Review of Raspberry Danish Murder by Joanne Fluke


Okay, I’m going to admit it. I am a big fan of cozy murder mysteries.  I know that most of them are not the height of masterful literature nor do many of them make it to the NY Times Best sellers list.  However, they do provide the reader with a cozy, warm feeling like that of a fuzzy warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.

In particular, I enjoy the Joanne Fluke series based on baker, Hannah Swensen.  It definitely appeals to both the cozy reader as well as the baker in me.  The story lines are interesting and the recipes are to-die for!  The recipes are not for the health conscious, but as my kids and their friends will attest to, the cookies are delicious and rival any product from a high-end bakery.  I guess the main appeal of the series is the inclusion of the sugary, rich recipes and their descriptions.  It’s almost like reading a fun cook book.  In that way, Joanne Fluke’s series is holds its own among a genre that is literally “overcrowded”.

I think Hallmark fans also find the storylines appealing, since the series has been taken on by the network as a movie series starting Allison Sweeney and Cameron Mathison.  To be honest, I actually enjoy the movies more than the books (which is a definite first for me!).

The main character  , Hannah, runs The Cookie Jar, a small town bakery based in cold Minnesota.  Fluke does emphasize the cold, wintry Minnesota weather frequently, and I think it provides a nice back drop to to the warm atmosphere of the cookie bakery.  In her earlier novels, Hannah has been dating a dentist, Norman, who is a favorite of her mother’s, a running character in the series of a helicopter mom interfering with her daughter’s romances.  The other character Hannah has been dating is Mike, a policeman, who is written to have the sex appeal and chemistry that Normal seems to be lacking.  In the Hallmark movies, Hannah is shown to develop a permanent relationship with Mike and the Norman/Mike competition is lacking in the movies (which is a big plus).  The relationship choice of Mike helps the movie series concentrate more on the mystery plotline, which I feel makes the movies stand out as superior to the novels.  Hannah’s two sisters are also characters in many of the Cookie Jar novels, and I enjoy the rapport between Hannah and both of them, especially that of Michelle, her younger sister. I guess the camaraderie is more evident between Hannah and Michelle since they are both single and roomates while the older sister, Andrea, is married with two cute little girls.

In Joanne Fluke’s prior book, Hannah ends up choosing a newly introduced love interest as her life partner.  His name is Ross, and she ends up marrying him after a whirlwind romance, mainly based on their foundation of them previously knowing each other in college.   This romance comprised the bulk of the prior book in the series, and I feel that this was a negative aspect of the series.  It felt strange that Hannah would choose Ross after all the books in the series focused on her choosing between Norman and Mike.

Anyway, Ross “disappears” at the end of the previous book, and Raspberry Danish Murder centers around finding out the how and why behind Ross’ disappearance.  Without adding any spoilers, the plot is interesting, and the recipes, like always, do not disappoint.  With help from Mike, Lonnie, Mike’s assistant policeman, Norman, and Hannah’s sisters Michelle and Andrea, the mystery is finally solved.

For those readers who enjoy cozy mysteries and recipes, these books will be right up their alley as long as they can get past the writing style which is elementary at best.  In addition, the characters tend to be one-dimensional, again due to the writing.  I feel that Joanne Fluke’s main strength are her baking recipes!

Click on the link to start reading the book yourself! I would love to hear your thoughts! //

My Take on Salt and Pepper Tofu

Salt and Pepper Tofu

One interesting thing about me is that I am a vegetarian.  I cook meat dishes regularly for my family , outside of beef (which we don’t eat for religious reasons); however, I tend to cook meatless dishes more often since it’s easier for me.

My kids enjoy chicken and….chicken and…chicken when they do eat meat.  They are not adventurous in their eating habits, and balk at seafood and shellfish.  They will occasionally eat pork (in the form of sausage, meatballs and, of course, bacon) and turkey on Thanksgiving, but they prefer meatless or chicken most days.  Fortunately, both my boys are avid bean eaters, so Mexican foods definitely are on the menu on a weekly basis.

Tonite was on of those nights when I wanted to make something easy without boiling a bag of pasta or wrapping up a bean burrito.  I figured it was time to reintroduce tofu to our menu rotation.  I was concerned about how my kids would appreciate it since it had been a while since they last had it.  I figured I would sautee the tofu with a crisp exterior and give it a savory sauce so that they would think they were having a type of chicken dish at our regular Chinese take out place.

I found a package of extra firm tofu in the bottom drawer of the fridge, and smiled when I realized it had not yet expired.  Yay!  I cut it up into 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch cubes and then put the cubes in a large colander lined with paper towels, allowing it to drain at the sink.  In the meanwhile, I put about a 1/2 cup of corn starch in a shallow dish and added one teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.  I gave the corn starch mixture a stir with a fork, and then put a large non-stick saute pan on the stovetop set to medium high heat.

I took the tofu cubes and coated them in the corn starch.  Now, for most tofu recipes, I noticed that the author calls for draining the tofu first on a cutting board lined with paper towels and placing a hard weight on top of the tofu.  Although this step does produce more dry, firm tofu, I find that this step is not absolutely necessary for this recipe.

After coating them in the seasoned corn starch, I added a thin layer of vegetable oil to my saute pan.  After a few minutes, I made sure my oil was hot enough to saute the tofu so that each cube would have a crispy exterior. I put the tofu in a single layer in the pan and heard the satisfactory “snap, crackle and pop” of the appropriately heated oil.

As the tofu was sauteing, I quickly made up the sauce.  I added in about 3 tablespoons of hoisin sauce, two cloves of garlic, about one tablespoon of chopped ginger, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil, one teaspoon of black pepper, and 2 teaspoons of vegetarian mushroom based oyster sauce.  I then added about one cup of room temperature water to the mix.  I put all the ingredients in a small bowl first and gave them a wisk before adding them to the hot pan after the tofu had been cooked on both sides ( I had to flip them after 3-5 minutes on the first side).

While the dish was cooking and bubbling, I chopped up the white and green parts of two stalks of green onion for garnish.  Once the sauce had thickened, thanks to the corn starch, I sprinkled the dish with the green onions, and it was ready to serve!

The aroma is splendid, thanks to the ginger and garlic in the sauce, and the dish definitely satisfies the salty, sweet, spicy, and umami taste sensations.  Needless to say, my kids were grinning as they gobbled down the tofu alongside garlicky basmati rice and a side of steamed broccoli.  Two thumbs up!

Sunday Baking

Sunday Baking

I usually love to spend my Sunday afternoons baking something new in the kitchen so that I can give my kids a homebaked dessert after Sunday dinner.  Well–I say it’s for my kids, but in actuality, I don’t mind nibbling on some new sugary treats as well!  I spent a few minutes scrolling through my Pinterest feed and then digging through my pantry cupboards to come up with some ideas.  I noticed that I had accidentally bought a package of macadamia nuts instead of my usual almonds (my snack during the work week) and wanted to try them out in a dessert.  I figured that they would go well with a citrus element, but I had run out of fresh lemons.  I didn’t want to use the bottled lemon juice alternative (shudder at the thought)  stashed in the deepest, darkest corner of my pantry closet, so I started to rummage through the refridgerator drawers.  I found some beautiful navel oranges, and figured that my older son wouldn’t miss one.  He tends to snack on oranges after school or before dinner during the week, and I am proud that he chooses oranges over the more indulgent options such as ice cream bars (also kept in the deepest, darkest corners in the freezer for hiding purposes!).

 Now, I had two not-so-common dessert ingredients which helped me narrow my recipe search. I came across several recipes for nut rolls.  I decided to improvise and make tweaks on several recipes to come up with one of my own.  The results turned out scrumptious!  We had some with our afternoon snack while playing board games and sipping iced and hot tea (hot tea for myself and iced beverages for the kids), and we even had them again the next morning with a side of sausages.

The recipe was not super easy since it required several steps; however, the results do pay off.  As long as you have yeast and eggs on hand, the type of nuts and citrus can be substituted with what you have on hand.  To be honest, you can skip the citrus altogether, but it would be hard to skip the nuts since the texture makes the dish.

First of all, I always am OCD about pre-heating my oven.  I never want to wait for my oven to heat up once I go through the whole process of dough making. I set it at 375 degrees F.

I started wanting to bloom the yeast in warm milk that I had nooked in the microwave for about 45 seconds (the time for the milk to be lukewarm can vary depending on the strength of your microwave).  The recipe called for one cup of warm milk and one tablespoon of yeast. I added in one tablespoon of sugar for the yeast to “feed on” (or so my mother says), and let that mixture sit for a few minutes.

While the yeast was blooming, I took out my food processor.  Unfortunately, this recipe does call for the processor to grind the nuts.  If you are lucky enough to already have some nuts pre-ground, then you don’t need to bring out the one of the top “bulkiest” appliances.  I wasn’t so lucky, so after hauling it out from my closet and finding room on my counter top, I plugged it in.  I poured in about 2 cups of whole macadamia nuts (fortunately, it was the entire package that I had) and ground the nuts into a consistency that resembled wet, coarse sand.

I tipped the ground nuts into a sauce pan along with two cups of sugar and one cup of room temperature water.  I have always been taught to add in a pinch of salt in everything sweet, so I tossed in about a teaspoon of salt.

I also wanted to play around with the flavorings of the fillings. I do so enjoy a cup of chai tea on a regular basis, and wanted the filling to be reminiscent of the warm spices. I added in two teaspoons of cinnamon, one teaspoon of ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg.  I didn’t have fresh nutmeg on hand, so I used the pre-ground kind. I won’t tell if you don’t!

I set the mixture on medium heat and , while that was carrying on, I turned back to my bloomed yeast-milk concoction.  I put the mix into my electric mixer . and you are supposed to fit the mixer with a dough hook.  You can use the paddle if you don’t have the hook attachment, since I had misplaced my hook when I made this recipe.

I put in four sticks (2 cups) of soft, room temperature butter along with 6 cups of all-purpose flour. I started the mixture on low, while I broke seven eggs. I separated the yolks from the whites, and put the whites back in the fridge for a yummy omelette on another morning.  I tipped the yolks gently into the spinning flour-butter mixture and then added one teaspoon of salt.  While that was mixing, I slowly poured in the milk-yeast combination.  To match the flavor to the filling, I added in the same amount of spices into the dough that I had into the filling (see above) plus 2 tablespoons of sugar. The dough was relatively wet, so I added in a 1/2 cup of flour one at a time until the dough became a more pliable consistency. It took a whole other cup addition of flour. Of course, I almost forgot to add in my one tablespoon of orange zest and 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice!

While the mixture was mixing, I had to remember to keep going back to my nut-sugar mixture on the stovetop.  It was now bubbling away, and I did have to remember to keep stirring it regularly to prevent it from burning.  I turned the heat down to medium-low, and it had almost reached a syrup consistency (which is what you want).  I finally turned the heat off (it took about 10 minutes total, give or take a few) and wanted to see if it would thicken more at room temperature.  To my pleasure, the loose liquid did become more of a syrupy texture within 5 minutes of sitting at room temperature.  While I was waiting for the liquid to come to room temperature, I had turned out my dough onto my island top and started to roll it thin.

For most nut roll recipes, the recipes call for forming balls out of the dough.  I was too lazy, so I made mine more like cinnamon rolls. I  I added the syrup mixture on top of the dough but actually left about a one inch boundary that was syrup-free.  I had to put in a thin layer of the syrup mixture so that it wouldn’t leak as I rolled up the dough.  I used the “typewriter” method of rolling up the dough as Ree Drummond has so aptly named this common method. However, I had to be very careful so as not to have the syrupy filling leak out.  Fortunately, everything came together with minimal leakage (dough is so forgiving that I was able to pinch up any leaky spots), and I was able to cut the dough into one inch sections using a serrated knife.

I put the sections about 1/2 inch apart from eachother onto my favorite tried-and-trusted silpat mat , and laid the mat on top of my baking sheet.  After making this dish without an egg wash, I do highly recommend it to make the dish look even more inviting.  Just mix up a splash of water with one egg, and using a brush, dab it on each of the sections.   I then put the baking sheet into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes, checking on it every 5 minutes or so to make sure the filling didn’t leak and burn (usually, just my luck!).

After the oven timer beeped, I removed the “buns” from the oven allowing a heavenly scent to permeat the kitchen.  Of course, my teens decided that was the best time to come out of their “caves” (i.e. their rooms) and start hunting around for food.

All in all, I do recommend this recipe but be sure to allow plenty of time and room on your countertops.  It is well worth the effort!  Feel free to add an icing or a type of glaze if you prefer, but with the nut filling, I feel that the buns are sweet enough. They have a middle eastern flare since the filling resembles that of baklava , so be sure to let the taste testers know that they are not the typical cinnamon roll!

Baked in Vermont–one of my new favorite baking shows!

Baked in Vermont

Have you all seen the new Food Network show, “Baked in Vermont”?

Let me tell you–it is one of the better shows on the network at the moment.  Most of the shows on the network are Chopped wannabes—they are based on cooking competitions with celebrity chefs.  Even though I am a fan of Chopped,  I feel that there are too many competition shows on the network.  They all seem to run together, and I found myself scrolling through the menu on the TV to find an actual cooking or baking show that was interesting.  Outside of Pioneer Woman and the non-renewed Southern at Heart (starring one of my favorite Food Network personalities due to her genuine warmth and interesting personality, Damaris Phillips), there aren’t too many cooking shows that are actually worth watching until I found “Baked in Vermont”.

“Baked in Vermont” is a more recent offering from the network, and I truly enjoy the host and baker, Gesine Prado.  I think a huge part of her charm is the fact that she sincerely loves baking and her enthusiasm comes across the television screen.  She also gives several valuable baking tips and even gave one on cooking soft scrambled eggs ( I had not seen or heard of this tip anywhere, and it made my picky younger son eat and enjoy eggs in the mornings).

Her recipes are for dishes that I would actually make for my family, and none of them are too complicated or call for strange ingredients that one wouldn’t have on hand in their pantry.  The one exception was a recipe for soft cinnamon crumble buns that required instant mashed potato flakes (!) –I found that one funny but , needless to say, after seeing how yummy the buns looked on TV, I put instant mashed potato flakes on my grocery list for that week.

Gesine lives in Vermont, and I like the geographic aspect of the show as well. It almost resembles Barefoot Contessa in its premise, especially how Gesine cooks for her husband, Ray.  The main difference between the two shows is that Gesine is much more down-to-earth, and her recipes consist of dishes that require dough or pastry of some kind.

If you are a baker or even a fan of cooking shows, I highly recommend that you give “Baked in Vermont” a go.  You will not be disappointed.  I foresee Gesine Prado reaching to great celebrity heights!

Review of Darrow and Darrow 2 on the Hallmark Channel

Review of Darrow and Darrow 2

So, here I am reviewing yet another Hallmark series/movie.  What can I say? I really love the channel, especially the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries series.  I am not a fan of gruesome scenes and storylines focused on rape and sexual abuse, so I feel that the Hallmark mysteries are more my cup of tea.

I was not going to watch the second Darrow and Darrow, since I felt that the first one left me wanting.  It was not a polished movie, and I did not feel that it introduced the characters as well as the writers/editors could have.  The story line seemed clipped and didn’t interest me. In fact, the main character of Kimberly Williams-Paisley (who I adored from the “Father of the Bride” movies with Steven Martin) did not seem likeable.

However, given that Darrow and Darrow 1 was one of the few Hallmark mysteries that disappointed me, I wanted to give the second one a second chance!  This one was much more refined with a more interesting story line to keep the viewers (namely me) engaged.

I enjoy the acting of Tom Cavanaugh and Wendy Malick immensely, and these two actors did not disappoint.  Kimberly Williams-Paisley was still a bit “cardboard-ish” but has improved since the first movie.  She does have to work to match Tom Cavanaugh’s chemistry and natural likeability, especially since they are in so many scenes together.  Wendy Malick is superb, and I wish she was in more movies.  She seems to carry off a scene with the most minimalistic effort.

The plot revolved around Tom Cavanaugh’s step sister, a singer, being accused of murding her former record producer.  It is a basic plotline, but the character actors did a great job even with their small roles. For those fans of Signed, Sealed and Delivered, you will recognize the actor Geoff Gustafson who plays a side yet pivotal role in this movie.  The plot was , unfortunately, predictable but it had a small added twist at the end.  I feel that the acting of the main two characters and the addition of Gustafson are what made the movie, and I am looking forward to more in the future. This second addition established the characters well and laid the groundwork for many future mysteries. I just wish Kimberly Williams-Paisley’s acting skills can match her co-stars….maybe something else to look forward to!

Review of “Bonfire” by Krysten Ritter


Review of Bonfire

Bonfire is a recent novel written by Krysten Ritter, a television celebrity , well known for her role in the Netflix drama Jessica Jones.  To be honest, I was unaware of the identity of the author while reading the novel.  However, upon learning that the author is part of a dark drama, makes sense since the novel has a dark thread running through it. 

The protagonist in the novel is Abby Williams, an environmental lawyer based in Chicago.  She is sent to her hometown of Barrens, Indiana to look into the influential company of Optimal Plastics.  Optimal is a huge supporter of the local community , and its influence seems to be everywhere including the local school system.   There is a definite suspicion that Optimal is corrupt and has used bribery to hide potential environmental misconducts, and Abby’s job is to find proof of such corruption.   However, due to the fact that she grew up in Barrens, Abby seems to be pre-occupied with her high school past including the clique of popular, mean girls that bullied her.  She is especially focused on what happened to mean girl Kaycee Mitchell who seemed to disappear after high school, and Abby feels that there may be an actual connection between Kaycee’s disappearance and Optimal.  

Bonfire , while discussing the repercussions of chemical contamination of the environment, also delves into the social web of high school and how it can be nightmarish, especially in light of cliques and social bullying.  I have to give it to Abby to actually want to find out what happened to the girl who was so mean to her in high school by collaborating with the other members of the popular clique.  It was interesting that she wanted to revisit those memories of her past no matter how hurtful they were to her in order to determine if Optimal was not only involved in corruption but possibly was also an adjunct to murder.  

The novel is definitely a page-turner, but the plot is not surprising.  The whodunit theme did not keep me guessing, since my suspicions of who the antagonist was from the beginning of the book were proven at the end of the book.  I felt that the link between Optimal and high school was a twist, but, in the end, nothing else caught me by surprise.

Would I recommend this book?  Hmmm….I’m not sure.  I think it’s a great time-pass, but if the reader is looking for something new or stimulating, this doesn’t fit the bill. 

Review of “Deadly Deed: A Fixer Upper Mystery” on the Hallmark channel

I am a lover of mystery novels and had included “cozy mysteries” in my repertoire of nightly reading a few years ago.  Part of my reading included Kate Carlisle’s bibliophile series and the fixer upper series.  Imagine my surprise when I saw a preview of “Fixer Upper” mysteries on the Hallmark channel! Of course, I had to watch them and see how the cast lived up the characters in the books.  Fortunately, the movies that they had made were not from the particular books in the series that I had read (I admit it–I haven’t read every book in the series!), so I wouldn’t have to compare them. In the past, the books almost always outperformed the movies in my mind, but I think this is a commonly held belief among most readers!

The latest movie in the Fixer Upper series is titled “Deadly Deed” starring Jewel as the protagonist, Shannon, and Colin Ferguson as the love interest.  His character in the series is a writer, so, needless to say, the character is dear to my heart!

I enjoyed the plot, and it wasn’t an easy who-dun-it to figure out like some other mystery movies. In this movie, Shannon has taken on a charity project to renovate a Victorian mansion which is to be converted into apartments for low-income families.  She recruits Colin Ferguson as well as her loyal local friends to help with the project.  A local banker, one who was antagonistic to the charitable project, is found dead in the home, and Shannon takes it upon herself to find out the murderer.

The plot is full of twists and turns, and I do not get bored during the movie at all. I enjoy the chemistry between Colin and Jewel, and I like the fact that the film makers brought in two teens to help engage the younger viewing audience.

Jewel is gorgeous throughout the movie and exhibits an innocence which is rare among lead female actresses.  However, her glamorous beauty and feminine outfits, although downplayed with natural makeup and mute outfit color choices, are a bit discordant with her occupation as a contractor.  Colin Ferguson is a natural at his role, and I would love to see him as lead roles in other Hallmark movies.

All in all, I highly recommend this particular Hallmark movie for its plot twists and challenges that keep the viewer guessing until the end.  This series is definitely one of the better mystery series on Hallmark.

Review of Best Baker in America on the Food Network

The second season of Best Baker in America has arrived!  It seems that it resembles the successful PBS show, The Great British Baking Show hosted by Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  The Great British Baking Show is a personal favorite of mine, and I have binged most of the seasons already on Netflix.  Needless to say, I was excited about the Best Baker in America and wondered if Food Network could produce as successful a show as the PBS one. 

The Best Baker in America consists of seven episodes, with the final baker winning a grand prize of $25,000 and the title of Best Baker in America!  For this 2018 season, the nine bakers competing for the title of Best Baker in America are: 

Becca Craig (Philadelphia, Pa. – Executive Cake Chef); Kym DeLost (Chicago, Ill. – Pastry Chef)); Jeremy Fogg (New Orleans, La. – Pastry Chef); Frania Mendivil (Los Angeles, Ca. – Executive Pastry Chef); Leigh Omilinsky (Chicago, Ill. – Pastry Chef); Lasheeda Perry (Atlanta, Ga. – Executive Pastry Chef); Max Santiago (Miami, Fla. – Executive Pastry Chef); Jean-Francois Suteau (White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Executive Pastry Chef); Adam Young (Mystic, Conn. – Bakery Owner and Head Pastry Chef). 

Scott Conant is the host, and the two main judges are Jason Smith and Marcela Valladolid. There are rotating guest judges as well in each episode.  

I have now seen the past two episodes this season and have been impressed by the baking chops of the contestants and the masterful desserts they create in every contest.  The desserts are truly beautiful, and watching the bakers mold flour and sugar into such works of art is truly inspiring!  Usually, I head into the kitchen after watching an episode and scour the pantry for ingredients to create mirror glazes and mousse cakes.  Unfortunately, I am always lacking an ingredient (or twelve) and aim to purchase the missing items on my next jaunt to the local Giant.  Of course, my grocery store list is always left at home, and my aspirations to be the next best baker in America falls to the wayside in light of kid duties, work, dog walking, etc. 

Despite the reality of no time to devote to baking masterpieces of home, I, at least, get to live vicariously through the one hour show every Monday night on the Food Network.  I enjoy getting to know each of the contestant’s personalities, rooting for the winner on each episode, and listening to the judges’ critiques on each of the desserts. 

I do wish that there was a bit more teaching involved when they focus on the individual bakers.  The camera man does show different techniques, but sometimes I feel like screaming at the TV, “Hey, slow down! I didn’t catch how he did that!”.  It would be great if I could actually learn how to use certain techniques at home without having access to professional goods such as liquid nitrogen and acetate.  

The other issue I have with the show is the baking expertise of Jason Smith.  Jason Smith was the winner of one of “The Next Food Network Star” series, and his personality is truly a delight. He is authentic, down home and witty.  However, is he really qualified to judge professional pastry chefs when he is a self taught cook?  I find that him and Scott Conant should trade places; I enjoy Scott in the series “Chopped” , and I feel that he has excellent cooking expertise and judgment skills. On the other hand, I find him to be rather ‘blah’ as a host.  Whereas, Jason would be hilarious as a host.  

Just some things to think about for next season!

Review of “Origin” By Dan Brown


Review of the “Origin” by Dan Brown

“Where did we come from?” “Where are we going?”  Those are the two main questions that character Edward Kirsch posed to society while also declaring that he recently had discovered the answers. The Origin is the fifth novel in the Robert Langdon series by author, Dan Brown. The prior novels in the series included Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol and Inferno.  In this latest installment, I realized that I didn’t have to have read the prior books in the series to either understand or enjoy the novel.  My attention was immediately grasped in the first few pages since the book posed the question as to where we, as in human lifeforms, came from.  It brings up the age-old conflict of Evolution versus Creation.  I was interested to determine if the answer would be as riveting as the journey to discover it.

Robert Langdon is dear friends with Edward Kirsch who is a renowned technology expert and physicist.  Langdon is invited to a Spanish musuem for the unveiling of the answers to the fundamental questions by Kirsch.  Upon entrance to the museum, Langdon is introduced to a marvel model of artificial intelligence by the name of Winston. During the first moments of Kirsch’s talk where he is about to reveal to the world the supposed answer to the question of how life began, Kirsch is assassinated.  What happens next is a series of escapades and adventures that involve Langdon, the AI Winston and the beautiful and intelligent future Queen of Spain!

Like the previous Robert Langdon series, Origin definitely reals in the reader into the web of intrigue and mystery surrounding technology, religion and artificial intelligence.  Although I was disappointed at the ultimate revealing of Edward Kirsch’s “answers” to the ultimate question of “Where did we come from?”, I felt that the beginning and middle parts of the book made up for the ending. Spoiler alert:  The last few chapters did reveal an unexpected twist, and I felt that they added even more thought to the question of “Where are we going?”All in all, I do recommend this novel to fans of the Robert Langdon series since it is a page-turner and does make one think about the advancement of technology at the end of the novel.  However, if one is looking for the answer to how lifeforms were created, you will not find the penultimate answer in this novel.

The Magic of Early Morning Walks

As I gathered my dogs’ leashes early this morning, I yawned.  I had to get up earlier than usual for these extended morning walks, but they have truly made a difference in our demeanor as well as our weight!  My older dog, Lucky, has had an issue with weight despite diet and regular twenty minute walks.  I was always an avid treadmill user but realised that I enjoyed walking outside much more. However, I don’t like to walk when it’s dark out, so I had to wait until daylight savings in April before I could try a new outdoor exercise routine. I realized that  I could get the same amount of exercise if I simply woke up earlier and walked the dogs for an hour instead of 20 minutes.

I set the alarm earlier than usual, and, believe it or not, it wasn’t that hard to get out of bed since Lucky and Honey (my two standard goldendoodles) were already chomping at the bit, ready for their morning exercise.  I padded to the kitchen where I could prep my morning cup of coffee and drink a liter of water, my two ways of hydration before the walk.  The one good thing about waking up early is that I get some peace and quiet before the school rush starts.  I fed the dogs and got my kids’ breakfast and school lunches ready as well.  That way, the morning won’t be as crazy when I get back with the dogs.

The sun was just rising as we stepped out of the house, and I  let the dogs choose which path they want to go on that morning.  I am indeed fortunate that my neighborhood has multiple dog friendly streets for us to choose different paths several times a week. Lucky always prefers the path that leads to the creek where he loves to waddle.

As we stroll down the sidewalk, peace surrounds us.  I pass homes that are now surrounded by shrubs of brightly colored azaleas and flowering lilacs.  The sidewalk dead ends to the entrance to the park with the creek. Fields of buttercups are scattered throughout the park, and we then cross a bridge over the creek that leads us to a gravel path.  The dogs scamper ahead of me as they charge into the creek, eager to dunk their heads and splash around in the water.

These morning walks are a great time to appreciate nature and to clear my head.  I literally am absorbed with the surrounding home gardens, natural flowers in the fields and making sure my dogs don’t get me wet in the creek!

As we trot on home, I realised that all of us are definitely more relaxed from the walk.  We get our morning exercise, and we explore the neighborhood as well.  For the dogs, it’s like reading their morning newspaper.  They get the “news” by sniffing all the new smells and meeting the other dogs being walked in the neighborhood as well.

With or without dogs, I highly recommend morning walks!