Posted in Book Lovers Community

4 Cheese Spinach Ravioli

Yesterday my husband and I made the most amazing ravioli! We are Catholic and abstain from meat on Fridays. As foodies who love meat (and I hate fish) we are always on the prowl for great meatless recipes.


We have always wanted to make a really good flavored pasta. Past attempts were lackluster and forgettable. We really like Lidia Bastianich’s Family Table cookbook. In it we found one of her basic dough modifications to include spinach. Using a basic dough recipe very similar to this, we incorporated spinach which had been drained over night in the fridge. I can’t find her spinach recipe on the internet, and I don’t want to violate copyrights by posting it here. You can just google for good spinach dough recipes. Emeril has one on Food Network which is similar to Lidia’s, just slightly larger.

While I made the dough, Greg made this Giada four cheese filling. We loved the base but wanted it to have more flavor so he cut in a little fresh rosemary and thyme.


While I rolled out the pasta and made the ravioli’s Greg made this Emeril pesto cream sauce. Obviously we didn’t use the Essence.


The Emeril recipe calls for pesto. Many years ago we discovered this one from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. For some reason, this recipe never fails to be better than anything else we choose. We make it in the height of the harvest season in huge batches and freeze it for use all year. We do play with the recipe a little bit each time we make it to adjust for the seasonal changes in flavor. (Some seasons the garlic is more sharp than others. Sometimes the basil is sweeter or sharper.) The recipe can be found in the Back To Basics cookbook (one of my two favorites of hers – the other is Foolproof).

That’s it! Using basic pasta techniques we married these four recipes into an incredible dish! Boun Appetito!

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Stories We Shared

This gorgeous family reading journal from Douglas Kaine McKelvey is landing on doorsteps all over the country this week. Created during the “Wishes of the Fish King” Kickstarter campaign, Doug and illustrator Jamin Still took an idea from our book club and infused it with magic and wisdom. As the “Wishes of the Fish King” rewards land, this journal is sitting in many of those goodie boxes.

A full review of the journal is forthcoming. In the meantime, Doug gave us permission to put pictures from the journal here so that people could get a feel for it. There is a copy for each of my children waiting under the Christmas tree!














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Hawaiian Style Instant Pot Pork Shoulder

This is a play on a traditional “Hawaiian Kalua Pig” recipe. Essentially we are taking a tough and economical cut of pork, rubbing good flavor into it, and then letting the pressure do its magic. This pork shoulder will fall into gorgeous pieces that can be dressed with the sauce included in this recipe (and served over mash potatoes) or your favorite bbq sauce and served on rolls/buns.

3 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder
5 slices of bacon, chopped into 1/2″ squares
5 peeled cloves of garlic

1 T Brown Sugar
2 tsp of a Hawaiian style or smoky salt (just use sea salt if that is all you have on hand)
1/2 tsp Coriander (ground)
1/2 tsp Ginger (powdered)
1/4 tsp chili powder

3″ slice of ginger, chopped finely
1 Medium Onion, chopped
1 can of crushed pineapple (juice and fruit)
3/4 c water

1. Cut the garlic cloves into slices (about 2-3 slices per clove).
2. Cut garlic slice sized slits in the pork.
3. Insert garlic cloves into the slits.
4. Mix the rub together.
5. Coat the pork with the rub.
6. Press SAUTE  on the Instant Pot. (If it is not set to high, adjust it.)
7. Saute the bacon until it is darkened but still chewy.
8. Press CANCEL.
9. Place the pork shoulder on top of the bacon.
10. Pour all of the sauce ingredients over the pork.
11. Close and secure the lid.
12. Press MANUAL. (If it does not default to high, adjust it.)
13. Use the + button to set your time to 90 minutes.
14. Press CANCEL.
15. Use the NATURAL RELEASE function. It will take about 15-20 minutes.
16. Remove the pork and shred with two forks.
17. Serve over mashed potatoes with the sauce in the pot or however else you like your pulled pork.


In this photo, I garnished mine with a mango salsa similar to this.


Posted in Book Lovers Community

Baked Potato Instant Pot Soup

1 lb bacon, diced

3 stalks of celery, sliced
1 large onion, small dice
1 clove of garlic, minced

5 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 T season salt (I use Lawry’s)
1 tsp black pepper
4 c chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup heavy cream
½ c whole milk

Garnish: sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, diced green onion, bacon crumbles, croutons

  1. Chop bacon into small bits
  2. Fry the bacon in the Instant Pot on “SAUTE” on “HIGH
  3. Add onion, garlic, and celery to fried bacon and bacon grease, saute for 2-3 minutes
  5. Add season salt and black pepper, stir to combine
  6. Add potatoes and stock to instant pot, stirring to coat
  7. Secure lid and set to MANUAL for 5 minutes.
  8. When the Instant Pot is done cooking, press CANCEL.
  9. Use the QUICK RELEASE.
  10. When the release is complete, open the lid and use a potato masher or fork to break the potatoes up. 
  11. Stir in cream and milk. Feel free to add more of either to taste. 

    OPTIONAL: at this point I use an immersion blender to puree my soup into a velvety texture. 

  12. Serve with the garnishes.


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The Scarlet Pimpernel

The movie is better. Much better, in fact.

Pimpernel Movie.jpg
In 1903, Baroness
Orczy wrote a successful stage play about a foppish English noble who mastered the art of “disguise and redirect” in order to save the lives of French royals destined for the Madame Guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Building on the success of The Scarlet Pimpernel production, she converted the story into a novel which launched a series of eleven novels and two collections of short stories. The concept is quite intriguing and was well received on both sides of the Atlantic. The title, The Scarlet Pimpernel, became so emblematic of resistance to terror that several decades later a number of distinct WWII spies were assigned the moniker. For example, Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty was dubbed “The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican” for his use of disguises and underground rescue operations for escaped Allied POWs, Jews, and refugees during WWII.

The 1982 movie is better. I know, I said that already. As a bibliophile, it pains me to write that. But, sadly, it is absolutely true. And sadly, the same is true of my other favorite Pimpernel story. The movie The Scarlet and the Black with Christopher Plummer and Gregory Peck is much better than J.P. Gallagher’s The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. (More on that in another review.)

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a quirky book (or series of books). The writing is uneven. In places, it is beautiful. In other places, it is enough to drive any good reader to the brink of insanity. How many times must she use “superhuman” to describe an effort that Percy or Marguerite is making… at least twice in one chapter and again later. It doesn’t fit the first, second, or third time! Let alone three times in one short novel.

pimpernel 1.jpg

This story is so interesting, that it has become a classic without really proving itself a specimen of good literature. Perhaps someday it will go away. But I suspect that this one will hang around. The idea of a consummate actor with nearly limitless resources, power, and influence putting his life in danger to save innocent men and women from the satanic bloodlust of the French revolutionaries is classically intriguing. The story is brilliant. The writing is subpar. The concept has gone on to inspire the back story for many other super heroes like Batman and Zorro.

Towards the end of the novel, there is a long and irritating windup before the conclusion. Frankly, it is ridiculous and incredibly repetitious. We hear how much Marguerite loves this man, whose life is in peril, every other page. Far from romantic, it feels like a record that keeps skipping. Marguerite’s superficiality is distracting and takes away from the story itself. The final section of the novel, however, is lovely. The conclusion is creative, elegantly written, and rosy.

I keep saying that the movie is better. It is. The screenwriters took all of the Marguerite novels into consideration when writing a strong story arc with nuanced plot twists. (Over the 13 Pimpernel books, Sir Percy’s wife Marguerite only features in a few.) In the 1982 movie, Jane Seymour’s Marguerite is a much stronger and more interesting character than the Marguerite of the novels. Likewise, Anthony Andrews’ Sir Percy is warmer and more lovable than the character in the novel. By combining several of the best storylines into one movie, we get the best that the book series has to offer.

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Uneven as it is, the story is a wonderful way to introduce teens to the historical setting of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Of course there are more well-written historical fiction books in this setting, A Tale of Two Cities, for example. This one, however, is unique, compelling, exciting, wholesome, and romantic. A little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Charles Dickens, a little bit Victor Hugo, and a little bit Alexandre Dumas. Clean, noble, and clever, this story could help young men and young women fall in love with the period and develop an interest in the complexities of that time.

The Audible version that I have is both excellent and horrible at the same time. The narrator is fantastic. The cover art and music are horrendous. If you choose to get the audio, don’t let the music turn you off of the really great narrator.

Note: I would not pass along the other novels in the series to teens without previewing. I am re-reading The Elusive Pimpernel right now (another Marguerite novel) and am irritated with how much like a cheap romance novel it reads. It is not immoral, but it is loaded with over the top descriptions of romance and marital bliss. To quote Fred Savage’s character in The Princess Bride, “is this a kissing book? I HATE kissing books.”


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My Sisters the Saints

“A beautiful and inspiring story of a woman’s deep faith and the saints who became her sisters along the path to her answered prayers.” -Mary Higgins Clark

In October 2014, I was struggling under the weight of a heavy cross to bear. I had lost three babies in miscarriage, was struggling against a neurological disease, and was trying to make my peace with the fact that trying to have more children was too dangerous for me. I was not in a great place. Amazon kept recommending My Sisters the Saints to me, presumably because I was doing a lot of book searches related to spiritual motherhood and St. Teresa of Avila.

“Feeling a mixture of anger and despair, I knelt in a nearby pew and let the darkness engulf me.” (p 9)

I was not sure what I would be getting into with this book. I have a, probably unfair, bias against modern books. I have been so disappointed by books drafted in my own time. So often they make great promises to connect with a modern reader and ultimately fail to have much substance. My expectations for this book were low.

In very little time, I was swept up in the compelling story, made even more compelling when I discovered that she was talking about the Carmelite monastery in my town. I read it in just a few sittings over three days. Campbell’s story forced me to confront some things in my own story. She addressed some fears I had and took me to places that I did not want to go.

That fall, I was angry with St. Teresa of Avila. I had just put down her Interior Castle and wasn’t very happy with her. She was the first female saint I had ever really and truly appreciated but she was writing to nuns and, while she satisfied my intellectual need for authentic theology, her writing made me feel unworthy and left out because I did not wear a habit.

I was frustrated with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. After more than a decade of loving the little nun and trying to adopt some of her spiritual wisdom, I was coming up empty and feeling as though she was actively pushing me away.

With the exception of Edith Stein, the other saints in this book did not appeal to me at all. I knew little about St. Faustina and what I knew wasn’t very exciting. I always grimaced at the mention of St. Therese of Lisieux. I knew that the church treasured her witness and had elevated her to the position of Doctor of the Church. And yet, I found her to be saccharine sweet, idealistic, and useless to a modern married woman like me.

As a Catholic revert (someone who is raised Catholic, leaves the church for a period of time, and then returns home), I was struggling to get over my Protestant concerns about Mary. I found her to be unapproachable because I was miserably confused about what to think of her.

“Like many Catholics born after the Second Vatican Council, which closed in 1965, I grew up viewing Mary with some ambivalence… I knew too little about Mary to feel genuinely close to her and felt too wary of Marian piety to learn more.” (p. 183)

Only Edith Stein appealed to me, and that was because I knew nothing of her except that she had been a Jew,  and that she was a theologian and a feminist.

“I realized that my lingering melancholy might be connected to the intimacy with God that I had abandoned shortly after arriving at college. For more than three years, I had given God the scraps of my time and attention, put Him last on my list of sources to turn to for answers and fulfillment.” (p. 9)

Campbell’s story is different than mine, but she and I have walked similar paths. In this powerful little book, I was reintroduced to these saints in a new way, as she was, through her crises. In each chapter, Campbell chronicles a significant life challenge that she experienced as she tried to renew her relationship with the Lord and walk with Him. In each chapter, she is suffering. But in each season, the Lord’s mercy invades her experience. Each time, the messenger of His mercy is the writing and example of a sister in heaven. I began to see that just as she moved into friendship with new saintly sisters, I too could look for the companion that God had ordained for the various legs of my journey.

“And though I felt a shaky sense of peace taking root in my heart, whatever was happening inside me was still not strong enough to curb my vanity and vices. It just made me enjoy them less.” (p. 23)

When the book opens, Colleen is broken. She is a college student who has gone off the rails. She has excellent and holy parents, but she has enjoyed the fruits of the world and is starving for spiritual nourishment. As the Spirit stirs in her heart, our Lord uses the writings of St. Teresa of Avila to conquer her spiritual and intellectual pride. In the writings of St. Teresa, Campbell returns home to Christ reluctantly and by degrees. Reading the mystic Doctor of the Church, Colleen’s rational self is converted so that she can give her heart permission to be converted as well. Interestingly, St. Teresa of Avila’s writings are what converted Edith Stein from Judaism. Like Colleen, I found solace in the sound theology of Teresa of Avila.

“Teresa’s example convinced me that my journey to understand who I was and how I should live as a woman was inextricably bound with my journey toward God.” (p. 24)

Upon her return to the faith, Colleen is challenged deeply. I could appreciate her laughter at Teresa of Avila’s complaint against God: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”. When we truly embark on this adventure, we can be sure of two things: suffering and divine support. His will does not not take us where His grace will not cover us. However, it is often to the very limits of our ability to trust in that grace.

On this journey, Colleen’s father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Colleen must watch her robust and saintly father suffer indignity and abuse from this merciless disease. During her father’s decline, Colleen is working at the White House as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, but her career is tearing apart her relationship with her fiance. In a radical trust fall of sorts, she must make some difficult choices that are seemingly unclear. Instead of reasoning her way through them, ultimately, she leans into the example of St. Faustina and prays the Divine Mercy Chaplet for months, “Jesus, I Trust In You.”

“Genuine spiritual motherhood lies in leading others to freedom, not dependence; in giving, not getting. But a woman cannot give what she does not first possess. Only in loving God can she find the strength and selflessness she needs to be a true spiritual mother.”

And then we get to her challenges with infertility. Her insights into Edith Stein’s writings fed my soul in a profound way. Two years and two readings later, I am still wrestling with those writings, but I know Edith’s writing continues to grow me and change me. They significantly altered my view of my vocation and gave me a peace that is still working its way deep into my soul.

Finally, Colleen journeys with Saint Mother Teresa through a very dark period of her father’s final days. And when she comes through that, she clings to the Blessed Mother as she transitions into a whole new way of life.

God has worked in my life in a way much like He has worked in Colleen’s. First, He converted my reason. Then, He converted my desire. After that, He converted my will. And now, He is working on my trust and total surrender. His mercy, patience, and grace astound me. His creativity delights me.

I owe Colleen a tremendous debt. Instead of combing the stories of the saints for spiritual answers, I am learning to study their lives for practical answers to my practical problems, which ultimately leads to spiritual answers to my spiritual challenges. In the lives of the saints, I see how the Gospel can be lived in any day and in any circumstances.

I cry every single time I see the name of her son. John Patrick. My littlest guy happens to bear the same name. Every time I see that line in the book, I cry tears of relief. I know that the Lord is listening and working in my life. I know that it was no accident that the Holy Spirit led me to this beautiful story.

Saint Edward Catholic Church – North Augusta, South Carolina – Designed and painted by Joseph K. Beyer. Window fabricated by Artisans of Beyer Studio, Inc.
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Danny Dunn and the Anti Gravity Paint

In 1956, Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams published their first young reader science fiction book: Danny Dunn and the Anti Gravity Paint. Penned almost fifteen years before Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon, the science in this series is dated but still magical and full of wonder. Nearly seventy-five years after H.G. Wells’ publication of War of the Worlds, this brand of science fiction is about possibility instead of terror. At a time when science fiction was exciting and the thing that many little boys dreamed of, the Danny Dunn books are a snapshot of 1950s American childhood with all of its hope and traditional values.

Typical of boys of that era, Danny is smart, curious, respectful of his mother, and famous for getting in and out of trouble. While Danny’s age is never really mentioned, it can be presumed that he is in the 10-14 age range throughout the series.

Danny’s father died when he was a baby. To provide for her little family, Danny’s mother became the live-in housekeeper for an eccentric but wise physics professor at the local university. Professor Bullfinch serves as a loving, kind, and invested father figure in Danny’s life. The home life in this book is heart warming, traditional, and fun to read. Danny’s mom has a good bit of personality, Professor Bullfinch is reliably strong, and Danny could not love and admire both of them more. Through a combination of natural aptitude and the influence of an excellent mentor, Danny desires to be a scientist when he grows up.

In this first book, Professor Bullfinch discovers a substance which they dub “Anti Gravity Paint.” While the science is really unclear, it doesn’t resort to cheap magical tricks. There is a sincere effort to use scientific reasoning and what little information they knew about space to make this plausible. What we know now probably makes it harder to accept the ideas as credible theories, but it really doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story line. Perhaps a little bit like watching old Doctor Who or Star Trek, we just laugh at their misunderstandings of rockets and outer space.

Thanks to an emphasis on STEM and the celebrity status of scientists today, there are a number of science-themed children’s series’ available. Many, however, are not that great. This series was created in a time when traditional values promoted a culture of respect and optimism which is sadly missing in storylines today. Highly creative and moderately old-fashioned, I would say that this series is more wholesome than the Lucy and Steven Hawking, “George and the Secret Key” series or the Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith, “Nick and Tesla” series, but less “perfect” than Homer Price. I do recommend this book, but I want to highlight a couple of reservations. 

The first book of the series was published in 1956. Danny’s teacher (and the childhood teachers of the others scientists in the story) are unimaginative, small minded, and rather punitive when feeling challenged. Despite the private agreements between Danny, the professor, and his mother that these teachers lack vision, Danny is respectful and compliant when being corrected by the misguided adults. Refreshingly, Danny’s mother and the professor each support the teachers’ corrections despite disagreeing with them; a wonderful classic example of old fashioned parenting.

Sadly, however, Danny has a habit of bending the rules – even when he knows it is wrong. When required to write 500 sentences as a correction from his teacher, Danny accepts the help of a friend after first articulating that it would be wrong to do so. Shortly after that, when Danny has a secret, he tells lies of omission to his mother, whom he otherwise respects and honors. In both cases, Danny rationalizes these decisions and justifies them to himself. I wasn’t impressed with this turn of events.

Because of the lying and cheating, I decided to purchase the two audiobooks, but declined to purchase the spines of any of the fifteen books in the series. My concerns are small ones, but until I have time to preview more of the books, I don’t like the idea of small, poor choices compounding over many books and subtly teaching my son that lying and cheating are an acceptable way to get things done.