Reviews

Book Review!

Guest author: Ariel Knapp

While Chad and Caitlyn are making their way to Japan (safe travels you two!) I thought it would be a good time for a book review.

IMG_2844The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester
This book took forever for me to get through and I am very glad I’m done. I read The Professor and the Madman by Winchester years ago and enjoyed it. I thought the subject was interesting and well written and that made me want to read other books by Winchester. Unfortunately, the subject matter of The Men Who United the States has never appealed to me so it was difficult to get through. If you like American history and want to read about Lewis and Clark, canal building, transcontinental railroads, and the invention of electricity then I think this would be a good book for you. Otherwise, you might want to skip this one.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Before this book the only Murakami book I read was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running a nonfiction book about his experience with running. I enjoyed that book and when Caitlyn told me she and a friend were reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki… for their book club I though I’d read it too. Murakami goes into great detail about character personality and appearance as well as scene description, which I appreciated because I think it added a lot to the story.

Austenland by Shannon Hale
This book was made into a movie. I watched the movie first because I had no idea it was a book. While the book was a light read and I liked it, I thought the movie captured the comedy of the story a lot better. The book is a bout Jane who is obsessed with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. She takes a trip to Austenland, a themed destination vacation where people experience Jane Austen’s world complete with period costumes and activities. If you have to make a choice between watching the movie and reading the book, I think this is one of those rare occasions when the movie is better.

Have you read any good books lately? What do you do when you start a book and don’t like it? Do you finish the book anyway or do stop reading and move on to the next book?

Reviews · Tried

Review: Cents of Style State Pendant Necklace

Michigan <br> state pendant necklace

Recently I came across the website My Cents of Style, and was excited to see they offer state pendant necklaces. As we get closer to moving back to Japan, little trinkets that remind me of home become that much more special. That being said, I still wasn’t sure I could pay the list price of $24.95 for the Michigan pendant necklace, but then I noticed there was a half-off sale going on the necklaces for a limited time! At about $12, I figured I’d be getting the pretty little necklace at a steal. IMG_1617When my necklace arrived, I was excited to open the cute envelope packaging.IMG_1619The first thing I noticed about the necklace itself was that it wasn’t so little–just the pendant was over an inch (about 3 cm) long. I didn’t really mind the size so much, but what I did mind was that it was brushed silver. Now, to be fair, the website states that the necklaces are brushed silver. However, my lack of jewelry experience and the original price led me to believe the necklace was still silver, but with a brushed appearance. Sadly, I was wrong. I know some people like the faux  brushed silver look, but to me it just looked cheap and fake. It’s a little hard to see what I mean in the picture because of the lighting, so on the bright side I think maybe it would be difficult for anyone looking at a bit of a distance to see what is lacking in overall appearance, too.IMG_1620Despite feeling a little disappointed, I was ready to let go of my expectations, deciding to wear the necklace anyway. I gently pulled open the bottom of the plastic bag in which the necklace was wrapped and–WHAT!? The little brushed “gold” heart fell right off! What a bummer! Of course, I have some jewelry-making supplies I can use to try and reattach the heart, but that will take unpacking some things as well as time that should have been spent showing off my new necklace rather than repairing it.

Overall, I would never pay full price on the website for this necklace. (To be honest, I am quite disappointed even with the discounted price!) Despite any misgivings I have from my experience with the state pendant necklace, my understanding from reading some other reviews online is that other products on My Cents of Style are fabulous, especially for the price. I don’t think I’ll give up on them entirely just yet, though I don’t know that I’ll necessarily be ordering from them again any time soon!

What do you think? Have you ever tried out a bargain deal? How did your experience compare to mine?

xx Caitlyn

Reviews · Tried

Review: Theo Chocolate

Gazing across the bars of chocolate in my local supermarket, I noticed quite a few bars I hadn’t seen before. It was exciting for me to see so much quality chocolate available, and I decided to choose a new kind to try! Although it was tough to decide between several appealing bars, this time I chose Theo Organic Fair Trade Coconut 70% Dark Chocolate. IMG_1435Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard anything about Theo Chocolate before coming across it in the candy aisle. However, I loved the simple packaging, the Fair Trade Label (among others) posted along the bottom, and the thought of coconut playing a role in the chocolate bar. IMG_1436Every time I try chocolate (whether it’s for the first time or what feels like the hundredth), I always begin by smelling it. As you would expect, this bar of chocolate smelled very much like dark cocoa with just a hint of sweetness. I couldn’t taste the coconut when I took a bite, but the coconut definitely contributed to the overall texture of the bar. Unlike bars that have crunchy nuts or soft dried fruit, the coconut in this Theo bar adds a texture in between the range of crunchy and soft. And although the coconut flavor isn’t especially pronounced, it seems to add a bit of toasty sweetness to the bar that breaks up what could otherwise almost be an overwhelming amount of dark chocolate. I would be interested in pairing the chocolate with coconut water to see if the coconut notes would become more perceptible. IMG_1437After trying Theo chocolate, I visited their website and decided I LOVE THEM. Here’s why: Theo Chocolate is passionate about the journey from bean to bar (and you know how passionate I am when it come to coffee and its journey from bean to cup!). On their fact sheet, Theo Chocolate touts that “Theo is founded on the belief that there is a common thread that binds us, from the cocoa farmer to the chocolate lover, and [they’re] devoted to making our world a better place.” YES!

The fact sheet also states that Theo Chocolate is the first and only bean to bar maker of Organic, Fair Trade, Fair for Life and Non-GMO Project verified chocolate in North America. That’s a reason to try Theo Chocolate if there ever was one, if you ask me! I am looking forward to trying out other flavors of Theo Chocolate in the future.

xxCaitlyn

Food & Cooking · Reviews · Tried

Review: Fantastic World Foods Falafel Mix

I was wandering through the aisles in my local supermarket when I came across a falafel mix. Although in the past I always have made falafels from scratch, I was interested in how a pre-made mix might taste. (Sometimes after a long day, making falafels from a kit sounds much better than making them from scratch!)IMG_0697Making the falafels with the Fantastic World Foods Mix is easy enough: all you need is the mix, water, and (in my case) your favorite beer to drink while making it.IMG_0698Just upon opening the bag, a delicious smell of cumin and garlic rose up into my kitchen. I added 1 1/4 cups of water and mixed until moist, and then let the mixture sit for 15 minutes as directed. (During this time you could always drink that delicious beer mentioned earlier and watch some of the World Cup action with your husband, but that’s totally up to you.)

IMG_0699Once 15 minutes have passed, you make little balls out of the dough and press them into discs. I think if you follow the serving suggestion, you’ll end up with about 16 discs, but I made mine a little fatter, apparently. (Make sure you don’t make them too fat, though, or they will be dry!) From this point you can choose whether you want to bake them or deep fry them, and I chose the former over the latter. After brushing olive oil on both sides of each disc, I popped them in the oven for about 2 minutes per side.IMG_0701While I waited for the falafels to get golden brown, I prepared tomatoes, lettuce, pitas and a yogurt sauce I whipped up quickly with dill, garlic, a little lemon juice, salt, pepper and plain yogurt. (There is also a recipe suggestion for yogurt sauce on the box for those of you that prefer to follow an exact recipe, but the yield seemed really high for just a few stuffed pitas.)IMG_0702I had wanted cucumber, but I forgot to pick some up at the store in all of my Falafel mix excitement. Nevertheless, the finished falafel-stuffed pitas were awesome. Totally brought me back to the first time I ever tried one in a little diner in Amsterdam. IMG_0704Overall I would say that Fantastic World Foods Falafel Mix makes an inexpensive, fast, easy and delicious meal. As the website proudly declares: “If you have an appetite for discovery, try Fantastic World FoodsTM Our truly original ethnic and regional cuisines are specially crafted to stimulate all your senses. Native spices, vegetables, rice and grains combined in new blends of tastes, textures, colors and aromas. They’re vibrant! They’re creative! And they’re always all natural and organic.”

I’d like to try some of their other mixes in the future!