his birth I have gifted it to a number of friends that had children. In my opinion On the Night You Were Born is the quintessential book for every new child. It received five stars on Amazon with over 522 reviews.

I suppose I had my sights set incredibly high when I received Let There Be Light and as a result I was a bit disappointed. Let There Be Light is a children’s book that captures the story of Genesis and God’s creation of the world in seven days.

Based on the illustrations I would rank this book quite highly. The artwork of landscapes and animals is truly stunning.  I love how the images correspond to the beauty God creates in seven days. I did think the final verse was lacking a bit. After all that God created Archbishop Desmond Tutu simply writes “God looked at everything that he had made and clapped his hands together in delight, ‘Isn’t it wonderful.’” I didn’t think this was a particularly powerful statement for such a miraculous undertaking and the text did not flow as cleanly as the words written on other pages.

I did enjoy this book and my two year old son asked me to read it to him multiple times. He loved pointing to the pages with animals and explaining all that he recognized.
Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze® book review  program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

February 5, 2014 at 3:19 PM 1 comment

The Beauty Experiment

The Beauty Experiment

I was contacted a few months ago by a book publisher who wanted to send me a copy of The Beauty Experiment.  I love reading and jumped at the chance to dive into a book I would not have picked for myself. The book tells the story of Phoebe Baker Hyde, a new mother who finds herself living in Hong Kong with an overworked husband who often leaves for long periods of travel.

One afternoon she spends a large sum of money on a dress for her husband’s holiday party. While in the dressing room she thinks she looks glorious, but the evening of the party she realizes that her fashion choices were horribly misguided. She is devastated by this realization and decides to undergo a makeover of sorts. Believing that she’s obsessed with her looks and appearance she throws out all of her make-up and refuses to purchase any new clothes.

The first half of the book focuses on her struggle to deal with this drastic experiment. She doesn’t just stop wearing makeup. She chops all of her hair off and stops shaving her legs.

I’ll be honest I found parts of this book quite frustrating. I don’t think a woman needs to stop shaving and get a man’s haircut to stop obsessing about her looks. In fact, her actions were so dramatic that they forced her to focus on her appearance more than ever before. She worried about what people thought about her, why she couldn’t tell others about her appearance and how the culture of Hong Kong could not deal with a woman who didn’t discuss new department stores and fashion.

I believe the undercurrent of this book has absolutely nothing to do with her beauty experiment and almost everything to do with the author’s place in life. She was a new mother, struggling to raise her daughter alone as her husband frequently left the house for extended work trips, she lived in an unfamiliar country and had few friends and family members to help out. When I read the book I immediately thought she seemed rather depressed.

In the final chapters she final digs into the real problems in her life. I suppose the author felt the need to provide chapter upon chapter of details about her beauty experiment in the book before reaching this realization, but really I wish she would have skipped a few of those middle chapters and landed more quickly at this realization.

As a stay-at-home parent the author details how she felt left out of the financial equation with her husband. She also felt that her work at home was going unrewarded and believed spending money on spa packages, hair care and luxury goods would boost her self-worth. She termed this beauty-revenge spendingpassive aggression and survival technique.

Near the end of the book she points out that her husband was also experiencing pain. As a stay-at-home mom of an infant I remember thinking that everything had changed in my life, but my husband’s life had remained virtually unchanged. One day I looked up and realized my husband was suffering alongside me. His issues and troubles were slightly different, but he was struggling nonetheless.

Despite getting frustrated as I read chapter after chapter of this book I did like the place the author landed. By the end of the book she recognizes that there are more important things in life than appearances. I love this paragraph:

And I think: it’s fear that so often leaves us feeling empty – fear that causes empty hearts and sometimes empty philanthropy jars as well. Some of us buy diversions and delights, hoping to cheat time and forget death. Others sit on savings forever, budgeting for imagined wolf at the door. All we can truly assess ourselves is the quality of our daily, hourly, minute-by-minute calculations: how nimbly we count life’s riches; how skillfully we fill our emptiness so we may sum to joy.

I never wear much makeup myself. In fact, I didn’t start consistently wearing eyeliner and mascara, (the only makeup I wear), until just before my son was born, but after reading this book I underwent my own beauty experiment. I spent two weeks without wearing any makeup at all. It didn’t bother me much not to wear it. The only real difference I noticed was feeling more tired. As I looked in the mirror I noticed that my eyes didn’t sparkle quite the way I expected and that looking at my tired face made me feel more exhausted then ever. I don’t need makeup to feel whole, but I will admit that I have a happier attitude when sparkling eyes are looking back at me from the mirror.

January 22, 2014 at 11:30 AM 9 comments

Book Review: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is a wacky, mostly true memoir written by The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson. The book is comprised of a series of stories about Lawson’s life from early childhood, up through her marriage and beyond.

As you read this book you’ll find yourself shaking your head in utter disbelief that anyone could grow up the way the author describes. Lawson, provides photographic proof throughout the book and honestly without those pictures you would never believe that her stories were even remotely real.

The funniest stories revolve around Lawson’s father, a taxidermist who brings home road kill on a regular basis to amuse his children. Of course, Jenny and her younger sister are absolutely frightened by his antics, but that doesn’t stop him from bringing dead animals into their home.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. There are a lot of curse words thrown in for good measure and Lawson herself states that many people will be offended by her words.

The book feels a bit like an ode to the dysfunctional. Many of her stories are both funny and disturbing. As I read the book I often wondered if I should cry for the author or laugh at the antics she described. I think that may be the point of this book. Perhaps the goal is to realize that no matter how messed up your upbringing might be humor makes it all much easier to swallow.

If nothing else this book will probably help you realize that ‘normal’ is all relative. If you didn’t grow up with raccoons wearing shorts and turkeys following you to school then you probably started off a lot differently then Lawson did.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

March 7, 2013 at 8:00 PM Leave a comment

Book Review: A Good American

A Good American

At it’s root BlogHer’s latest book selection, A Good American, tells the tale of three generations of the Meisenheimer family. The story unfolds as a love affair between two Germans, (Frederick and Jette), who leave their home country in search of America. After crossing the Atlantic they ultimately land in a small town in Missouri where they settle down and start a family.

The 400+ page story details the day to day lives of Frederick and Jette and two generations that follow them. I swayed back and forth between really enjoying this book and feeling bored by it. Although the book tells the tale of three generations of the Meisenheimer family, it felt a bit disjointed to me.

In the first section of the book the reader learns of the love between Jette and Frederick, their need to leave their home country and the trials and tribulations they face as they try to settle in America. I really enjoyed this part of the book. The author steps you through Jette’s emotional turmoil.  She delivers a child in America and immediately regrets leaving home without saying goodbye to her own family. Frederick on the other hand loves America and everything about it. He immediately embraces the language and the culture. He strives to own a home and a business which is after all the American way.

There are interesting dynamics between the main characters, including Lomax, an African American man, who reenters Jette’s life mid-way throughout the novel. He has an interesting role in the book and his interactions with both Joseph and Rosa (Jette’s son and daughter) were very touching.

The second part of the book was less enjoyable for me. As Jette and Joseph age the book focuses more on Joseph’s children. Although the reader continues to unfold the daily lives of this third generation of German immigrants the story became less interesting to me. The characters weren’t as memorable and their interactions with each other weren’t narrated with the same zest as the first two generations.

As the novel concludes the author, Alex George, does a nice job of tying a neat little bow around the Meisenheimer family. George throws a curve ball in at the end that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Still I would’ve liked this book to end sooner than it did. I don’t think the second half of the book captured my interest nearly as much as the first half.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

February 21, 2013 at 2:00 PM Leave a comment

Book Review: Touch and Go

Touch and Go

I’m not typically a fan of mysteries. I have an extremely active imagination and books with murders and abductions typically freak me out. I’m the kind of girl who pauses the DVR whenever commercials for horror movies air on television. I know there is a lot of evil in the world and I do my best not to spend too much time thinking about it, so when BlogHer listed Touch and Go as one of their February book club selections I wasn’t sure if I should sign up, but I’m so glad I did.

Once I started reading I could not put the book down. In fact, I handed my son off to my husband for two hours, (something I never do), just so I could finish it.

Here is a brief synoposis of the book from the author herself:

An entire family disappeared without a trace, with no witnesses, no motive and no ransom demand. Justin and Libby Denbe have the kind of life that looks good in the pages of a glossy magazine, with their gorgeous brownstone on a tree-lined street, their seemingly perfect marriage and their beautiful fifteen-year old daughter, Ashlyn. But when the entire family disappears without a trace, PI Tessa Leoni must discover their innermost secrets and race against the clock to try and rescue them before their perfect life goes up in smoke.

The story is told from the perspective of two main characters: Tessa Leoni, a private investigator hired to find the abducted family and Libby Denbe, the abducted wife.

To me this story was actually much less about the kidnapping and much more about the trials and tribulations of a family that is falling apart. Libby’s narration alternates between the past and the present. Her marriage is in shambles. Her daughter barely speaks to her and she is struggling with an unhealthy addiction to prescription pain killers.

Every other chapter alternates between Tessa’s investigation and Libby’s abduction. To be honest I didn’t care too much for the chapters involving Tessa. While I know they were necessary to uncover the truth behind the abduction I found little interest in the character of Tessa herself. Every time I read through one of Tessa’s chapters I yearned to return to Libby’s narration of events.

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was rather unexpected. I found myself racing through the last few chapters to find out who abducted this family and I was not disappointed by the way the author, Lisa Gardner, tied up all the loose ends.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

February 7, 2013 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: Here I Go Again

Here I Go Again

Here I Go Again is the latest selection from BlogHer’s book club. The book is told from the point of view of Lissy Ryder an uber popular cheerleader who dated the quarterback and picked on every kid she encountered in high school.

As an adult Lissy is no different than she was throughout her teens. She focuses solely on herself. Rather than going to work she spends time at the gym. She talks with her best friend but doesn’t listen to a single word her friend says to her. Eventually her self-involved attitude catches up and she loses her job and her husband and finds herself living in her childhood bedroom.

As the book progresses Lissy has a chance to correct her past and the novel takes you through a series of loops where Lissy returns to right the wrongs she caused so many years ago.

My own high school years weren’t particularly traumatic. I was never picked on and I never felt ostracized. I was smart, thin, tall and moderately attractive. I was the kind of girl who knew who the popular girls were but didn’t want to hang out with them. Even as a teenager I didn’t like the fake feelings they exuded or the backstabbing that I witnessed from afar.

I focused more on being kind to the kids around me. I drove my neighbor to school every day despite the fact that he received a perfect score on the math portion of his SATs. I tended to sit next to the kids in class who didn’t seem to have a lot of friends. At lunch I ate with a bunch of different kids, trying my best not to fall into one group classification or another.

So when I started reading this book all I could think was ‘ugh, not another book about a super popular high school girl who grows up to realize what a bitch she’s been.’ It’s hard to like a character like that, but as the chapters progress the author does find a way to entice readers to turn page after page.

By the last few chapters I couldn’t wait to see if Lissy was going to fix the past in a way that helped her live a more balanced life. This book made me think twice about some of the interactions I’ve had in my own life. (Not necessarily the ones from high school.) I wasn’t mean to others like Lissy, but it did make me wonder how chance encounters might have altered the future of those around me.

I think this book would make a great beach read.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

January 31, 2013 at 8:00 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: My Life Map

Ever wonder where you are headed or think hard about where you’ve been? Are you unsure of where your life might take you? Are you struggling to decide what you really want out of life, where you want to live, what you want to do for a living or how you want to spend your free time?

Does everyone tell you to find your passion in life? That the best course of action is finding a job you truly love. How many times have we heard Oprah say “it’s not work if you love what you do” and wondered why you can’t figure out what you want to do?

Kate and David Marshall, the authors of My Life Map, want to help shape your future. They’ve devised a workbook that steps you through a series of questions to help you narrow your focus and define your goals. This isn’t just about your career. It’s also about the people in your life, the places you should live, the service you want to impart on the world and how you want to learn and play.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and reflecting on its questions. The book begins by focusing on aspects of your past and present. You are asked to write down your strengths, the top ten significant events in your life thus far and the top five emotional highs and lows. You are even asked to grade yourself in various aspects of your life including work, love life, physical health and friends. After writing down the answers your goal is to search for patterns, themes and lessons. On one page you are asked to decide what aspects of your current life you want to keep and which you wish to change.

As you reflect on your past and present the book guides you through the process of creating ten year and whole life maps. I like that this book focuses on ALL aspects of your life. It isn’t just about the job you do, it’s also about the people in your life, the service you commit to the world and the way you spend your free time.

I know a couple of miserable folks who aren’t happy in their lives, but aren’t sure how to make things better. They know they are unhappy but they don’t know what they’d rather be doing. Unsure of where to turn they stay stuck in the exact same place day after day. I plan to lend my book to one particular family member. I hope it helps him reflect on his life and focus on a new path for the future.

To learn more about My Life Map visit the BlogHer book club.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

November 15, 2012 at 11:16 AM Leave a comment

Book Review: Reflected in You

The latest BlogHer book club choice, Reflected in You, is the second in the Crossfire series. The book takes readers on a romantic and often volatile journey through the lives of ultra-wealthy fictional characters Eva Tramell and Gideon Cross. The series is rated for mature audiences because it contains quite a bit of explicit sexual content. I’m talking crazy over the top sex scenes.

Penguin publishers provided all reviewers with a copy of the first two books in the Crossfire series. I enjoyed reading Bared to You, the first book in the series, as it introduces you to the two main characters along with a host of other peripheral characters. Some of the characters are interesting, like the crazy male roommate, but others feel a bit stereotypical in nature. The gay boss and wealthy parents didn’t have much depth to their characters.

Unfortunately by the time I started reading Reflected in You I grew tired of the characters and the plot of the story. The second book in the series feels a bit redundant. As a reader you learn more about the character’s pasts and there plausible futures, but the book takes on a rather boring repetitive nature as the characters play out similar scenarios and emotions over and over again.

If you are going to read any of the books in the series I suggest skipping the second novel and just reading the first. Having said that I will say that you don’t need to read the first book in the series to understand the characters and plot in Reflected in You. I know some series work that way, but without reading the first book you would be able to follow along with the plot of the second without any problem.

A third book in the series is scheduled to release in May of 2013.

To learn more about Reflected in You visit the BlogHer book club.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

November 8, 2012 at 9:42 AM Leave a comment

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