Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Bakeless Sweets by Faith Durand

So this is a first for me in many ways. This is the first time I have ever written a review of a cookbook, and furthermore, it's my first review of a dessert book. It is also my first review of a book by Faith Durand, executive editor of The Kitchn.

Faith has been a long time friend, and I was incredibly thankful that I purchased her first cookbook, Not Your Mother's Casseroles (I actually need to write a review of that one too). And when I found out she had written a book on desserts, I had to learn more.

Jamie and I strive not to eat a ton of sweets, and we don't like to encourage others to eat sweets either, but Faith's book is incredible, and if one can be disciplined enough to not make dessert into a meal, then this book is worth pursuing.

Since it is my first time writing a review of a cookbook, I should be fair and explain my rationale for the evaluation. I did not read through the instructions for every recipe. Instead, I looked at the variety of recipes, ingredients, and flavors available. And then I skimmed descriptors for this array of delicious treats. After this, I looked at how the author's personality and passion came through on the pages. I was impressed on all counts.

But then, the last screening was preparing a dessert for a gathering of a few friends. For that, I left it completely in the hands of my wife to choose a dessert, and to prepare it. After screening several, she landed on a dessert that reflected one of her great passions--ice cream--Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream to be exact. Jamie tested Faith's original recipe for no-bake Spicy Peanut And Toasted Coconut Cookies. Wow! The dessert was a delicious spicy, savory, and sweet treat. They were a hit at the gathering we attended, and I was thankfully able to snag a couple of these delicious treats.

If you are looking for a good book full of delicious bakeless treats, look no further than Bakeless Sweets. The book is colorful, well organized, filled with tons of original and classic treats, and a great way to prepare treats, especially when you don't want to heat up a house in the summer by baking in the oven. This is a fun book filled with quick-to-prepare recipes for the enjoyment of all.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

What prompted me to first start reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg was it’s billing as a way to explore how habits are created and ended and what the roots of our habits are. Just like many others in our world, I was interested in making the most of my time and getting rid of habits that were not allowing me to live life to the fullest. At the same time, I wanted to introduce some positive habits into my life that would help me become a better version of myself.

When I started reading the book, I began wondering if this was the right book for this exploration. The opening pages of the book use examples from the medical community (and actually there are examples laced throughout the book) where individuals have had traumatic brain injuries or surgeries that took away their memory, but yet they were still able to maintain habits that they had developed over their lifetime. Beyond that, the book also discussed individuals who had turned their lives around and inserted good habits in the place of bad habits.

I felt like this book was a good complement to the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath.  Dan and Chip Heath talk about the art of making change when change is hard. Charles Duhigg shares an array of examples that reflect how habits are formed, how they can be changed, and even how movements are formed.

One of the big epiphanies for me was found in the appendix. Duhigg gives a concise synopsis of how to identify the craves associated with habits so that those habits can be reshaped.  The basic framework is to identify a routine. A routine usually consists of a cue and a reward. For instance, Duhigg suggests that maybe a routine of stopping by the snack machine at work may not be because one is hungry. Maybe the cue is needing to connect with others, the reward is connecting with others, but the routine is buying a snack. It is hard to identify what the reward is though, because one might believe that the reward is the snack, so Duhigg suggests experimenting with rewards to find out what one is seeking. Then he suggests isolating the cue. Cues typically fall into one of five categories. 
  • emotional state 
  • time 
  • location
  • other people
  • immediately preceding action.  
When the cue is identified, one can develop a plan to cultivate a new habit. For more details, I recommend reading the book.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell

A few weeks ago, I picked up Rob Bell’s latest book, What WeTalk About When We Talk About God. For those unaware, Bell’s credibility in the faith community came under fire from his last book Love Wins and personally, I was curious what he might have to say in his latest book. Would it be a defense of previous writings? Would it be an attempt to win back the favor of his critics? Would it be perceived as an even greater deviation from orthodoxy within the Christian faith?

The book was actually very different indeed. It seemed like a book written to a very wide audience, from the deeply religious to the deeply irreligious. I’m sure it will have its share of critiques, but as I read it, I found it to be an intriguing unpacking of language often used when talking about God, and how two people can quite easily talk right past each other and miss out on common ground and perspective.

The book starts in an interesting place. It starts with a dialogue about subatomic particles and principles of physics that are observable and yet unexplainable. For instance the electron. We rely on the movement of electrons daily. In fact I wouldn’t be able to write this post without borrowing some electrons to power my computer. And yet, the best model for electrons around the nucleus of an atom relies  on a prediction of where the electron might be at any point in time. It’s almost like it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This is a hard concept to explain or understand, and yet, again, we rely on the movement of electrons to power our devices.

The book moves from multiple examples where people speak past each other when it comes to the subject of spirituality, and then as the book progresses, Bell introduces Jesus in a fresh way to the reader. The book is a very quick read, and I’m sure it will have its share of critics, but after reading it, I would love to introduce it to friends from various faith backgrounds and perspectives as I believe it would be a wonderful starting point for conversations.  I would recommend this book to people who are interested in exploring the subject of spirituality and how many people talk about God in the West.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Review: Strangers and Aliens by Trey Dunham

Well, the last several weeks have been a whirlwind for Jamie and myself, and that has brought my blogging exploits to a standstill. I can think of no better way to get back in the groove than to write a review of one of my most recent reads, Strangers and Aliens by Trey Dunham.

Trey’s book is an interesting new approach and genre for writing. It’s a Bible commentary but it’s not like most commentaries. In the author’s words, it is an anecdotal bible commentary for people who do not like commentaries. It bounces back and forth between personal stories and reflections on the book of 1 Peter. In some ways the book is reminiscent of the NT Wright “For Everyone” series of commentaries in its use of personal story and experience as a way of understanding the context of bible passages.

Trey’s book is deviates from NT Wright’s commentaries in a number of ways. Trey is not, and does not attempt to position himself as a theologian. Strangers and Aliens as a whole walks through a myriad of life experiences for the author that show the uniqueness of individual stories and how scriptures can be a lens for understanding and unpacking one’s experiences. If someone is looking for a commentary or text with a high theology, this is probably not the book for them.

On the other hand, Trey’s book is a wonderful series of often funny reflections on how one’s life experiences can often be illustrations of timeless truths. Strangers and Aliens is sincere, heartfelt, and hilarious. If it were not categorized as a commentary, it might read as a wonderful series of short stories as the author reflects on his upbringing, life experiences, travels, and opportunities to strive to live faithfully to the Biblical text.

At its price, this book is a bargain, and for the time it takes to read it, it is a fun journey. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a book from an author who is willing to not take himself too seriously, and I am hopeful that Mr. Dunham will engage readers with future anecdotal commentaries.