Ember Island Book Review

Since returning to school, I don’t have much free time to read fiction, so I was especially pleased to receive an advance review copy of the novel  Ember Island (Touchstone Paperback / Simon & Schuster; Released April 15, 2014). Written by Australian novelist Kimberley Freeman, this work of historical fiction interweaves the lives of four non-conformist women in the late nineteenth century and modern day.

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Ember Island’s co-protagonists Tilly Kirkland and Nina Jones may be separated by 100 years, but their lives share many similarities. Nina is a modern day, best-selling mystery author with a strong case of writer’s block. Under a deadline from her publisher that she can’t fulfill she retreats to a large manor house on Ember Island — off the coast of the Australian mainland — a house she has recently acquired that was previously inhabited by her great-grandmother, Eleanor Holt. During her stay, she uncovers old diary entries written by her grandmother during her early adolescence and meticulously hidden within the walls of the house.

Meanwhile, in 1891 Tilly Kirkland flees a tragic life in England and begins a new life as governess to the Ember Island prison warden’s daughter, Eleanor. Trying to make amends for past decisions, Tilly befriends one of the island’s few female prisoners, Hettie, who unbeknownst to all, shares a dark secret with Tilly.

While alternating between past and present, the pages of Ember Island pack in much drama, action, and romance, as Tilly and Nina struggle with actions and secrets that society would likely find immoral and unethical. The reader is guided in understanding their decisions, and left to make her own judgments.

This well-paced novel is full of plot twists and a bit of mystery. While Nina’s story didn’t do too much for me, I found Tilly’s to be especially exciting, and fortunately her story comprises most of the book. While I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I would recommend this book to fans of women’s fiction and historical fiction, and say that the book ends with an important moral: sometimes the truth – no matter how horrid it may seem — isn’t so bad after all.

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Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

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Portland Shamrock Run

Running the Portland Shamrock Run has been on my bucket list for quite some time. While not quite as cool as being in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, Portland puts on a great showing.

Last year’s St. Patrick’s Day:

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This year’s St. Patrick’s Day:

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Because I am always up for the biggest challenge, I signed up for the 15 km race. Also, it was the same price as the 8 km and 5 km races, so I received more miles per dollar (or something like that). Additionally, the 15k was the only race where finishers received a medal that doubled as a beer opener.

Shamrock Run 030The biggest challenge of the race for most is the 3-ish miles run over the “Terwilliger Curves.” The above picture was actually taken at the Mile 4 water stop, as many people slowed to a walk. I actually found the downhill portions to be more difficult, and I am sure my knees will thank me tomorrow.

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The route passed by OHSU, the Veterans’ Administration Hospital and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital — the charity beneficiary of the race. While we didn’t ascend quite as high as during our Council Crest Hike last spring, there were still some great views of the city to be had…

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…and musical entertainment to help the miles fly by.

With over 35,000 runners, the finishers’ area was a bit chaotic, but I did manage to get my complimentary taste of Stanford’s smoked salmon chowder and Widmer Upheaval IPA, to make for a tipsy MAX ride home.

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Quick & Easy Chocolate-Hazelnut Dessert Bars + A Bob’s Red Mill Giveaway

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may already know of my love for all things Bob’s Red Mill. In my household, Bob’s Red Mill  whole grain products are somehow worked into almost every meal. So I was especially excited when they sent me samples from their new natural nut flour line to play around with.

March is National Nutrition Month, and this month I am focused on preparing more healthy, low-cost meals at home. That’s not always easy when you have a busy schedule. I regularly turn to both Bob’s Red Mill’s website and the Cooking Matters website for well-balanced meals that can be made for only a few dollars per serving.

I made these chocolate-hazelnut dessert bars as a quick snack to get me through mid-term exams this week. They’re based off of this recipe, and prominently feature Bob’s Red Mill Hazelnut Meal/Flour, dark chocolate chips and whole hazelnuts. Dark chocolate is a good source of plant-based iron, and hazelnuts are rich in unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, several B vitamins, and Vitamin E.

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For those following special diets, this recipe is also low-carb and gluten free, making it a good dessert option for diabetics and those with gluten sensitivities, as long as you limit your serving size to one dessert square.

Quick & Easy Chocolate-Hazelnut Dessert Bars

makes 12 servings

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Hazelnut Flour/Meal
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350*F. Spray a 9-inch square pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and cocoa powder. Stir to combine. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the hazelnut flour, cornstarch, baking powder and sea salt. Finally, add the chocolate chips and hazelnuts.

Spread the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Dessert bars will be ready when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out smooth. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes on the counter before cutting into 12 equal squares and serving.

As an added bonus, I am giving away Bob’s Red Mill Nut Flour Prize Packs to 3 lucky readers. The prize packs feature a 14 ounce bag of Hazelnut Flour/Meal, a 16 ounce bag of Almond Flour/Meal, and a 16 ounce bag of Organic Coconut Flour – over a $30 value! All flours are low-carb and gluten free.

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To enter, leave a comment below and let me know one of your favorite food obsessions at the moment. I will pick 3 winners at random from all who have enter by Saturday, March 15th at 9:00 pm PDT. Winners will be posted here and notified via e-mail.

This giveaway is sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill and open to U.S. residents only. I received free product from Bob’s Red Mill, but all opinions are my own.

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Candice Hoff, Jeffrey and Wendy Wallace! I will be contacting you via e-mail to claim your prize.

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Snowlandia 2014

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Where has all the wildlife gone?

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Day 3

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How am I going to get to work on Monday?

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Home sweet home.

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Good thing I decided against going for a run this morning.

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Forgive my excitement. I grew up in the desert.

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