Sunday, September 30, 2012

Damaged Goods by Alexandra Allred - Book Review

Author Alexandra Allred offers unique insight into Texas women with their rough-hewn edges, quirks, and diverse backgrounds.  In her newest novel, Damaged Goods, she peels back the layers of grit and toughness, revealing to readers the tender hearts and souls of some unsung heroines of the Lone Star State, where politics is a contact sport.

Although this delicious novel opens with a bang at a socialite wedding in the Hamptons, the rest of the story is set in the small town of Marcus, Texas.  At first glance, Marcus is not too much different than any other sleepy little spot-on-the-map Texas town.  With the rich character development provided, a simpler plot would've sufficed and been an enjoyable read.  However, there is another level to this book.  As the characters reveal themselves in first and third person, the dark side of this little town begins to reveal itself, too.  Through Allred's artful storytelling, a mesmerizing tale of a modern day David and Goliath emerges, and socialite divorcee Joanna Lucas finds herself smack dab in the middle of a fight she never bargained for.  Her misadventures in life have brought her here, and the people she meets are somewhat frightening and endearing.  

"Who'd do that?" Paul asked incredulously, looking around.  The land was barren.  Beyond the mesquite, sparse Texas brush, and the occasional jackrabbit, there was nothing.

"Someone who wants trouble." Frank sighed.  "And trouble they're gonna get."

Frank tucked the canister under his arm and began his trek back to the truck.  Paul followed - both men high stepping over cactus and mesquite.

"I don't know how much more you want to do," Paul shouted, not taking his eyes from the rough terrain. "We got security 24-7."

Well, it ain't workin'," Frank hollered back over his shoulder.

Behind them, FFI billowed great clouds of smoke.

"So, what do you have in mind?" Paul huffed.  He was losing his breath.  Man, but he hated this heat.

"I got some ideas," Frank said.  As they neared the fence line, the mesquite thinned out, and he resumed a normal gate.  "I got some traps."

Paul stopped in his tracks and watched the back of his friend for a moment.

"What?" he shouted at Frank's back.

Frank turned.  "Traps. I got some traps."

"Your bear traps?  Those iron-clamp things?"  Paul laughed out loud.  It was absurd.  Insane.   But Frank wasn't laughing.  

Paul took a few more steps, then stopped.
"Frank.  Have you lost your mind?  You can't set traps for. . . for humans."

Frank reached his truck and opened the driver's side, placing the canister inside.  "I'm not setting anything for humans."  Franks voice was almost a whisper.  "That would be irresponsible and illegal.  I'm setting traps for the wild boars that've been tearing up FFI's land."

Paul picked his way through the rest of the mesquite and circled around the truck.  He wasn't interested in any more conversation until he could climb into the cab, crank the air-conditioning, and catch his breath.

"You're crazier 'n hell."  Paul hefted himself onto the seat and groaned as he leaned back, closed his eyes, and drew in a deep breath.  "You can't go settin' traps for anything out here."

"Why not?  This is private property, and I got no reason to believe there are humans out here.  I got wild hog troubles.  That's it.  And I'm going to set my traps."

As Frank turned the key in the ignition, Paul rolled his head to the side and looked at his friend.  He almost believed Frank would do it.

There is no 'filler fluff' in Damaged Goods.  Threading through concurrent stories and a rich mix of townsfolk, plus a few 'outsiders',  Allred brings out the best, and the worst, of what really happens behind closed doors.  Savor every single paragraph and become immersed in this playful, riveting, and heart-wrenching portrait of girlfriends just trying to live their lives, and discovering that they alone must battle to save their town from the menace of insatiable, blinding greed.

Alexandra Allred
Damaged Goods is due to be released by publisher The Writer's Coffee Shop on October 11, 2012.  It is available for pre-order and purchase here:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mom's Savory Chicken and Rice: Comfort Food When You Need It

She asked for Chicken and Rice.  PRINCESS had been quite ill.  Her stomach was very delicate at this point, but she wanted my Savory Chicken and Rice.

Quick Fix Savory Chicken and Rice

If you have kids, you know what it feels like to get one of 'those' phone calls.  My kiddos are grown now, so I can tell you this: the sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach doesn't feel much different to a parent who gets one of 'those' phone calls, no matter the age of the offspring.  Yep, I'd gotten one of 'those' phone calls.  My son-in-law called to tell me my (grown-up) baby girl was in the hospital.  She'd gotten food poisoning from a fast-food restaurant.

They needed our help.  Our granddaughter, BELLE, had a soccer game.  She and her Dad needed to be at the game.  PRINCESS was soon to be released from the hospital.  She and COCHISE, our grandson, needed Nanny and Papa to come to the rescue.  COCHISE needed looking after, and so did his Mommy.

Princess had been able to hold down some fluids and crackers, but she was hungry.  She hadn't eaten a thing in over 24 hours.  I asked her if she wanted some jello or soup.  No!  She wanted my Chicken and Rice!   I don't know about you, but when my kids are sick I'll say yes to ALMOST anything...just to try and make them feel better.  

Truthfully, I was a tiny bit thrilled.  NOT because she was sick.  That was awful.  I was happy because she wanted ME to fix her some Chicken and Rice.  This girl always wanted her DADDY when she was sick.  Hey, she wanted ME and she wanted me to fix her some Chicken and Rice.  In the south, we call that a 'two-fer'.  I wasn't sure she was ready for any solid food yet, but I was willing to do almost ANYTHING to make her feel better.  ESPECIALLY this time.

The problem I had was time.  I was at work till 5:00 p.m.  Her house was a 30 minute drive from my workplace.  BELLE and her Dad had to be at the soccer field by 7:00 p.m.  By the time I got to their house, sent HUBBY to the store to get the ingredients for the Traditional Savory Chicken and Rice, got it prepped and served it to PRINCESS, it would be bedtime.  PRINCESS needed to eat sooner than that.  

Necessity is the mother of invention, right?  HUBBY suggested that we substitute ready to eat store bought rotisserie chicken instead of cooking the chicken breasts ourselves.  That would speed things up by at least an hour.  

Ready-To-Eat Rotisserie Chicken

Now all I had to do was figure out how to make the rice taste the same as it did when we cooked it with the chicken and other ingredients.   Hmmm....according to our experts...nailed it! 

I'm sharing the Quick Fix Savory Chicken and Rice Recipe with you, as well as the Traditional Savory Chicken and Rice Recipe.

Quick Fix Version: Blend rice, soups, and water in large saucepan.

Quick Fix Savory Chicken and Rice

1 Fresh, Warm, Ready to Eat Rotisserie Chicken 
1 1/4 Cups Long Grain White Rice
1 Can Campbell's French Onion Soup
1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup
1 Can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 1/2 Cans Water

Add rice, soups, and water to large saucepan and stir well.  Cook on high heat on stove top until liquid begins to boil, then turn heat down to simmer, cover, and stir frequently until rice is cooked.  (If you don't stir frequently, the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan.) Simmer for approximately 20 minutes.  Rice mixture is done when the rice is soft and creamy.  Don't try to cook ALL the liquid out or it will be too dry.

While the rice mixture is cooking, remove the skin and bone from the chicken meat.  Tear or cut the chicken meat into bite size morsels.  Discard the skin and bone.  After the rice mixture is done, stir the chicken meat into the rice.  Yummy deliciousness.  Serve warm.  Enjoy!

Traditional Savory Chicken and Rice

4 to 6 Chicken Breasts
1 Cup Long Grain White Rice
1 Can Campbell's French Onion Soup
1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup
1 Can Cream of Mushroom Soup
3 Cans Water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Add rice to the bottom of the pot.  For bone-in chicken breasts, remove skin from chicken breasts.  Place chicken breasts bone side down on top of rice.  Discard skin.  Pour Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken Soup over chicken breasts and rice.  Pour French Onion Soup over the top of other soups, chicken, and rice.  Pour all three cans of water over the top of everything, one can at a time.  DO NOT STIR!  Place lid on pot and bake in oven for about 1 1/2 hours until chicken is done and rice has absorbed most of the liquid.   Don't try to cook ALL the liquid out or it will be too dry.  Yummy deliciousness.  Serve warm.  Enjoy!

For flavor variety, you could add a cup of fresh baby carrots and/or a cup of chopped celery.  Just put them directly on top of the chicken BEFORE you add the soups and water and bake as usual. 

This recipe is shared at The Country Cook: Weekend Potluck #37 and The Gunny Sack Link Party #56. Click on the links to see many more wonderful recipes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Stuffed French Bread Pizza Subs

Have you ever been inspired to prepare a dish just by seeing something wonderful at the grocers?  I spotted some lovely, bright colored bell peppers and day old french bread in the grocery store.  From those ingredients, an idea for a recipe sprang forth:  Stuffed French Bread Pizza.  Our family loves it, and I hope you do too!

Stuffed French Bread Pizza

Pizza Base

1 loaf french bread
1 cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
2 cups marinara sauce

Pizza Stuffing

1 lb. hamburger meat
1 tbsp. Creole Seasoning (links to recipe in previous post)
1/4 green bell pepper
1/4 red bell pepper
1/4 orange bell pepper
1/4 yellow bell pepper 

In medium skillet, brown hamburger meat.  When it is almost done, add coarsely chopped bell pepper and Cajun Spice, then finish cooking meat and drain off the grease.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice loaf of french bread lengthwise.  The bottom should be very thick and the top should be very thin.  Using a fork or spoon, scoop the bread out from the center of the bottom part of the bread, creating a tunnel.

Line the tunnel with a thin layer of marinara sauce, then fill with your hamburger meat and pepper mixture.  

Add a layer of mozzarella cheese and dot with sliced olives, then top with the other slice of your french bread.


Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until pizza and stuffing is hot.

Baste with butter or margarine after baking to make the crust pretty and golden brown.

Slice and serve with marinara sauce for dipping.  Garnish with bell pepper slices.  Enjoy!

Stuffed French Bread Pizza is a quick fix meal and takes an hour or less to prepare and serve.  This recipe makes 4 to 6 servings.  Try other flavors of this recipe using your own favorite pizza toppings as 'stuffing'.

This recipe is shared at:

Sincerely, Paula: NO RULES Weekend Blog Party #46

The Country Cook Weekend Potluck #36 

Tempt My Tummy Tuesday @ Blessed With Grace 

Mandy's Recipe Box: Totally Tasty Tuesdays 

Mrs M's Recipe Link Party September '12

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kids Backpack Tutorials - Adorable DIY Backpacks Collection

Looking for the cutest, most adorable backpacks to make for kids? Here they are!  When your kids are seen sporting these one-of-a-kind backpacks, they automatically earn cool points with their peers.


I love this Bustle Backpack because it is unique and girly.  Love the photo of the big ferris wheel on the beach too!! 

Bustle Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest


 Bustle Backpack Tutorial by Me Sew Crazy

Me Sew Crazy is a very popular blogger and designer, and one of my personal favorites.  That is why I started off this post with TWO of the Me Sew Crazy creations. The design of the Circle Backpack is unique.  If you like it, why not try making the matching Messenger Bag (part of the Messenger Bag Tutorials -DIY Collection post)and Lunch Bag too?

Circle Bags: Backpack, Messenger Bag, and Lunch Bag Tutorials on Pinterest

Circle Bags by Me Sew Crazy

On the scale of cuteness, it is very hard to beat a backpack made from a stuffed animal.  Really hard.

Animal Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest

Kid's Animal Backpack by cotton and curls

Moda Bake Shop's Backpack has clean lines and recognizably classic styling.  With all the wonderful fabrics and trims on the market today, the possiblilities for this backpack are endless.

Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest

How girly can this get?  How about a Petal Backpack by Ucreate?  My granddaughter BELLE would love it!  Know what the best part is?  NO SEWING!  That's right!  This is a no-sew backpack.

petals galore backpack tutorial by Happy Together

Petals Galore Backpack by Happy Together Creates on Ucreate

The popular drawstring backpack is presented here with a fun new twist, it is made with bandanas.  Just imagine all the cute bandana designs available today.  This backpack will be affordable, easy, and quick to construct.

Drawstring Bandana Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest

Drawstring Bandanna Backpack Tutorial COVER
Bandana Drawstring Backpack Tutorial by Ucreate

Drawstring Bandana Backpack by U Create

Do you have a little one that loves fishies?  This Fish Backpack is so creative, they'll love it!

Fish Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest


Fish Backpack by Tried and True 

I've been excited about polka dots ever since the 1980s when Princess Diana brought them back into fashion.  My granddaughter TINKERBELL calls them "coca dots".  She and her Mom, my daughter PEPSI both share my love for polka dots.  The BEST thing about the Polka Dot Backpack?  It is soooo easy!  No sewing involved at all!!!

Polka Dot Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest 


 DIY Polka Dot Backpack by hellobee

This Toddler Backpack comes with a free pattern.  The author made her backpack from a thrift store flour sack.  I've seen so many beautiful vintage prints in thrift stores.  Sheets, dresses, robes, tee shirts, curtains, you name it!  If you wanted to use a flour sack fabric, why not get some flour sack dish towels at Walmart?  Then you can stencil, stamp, embroider, or paint anything you want on your baby's backpack.

Toddler Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest 


Toddler Backpack by indietutes 

Nothing But A Hound Dog Backpack Tutorial on Pinterest

Have you ever been inspired by a piece of fabric?  The Nothing But A Hound Dog Backpack was inspired by this beautiful laminated cotton houndstooth.  I love this backpack.  Arf, arf!!


I hope you enjoyed seeing these creatively designed backpacks.  I can't wait to see what you'll make. Please let me know which one you like the best.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Free Printable Faith Tree - How to use PicMonkey

Lately, I've been thinking quite a bit about Faith.  There is a Primary Song in the Children's Songbook called Faith.  It is a wonderful, simple, and descriptive song.

With a little help from this PicMonkey Tutorial by Ten June now I can share my Free Printable Faith Tree with you.  If you want to put an image with words, PicMonkey is a free online program and it is fairly simple to use.

Have fun with it, and definitely let me know how it goes for you.  If you create something you like, I'd love to post it here!

For lots more DIY fun, check out  What's In The Gunny Sack? Linky Party #54 and Shwin&Shwin Link Party #43.