Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creamy Chicken and Sausage Pasta

If somebody described to me over a year ago the kinds of foods I'd be eating, or not eating, I probably would have laughed. Not that I eat anything off the wall, but the style with which I eat these days is so drastically different from only a year ago that it still astounds even me.

I crawled back to my first Weight Watcher meeting almost a year ago during the first week of September (see my blog where I spilled the beans). I was focused and ready--a machine. I realize looking back though, I still didn't have a clue what being healthy was. I was following my points, doing everything I was supposed to be doing (for the most part), and I started losing weight. But I was eating crap. Salty, processed crap. The glorious thing about Weight Watchers is that you can eat anything. And I mean anything. If a blizzard from Dairy Queen is what you crave, you can have it, so long as you fit it properly into your daily points allowance and still cover all of your other daily health guidelines--your fruit and veggies, whole grains, protein, healthy fats, and water. I understand now that just because you can eat those things, doesn't necessarily mean you should.

Naturally, none of this occurred to me last fall because, hey, I was losing weight! It wasn't until late November when the program changed, or was "tweaked", into the new Points Plus plan that I received the good, swift kick in the arse that I didn't even realize I needed. I won't go into all the plan details because it's a tad complicated, but in a nutshell, the plan was tweaked in such a way that it forced me to make better choices in foods. All of the old standby snacks and convenience foods that I used to rely on suddenly weren't looking as appetizing anymore. I found myself slowly switching to foods like brown rice and whole grain bread rather than the light white stuff (I should've done that from the beginning anyway but I'll admit I didn't). My lunch at work used to consist of a Weight Watcher frozen entree and a Ziploc bag of baby carrots, but has now been replaced with spinach salads with roasted chicken, black beans, avocado, and bell peppers. I haven't bought a frozen entree since 2010. No more jarred sauces of any kind--I make everything homemade. I've switched from regular peanut butter (I was using Peter Pan) to natural peanut butter, which I love and adore so much more than the old stuff that I will never, ever buy anything but natural ever again. Olive oil and canola oil are included into something I eat every single day. I even mix canola oil into my plain yogurt, along with either bananas, blueberries, strawberries, or cherries. You don't even know it's there! Again, I was supposed to be doing that from day one, but I honestly didn't start fully paying attention to healthy fats till Points Plus came around. It's a wonder I lost any weight in the beginning at all!

So what am I going on and on about? Basically, just that it finally clicked. Healthy foods DO taste good, contrary to what many believe. Once you start eating those foods and cut out all the junk and salt, your body and mind adapts to it like a chameleon. It takes time and patience, but it happens. I used to find a way to make that Georgia Mud Fudge Blizzard fit into my plan, but these days it barely crosses my mind. The other day I was daydreaming about fall coming, and I began thinking about crisp red delicious apples. I was craving an apple like a fiend! It dawned on me that it was possibly the first time in my whole life that I actually craved a piece of fruit, because I'm not joking, I haven't ever craved healthy foods. Quite the opposite in fact. How do you think I got into this mess to begin with?

Do I never eat anything junky or salty anymore? Of course not. I still splurge here and there. But those occasions are few and far between now rather than an every week occurrence. I sometimes need to actually remind myself that I can still have some of the foods I've chosen to stay away from, which makes eating those foods a lot more special and even fun. For instance...

This past Friday we had a couple friends over for dinner that we've been meaning to have over for a while. I wasn't sure what to make and was wracking my brains up until the last minute. David suggested lasagna, but I told him I was a little strung out on lasagna lately! I wanted something that everybody would enjoy eating but would also give me a secret satisfaction of being a little "naughty". Something with a creamy sauce was what I was wishing for, but not so creamy and buttery that I'd only be able to enjoy a few tablespoons of it. The line has to be drawn somewhere!

My pantry is filled with boxes of pasta that I haven't been touching. Pasta is a weak spot for me, even the slightly healthier whole wheat kind, so I try not to make it too often anymore. But when I do, I enjoy it to the fullest, which is what lead to creating a delicious creamy chicken and sausage pasta...

I will be honest, this is a simple meal in itself, but there are a lot of steps in order to complete it, so it's not so simple to make. There are a few shortcuts that can be made in order to make the meal much quicker, though. Picking up a cooked rotisserie chicken from the deli is a huge helper. Take all the skin off and pull all the chicken away from the bones, shredding it into bite-size pieces. You'll only need about two cups of the chicken, so the rest can put away in a Tupperware container to be used for other yummy meals like soups or salads. Blanching the asparagus ahead of time and simply reheating in the sauce will also save you a couple of steps and a little room on your stove top. And of course if you make your own tomato sauce in big batches so that you always have some on hand, or have jarred sauce on hand, it will save you a lot of time. But if you decide you want to do it all at once and use every single bowl and tool in your kitchen (like the sucker that I am did!), just make sure you give yourself plenty of time before dinner to complete it. The ending creamy result is worth it.

Creamy Chicken and Sausage Pasta
Serves: 6-8

-1 medium onion, chopped
-2 garlic cloves, chopped
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-1 tbsp. dried oregano
-1 29 oz. can crushed tomatoes
-1 20 oz. can tomato puree
-8 oz. heavy whipping cream (yeah baby!)
-3 links Italian sausage (sweet or hot), sliced into even pieces
-2 cups shredded chicken
-1/2 lb. asparagus, chopped into bite-size pieces, blanched
-1 lb. pasta (any kind--I used penne rigate)
-2 tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese
-8 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons

-Heat a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat and saute the sliced sausage till brown on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add onion and olive oil to the fat in the pan and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Scrape any bits from the pan and stir into onions. Add garlic and oregano and saute 30 seconds until fragrant.

-Add crushed tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat to a simmer and let sauce thicken, about 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to not let stick.

-In the meantime, bring a medium sized saucepan filled with water to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus to the water and blanch for 3 minutes. Remove asparagus from pot with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. This will keep the asparagus crisp and super green. After the asparagus has cooled enough, drain water and set bowl aside.

-In a large pot filled with boiling salted water, add your pasta and cook about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander, but reserve about 1/2 a cup of the pasta water and set aside.

-Stir 8 oz. of heavy whipping cream gently into tomato sauce till completely combined. The sauce should have a pretty pinky, orangey color to it. Add cooked sausage and chicken to sauce and stir.

-Take the drained pasta and pour directly into the pan with the sauce, tossing to completely coat and distribute the meaty sauce. Sprinkle the asparagus and ribboned basil into the pasta and toss again. Pour into any serving bowl or platter and sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Add some extra basil on top for color if you prefer.

-If sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen till it reaches the consistency you desire.

I served this with garlic bread and salad, and it made a very complete meal. There were four of us eating and we had tons of leftovers, despite our full bellies. Surprisingly, this is not a very heavy meal, despite the cream and sausage. If you prefer the dish to be a little meatier, by all means up the amount of chicken and/or sausage. I made it this way as to not go overboard, but still remain meaty enough to savor. And savor I did--every white scrap of pasta, every slurp of creamy sauce, and every juicy bite of sausage!


Friday, August 26, 2011

I Refuse... be a coward!

I lost 1.6 pounds this week for a grand total of 62 pounds even. There, I said it!

Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Trepid Art of Saying Thank You

I reached a major milestone last week. I attended my Weight Watchers meeting like I do every Thursday at 6:00pm. I'm always happy to go. My meeting leader, Carol, is a real hoot and always keeps us laughing and staying positive without ever going off the rah-rah-cheerleader deep end. Despite my being a person who tends to keep to myself in most places, I'm pretty talkative with the people who sit around me. Then again, we're all in the same boat there and we all tend to sit in the same places every week like kids in a classroom, so it's hard not to. At the end of each meeting, Carol reads off the names of the people who had great weight loss numbers that week. If you reach a milestone, like your 5% or 10%, or the 25 lb. or 50 lb. mark, it's a pretty big deal to everyone. A lot of times, when a member of the group gets to one of those points, it helps other members who might be struggling to keep going, so Carol always likes to recognize it.

So as usual, at the end of the meeting, she looked down her list of numbers for the week. I had a good number, so I knew she was going to mention me. When she got to me, she gave me a blank stare. I knew what she was thinking. She was thinking, 'How can you be just sitting there being so quiet today of all days? Why aren't you jumping up and down with glee?' I guess I should've been. I reached the 60 lb mark. 60.4 to be exact. In Weight Watcher World, when you reach that kind of weight loss they expect you to be doing cartwheels down the aisles. But I wasn't. I was clammed up as if my mouth had been wired shut. Of course, she announced that I reached 60 lbs and everyone applauded for me...and I turned bright red. She then asked me to give the group some words of wisdom, which I guess I did....and then I turned even more red and wanted to bury my face in my purse. The thing is, I WAS excited. I was ecstatic actually....but only on the inside. On the outside I was oozing with embarrassment.

When I started this journey, it was for me and only me, and it still is. Along the way I've shared some of my milestones--like getting back into my favorite pair of jeans or seeing pictures of myself from a year ago that literally made my eyes bug out of my head. I've chronicled my weight loss in blogs, in emails, and even on facebook for all to see. But as I am losing more and more weight, I am struggling to show my excitement to others. When people pay me compliments, it often turns my stomach inside out with uneasy. I know why. Insecurity. Raging, painfully awkward, want to hide under a rock insecurities. Vulnerability. Resentment. These are all members of The Ugly Side of Losing Weight Club.

Losing weight is supposed to be a joy; a huge achievement. It is! It's amazing, it's empowering, it's hopeful. Clothes look and feel better, I don't get as winded anymore, and heck, I can cross my legs again! But for those out there losing weight who also bare a bit of a dark side within, as I do, losing weight can also be a cruel lesson in the realities of life. It's the realization that people are taking second glances at you, who never would have even looked your way before. People are nicer to you. They smile at you more. Suddenly, you're visible in a world where for the longest time, you were completely invisible. It can feel scary and awkward and rather intense. Despite having a husband who loves me no matter what and wonderful friends and family, the world can be a very lonely place to dwell when no one sees you for the person you know you are.

For me, it can bring out a bitterness. Recently, while sitting at a red light in my car, a man beside me gave me the look. You know what look I mean. Maybe some women find it flattering. I suppose it is to some extent. For a fleeting moment, it's a direct confirmation, 'Woohoo! My hard work is paying off!' But a second later, all I can think is ' wouldn't have been giving me that look sixty pounds ago...'. I have to remind myself, this person is a total stranger who knows nothing about me, nor anything about my weight struggles. I have no right to feel resentment towards him. But sometimes the reminder that people, not just men, pay you more attention in general when you're thinner cannot be ignored.

I know I'm not alone in these feelings. Many times I've taken to the message boards on the Weight Watchers website for support and see that many others question and contemplate the same feelings. The responses that people give tend to always dance around the same idea--just say thank you. If someone pays you a compliment, just say thank you. If somebody smiles at you, just smile back and move on. Don't dissect the looks or the words. Just say thank you. They have a point...

Do I ever dissect peoples' words and compliments? Um...yeah...I believe I've done that once or twice. Do I have a tendency to worry that as I announce how many pounds I've dropped and still want to lose that people are secretly trying to figure out my starting weight? ...Occasionally. Do I need to just suck it up and stop worrying about what other people think and say thank you when they pay me a compliment?...


So what's my problem? What's so difficult about saying thank you and moving on? I don't know. On one hand it feels great to be complimented, but on the other it feels mortifying. It brings every insecurity to the forefront. Are they just saying that because they feel like they have to? Should I stop announcing my weight loss numbers to the general public for fear that when I reach my goal weight they'll all collectively think, 'Daaaaang, she must've been HUGE!'?? If I do stop announcing it, does that make me weak? A coward? It's like a sticky spiderweb of emotions coated over every logical and rational thought in my brain. I process one logical idea and an absurd one follows right behind. I've become one of those cartoon characters that has the angel and the devil sitting on each of my shoulders telling me their side. It's exhausting! But hear me when I tell you, I WANT to be thankful. I want to smile back when people smile at me. I don't want to be bitter and resentful. I don't fish for compliments, but if I receive one, I want to think, 'Yay!' rather than 'Liar.'

Inside I am a very, very appreciative person. I don't take my loved ones for granted. Everyday I am grateful to have air in my lungs, a roof over my head, and two legs that work. I am tickled at the mere sight of a ladybug--those adorable little gals in their pretty red coats who only stop by once in a while. I shower my dog with affection just from knowing that dogs don't live as long as humans do and I want her to experience as much love as possible while she's on this earth. I find some flowers to be so beautiful that it's nearly painful. I love my husband so much that sometimes I could possibly squeeze him to death. I feel deeply. I feel it all--love, happiness, fear, despair--everything. I feel anger too, but I don't refuse to acknowledge it. I know it's there, sitting on a shelf sometimes refusing to budge. It's sitting there because I'm still trying to figure out when and where to move it. I want to clear space to make room for the good feelings in life, but there's a lot of sorting to do. A lot of boxes to clear out. At least, perhaps, there's hope for me that one day I'll be able to let go of the anger, that I'll be able to say thank you and mean it. I promise I will certainly try.

In the meantime, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for listening.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Classic Lasagna

It doesn't get any better than this. Lasagna has got to be the most quintessential crowd pleaser, not to mention the most handy. It's delicious no matter how it's made, it can be prepared ahead of time and popped in the oven when needed, it makes great leftovers, it freezes well, and is the perfect meal to bring to somebody when they're sick or just had a baby. Seriously, who doesn't love lasagna?

My nephew came to spend a night with his cool Aunt Katie recently and requested that I make this for him. I'll admit, I felt flattered. Apparently he likes my lasagna. How could I deny the lad?

There's nothing out of the ordinary or off the wall about this recipe. Even though lasagna is another one of those meals that can be prepared a million different ways, collectively they all sing the same tune. The one thing that does set this lasagna apart from the rest is that it's mine. Not yours, not his, nor hers, but MINE. And now I'm sharing it with you. Buon Appetito!

Classic Lasagna
Serves 8

-12 no boil lasagna sheets*
-9 cups homemade meat sauce (see recipe below)
-2 cups ricotta cheese*
-2 cups cottage cheese*
-1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
-1 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
-1 tsp. ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, the ground pepper, and basil together in a bowl and set aside.

Smear the bottom of a 9 x 13 in. baking dish with one cup meat sauce. Layer 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce, slightly overlapping. Scoop 1/3 of the cheese mixture over the noodles and spread evenly. Top with 2 cups meat sauce and spread evenly. Add a light sprinkle of the shredded mozzarella and parmesan (about a tablespoon).

Repeat layers two more times ending with 3 lasagna noodles on top.

Spread two cups meat sauce over the noodles evenly. Top with remaining parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered 15 minutes more. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing.

*If you've never tried no boil lasagna noodles, you don't know what you're missing. They make putting a lasagna together a million times easier. They may not look it, but they expand perfectly during the cooking process, so don't worry. They slice beautifully too.

*You can use any version you prefer, whether it be full fat, reduced fat, or non-fat. I tend to use reduced fat, but really any of them work well. It's a personal preferance.

Homemade Meat Sauce
Makes: About 12 cups

-1 large onion, chopped
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-2 tbsp. olive oil
-1.5 lb. lean ground beef
-4 links hot Italian sausage, removed from casings
-1 6oz. can tomato paste
-3 29oz. cans crushed tomatoes
-1 tbsp. salt
-1 tbsp. pepper
-2 tbsp. dried oregano
-2 tbsp. sugar

Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Pour in olive oil and heat till just smoking. Add onions and saute till softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds until fragrant.

Stir in tomato paste. The paste will give the sauce great depth. Add ground beef and sausage and break up with spoon. Stir and cook until lightly browned. The mixture will be very thick.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir. Add sugar and all spices and stir. Lower heat and let simmer uncovered for as long as possible, but at least a half hour. The longer the sauce simmers the more it will thicken and the better it will taste.* Be sure to stir occasionally so that the sauce doesn't stick to the sides of the pot.

You may have leftover sauce after the lasagna recipe. If so, put it aside for another day and serve over your favorite pasta.

*I try to let the sauce simmer for at least three hours if I can manage it. It just depends on how busy I am that day and whether or not I have to go anywhere. If you have the time to let it simmer all day on the stove, you'll have one heck of a good sauce!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dedicated To One of the Ones I Love

I have three girlfriends who are my rocks in life. They live in different cities and we don't get to see one another as often as I'd like, but like any true friend, distance doesn't mean a whole lot. The old cliche of 'we pick up wherever we left off' absolutely applies to these gals.

Today I am thinking about one of those friends. Her name is Beth. Mary Beth actually, but dear God, don't ever call her Mary. Rarely do I call her Beth either. Sometimes it's Bethy, sometimes Biff. Or Biffy. Or Bay. Or Bess. Or Beff. The list goes on and on...

Beth loves Disneyworld, or anything Disney for that matter. She met her future husband there. He proposed to her there. They got married there. At the end of the cocktail hour at her wedding reception, speakers blasted "Be Our Guest" as we all entered the ballroom. Every table contained a Cinderella carriage. Guests adorned Mickey Mouse headbands. It was Disney magic! There was no wedding cake at Beth's wedding. Why? Because Beth doesn't like cake. Maybe some other brides would've had a cake anyway because that's what brides are supposed to do, but that's not how Biffy roles.

Beth has this strange, yet hilarious, way of raising her eyebrow up when she's questioning someone or something. Or it's just her version of the stink eye. The jury's still out.

Beth loves ballet. And red wine. And Billy Joel. My kind of girl and just a few of the reasons why she's so awesome.

I was in her car with her once and a man bumped her fender at a red light. She got out of the car and told the man, at the top of her lungs, to get off of his cell phone and to pay attention. I'm not that brave. I'd be too worried the man would pull out a gun and shoot me. But Beth has no fear.

Beth can cry at the drop of a hat, at both happy and sad occasions. It's because she feels things.

Beth loves baseball. And football. And soccer. She knows more about sports than a lot of men that I know. Certainly more than I could ever try to imagine knowing.

Beth is a good friend. She worries about her friends. She worries whether or not we're happy. Or if we're unhappy. Sometimes I worry that she worries too much.

Beth ends most of her written sentences with !!!! I don't know if it's because she thinks loudly in her head or she just wants to make sure that we can all hear her. I think she does it because she enjoys life and believes that anything worth saying should end in a !!!!

There are too many reasons to list what's special about my friend Beth. My fingers don't have the strength to tell the tale. But, boy oh boy, is she something else. I just wanted to let her know how unbelievably blessed I am to know her and to call her my friend. Love ya, Bess. I mean Beff. I mean Beth. Love ya through and through.

That is all. Carry on.

Friday, August 5, 2011


At the start of the summer, the hubby and I sat down and made a To-Do list of projects we wanted to accomplish around the house. It wasn't an extremely complicated list. Mainly a lot of nit-picky projects. We knew re-sodding the yard was going to be a huge project to take on, which it was, so we kept the rest of the list relatively simple. For instance, my in-laws gave us some lovely patio furniture that they didn't have room for anymore. It's one of those tall tables with two swivel chairs made out of a taupe colored iron. They're very pretty and very much a style that I like, but I have a thing for black wrought iron and I've been dying to transform this furniture with some magic potion that can bought at Lowe's for about $6.00.

I discovered wrought iron spray paint when we first built our house. I had no idea such a thing existed. It transformed all of the icky gold, brassy chandeliers and fixtures in our house into these Europeanesque beauties. At least, that's how I see them. I love anything that reminds me of France or Italy. Not that I've ever been there, not yet anyway...Okay, getting off track. Wrought iron spray paint is so amazing because it coats so well that you'd never, ever know that it was spray paint. It's easy, fast, and cheap, a.k.a. my kind of language!

So, by now this project should've been done. All it would require is a few hours. But of course, I have put this off like the million other things in life that I tend to put off. What's been stopping me is the seat cushions. I haven't been able to find any new outdoor cushions that I like. I decided that I wouldn't paint the furniture till I had cushions to place on it. I'd been avoiding buying my own fabric to make cushions for, I admit, totally lazy reasons. Buying my own fabric would mean I'd actually have to take time and extra money to have them made, or....or....I'd have to finally take the sewing machine that's still in its box laughing at me (see my very first post on this blog) and learn how to use it. I don't know why I keep resisting learning to use it. I just do.

However, while out shopping around looking for the perfect cushions, I've made an interesting discovery. These cushions in stores are simply BUTT UGLY!! Bleck, I've never seen such lack of originality. I don't mean to sound snobbish, but come on designers, can't you do a little bit better than TAN? Geeze louise! I knew I wanted something colorful and non-floral. Something blue perhaps since I lack a lot of blue inside my house. Deep blue. Mediterranean blue. A unique pattern that you won't come across in Target. Ahhh...

And I found it. I found just what I was looking for. But it's fabric by the yard. For a relatively good price. That means that I have no choice. I have to...I have to...I have to learn to use the sewing machine!!....Oh well, it was bound to happen I suppose.

So now, I have to get some fabric ordered and fashion myself some cushy-tushy-cushions (try saying that five times in a row). A yard produces quite a bit of fabric, and since I'll end up only using a small portion of it, I'll have enough leftover to make some other goodies too, like back pillows and a bench cushion (for the bench that I don't have yet but will when the hubby builds me one--which I've now added to my mental list!). Ooh! This could be a lot of fun!

Okay, I've got the cushion part in the works now. I have a plan. I can't move forward without a plan, man. This is where the shhhhh part comes in, though. I'm always very good about including David in my creative ideas and things I'd like us to do with the house. He's an artist through and through and enjoys having an opinion in just about anything we do involving colors, which I'm glad for. I'd rather he have some opinion than none at all. Neither of us were entirely sure what to do about these cushions, though. Now he's out of town for over a week, I'm sitting on a colorful blue plan that I'm itching to get working on, and I might be completely heartbroken if by some chance he hates the fabric I've fallen in love with. So, what to do....well...

I'm going to spray those chairs. I'm going to spray that table. And I'm going to buy that fabric. Yup. I'm buying it and that's all there is to it. If he doesn't like it, he's going to have to learn to. If you leave me here alone to go watch the Pittsburgh Steelers practice at training camp for a week with your dad, this is the price you pay, bucko! Shenanigans will surely follow!

Will you join me on this adventure? It will be our little secret. He's too busy trying to get Troy Polamalu's autograph right now to be paying attention to this blog. He'll discover my dastardly deed when he comes back to Florida, and as God as my witness, he will like it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Help

Is anybody besides me on pins and needles waiting for this movie to come out? I'm sure it won't live up the book, as they rarely ever do, but I'm still dying to see it. I've read a lot of books, and I was a little late to the game on this one. It was written by Kathryn Stockett and published in 2009, but it took me until this past January to finally get around to reading it. It had been on my endless "To Read" list for quite a while. I received a NOOK for Christmas this past year, courtesy of my generous in-laws, and this was the first book I downloaded. For me, this one of one of those stories that grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and shook me. I ate every word up in less than 24 hours and immediately read it over again. I hadn't been grabbed by a book like that since I first read the Twilight series. Yes, I'm one of those people. Don't judge!

For those of you that haven't heard of The Help, it's a story that takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, during the firestorm of the civil rights era. The tall and brainy Skeeter, who received her nickname from her brother when she was born when he declared she resembled a mosquito (what a little creep), returns to Jackson after finishing college. All of her old friends departed Ole Miss early to become young wives and mothers, and all have help in their homes. Most of these characters are your typical old southern bells--pretty and proper, but will strike at you like an angry cobra if you dare defy her. They expect their maids to raise their children, cook their meals, clean their homes, and be at their beck and call, but won't even allow them to use the same toilet in their house. Some of the scenes in the book that illustrated these points were pretty gut wrenching, but it also included enough humor to keep it from becoming a very dark book. Skeeter is the only one in the bunch who seems to notice the hypocrisy and wants to do something about it.

Skeeter wants to be a writer and decides she wants to write a book from the point of view of the help, but it is no easy feat to get these ladies to agree to tell their stories, even done so anonymously. Even Skeeter, despite her non-conformism, grew up privileged and doesn't grasp the danger that she's putting these women in, as well as herself. When they finally begin to come forward, we learn all sorts of juicy details, especially about the book's villain Hilly Holbrook, the quintessential ice queen. Hilly was such an interesting character. She was spiteful, completely racist, vindictive, evil, but I still felt bad for her in a way. She was completely ignorant and truly believed all of her own nonsense. I won't give too much away, but let's just say that the book takes all kinds if interesting turns that kept me turning the pages at lightning speed.

In addition to the story itself, I loved all the little details within. I loved reading about the meals the ladies would eat at their weekly bridge club--congealed salads, deviled eggs, chicken salad sandwiches--and that they always used their best china and silver for these occasions. I also got a kick out of the way that their silver patterns defined them as people. I have no idea if that's really how women were in Jackson in the 1960's, but it entertained me regardless. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It's climbed the top of my list to possibly my all time favorite.

A couple months ago it was my turn to host my book club. I chose The Help, of course, and was delighted that none of the ladies in my group had ever read it. It proved to be an excellent choice because they all really enjoyed it and it provided quite a lengthy discussion about social class, racism, etiquette, and all kinds of topics. Usually in my book club, we discuss the book for about twenty minutes, and then it's on to the booze and girl talk. Again, don't judge. It also provided me with a built in menu. When it's your turn to host, you choose the book and provide the food. I decided to have some fun and used the bridge club scenes in the book to build from. I served chicken salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, congealed salad (which was a HUGE hit and I will have to post the recipe for soon), and a chocolate pie. For those of you that don't know, there was a scene in the book involving a chocolate pie that was quite scandalous to say the least, but I'm keeping that jewel under wraps. You have to either read the book or see the movie...

It comes out next Wednesday, August 10th. I've been patiently waiting all summer for its premiere, and I can barely take it any longer. David left to go out of town today for over a week, so I already have three neighbors lined up to go with me next week on the night it opens. David expressed that he also wouldn't mind seeing it, so I'll be going again when he comes back...And we decided at that particular book club that we need to go see it as a group, so I may in fact end up seeing this movie three times while it's in theaters. As you can see, I'm a very dedicated groupie.

Will any of you be going to see The Help?