Friday, December 16, 2011

Butternut Custard

This is turning into one of my favorite desserts (or snacks). Since Paul and I are starting to try a new low-carb type diet, I needed some kind of dessert we could have that didn't have a lot of sugar or carbs. I managed to come up with this delightful concoction that has a mere 7 carbs per serving!

Butternut Custard

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

2 cups butternut squash (blended or mixed well)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmet
1/4 tsp cloves
6 packets sucralose (equal to about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of sugar)
4 eggs

Mix everything together with a hand mixer until it is well blended and pour equal portions into 6 buttered ramekins. Place them in a baking dish (I use my lasagna pan) and fill the bottom of the pan with 1 inch of boiling water. (a water bath) Put the whole thing in the oven, being very careful not to touch the oven OR slosh boiling water either onto your hands or inside the ramekins, and let it bake for about 35-40 minutes. You can check to see if it's done by inserting a knife or toothpick halfway between the center and the outer edge--it's done if it comes out clean (as usual.)

It's delicious both warm and cold...and either way, you'll be missing out if you don't serve it with a huge dollup of whipped cream on top!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Joni Sensel: The Farwalker's Quest and The Timekeeper's Moon

Anyone who read and loved Lois Lowry's The Giver and the accompanying books, will see some obvious similarities with the idea of occupations in this fascinating fantasy by Joni Sensel. I appreciated that the book was longer and the plot much more intricate than The Giver (which I also loved) but I still finished it in about a day because I just couldn't put it down!

The story opens with Ariel and Zeke, 12-year-olds (almost 13) in a small coastal town, preparing to take their Naming test. This will determine their last names, which is also the occupation they will be apprenticed in until they become a master. But when Ariel finds a telling dart (a mysterious relic from a past that was much more scientifically advanced) and two strangers come to the town, things start unraveling.

Ariel fails her Healtouch test, and is invited by the two mysterious Finders to deliver it herself to the man who is interested in it. She plans to go, but when her mother refuses, the men kidnap Ariel! Thus begins the wild ride that leads to Ariel becoming a Farwalker, Zeke discovering that he can talk to stones, and them both finding a true friend in an unlikely place.

This story is sparkling with imagination, and I relished every moment of it. But I've read stories that are gripping and interesting, but the characters themselves kill any inspiration that could have come from the story. Here, Joni Sensel writes an exciting story with perfect characters to match. They are young, but brave. And they are thrown into a situation where courage is their only option other than giving up--which meant death. They grown and learn as the story progresses, both through their natural raw talents and through the experiences that press them to be bold and courageous. I love how the story shows young teens that see the contrast of talent and calling and are willing to do what is good and important, not just what they know they can already do well.

Sensel also creates a beautiful picture of love and friendship in this book, between Ariel, who finds out she is an orphan along her journey, Zeke who leaves home and family to rescue her, and a fatherly figure who helps guide them on their journey. And here we see a beautiful picture of another truth: even the toughest need someone to love and hang on to; everyone has moments of weakness....and that's okay.

Well, once I finished The Farwalker's Quest, I immediately dove into The Timekeeper's Moon, which consumed me for another day (because I couldn't put that down either.)

In this sequel, Ariel discovers that there was something left undone on her previous journey. And, being a year later, if she doesn't finish it soon, everything that happened will become undone. Between the moon speaking to her and almost driving her loony, and a confusing map that they aren't even sure is a map, Ariel once again takes to the countryside following the direction her feet set.

Zeke is left behind on this journey, but Ariel picks up two new companions. One is Sienna, a chatty young Fire Mage who is set on finding a husband at the next town they find, and the second, Nace, is an attractive and romantic (but mute) Kincaller (animal whisperer) that follows Ariel when she leaves his village and eventually joins their group.

Will Sienna succeed in worming her way into Scarl's (Ariel's surrogate father's) affections? Why are things that are lost from the past suddenly reappearing and then disappearing again? With the moon calling and urging, will Ariel complete her unknown task in time? Do Ariel's dreams have an element of reality in them, and if so, why does she keep dreaming about falling and death? On top of all this mystery, add in a beautiful bead necklace, each bead with an accompanying story that seems to have a creepy connection with what is happening to Ariel on this journey...and you have in your hands a real humdinger of a gripping fantasy novel.

As soon as Joni Sensel comes out with another, you bet I'm going to pounce on it as soon as it leaves the printing press!