Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review - Break Away

Title: Break Away
Author: Lisa B. Kamps
Publishing Date: 2015
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: C+
Sensuality: Hot
Book Disclosure: I received this book in a goodie bag at the RT book convention 2016.

Break Away is the fifth book in the Baltimore Banners series.  The Baltimore Banners are a hockey team.  This is the first book I have read by this author and I just jumped right in this series with the fifth book.  Break Away is a story about a couple who went through a tragic event five years earlier and their relationship fell apart.  Emily Poole runs into her old flame, JP Larocque at her niece's hockey game.  JP after seeing Emily all this time wants to rekindle their relationship, but Emily wants nothing more than to forget their painful past.

I struggled with this book a little.  The story is hyper focused on what happened between JP and Emily five years before.  The tragic event shapes the whole storyline and ultimately overshadows everything else.  For example, the author never really goes into JP's past, like his family history.  It would have been nice to understand how JP became a hockey player, is his family still in France, does he have any brothers and sisters, etc.  You get the picture.  We know a little bit more about Emily, but again everything centers around how her life changed after the big tragic event. 

The story starts out a little slowly and about half way through, I was getting more into the story.  I liked Emily and JP's personalities, that of which I knew about them.  At first Emily was a little off putting to me because she kept pushing JP away so much, but then she really started to change as a character.  She decides to stop living in the past and to move forward with her life.  I really started to enjoy the book when she comes to that realization.

I don't know if it would have made a difference to read the other books in the series first.  I am not sure if I would have gotten more back story on JP and Emily in the other books.  For me this was an okay read.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Travel Adventures: IFT16 Chicago Part 2

And the adventure continues of my trip to Chicago for IFT16.

Day 3

Today started out with a 5K Fun Run & Walk in Burnham Park.  The Fun Run raises money for Feeding Tomorrow, an organization that provides scholarships to students so that they can attend IFT.  Last year they were able to give out $120,000 in scholarships. 

I had to be at the bus by 5:15 AM, which would take me to the park.  The race started at 6:00.  I am not really a runner.  I try to be.  I want to be.  So impulsively, I signed up for the race yesterday.  Therefore, I found myself up at the crack of dawn, running in a park with about 300 other people.

I feel like I did pretty good.  I mean, I finished the race.  I didn't die of a heart attack and I didn't puke.  Score one for me!  My time was 36:14 and I placed 229 out of 327.

Me, pre-race

I made it back to the hotel, cleaned myself up and headed back to McCormick Place for another day of IFT'16.  In the morning, I sat in two keynote sessions.  The first one was a consumer panel.  This is where they had a group of Chicagoland consumers share their opinions about their food philosophies and what they want or don't want in terms of food.  This was a very entertaining session.  The consumers where a diverse mix of shoppers ranging from the baby boomer who reads every food label, won't buy anything with high fructose corn syrup, and tries to buy organic when available; to the young mom of four, who doesn't have time to read labels and wants the cheapest, fastest product available; to the foodie who likes pretty shiny packaging with inventive, new tasty products.  It is so interesting to see the different perspectives on what a person is looking for when they go grocery shopping.  I, myself, was closely related to the mom of four who wants convenience, but I also like shiny packaging!  What kind of shopper are you?

The second panel was A Sneak Peak at the Food Evolution Documentary.  IFT has funded a documentary to be directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy.  The documentary is called Food Evolution.  The idea is to discuss the misconceptions of science surrounding our food.  It covers topics such as GMOs and how social media and advocacy groups can influence consumers.  It also addresses the challenges our industry faces as the planet's population grows and our resources become less available.  They showed a few clips of the documentary.  It looks really good.  They are almost done editing it and it should come out later this year.

I made a few more stops on the show floor.  The hubster loves Tabasco, so I put in an appearance and got him a tiny little bottle of Tabasco.

In the afternoon, I attended the session The Impact of the International Food Regulations on Global Supply Chain: An Update.  Whew!  Fun times for me, huh?  The first lady who spoke was from Costco and her talk was very interesting.  I had no idea all the hoops they have to jump through to sell food in other countries, let alone ours.  Each country has different regulations and they have to be aware of how the rules are different for different places.  I could hardly understand the second speaker, so I didn't get much out of his talk.

I attended the last key note session and again it focused on how the science community struggles with mass communication, especially in the age of social media.  It discussed how many consumers are mistrusting of experts and instead rely on information from friends and like minded individuals on social media.  If you haven't noticed, this was a popular theme at this year's IFT.  How can scientists do a better job at communicating to the public?  Nobody has a really good answer.  But in this panel, there were a few good suggestions on how to start the conversation.  I wish my colleague Lisa had been at this conference.  She handles communication for our organization and so many of these topics discussed pertained to her.  I am going to have to talk her into coming next year!

That night, I went out to dinner at Emilio's Tapas.  It was not too far from my hotel and had a decent rating on Yelp.  It was a quaint little restaurant.  I ordered the Gabriela salad which had apples, grapes, pecans, and goat cheese in a vinaigrette.  The salad was visually appealing and very tasty with the apples, cheese and nuts; but you couldn't really taste the dressing. 

I also ordered a warm tapas, Cazuela de Pollo Salteado.  This was chicken, mushrooms, and chorizo in a tomato based sauce.  The tapa tasted delicious.  However, several times I bit into a piece of chicken and had to spit it out because of a bone or piece of grizzle.  That really grossed me out and dampened my enjoyment of the meal.  The service was great.  I don't' know what it is about Chicago, but the wait staff really takes care of their customers.

I am not really sure what happened to the coloring in these pictures.  I don't know if it was the lighting in the restaurant or my phone. 

That wraps up day 3.

Day 4

I don't really have anything exciting to report on day 4.  I only was able to attend one session in the morning.  I attended Corporate Spending on Food Protection: Without Knowing the Cost, How Can You know the ROI (Return on Investment)?  This session covered a survey that was done on food companies in Canada to see if they were tracking the costs associated with food safety training for their employees.  Unfortunately, not many companies separate out general training from training that focuses specifically on food safety.  I am not really surprised by the survey's findings because I encounter similar situations in my line of work.  The third speaker focused on training strategies for different types of situations and she gave me a lot of good ideas.  I was really glad I got to attend her talk.  I hope to take some of the suggestions she gave and put them to practice in my trainings.  Score!

After that I had to head back to the hotel to check out.  Instead of flying back home, I have another meeting to attend in Minneapolis, MN tomorrow.  Yep, this is a long week for me. 

I headed off to the airport and had a very uneventful flight to Minnesota.  I am staying at the Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown.  It is not in downtown, so not much is within walking distance.  I am more in a suburb like area, although there is a little shopping complex that I can walk to for dinner.

My evening consisted of FaceTiming with my family, dinner at the food court area, and writing up this blog post. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Travel Adventures: IFT16 Chicago Part 1

I work in the Fruit and Vegetable industry and, because of my job, I get to attend meetings when they pertain to my profession. I am a member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).  They hold an annual meeting where industry professionals can come attend sessions, hear keynote speakers and walk around an expansive trade show. Topics revolve around all things food.  From food chemistry, nutrition, development, engineering, laws, food safety and defense - you name it, it's covered.  I thought I would share my IFT16 adventure with you.

Day 1, Saturday

I flew from Orlando to Chicago on Saturday.  I think I flew on the oldest plane I have ever flown on.  The airplane looked like something out of the 1980's. Seriously, why hasn't this plane been retired?!  It was so old that the vents above the seats had that dingy, yellowish coloring and wouldn't even turn so that you could direct the air flow.  The overhead bins were laughable.  Good thing I checked my bag! 

So..crazy side note:  I am pretty sure I spotted Susan Elizabeth Phillips in the airport getting her bag at baggage claim.

Clue #1: I know that RWA was in San Diego, the flight on the baggage carousel was from San Diego.
Clue #2:  I know that SEP lives in Chicago (Hello, Chicago Stars series!)
Clue #3:  I follow SEP on twitter and Facebook, I know what she looks like.  (I'm not stalking her, I swear.)

I tried to get a picture of her, but I was trying to be inconspicuous, so I know this is a terrible picture!!  What do you think?  Could it have been her?  I mean what are the chances????

I took Uber from the airport to my hotel.  Yes, I use Uber and I love it.  I can do a whole post on this later.  I am staying at the Sheraton Grand in downtown Chicago.  If you have ever been to Chicago, it is within walking distance of the Navy Pier.  I have stayed here once before and it is a nice hotel and in a great location.

I was hungry so I dropped off my bags and looked up a nearby restaurant.  I was going to try and eat down at the Pier, but none of the restaurants at the Pier had a good rating on Yelp.  I decided on D4 Irish Pub just down the road.  It had a 4 star rating on Yelp and I tend to frequent pubs. 

By the time I got to the restaurant, it was a little after 7:00.  I was able to get a table right away.  I have to say that the ambiance at this little pub was very nice.  It was slightly upscale for a pub and everything looked new, but also old world.  It was dark and cozy.  The menu selection was mainly sandwiches and comfort food dishes.  I settled on the burger, but it was a tough decision.  I do enjoy chicken pot pie and they had that on the menu too. 

My server was super attentive and Johnny-on-the-spot the whole night.  I had ordered my burger medium, but it was more like medium well.  Other than that, everything was great.  The fries were crispy and salty.  I would probably eat there again, but will probably try the chicken pot pie.  After dinner, I headed back to my room and called it a night.

Day 2, Sunday

I had to be at the McCormick Center for the first session at 8:30 AM.  They run shuttle buses from the hotels to McCormick.  It's really cool because they can avoid the traffic and have their own special route.  On this morning, however, Chicago was having a half marathon and told us there would be delays.  Yep, lets just say I didn't make it to the first session on time, more like 9:00!

View from my room

My specialty in the food industry is food safety.  I teach fruit and vegetable growers about food safety regulations as it pertains to them.  The first session I attended was entitled Improving Microbial Safety of Locally Grown Fresh Produce in Several US States Through Research and Extension Approaches.  Basically, it was talking about the challenges faced at farmers markets and implementing good food safety practices.

The next event was featured speaker Jacques Rousseau addressing Science Versus Sensationalism and Soundbites: How Can Consumers Make More Informed Choices?  A big issue in our industry is that most people get swept up in media hype and scare tactics and really don't know how to navigate what's true and what's not.  He talked about the issue and what we can do to make changes to address the issue.

At noon, the trade show opened up.  I didn't have to buy lunch because, after all, this is a FOOD expo.  There are plenty of samples to eat on the floor.  I wondered around for an hour or so snacking at various booths.  The Morton Salt booth had pork sliders on a pretzel bun.  Yum! 

Entrance to the trade show
In the afternoon, on the trade show floor, they feature Cooking up Science demonstrations.  Usually, a company has a product they want to feature and then they have a celebrity chef cook up a recipe using that company's product and then the audience can have a taste.  These are really fun to attend.  I went to two today: PureCircle and Qualisoy.  PureCircle featured macaroons and iced coffee that uses Stevia.  Qualisoy featured donuts with a caramel sauce that uses soybean oil.  Emily Ellyn, Retro Rad Chef, who won Cupcake Wars on the Food Network did the Qualisoy demonstration.  She is a hoot!  She gave everyone in the audience cat eye glasses and made us all get up so she could take a picture.  She took her picture with me and gave me an autographed recipe card.  So nice!!

Me and Emily Ellyn
I topped off the day with dinner at Volare Ristorante Italiano.  In my last trip to Chicago, my colleague took me here on a recommendation from the hotel concierge.  It did not disappoint and, needless to say' I enjoyed it. So, I decided to come back.  This is a small little Italian restaurant that features fresh Italian fare.  It is so yummy!!!  It's a little on the nicer side, so don't go in wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Although, a lady tonight had on just that. *Sigh*.  I ordered the special, which was white fish (I can't remember if it was sea bass or halibut) in a lemon butter sauce with asparagus and risotto.  Can I just say yum?  The fish is so tender it just melts in your mouth. 

And that, my friends, concludes day 2. Stay tuned for days 3 & 4....

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review - The Wicked Duke

Title: The Wicked Duke
Author: Madeline Hunter
Publishing Date: May 2016
Genre: Historical
Rating: B-
Sensuality: Hot
Book Disclosure: I purchased an ebook.

The Wicked Duke is the third book in Madeline Hunter's Wicked Trilogy.  This is Lancelot Hemingford's book.  The first two books in the series involved his brothers, Gareth and Ives.  I read both of those books (actually, Hunter is an auto buy for me).  My favorite of the trilogy was Ives' story, Tall, Dark and Wicked.  If you are going to tackle this trilogy, I recommend reading them in order because the mystery surrounding Percy's death and the brothers' circumstances are carried throughout all three books.

The Duke of Alyesbury has been accused of murdering his brother the former Duke, Percy.  Alyesbury is rusticating at his country estate while hoping that the gossip surrounding him dies down.  While in the country, he meets his neighbor's niece, Marianne Radley.  The Duke can's help but be drawn to Marianne's presence she helps to bring a lightness to Lance in this dark time in his life.  Marianne is hesitant to be around the Duke because of the gossip surrounding him, but Lance is enjoying the chase.

The Wicked Duke is a solid conclusion to the Wicked Trilogy, but it was not my favorite of the series.  I think, for me, it was difficult to really like Lance as a hero - at least in the beginning.  He is cast as the anti-hero, the bad boy.  It takes a while to warm up to him and his circumstances.  For Marianne, she is a caretaker.  She is a strong lead heroine, but has just enough vulnerability that the Duke can come in and rescue her.  Both are keeping secrets from each other that provides angst, but not overly so.  A good solid read that I enjoyed, it just wasn't my favorite.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review - Scandal Never Sleeps

Title: Scandal Never Sleeps
Author: Shayla Black and Lexi Blake
Publishing Date: August 2015
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: C-
Sensuality: Hot
Book Disclosure: I received this book in a goodie bag at the RT book convention 2016.

Scandal Never Sleeps is the first book in the Perfect Gentleman Series.  This series is about a group of powerful, men who attended Creighton Academy when they were boys.  They essentially became each other's family and would do anything for each other.  Now they are all grown up and one of their own, Maddox Crawford, has died unexpectedly in a plane crash.  Grieving, Gabriel just wants to loose himself in the arms of an attractive woman he meets after Mad's funeral.  Everly is reeling from the unexpected loss of her friend Maddox and impulsively decides to sleep with a stranger, something she would never do under normal circumstances.  What Everly and Gabe don't know is that Everly worked for Mad as his head of IT Security and when Gabe inherits Mad's company he becomes Everly's new boss.  But it gets even more complicated when foul play is suspected in Mad's death and Gabe becomes the top suspect. 

This book had so much potential, I mean there is a lot going on with the plot.  We have all these hot, wealthy, powerful men banding together.  We have a murder mystery to solve, with lots of plot twists and turns.  We have a sexy romance burning up the pages.  So why didn't this work for me???  Two words for you - Mental Lusting.  Ugh!!!  A large part of the book had the hero or heroine lusting after the other, and it really didn't work for me given their situation.  They are both being chased by paparazzi, there is a house fire set by thugs, almost being run down by a car, and yet there is still plenty of time for Gabe to ogle Everly's chest.  Really???  Also, Everly was prone to TSTL moments.

That being said, I am such a sucker because I still want to read the next book.  There was a lot of sequel bating in this book because of the mystery surrounding Mad's death.  They don't solve it and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.  The next book will be between Connor, the CIA agent and the senator's daughter, Lara Armstrong.  She has a political blog that is causing trouble for the Perfect Gentlemen and Connor has a hard on for her.  Literally!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Columbia Restuarant's 1905 Salad

One of my favorite restaurants to eat at is the Columbia.  This is a very historic Cuban restaurant that was founded in 1905.  According to the website, they claim to be the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. 

Columbia, Ybor City
They have seven restaurants throughout Florida.  The original is in Ybor City, the historical neighborhood in Tampa.  I have been to the one in Ybor City and the one in St. Augustine. 

Me and DH at Columbia, Ybor City

The Columbia is the type of restaurant for a celebration.  It is a wonderful dining experience and not on the cheap side.  So save up for a special occasion.  My DH and I went to the one in Tampa for our sixteenth wedding anniversary.  This was his first time and I made sure that he tried the 1905 salad.  The Columbia is famous for its 1905 salad.  OMG is it very delicious and might very well be one of my favorite salads EVER!!!

Columbia's 1905 salad
What makes this salad so delicious you ask?  First, I think it has to do with the fact they toss the salad at your table to make it as fresh as possible.  Its a very simple salad consisting of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, green olives, ham, Swiss cheese and their salad dressing.  I watched our waiter like a hawk when he brought out our salad.  He squeezed a lemon on the salad, sprinkled Worchester sauce, added the salad dressing and then tossed it.

After our dinner that night, we decided to stop in the gift shop.  Guess what they had for sale?!?!?!  The 1905 salad dressing.  I decided to buy a bottle of the dressing and DH bought a bottle of bourbon.  They also sell various herb infused oils and vinegars, coffee beans, cigars, etc.

Last night, I attempted to recreate the 1905 salad at home. I feel my attempt was pretty decent.  While it wasn't exactly like what I had at the restaurant; it was pretty darn close.  My only issue is that while I shook up the salad dressing, well, the seasonings seem to settle back on the bottom very quickly.  I have a feeling when I get close to the bottom of the bottle, those salads will be flavor intense!

My attempt at the 1905 salad!

If ever you are in Florida and have the chance, I highly recommend making a reservation for this unique restaurant.  If you have had the pleasure of dining at the Columbia, what dishes did you try and love?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review - The Casquette Girls

Title: The Casquette Girls
Author: Alys Arden
Publishing Date: 2015
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal
Rating: B+
Sensuality: Kisses
Book Disclosure: I received this book in a goodie bag at the RT book convention 2016.

The book begins with sixteen year old Adele Le Moyne coming back to New Orleans after a terrible hurricane struck the city a few months earlier.  Her father had shipped her off to France to live with her mother while they waited for it to be safe to come back to the city.  She finally convinces her father to let her come back to the city.  When she arrives she is shocked to find the city mostly uninhabitable.  Fortunately they are one of the few whose home is mostly intact.  Strange happenings are occurring in the city.  A number of people are found missing or dead in the city and the hurricane is not the cause.  No one is sure what is exactly causing the death toll to rise.  Adele discovers that her family history may be more deeply rooted in New Orleans and weird unexplainable things seem to happen when Adele is around.  She discovers a diary from a past relative and hopes that the story will enlighten Adele to these strange happenings that are occurring in the town today.

I really enjoyed this story!  You are fully immersed post hurricane New Orleans.  The author clearly either has lived in the city or did her homework well.  The setting of the book plays a major role in the story and really draws you into it.  The story has many gothic overtones as Adele tries to pick up the pieces of her life post hurricane, meanwhile many unexplained paranormal happenings keep occurring.  The story slowly unravels to reveal many plot twist and turns which keep the reader waiting for what comes next.  Adele is a likeable girl, with a strong sense of self.  There are a few male characters who end up vying for her attention and she, as well as the reader, will not be certain who she will end up with at the end of the story.

There also is a story within the story because of the diary that Adele finds.  The diary is of a young woman traveling from France to New Orleans in 1728.  As Adele reads the diary, she is awarded with clues that help her unravel the mystery that is happening in present day.  The two stories blend well together and add a level of history which enriches the story.  This is my first novel by Alys Arden and I very much enjoyed it.  I recommend it to fans of young adult and paranormal who enjoy a rich historical setting.