Book Review: Longing for More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life

Another book review today! Normally I review fiction or cookbooks on my blog, but I recently requested a different sort of book for review: a daily devotional. When I saw it available at the end of last year, I thought it would be a great book to start the new year off with. And I was right! Timothy Willard’s Longing for More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life is a great book that I highly recommend. Thanks to the blogger review program for Bethany House Publishers for the chance to read and review it!

Longing for More: a book review on thepajamachef.com #devotion #reading #Christianlife #greatbook
Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Catch your breath and sit for a moment. Now listen . . .

What do you hear–questions of trust, longing, disappointment, courage, and love? In Longing for More, Timothy Willard invites us to think and pray through our deepest needs, and explores how the ebb and flow of life can be used for God’s glory. Creatively organized in 52 chapters that follow the four seasons of the year, the daily readings point the way to a richer spiritual life.

 As usual, my five point review:

  • I’m a librarian, so I know you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover. But you know what? I do. All the time. Sometimes this is good, other times it might not be. This cover is just phenomenal. It’s welcoming, inviting, relaxing… and I just want to sit with this book and read it all day thanks to the fabulous cover art. The print book itself also feels good in my hands. The cover is substantial and the pages don’t feel brittle. I know that’s just a minor thing, but if this is supposed to be a daily devotional, to turn to day after day, it’s gotta stand up to that. And this book does. Bravo!
  • Enough about the aesthetics. The content of the book is just as fabulous as its appearance. [Spoiler alert: I didn’t read the entire book… a year hasn’t gone by, silly!] That being said, the book is set up to be read 5 days a week for a year. The book was originally written as emails to a group of fellows within a social justice program, presumably the author’s friends or at least acquaintances. So it has a feeling of warmth and familiarity which I loved. It’s meant to “reflect the rhythms of daily life, but also point to the heavens, to God.” This is demonstrated in many ways, not least of which is the fact that the third daily reading is just a prayer–because by this point in the week that is what the author needs most. Good call. You can begin this book at any time of the year, but it is structured to align loosely with the church calendar, so a January start is good but not essential. This book isn’t meant to be your one and only devotional either, it is meant to supplement deeper Bible reading so I could see it being good to use at a different time of day than your normal devotions.
  • Willard does a great job blending Biblical truth with his own life experience, as well as quotes from Christian thinkers throughout history [mainly C.S. Lewis and Søren Kierkegaard]. I appreciate that there wasn’t tons of fluff in the entries I read, and though the entries are deep, they aren’t so theologically heavy that they require a dictionary and reference books to understand. It’s a great balance.
  • Willard is also a very poetic writer. These devotions should be savored and pondered throughout the day, each accompanies a daily passage of scripture and they blend well together. The scripture is definitely prioritized but the devotion isn’t an outright Bible study either.
  • The general tone of these devotions is encouraging. Though Willard challenges his readers to more closely follow the Lord and acknowledges the challenges of life and realities of suffering, the tone of encouragement is awesome. He does a great job focusing on heaven while on earth. I highly recommend this devotion and would read more of his work!

 

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!

Book Review: A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes

You guys. I am SO in love with Hillary Manton Lodge’s third novel, A Table by the Window: A Novel of Family Secrets and Heirloom Recipes. I’m being super serious when I say that I probably would have posted about it on my blog even if I had just picked up a copy at the library myself. Instead though, I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books Program.

A Table By The Window by Hillary Manton Lodge // book review by thepajamachef.com #cooking #romance #mystery Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Heirloom recipes, family secrets…and a chance for love.

The youngest heir to a French-Italian restaurant dynasty, food writer Juliette D’Alisa has spent her life negotiating her skill with words and her restaurant aspirations. When her brother Nico offers her a chance to open a restaurant together, she feels torn—does she really have what it takes? Should she risk leaving her journalism career?

After the death of her grandmother, Juliette discovers an antique photograph of a man who looks strikingly like her brother. As the truth behind the picture reveals romance and dark secrets, Juliette struggles to keep the mystery away from her nosy family until she can uncover the whole story.

Inspired by her grandmother’s evolving story, Juliette resolves to explore the world of online dating. To her surprise, she finds a kindred spirit in Neil McLaren, a handsome immunologist based in Memphis, Tennessee. With a long-distance relationship simmering, Juliette faces life-shifting decisions. How can she possibly choose between a promising culinary life and Neil, a man a world away in more ways than one? And is it possible her Grandmother’s story can help show the way?

And as usual, my five point review:

  • I’m hard pressed to think of something that I didn’t like about this book. It was lovely… so well written and with such engaging characters! If you like food and romance and mystery and culture and comedy, you’ll find something to love about this book. Don’t be too concerned that it is Christian fiction. God and faith are discussed, but without lots of fluff, and the characters are real. Their problems don’t get solved in an instant just because they prayed. That’s not how it happens most of the time in real life, and that’s not how this book goes either. It is very genuine and down to earth.
  • I loved Juliette. She’s friendly and likeable, but also very smart and cultured. She’s well read, witty, brave, and energetic. She’s driven and family oriented, traits that serve her well [while also causing internal conflict as plot events shake out]. As much as I love the single Juliette, I adore how her character grows as she gets to know Neil. Good, healthy relationships are like that, and though theirs isn’t easy or normal Neil really helps her become more herself in many ways.
  • The author’s writing is just amazing. She’s so poetic and does a fabulous job balancing modern, cultural references [read: internet dating] with charming French or Italian words/phrases. She references literature too, which I love. Everything isn’t explained to the precise detail either [a common occurrence in some Christian writing that drives me nuts]. And for once, this isn’t a predictable novel!! :) YES! In fact, it ends on a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next installment to come out!
  • Another reason I loved this novel was that Juliette includes some of her [errr Hillary’s] recipes. The hot chocolate sounds wonderful! I want to make it this winter. :) I think they all sound really good, actually.
  • All in all, this was a great book. It has so many elements that I love–a character I adore and wish I could hang out with in real life, faith, cooking, travel… it was just perfect! Though I might not have family I can go visit in Europe, it’s fun to live through someone else, and you can certainly do that through Juliette! Thanks, Hillary, for such a great novel. I can’t wait to read part two!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the chance to read this great book! 

Southwest Veggie + Taco Rice Casserole

This simple, healthy casserole is filled with lots of vegetables, black beans, and a delicious taco rice. It’s perfect for dinner and makes enough for lunch leftovers too. Mmm!

Southwest Veggie + Taco Rice Casserole | thepajamachef.com

Once upon a time, when we were first married, our go-to dinner was tacos, spaghetti, or some sort of seasoned chicken dish. There’s nothing wrong with any of those dinners, but unless you are using assorted boxed or packaged ingredients they aren’t that easy. Well, if you don’t buy that stuff on a regular basis, that is. [For the record, I do buy that stuff sometimes. I just don’t keep it at home regularly. My pantry is too full of seventeen kinds of grains, pastas, mustards, and sauces. Seventeen EACH that is. :)]

Southwest Veggie + Taco Rice Casserole | thepajamachef.com

 

Now, my go-to dinner is much simpler. Black beans and rice. Directions: Open freezer, remove black beans that I make by the pound in the oven. Defrost in the sink while making some rice on the stove. Heat black beans up on the stove with some homemade taco seasoning. Serve together, with assorted toppings like avocado, cilantro, green onions, hot sauce, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, etc. It’s rare that I have all those toppings on hand at once, but when I do… it’s parrrtytime! [Yes, I realize that if black beans and rice with toppings is my definition of partytime, I’m probably not very exciting. Ha.]

Southwest Veggie + Taco Rice Casserole | thepajamachef.com

This casserole is the kicked up version of black beans and rice, except everything is all mixed up together and baked til it’s ooey gooey. MMM! If you like regular black beans and rice, you’ll LOVE this version. It’s from the Budget Bytes cookbook so you know it has to be good. Probably what makes it so freakin’ awesome is that the rice isn’t just normal… it’s taco rice! If your family isn’t comfortable with meatless meals yet, I think this would be a great way to introduce the concept. There’s tons of flavor in one lil casserole dish! We loved this meal and hope you do too! :)

one year ago: Oreo Ice Cream Pie
three years ago: Spaghetti and “Meat” Balls
four years ago: Caramelized Onion Dip

Southwest Veggie + Taco Rice Casserole

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Print

from the Budget Bytes cookbook

Ingredients:

for taco rice

  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice

for casserole

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, diced [deseeded if desired]
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced and quartered – or 1 cup mushrooms, another bell pepper, or an extra cup of corn
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 – 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 – 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups prepared taco rice [from above]
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Directions:

In a saucepan, whisk together chili powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, tomato paste, and 3 cups water. Whisk together then stir in rice. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until rice is fully cooked. Then fluff with a fork and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 or 9×9 inch dish with cooking spray.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Then, add rest of the veggies: jalapeno, bell pepper, zucchini, and chili powder. Stir to combine and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until soft and all liquid has evaporated, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and stir in corn, tomatoes, and black beans. Add the taco rice [you will have extra rice left] and the cheese and stir well. Transfer to prepared pan, then bake for 20 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.

Serve with green onions and cilantro.

Note:

Recipe can also be doubled [casserole portion–do not make extra rice] and baked in a 9×13 pan. Bake for about 25 minutes or until bubbly.

 

 

Healthy Tropical Banana Muffins

Fresh ginger, yogurt, and coconut oil make for a healthy tropical banana muffin that you won’t be able to resist! 

Healthy Tropical Banana Muffins | thepajamachef.com

Banana muffins… can you ever have enough recipes? I think not. These banana muffins aren’t your basic cinnamon/nut laced version. These banana muffins are tropical and healthy. Perfect for a dreary January morning, methinks. And the shredded coconut on top is just the start of the amazingness!

Healthy Tropical Banana Muffins | thepajamachef.com

It’s honestly been a few months since I made these delicious muffins, so I don’t have one in front of me right now. Sad day! But I do remember just how wonderful these tasted. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to buy fresh ginger, and let me tell you… fresh ginger is just SO wonderful. It’s fragrant as you’re grating it, and then it adds a little extra burst of flavor with the bananas, coconut oil, and warm spices. These muffins are a nice way to escape on a lil vacation at breakfast or snacktime, even if it’s just an average winter weekday back at home. Enjoy!

one year ago: Cranberry Steel Cut Oats with Caramelized Pears
two years ago: Mexican Cornbread Pot Pie
three years ago: Lasagna Soup
four years ago: Whole Wheat Cornbread

Healthy Tropical Banana Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Print

adapted from A Hint of Honey

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour [could use all white whole wheat/all all-purpose]
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour [could use all white whole wheat/all all-purpose]
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt [or plain yogurt/sour cream]
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar [may want to increase to 1/4 cup if using plain yogurt or sour cream]
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large ripe bananas, mashed [about 1 cup]
  • shredded coconut, for topping

Directions:

Grease muffin pan with cooking spray or line with paper liners. Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, stir together yogurt, brown sugar, oil, eggs, ginger, vanilla, and bananas. Fold wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined.

Fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full, then top with shredded coconut. Bake until golden, approximately 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Leftovers can be frozen for a later time.

Chewy Ginger Cookies

These chewy ginger cookies are filled with molasses, warm spices, and lots of love! Don’t let the Christmas plate fool you… your family will love these cookies year round! 

Chewy Ginger Cookies | thepajamachef.com

My mom started making these cookies when I was in high school, and over the years they have been called many, many names [aside from delicious]. Ginger cookies, big soft ginger cookies, harvest ginger cookies, harvest cookies… so when I decided to make them this Christmas season, I didn’t know what to call them. Ultimately, the descriptive title won out: Chewy Ginger Cookies. These cookies are unmistakably gingery and SUPER chewy. I have to admit that since they’re a fairly basic cookie I didn’t immediately think of making them for Christmas. But recently, a family friend messaged me on Facebook for the recipe and BOOM! They popped into my head and just wouldn’t leave. :)

Chewy Ginger Cookies | thepajamachef.com

I altered this recipe a little from the original: namely, I made them about half the size as the recipe calls for. I don’t remember how big my mom used to make them but these were plenty large for us… plus you get double the amount of cookies. Enough for BOTH of our families. :) Score! Since we were seeing our families different weeks, I put half the cookies in the freezer and was pleasantly surprised that they retained their chewiness despite a stint in the freezer. Perfect!

Chewy Ginger Cookies | thepajamachef.com

Though these cookies are pretty simple, they taste pretty amazing. I meant to share this recipe before Christmas but alas. You’ll just have to tolerate a Christmas plate in January, alright? Be sure to enjoy these cookies soon! They’re amazing with a glass of milk or a cup of tea. Mmm! Enjoy!

one year ago: Sweet Potato Chorizo Chile Mac
two years ago: Chicken Tinga Tacos
three years ago: Crockpot Cran-Apple Sauce
four years ago: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Chewy Ginger Cookies

  • Servings: 48 cookies
  • Time: 75 minutes
  • Print

from Better Homes and Gardens

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups butter or shortening, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cups coarse sugar or regular sugar

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and beat for 2 minutes, scraping sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and molasses to combine. Slowly add in flour mixture, as much as possible with the mixer. Finish mixing in the rest with a wooden spoon.

At this point, dough can be shaped and baked or refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. If desired, line baking sheets with parchment or a silpat. Roll dough in 2 tablespoon sized balls [approximately 35 grams/1.25 ounces], then roll in coarse sugar. Place 2 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until puffy and light brown. Do not overbake. If desired, rotate pans halfway through baking [front to back and top to bottom] and allow baking sheets to cool before baking the next batch.

Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.