Fiction Faith & Foodies

Fiction Faith & Foodies: February 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Excited about Reading: From Russia with Love by Susan May Warren

The Cover Story ~ 
Kat Moore can’t believe that 24 hours after landing in Moscow, she’s on the run from the KGB. But after receiving a mysterious key, and an invitation to Russia, Kat can’t stop herself from hunting for her past. With her parents long gone, and her grandfather, Edward, strangely quiet about her identity, she knows there are clues to who she is that only she can unearth.

Decorated FSB agent Vadeem Spasonov lives for his job. And he’s good at it – so good, he can nearly predict the movements of the international smuggler, Grazovich. Which is why Vadeem intercepts American “tourist” Kat Moore before she is snatched. Kat might not be working for Grazovich, but Vadeem knows she has something the smuggler wants. Unfortunately, she’s only made it worse by escaping protective custody. Now he has to not only track her down, but keep her safe long enough to get her safely home.

Sharing my takeaway ~
"Life would improve about three thousand percent when he shoved her on an airplane for America."

That sums up Kat's initial response to Vadeem. After all, she traveled all the way to Russia to find answers about her heritage. Did the FSB agent really think she'd turn around and leave so quickly? Vadeem wants to trust her, especially when she unleashes those amber eyes on him, but trust doesn't come easy after she escapes his protective custody.

"Faith, indeed. Oh, yes, he knew all about faith. How it deceived and hurt. How it killed."

The occasional lapses into Vadeem's past pulled my heartstrings. And he allows Kat (and, by default, us readers) glimpses of his vulnerability. A strong hero who's not afraid to show his heart? Sigh...

I have to admit From Russia with Love got off to a slow start. It was tough to keep up with all the unusual names, and at times, this non-historical buff waded through too many historical details. But I'm glad I persevered because it wasn't long before the pace rocketed into Warren's typical bite-your-fingernails, heart-thumping action. 

"You will suffer in this life. It's your choice to suffer trusting in God's plan or to turn away and walk alone."

A powerful faith thread. Fast-paced action. A bit of mystery. A strong, vulnerable hero and a gutsy, sometimes impetuous heroine who just screamed for a happily-ever-after. All components that kept me glued to my kindle all afternoon. :)

I'm curious about your reading style. If a book starts off slow for you, how long before you give up? Or do you feel compelled to keep reading to the end?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book while it was offered free on Amazon. I was in no way compensated for my fair and unbiased review.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating features...
Dora here. So, it's Superbowl Sunday and hubby decides he wants to go to Mert's. Mert's, right in the heart of downtown Charlotte! Granted, the Superbowl wasn't being played in Charlotte, but the downtown area was a hub of activity with local restaurants/bars offering special activities/prices for the event. Good thing I had a backup planned. After circling a few times and not finding a parking spot, we diverted to...

Bakersfield Tacos on East Blvd in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte. 

Dora here. Where we still ran into a parking dilemma. No private lot, not a street parking space for blocks, and plenty of signage nearby stating "NO BAKERSFIELD." But, thankfully, only on Sundays, Berrybrook Farm allows Bakersfield patrons to park free in their lot. The server told us they have valet parking at night.
On Sundays, park in the Berrybrook Farm lot across the street

A local place serving up their own version of Mexican cuisine, Bakersfield offers both full size plates and petite tacos. 

For our appetizer, we chose the Chips and Queso and added Chorizo. This queso was great, thick, gooey and with a little smoky flavor, but the star of this dish was the fried chorizo. Combined with the queso, it was the perfect match for the salty but hardy chips.

Chips & Queso with Chorizo
Dora here. The first thing that hit me about this was the smell. Amaaaazing! Cheesy, deep flavor, delicious! I could've made this a whole meal. I couldn't scoop this up fast enough! :)

Chips & Queso with Chorizo. Soooo good!
For my lunch, I chose four different tacos: Fish, Pork Belly Pastor, Bistec, and Short Rib all served on in-house handmade tortillas. 
Bottom Left: Pork Belly Pastor, Upper Left: Bistec, Upper Right: Short Rib, Bottom Right: Fish

The fish taco featured Mahi, lime sauce, citrus slaw, and cilantro. A great tasting taco with crispy fish and a crunch from the citrus slaw. 

The pork belly pastor included chili marinated pork, pineapple, onion and cilantro. A sweet tasting taco that I just couldn’t get enough of. 

The short rib was my favorite. Tender braised short rib, queso fresco, crema (like sour cream), onion, radish, and cilantro combined for a perfect taco. 

The Bistec, marinated short rib with a spicy chipotle slaw, had me reaching for my drink after every bite.

Dora here. I sampled a bite of all the tacos. Yowza! What an explosion of flavors! Since I'm not typically a huge fan of fish or pork, I was surprised at my top two faves: 
Pork Belly Pastor and Fish. By the time I made it to my Milanesa Torta, my mouth was on fire! In a good way. :)
Milanesa Torta

Check out that tender white chicken breast! Mmmm. And I loved the fresh bread, a Telera Roll, "similar to a French roll with a scored and flour-dusted crust." 
Milanesa Torta. Check out that tender white chicken breast!

Intense flavors as well, with a bold blend of black beans, salsa verde, avocado and lemon mayo, but I would've preferred half the pesto.

Eventually, we'll make it to Mert's. :)

What about you? How do you like your tacos?

Dora rated this restaurant a 4, but I rate it a 5. Since that equates to 4 1/2, we'll give them 5 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.

Bakersfield Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Excited about Reading: The Bad Boy of Butterfly Harbor by Anna J. Stewart

The Cover Story~
Can people truly change?

Two things keep Holly Campbell grounded: her precocious son and preserving her forty-year-old family diner in the face of expansion and change. She doesn't need a blast from the past like Luke Saxon, who's back in Butterfly Harbor after more than a decade away. The hard-luck kid who nearly destroyed her family, leaving her to pick up the pieces, is taking over as sheriff. She can't trust him, even if Luke's ideas for the town's upcoming anniversary seem to show he's trying to give back to their community. Has Butterfly Harbor found its unlikely savior? And has the widowed single mother finally found a man she can believe in, rely on…and love?

Sharing my takeaway~
Let's start with what I didn't like about this book. Hmmm. 

Well, that was quick. lol. 

The cover hooked me, but I confess the title scared me a little. Since I'd not read anything by Anna J. Stewart before, I worried that this book might contain graphic scenes. But it's a Heartwarming, so I decided to take a chance. I'm glad I did. Heartwarming is definitely an apt description. 

Luke bumped Holly's father out of his job as sheriff, and Holly blamed him for her family's breakup. They had more than a few bumps on the road to romance.

"Owning up to our mistakes, to our misgivings about people, is what makes us better people."

Luke blamed himself too. A son of an alcoholic father, Luke was abused, physically and emotionally. Stepping foot in his childhood house again releases ugly memories.

"Eight years in the ground and his father could still chip away at Luke's self-worth. Luke had been a soldier and a cop, but in his mind, he'd always hear his father beating him down, telling him he'd never amount to anything. That he would always be unworthy of respect, let alone affection."

Holly's father never stopped believing in Luke and was the driving force behind the new Luke. While this isn't a Christian romance, I pictured our spiritual father. Always believing in us, always encouraging, never giving up on us. That starts a "pay it forward" theme for Luke as he comes back to help Butterfly Harbor regain its footing, a different man than the one who left. An unlikely companion and a kid following a similar path as Luke's help Luke find peace with his past. But Holly and her precocious son Simon offer hope for the future. 

Secondary characters play a big role in this story, and I hope we'll read about their stories in future books. More than focusing on romance, though, The Bad Boy of Butterfly Harbor is about hope and overcoming obstacles, about forgiveness and relationships, about forging a different path for the future than the sorry one left behind. Thankfully, the worry about explicit scenes was unfounded. I'm glad I took a chance on The Bad Boy of Butterfly Harbor, and I'll be looking for more by Anna J. Stewart. If you're looking for something light and flirty, this isn't the book. But, if you'd like to dig into something a bit meatier and heavy on the heartstrings, definitely check this one out. :)

Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of this book. I was in no way compensated and this is my fair and unbiased review.

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us to Valhalla Pub & Eatery located on historical Brevard Court in Uptown Charlotte. Just a few blocks from Bank of America stadium and Time Warner Cable Arena, this cobblestone courtyard boasts pubs, restaurants, and retail stores in an open-air atmosphere.

Intimate rustic interior
Dora here. The eclectic menu, including a few Scandinavian dishes like meatballs, lured us to this intimate corner pub. That, and it was just a few blocks to walk from the Charlotte Convention Center, where we were around lunchtime. Once we got here, choosing a single menu item was tough. And check out this view from inside! :)
View looking out from the pub
The Odin’s Pretzel Bites were topped with melted cheese and garlic, and served with ranch dipping sauce. A variation from typical pretzels, these bites were great and reminded me of garlic knots that you would get at a pizza joint. 
Odin's Pretzel Bites
Dora here. Not me. I took the first bite, and...hmmm. But they grew on me. I would've preferred a jazzy mustard dipping sauce over the ranch. To me, the ranch really didn't add flavor, so I stopped dipping.

I chose the Freya’s Fish ‘n Chips, Guinness-battered haddock fillets served with my favorite, Tater Tots. The fish was crispy on the outside, light and tender on the inside, and full of flavor. The meal included two large fillets that I could not finish by myself. 
Freya's Fish & Tater Tots, huge portions!

Dora here. Some of the best fish I've ever tasted! And yes, I was more than happy to help Ernie finish. :)

I'm a sucker for sandwiches with fruit, any entree actually, especially Granny Smith apples. Add cheddar cheese, bacon, lingonberry aioli, and a heaping portion of turkey, and I was all over The Laghertha’s Turkey Sandwich. Huge, so Ernie had to help me with mine. Fair's fair, right? 
The Laghertha’s Turkey Sandwich
About the only downer for me was the lack of Sweet n Low. So, if you crave a particular brand of sweetener for your tea, bring your own. :)

We rate the restaurant 4 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving great food.

What about you? What draws you in to try new restaurants?

Valhalla Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Excited about Reading: The Drifter's Mail-Order Bride by Cassie Hayes

Amazon Buy Link
The Cover Story~

He was a drifter, through and through. Could he give up his wanderlust for a mail-order bride he didn’t know was coming? 

Having grown up in the shadow of two beautiful sisters, ‘Scrawny Bonnie’ Blue knows she doesn’t stand a chance at landing a good man in Beckham, Massachusetts. The only way she’ll find a husband is by leaving her family behind to become a mail order bride. But when all three Blue sisters are swept up in a scandal, she has no choice to but to take ‘Gorgeous Gwen’ and ‘Lovely Libby’ with her…kicking and screaming, if she must. 

Bart Dalton would be happy riding the range forever, but his brothers need his help to start a ranch in north Texas. He figures he’ll last a year or so before his feet get itchy again, which his brothers understand. As triplets, they can almost read each others’ minds. Except when his oldest brother ordered three brides for them. It would have been nice to have a little warning about that

When Bart’s late to meet the train carrying the Blue sisters, his brothers get first dibs, leaving Bonnie standing alone and dejected once again. It only gets worse when her ‘intended’ finally shows up and balks at the idea of marrying her. The one thing Bonnie has going for her are her wits, and she puts them to good use by proposing a business arrangement that Bart can’t refuse. 

Will Bart go back to his drifter ways, or is the elusive thing he’d searched for all his life sleeping in the next room? 

Sharing my takeaway~
Wow! Where has Cassie Hayes been all my reading life? Lol. I really enjoyed this story, my first by this author. All the characters were unique and well developed, with interesting interactions and dynamics between the Blue and Dalton families from the first page to the last.

Bonnie yearns to find true love, a man who can see past her beautiful sisters. Bart’s not happy with his brother for ordering him a bride. He plans to move on soon and that’s not fair to “Bonnie Blue.” But if he had to pick a bride, he would pick someone just like Bonnie. Petite, feisty, honest, a gal with an adventurous spirit and who’s capable of taking care of herself. And while initially I never would have matched Bonnie up with Bart, Bonnie completes him. And I liked the curveball. :)

Great chemistry between the main characters moved this book along at a fast pace. I think it took me a couple hours to finish, and when interrupted, I really looked forward to getting back into it. It’s a sweet, clean read, with a couple overarching themes regarding gossip and life choices. I’ll definitely be reading more by Cassie Hayes.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book while it was offered free on Amazon. I was in no way compensated for my fair and unbiased review. 

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes a road trip to Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, located on The Island in Pigeon Forge, TN. 

This second story family restaurant has tiered seating so that everyone can take advantage of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking The Island.
Dora here. And conveniently situated over the Paula Deen retail store on the first floor. :) Normally, there's a long wait (with call ahead option), but we visited during Storm Jonas. Not many people ventured out.
This restaurant serves their meals family style with a twist. Instead of having the menu decided by the restaurant and every table gets the same dishes, Paula Deen's Family Kitchen gives each table three main dishes from a choice of seven and four side dishes from a choice of twelve, all you can eat.

Dora here. All you can eat of your choices. And no doggie bags. Bruiser was disappointed. :)

To start, they serve cheddar cheese biscuits and hoe cakes to start the meal, family style. The biscuits were good, soft, and tender. The hoe cakes were served with a sweet potato butter, also great. I could really taste the corn meal ingredient.
Cheddar cheese biscuits, Hoe Cakes, and Sweet Potato Butter. Yum!
Dora here. Oh my yum! Loved, loved, LOVED the biscuits with the sweet potato butter, a fresh twist on apple butter. Not so much the hoecakes. Maybe because they look like pancakes that it's impossible not to compare them. 

For main dishes we chose Best Ever Southern Fried Chicken, Spare Ribs, and Cheesy Meatloaf. For the sides, Creamed Corn, Squash Casserole, Mac and Cheese, and Poppyseed Tossed Salad.
Spare Ribs and Squash Casserole
Of the main dishes, the southern fried chicken was perfectly fried, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and full of favor. 

Dora here. Full of flavor because they'd been dredged in hot sauce? Whatever, they were worthy of a second round.

The ribs were tender and covered in a sweet and spicy barbeque sauce that had a unique taste that we later learned was chili power. The cheesy meatloaf was covered in a thick cheese sauce, cut thick and outstanding.
Best Ever Southern Fried Chicken and Cheesy Meatloaf
Dora here. I wasn't a fan of the ribs because of the sauce. But that meatloaf? I could actually enjoy meatloaf prepared this way.

The creamed corn was sweet, and my favorite followed by the squash casserole, which included both summer squash and zucchini with a crumb cracker topping.

From Left: Poppyseed Tossed Salad, Mac and Cheese, and Creamed Corn
Dora here. Totally unusual, but I vote the same for the sides. Of the meats, the fried chicken was my fave.

We rate this restaurant 5 forks our of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving outstanding food.

Do you enjoy eating "family style" or do you prefer individual choices? What's your favorite "family style" restaurant?

Paula Deen's Family Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Excited about Reading: All the Way to Heaven by Becky Doughty

Amazon Buy Link
The Cover Story~
Sometimes help comes from the most unlikely of hands, and sometimes getting lost is the surest way to be found.

Anica Tomlin, business major, has just learned that the man she's been planning her future around, her Global Finance professor, already has a beautiful wife and family. Ani cashes in her graduation gift to herself a little early--a trip to Tuscany--but from the moment she boards the wrong train in Pisa, her plans for solitude and self-indulgence begin to unravel around her.

When a bicycle accident thrusts Ani into the skilled hands of the dashing Dr. Cosimo Lazzaro, she reluctantly accepts his invitation to recover in his family's country villa, perched on a hilltop surrounded by the Lazzaro olive groves. But it's been a black year for olive growers all over Italy, and generations of tradition are being put to the test like never before.

Ani is swept up in the drama of life in Tuscany, the convergence of old and new, and the passions that drive people to pursue the desires of their hearts. Just as Ani begins to get her feet under her again, an unexpected turn of events leaves her doubting the very existence of happily-ever-after, unless she can learn to trust the desires of her own heart.

Sharing My Takeaway~
First off, I almost didn’t download this book because the cover didn’t appeal to me. But, the bulk of the story takes place in Italy, more specifically on an olive tree farm/villa, so I understand the reason for the cover design. It’s just not a typical romance reader cover. But this isn’t a typical romance, either. :)

The beginning slogged with a bit too much backstory for my taste, but the story kept calling to me, and I refused to put it down. I’m glad I didn’t because I would’ve missed nuggets like this:

“Lucca is full of light and joy. If you look for it with open eye and open heart and open hand, you will find happy here.”

After discovering the ugly truth about her boyfriend/college professor, Anica “Ani” Tomlin escaped to Italy for an early graduation gift.

“Pain, she is a beautiful woman. You must hold her and comfort her until she is ready to go. Then she will leave some of her beauty with you when she goes.”

Doughty rocks descriptions! I felt like I’d wandered into the book and onto the pages myself, plunked right into the landscape of Italy. The pastry shop in the medieval city. The villa overlooking the olive tree farm. Truthfully, I didn’t want to leave. 

Through an unfortunate accident and the theft of her personal documents, Ani’s plans change. Not only her plans, but she changes. Initially, I sympathized with her humiliating discovery and then the chain of events that left her injured and stranded. But she seemed a bit self-centered, and even with her predicament, I found it hard to like her, especially her treatment of Paulo. But when she finally realizes who her heart longs for and recognizes that her new friends are experiencing far more devastating issues, she redeems herself.

All the Way to Heaven is geared for New Adult readers, and I believe that’s accurate. But this Old Adult reader enjoyed it too. :) Sweet and clean, awesome descriptions, a very subtle faith thread, and a romance that finally materialized, (did it ever!) I would definitely read another Doughty book.

How do you feel about covers? Would you choose to buy/read a book based on the cover alone? Do you judge a book by its cover?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book while it was offered free on Amazon. I was in no way compensated for my fair and unbiased review. 

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