Books, recipes, and music all on one shelf!

On My Book Shelf: Afro-Vegan

The vegan cookbook market seems to be growing by the day, but there are some cookbooks that are truly in a league of their own. Afro-Vegan by the renowned vegan cookbook author, Bryant Terry, is a treasure because it brings beautiful flavors together with splendid vegan ingredients.

Inspired by traditional African cooking and African-American recipes, this book is a true joy and makes trying out beautiful and unique recipes a delight, and in the style of Terry’s previous books, each recipe has a song selection which will enhance the flavors and make cooking even more fun.  Options like Citrus Salad with Arugula, Blackened Cauliflower with Plum Tomato Sauce, and Collards and Cabbage with Lots of Garlic, highlight fresh ingredients in delicious ways.

Curried Scalloped Potatoes with Coconut Milk, Crispy Teff and Grit Cakes with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Peanuts, and Savory Grits with Slow-Cooked Collard Greens are delicious entrees, and desserts like Millet and Sweet Potato Porridge, Sweet Potato Granola with Molasses-Glazed Walnuts, and Ambrosia Ice Pops round out the meal in a fantastic fashion. The recipes in this book are splendid and with a number of gluten and soy-free options, this book is sure to please.

On My Book Shelf: Miracles Now

Gabrielle Bernstein has gained a following for her common sense strategies focusing on calming, reflection, and spiritual growth.  Her new book, Miracles Now, emphasizes a number of simple strategies in the form of meditations to allow you to become more conscientious, less anxious, and live a more confident life.

Although many of us are busy and rush about our daily lives, Miracles Now provides a wonderful starting point for beginning to calm down just a bit.  Each short reflection (no more than a few moments to read) emphasizes a way to connect to God, develop healthier habits, or help yourself and others.  Additionally, a brief Miracle Message follows the passage and is the perfect saying to ponder throughout the day (or tweet out as Bernstein suggests). For example, in the “Happiness is a Choice You Make” excerpt focusing on looking for happiness in God, not the external world, the Miracle Message is a simple statement: happiness is a choice I make.

With over 100 reflections that range from powerful to commonsense, Bernstein has collected a set of advice to enhance your spiritual life, decrease anxiety, and celebrate life. Messages ranging from Stop Obsessing and Your Eyes Will See What You Desire to Lose the Stagefright and Pray Before You Pay are refreshing and motivating.

On My Book Shelf: The Blender Girl

Every now and again you come across a cookbook that is both inspiring and exciting.  The Blender Girl, of the eponymous blog, has created such a cookbook.  It is filled with vibrant color, brilliant flavors, and tantalizing combinations.  The recipes are packed with healthy ingredients, and each involves a high powered blender in the process of creating the masterpieces.

Tess Masters takes the time to walk readers through the ingredients and how to make the most of your blender (on any budget).  It is in the recipes, however, that Masters (a.k.a. The Blender Girl) really shines.  The recipes highlight raw and superfoods and are all vegan with a number of gluten-free options. With creations like Raspberry-Lemon Cheesecake Smoothie, Apple Pie in a Glass Smoothie, Artichoke and White Bean Dip, and Awesome Almond Crackers, there are multiple ways to start off a snack session.  Amazing options like Basic Creamy Cheeze, Pine Nut “Parmesan:, and Macadamia “Feta” are great accompaniments to dozens of entrees, and recipes like Green Smoothie Fruit Leathers, Glowing Greek Salad, Mushroom Magic Soup, Savory, Sweet and Spicy Crepes, and Baked Caramel Apples round out a wonderful selection.

The sauces, soups, dressings, and toppings made with the help of a blender and some great recipes are all consistently tasty and a great way to expand the range of your Vitamix beyond just smoothies. Mix on!

On My Book Shelf: Reclaiming Francis

“Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Centuries after the inspiration of St. Francis, the Catholic church has ushered in Pope Francis, a pope with a mission much like the most famous saint of all time.  In Reclaiming Francis: How the Saint and the Pope are Renewing the Church, Charles M. Murphy examines the missions of St. Francis and Pope Francis and how their incredible faith and vision can help believers today.

Written in a beautiful voice with inspiring quotes and passages from Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and faith-based scholars throughout the ages, Reclaiming Francis is a compelling read. It is a powerful book perfect for anyone looking to refresh their knowledge of St. Francis, or reinvigorate their spiritual life.  Catholics and non-Catholics alike will enjoy the message in this story of a humble man with a powerful mission, and the leader who is once again focusing on faith, service, and poverty.

On My Music Shelf: Paper Hearts

“Paper Hearts” by The Airplanes is an upbeat tune that seemed just right for Valentine’s day – not too sweet, but a bit of pep. This great little Arkansas indie band has a fun sound with this fun little tune.

On My Kitchen Shelf: Cookies and Cream Brownies

Cookies and Cream Brownies

This Valentine’s day, tell your sweetie that they take the cake with these delicious brownies. Cookies and cream ice cream is definitely one of my favorites and brownies are a delicious standby that can be dressed up or down. These brownies beautifully blend the flavors of two traditional desserts into a yummy treat that can easily be thrown into a lunch box or topped with a scoop of ice cream for an after-dinner sweet with your sweetie.

Makes 9 large or 16 smaller brownies

Coconut oil to prepare pan

½ cup flour (traditional or gluten-free)

½ cup unsweetened cocoa

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup vegan margarine, melted

2 eggs or flax eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup crushed chocolate cream sandwich cookies

½ cup non-dairy cream cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease an 8×8 baking pan with coconut oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add flax or regular eggs, melted margarine, vanilla extract and applesauce.  Combine just until mixed.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the cookie crumbs with cream cheese, using hands to combine thoroughly.
  4. Spread the cookie crumb mixture on the prepared pan, being careful not to pack too tightly (the cookie mix should be loose to allow the brownies to bind the crumbs together). Top with brownie mix. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a fork comes out of the center cleanly.

On My Kitchen Shelf: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake Cups

If you love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter as much as I do, this is the perfect little Valentine’s day treat for you.  They have a cookie crumb crust and a layer of creamy peanut butter “cheesecake” topped by decadent, creamy chocolate.  They are vegan  and surprisingly addictive.


2 cups crumbled chocolate cookies (use gluten-free if desired)

¼ cup vegan margarine melted


¼ cup non-dairy milk

¼ cup cornstarch

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk

½ cup sugar

1 cup chocolate chips

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse to combine cookie crumbs and melted margarine.  Fill 6 muffin-tin cups with 2 liners each (doubling up will help to keep the filling in). Bake for 5 to 7 minutes until slightly firm (it will firm up more as it cools).
  2. In a small bowl, mix the non-dairy milk and the cornstarch.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, whisk together coconut milk and sugar.  Heat over medium-high heat, bringing to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and remove 1 cup of the liquid. Add chocolate chips to the saucepan.  Stir to combine until chocolate is completely melted and completely smooth.  Slowly increase the heat to medium and add ¼ cup of the cornstarch/milk liquid.  Stir consistently for approximately 5 minutes until the chocolate mixture begins to become like a thick pudding (do not stop prematurely as the chocolate will not firm up if it doesn’t thicken properly in the pan).  With a spatula, transfer the chocolate mixture to a medium bowl (don’t worry about getting every bit of the chocolate mix out).
  4. Add the reserved 1 cup coconut liquid to the saucepan over medium heat. Add peanut butter and stir until completely incorporated into the mix.  Add the cornstarch/milk liquid and begin to stir consistently for about 5 minutes to thick up (the peanut butter mix should have the same pudding-like consistency as the chocolate mix).
  5. Using an ice cream scoop, spoon approximately ¼ cup of the peanut butter mix into each of the 6 prepared cups.  Top with chocolate, filling to the top of the paper liner. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 10 hours.

On My Book Shelf: Honeybuns Gluten-Free Baking

Are you looking for the perfect treat for your Valentine? While gluten-free items may be found throughout most well-stocked supermarkets today, if you enjoy baking and creating delightful concoctions in your kitchen, then you can’t miss out on Honeybuns Gluten-Free Baking, a lovely and creative cookbook with loads of options for your sweetie.  With beautiful pictures and delicious recipes, it is a must for anyone trying to have fun on a gluten-free diet.

The recipes in Honeybuns are delightful and fun, but also include a repertoire of items which will surely become favorites. With Coconut Lime Cake, Bumble Barrow Fruit Cake, Upside-Down Polenta Plum Cake, Upside-Down Peach Muffins, Get-Out-of-Bed Banana Muffins, and Sticky Toffee-Apple Shortbread, the flavors are diverse and delicious.  Fun treats like Moosh Bars (a delightful mint bar), Date and Orange Flapjacks, and Granola Bars are ways to add scrumptious flavors to your everyday baking.

The recipes in this book aren’t vegan or vegetarian, but Emma Goss-Custard has a number of dairy-free substitutions and egg-substitute can be used in almost every recipe that calls for eggs.  These recipes are so yummy that they are well worth experimenting with!

On My Book Shelf: Someone Else’s Love Story

Some books are enjoyable because you love the twists and turns of the plot; some books have characters who are so real that they leap from the page; some books are written in such beautifully constructed prose that the words simply flow off of the page.  Someone Else’s Love Story  is all three of these.  In it, Joshilyn Jackson has composed a story that is so heartwarming and real that when reading it, I couldn’t help but feel that I was hearing a story from a dear friend and reliving precious moments with her.

Shandi, a young, optimistic single mother treasures her precious young son, Natty, insisting that he was a gift and the product of a virgin birth.  Preparing to leave the comforts of her mother’s home for Atlanta where her father will be able to provide the young prodigy Natty with competitive preschools, Shandi has failed to fully come to terms with her past.  Driving with all of her worldly possessions, her life-long best friend Walcott, and her precocious son, Shandi begins the adventure, but after a few hours of driving, Natty gets sick, forcing a quick stop at an out-of-the-way gas station.  What started as a quick stop for some ginger ale becomes a hold up in a gas station.  In Shandi’s fright, she is comforted by a strong, quiet man who quickly moves to protect Natty and soon believes she has fallen in love with him before she even knows him. She also is forced to examine the truth of Natty’s birth and admit to herself that he was born of a rape years ago and enlists the mysterious stranger’s help to resolve the secrets she has kept for so long.

In a beautiful story full of realistic dialogue, heartfelt reflection, and all of the tenderness that makes characters so human, Someone Else’s Love Story is an absolutely beautiful story.  There are a number of unexpected twists and turns and the characters take their rightful places in your heart.  This is undoubtedly my favorite book of 2014 thus far, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

On My Book Shelf: Prayers for Life

Now that 2014 is fully under way, some resolutions may be falling by the wayside.  For those of you focusing on your spiritual life this year, Prayers for Life: Forty Daily Devotions by Mary Ann Kuharski is the perfect pick-me-up.  The book celebrates life through daily scriptural passages, reflections with inspirations from great minds of faith, and a heartfelt prayer.

While some devotions focus on general spiritual growth, Prayers for Life revolves around human life at every stage beginning with conception, and is an inspiring companion to guide you through faith-based reflections.  With words from Pope John Paul II, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Augustine, and St. Teresa of Avila, the beauty of life is foremost in this book.  The forty days spent with this book will help to center you and allow you to focus  more deeply on your faith; this book is a celebration of life and is a wonderful way to celebrate 2014!