Recipe: Pumpkin Tomato American Chop Suey

Published 11/13/13 by:

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The title of this recipe doesn’t sound very appealing, but when the main ingredients are hamburger, tomato sauce, and pumpkin, how can you go wrong? The consistency of this is a borderline stew, but I would say it’s more along the lines of a flavorful (not salty) Chop Suey that you used to be served in the cafeteria. I re-vamped it, and made it edible. You’re welcome.



One tablespoon of olive oil

One sweet vidalia onion chopped

One orange bell pepper chopped

One 15 oz jar of arribiata, or fra diavlo tomato sauce

One 15 oz can of pumpkin

One pound of hamburger (to make this dish vegetarian you could easily add extra vegetables and leave out the meat)

One pound bag of pasta of your choice

Green onions (optional)



Cook pasta according to the directions and set aside.

Brown hamburger in a skillet or pan and set aside.

Saute onions and peppers in olive oil until onions are see through. Add can of pumpkin and jar of tomato sauce and stir on medium heat for approximately five minutes. After five minutes add in the hamburger and pasta and simmer for 15 minutes on low heat.

Garnish your dish with green onions if you desire.


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An Open Letter to Veronica Roth

Published 11/11/13 by:

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****This post contains spoilers as to how the third book of the “Divergent” series ends. If you have not finished “Allegiant” then please refrain from reading.****

Dear Veronica,

I feel the need to start by saying thank you. Thank you for “Divergent”, and everything it gave me as a new middle school teacher. When it came out, I was in my first year of teaching sixth grade English. I bought five copies so I could teach it to a group of  boys that just were not buying into the whole reading thing despite my best efforts. These boys were capable. They were unchallenged by choice. They needed the right conversation starter. You know what did it? Fear landscapes. So thank you for writing a book about romance, bravery, choice, and fear landscapes. It was one of my favorite teaching moments I’ve ever had.

This is where my love fest for you ends. I finished “Allegiant” an hour ago, and I’m so outrageously disappointed. It’s a testament to you how upset I am, because it shows how much you’ve reeled me in. I am a guppy in the land of factions. I’m a guppy whose heart is broken and deflated. “Allegiant” did that to me. You built Tris into this absurdly brave girl. This girl who had strong beliefs, desires and loyalty. As a reader, I knew how vulnerable she could be because of the circumstances she put herself in, but when you had her die for Caleb, and a cause she barely knew anything about, I was enraged. What sliced me open even more is that while people lived peaceful lives after Tris’ sacrifice, no one was a success. If you’re going to kill your badass protagonist, then it better be for some insanely awesome greater good. Four living a boring life with his mother that he should’ve never forgiven? Awful. Christina working as an outreach coordinator for people in transition? Mediocre. Caleb working in a lab? Predictable. Everything was so mundane in the end, for a series that was so triumphant until “Allegiant” breathed its last breath. I was, and will continue to be devastated by this lackluster closing.

In the spring of 2007 I was a senior in college, and I was taking a class called “Fiction of the Modern”. We read the likes of James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, and D.H. Lawrence, and dissected their novels into smithereens. It was a fairly enjoyable class, that often skirted the line of being too cerebral. The Erudite would’ve eaten it up. The professor of the class was also my advisor, and she was a bookish British woman who rarely veered from the syllabus. One day, we were discussing the assigned novel of the week, and she bestowed upon me one of the most intriguing literary ideas I’d ever heard. She said, “the mentor always has to die in order for the hero to be actualized. That’s why you should’ve known that Dumbledore was a goner.” This was news to me because evidently I didn’t take enough “hero’s journey” courses in my career or watch enough “Star Wars”.  Anyway, my point is, that my gut told me that Christina, Tris, Four or Caleb had to die before “Allegiant” was over. My previous adoption of this mentor dying philosophy convinced me that Four, Tris’ guiding force, her Dauntless teacher, would die in order for her to be independently accomplished. I also assumed that you were foreshadowing when  you included Four as one of the narrators in this last installment of the series. I think a part of it is that I’m a sucker for the build them up to shoot them down process. I guess I just didn’t think you had it in you (as an author) to kill a 16-year-old girl.

Here’s the rub: it’s your series. It’s not mine. Tris and Four felt like family the way that very few other novel characters have to me, so I have to be reminded that this is your story that I’m a witness to. It still hurts. I wanted so much more for Tris and Four. Apparently I shouldn’t have assumed that you wanted it all as well. What did you want? For Tris to finally be Abnegation? For Four to finally have a mother? If that had been clear from the start, then maybe I would be more accepting of this ending, but this guppy feels gutted.

Disappointed, but still with gratitude,


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Recipe From a Guest: Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Published 11/9/13 by:


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Remember that bit that Dane Cook did about women wanting to drop everything and dance their troubles away? Well, a few Saturdays ago my friend Steph texted me and said, “I’ve had a horrible week. Can I come over and borrow your kitchen to cook? I really need to just cook.” When someone you genuinely like spending time with offers to bring food over to your house and cook it for you, well, you’re an idiot to say no. Steph came over, and created a delicious dinner. Today’s recipe includes the side entree that accompanied the delicious baked fish with zucchini she prepared. Cheers!



Two large sweet potatoes (would create four servings)

Four tablespoons of butter

Four tablespoons of brown sugar

One quarter cup of chopped walnuts


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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat sweet potatoes in microwave for approximately ten minutes, until they’re soft enough to cut and scoop out. Once they’re soft enough, slice them down the middle the long way, and scoop insides into a bowl. Place potato skins on a greased  (Steph used Pam) cookie sheet.  Add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of brown sugar into the bowl, and mix in smoothly with potatoes.

In a separate bowl mix the quarter cup of chopped walnuts with the remaining two tablespoons of butter and brown sugar. This will serve as your top layer to the potatoes.

Scoop the potatoes back into the skins, and then drizzle the walnut mixture on the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.


To see other recipes, reviews etc. from Steph, please visit her blog: Stephanie’s Bookmark 

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Book Review: Domenica Ruta’s “With Or Without You”

Published 11/8/13 by:

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Memoir is a genre that lends itself to being criticized for seeming embellished, self-accolading or an over-share. These are only three of a myriad of insults and criticisms that the memoir author faces. Well, guess what? Domenica Ruta could care less. Her brutally honest memoir entitled “With Or Without You” chronicles two decades of surviving with her drug addicted mother Kathi, in a place filled with townies Kathi is either related to, owes money to, or both. In her debut, Ruta has established herself as someone with talent, humility, and unadulterated honesty. It’s my sincere hope that she’s an author here to stay.

Despite her best efforts, Ruta’s faithfulness to her hometown of Danvers, Massachusetts is embedded in her. Her parents, both townies, and teenagers when she was born, never leave, and she’s often left wondering if she’s capable of getting out. She identifies so much of her heritage by living in an apartment on the family “compound” alongside her grandmother by the river: “These animals, this river – it all belonged to us. I decided this the way that only children and dictators assume things, by pointing a finger and saying it is so.” Ruta mockingly remembers her grandmother thinking they were “just like the Kennedys” and it’s this type of lack of awareness and identity that I think makes her story so compelling. Ruta grew up in an apartment with her mother in a place that had trash piled so high it made the front porch concave. For her grandmother to compare her self-proclaimed trashy family to the Kennedys just makes you smirk. What made this smirk-worth to me, is that I know these people. I know their pride, and how its foundation really has no connection to reality. In Massachusetts, these folks exist, and while they may have many faults, they can be quite charming in their approach.

One aspect of “With Or Without You” that made the story that much more compelling to me, was Domenica’s desperation for knowledge, despite having no so-called “academic mentors” in her life. She admits whole-heartedly that “if it had been possible to lap words off an aluminum can spilled out of a dumpster, I would shamelessly have gotten down on all fours.” And I believe her. While Domenica’s academic prospects seem hopeless, her drive lands her a scholarship in the most unlikely of places. This scholarship makes Kathi feel like she’s hit the social climber lottery. Throughout the memoir I felt like Domenica was directly addressing Kathi, and admitting to her that she worshiped her and pined for her love for so long, but everyone has to grow up. By the end of the novel the reader is made aware of their relationship status, and you experience how much Domenica has grown since she thought that her “mother was the one who called in the tides” of the Porter River.

This book will strike you in moving ways. It will appall you. It will remind you. It will irritate you. It will challenge you, and it will motivate you. You may end up dreaming of having a daughter that blindly adores you the way Domenica adores Kathi, but you also may vow to never have someone like Kathi poison anyone in your circle of family and friends. Domenica Ruta is a writing force, and her tornado winds? Well, she got them from Kathi.

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