Saturday, July 16, 2011


Can I make a confession? A confession that could potentially alienate my friends or at least cause them to roll their eyes and say "Really? Get over yourself!"

I am a competitive potlucker. It is sort of like my own mini version of 'Throwdown with Bobby Flay' or 'The Next Food Network Star'. Oh come on, don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about! Either you do this or you know exactly the woman at your church of whom I speak.

There's a church potluck tomorrow and I began mapping out my strategy early this morning. (Yeah, I'm a lightweight. A real competitive potlucker starts the moment the potluck is announced.) Should I bring one dish or two? One dish allows me to pull out all the stops and really give that dish my full attention. But if it fails then I have just brought one really bad dish that no one likes. Two dishes means I must divide my time and attention, but there is greater chance that at least one of them will be a rousing success. OK, two dishes it is. Best to do a main and a dessert, there's just not as much glory to be had in a really well done salad. But it IS summer and pushing 100 both outside and apparently in my kitchen as well, so I'll do a salad-y sort of main dish. Risky, but necessary.

Once the courses are decided on the searching begins. Go with a tried and true recipe, or find something new off the internet? Take a risk on a recipe on a food blog that doesn't come with a rating or use a site that has handy stars or forks to rate how highly recommended a recipe comes. Stars are always good, preferably from several hundred people or more. Nine hundred people can't be wrong, right?

Hmm. Blueberry zucchini bread? Interesting. Summery, should hit about the right note. Do I go for the full sugar that I know earned it a lot of those rave reviews, or follow my instincts and the advice of the more health conscious reviewers and reduce it by half? Ah, health consciousness, I hope you won't be my downfall...half the sugar it is. Oh, one reviewer added streusel topping; should I do that? Nah, I think I'm going to aim for the 'simple knockout' strategy on this recipe. Into the oven it goes.

Whew, it's getting hot in my kitchen!

Salad time! Did I mention that there are bonus points to be had from knowing that some people love the lack of highly processed ingredients? Yep, there are. Hmm. The ramen noodles may take me down a peg, but the dressing is all homemade. And once again the heat wins out as I chop up a rotisserie chicken instead of preparing my own.

When the day of the potluck dawns I will cart my offerings to church and lay them out on the altar of fellowship. I will sample the foods that others have brought, I will watch the dishes to see which item disappears first. (It's always the pizza and KFC, but I'm not counting those.) Did someone just take seconds of my dish? Point! Did someone at my table just say "Wow, this bread is amazing? Who brought this?" Double point! Triple points if a short conversation ensues between several parties about how good it is. Bonus if I get asked for the recipe after humbly declaring my ownership of the item in question.

Yes folks, I am indeed competitive about my potlucks. But in the end, whether I succeed or fail the truly wonderful thing is gathering with my church family. Some of them can't cook worth a hoot, bless their hearts, but I couldn't think of anyone I would rather have fellowship with, no one I would rather laugh with, chat with or drink powdered lemonade with. So bring on the potluck, and may we all go home satisfied!

Disclaimer: This is slightly tongue in cheek, I'm not really THAT competitive. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review - The Muir House

The Muir House
Link to Amazon
When I received The Muir House in the mail I jumped in and began to devour it in my typical 'Let's read this book as fast as I can because there are more books to be read and I don't have time for them all' fashion. And then I slowed down, because this book is just too good to rush through. Unlike many pop Christian authors Mary DeMuth writes with nuance and with symbolism that invites the reader to slow down and savor her books, mulling over characters, pondering thematic elements and sinking into the sense of place that often develops in each book.

After finishing I sat down to write my review. And then I got up without writing a word. The next time I think I got about three sentences on screen before giving up. Because the truth is, I loved The Muir House so much and want everyone to read it that I'm afraid a less than polished review won't do it justice. Sigh. Apparently I have taken the entire weight of DeMuth's career upon my own shoulders. Yeah, I have an overblown sense of my own importance like that.

But enough about me, on to actually reviewing the book. Did I mention it was good?

Willa Muir has just been proposed to by the man she loves. She walks away with the ring on her finger but with her future with Hale the green smoothie-drinking quasi-hippie boyfriend still in doubt. (Oh, how I love the descriptions of Hale!) Because Willa can't say yes, can't move forward with her life until she answers the one burning question that has consumed her for years. Events transpire fairly quickly that thrust her back to the place she does not want to go, the only place that still may hold the answers she is looking for. Questions of what defines home and how one finds it when what you have had is less than perfect are central to the story in The Muir House. Walls, houses and building become symbols for the internal journey even as they relate to the plot of the book.

Can I just be honest for a moment? There are times I wanted to smack Willa for refusing to move on with her life because of questions in her past. This is, I think, what makes this such a good book. Because after I think about smacking some sense into her I start to think about how much I may do something similar in my life. This is the beauty of DeMuth's writing, the flawed character with whom we can identify. I quickly tire of characters who solve every problem with perfect Christian composure and the scripture to back it up. I can relate to a character who is unavoidably messy, incredibly real, and DeMuth's books always have their share of messy. Even the perfect Hale deserved a little shaking at some moments.

Although neither a suspense nor a mystery book, this book contains enough questions to satisfy a mystery lover. Characters are introduced, past conversations are alluded to and gradually we piece together the story of who each person is, how they fit into Willa's life and the role they play in shaping her memories.The conclusion is neither saccharine sweet nor forced into a reality-defying turn of events that requires suspension of all common sense. It was, in fact, a satisfying conclusion that left me hoping for the possibility of a second book focusing on other characters in Willa's story.

Mary DeMuth gets better with every book she writes. Old fans will no doubt love this book as much as the others, and I hope that new fans are created who will then go back to seek out some of her past writing. She is well worth the time.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in hopes that I would provide a favorable review. All opinions expressed in my review, however, are 100% my own.