Monday, November 30, 2009

Virtual Cookie Swap

Photo: Ditte Isager

Who doesn't love cookies at Christmas time? I love baking and usually bake at least once every weekend and usually kick it up a notch during the holiday season. My favorite kind of cookies the whole year round are gingersnaps and they are always more prolific at Christmas. One year I went on a quest to find the ultimate gingersnap recipe so when I heard that Burmudaonion and Booking Mama were hosting a Virtual Cookie Swap I knew exactly which cookie recipe I'd be posting: the ultimate Ginger Snap Recipe! Why is it the ultimate you ask? Because it involves a frosting cookie sandwich. Delicious!

Gingersnaps with Orange-Ginger Cream Filling (Makes 2 dozen cookies)

Ingredients:


Cookies:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , room temperature
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Filling:

  • 1/4 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter , room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. grated orange zest
  • 1 tsp. orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar , plus more as needed
To make cookies: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add molasses, egg, and vanilla, and beat at medium-high until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low; add flour mixture and mix until well combined. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar to coat. Arrange about 2 inches apart on 2 ungreased baking sheets. Using the bottom of a glass that has been lightly greased, then dipped in sugar, flatten dough into 1/4-inch-thick disks. Bake 13 to 15 minutes, or until firm. Remove from oven and immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

To make filling: In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients; mix until smooth, adding more powdered sugar as needed (filling should have consistency of very thick frosting). With a small spatula, frost bottoms of half the cookies (about 1teaspoon filling each); top with remaining cookies (so bottom sides are together) to make sandwich cookies.

Note: The fresh ginger should be peeled unless otherwise noted. To grate fresh ginger, use a microplane grater or a triangular ginger grater, which will catch unwanted ginger fibers in its teeth, leaving behind a juicy, concentrated pulp.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Funny Lady

By Dawn French

Are most Americans familiar with Dawn French? 'The Vicar of Dibley'? 'French and Saunders'? Well if you aren't, you are missing out on one funny lady! Around the age of 12 my mom met and married a Brit and from then on I was exposed to much of British culture, and then I went on to study in London for a semester in college which is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. One of the funniest ladies of British comedy in my opinion was always Dawn French (the other being Jennifer Saunders!). So when I heard that she had an autobiography coming out I knew that I'd want to read it because it would most definitely be a hoot!

'Dear Fatty' is not your typical autobiography in that it is written in the form of letters to all of the people that made a difference to French. In this respect it makes it seem very personal. She can be more reflective and not just tell you what happened but write to a particular person: dad, mom, best friend, husband, daughter, telling them what happened, what her thoughts were and how she hopes they take it's meaning. In this respect it was often poignant. Much of her life is funny, much of her life is sad. Whose isn't?

French grows up in an RAF family so they are moved around constantly. We learn how she adapts. Much of the book is written to her father whom French loved dearly. When French is about to go off to college he commits suicide and you learn how she and her family deal with that. You learn how she goes through teenage loves and ultimately meets her husband of 20+ years, Len Henry, another famous British comedian, whom they have a daughter together.

Fatty, to whom the story is to, is Jennifer Saunders, her partner in comedic crime. The book is interspersed with funny jokes written to 'Dear Fatty.' There are also great lists wherein she tallies all the great kissers she's kissed including George Clooney! My favorite list was to all of those she babysat for saying all of the things she did while babysitting. I was laughing out loud because I definitely did that as well!

Ultimately this is a memoir of someone who is famous but is human and very relate-able. Highly recommended. You will laugh out loud and you will find it very sweet.

(I got this book from paperbackswap.com)

I'm Baaack!

Hotel Del Coronado

Hi Everyone! I missed you! Did everyone have a fabulous Thanksgiving with their friends and family? We had a wonderful time with ours but man, our we pooped! My mom kept us moving the entire time! Since we won't be with that side of the family for Christmas we did our gift exchange at Thanksgiving and now that I am a book blogger they must know that I am now officially obsessed with reading as I got lots of wonderful books for Christmas. It was awesome! Here's what I got:
- 'The Lacuna' by Barbara Kingslover
-'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett
-'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel
-'The Piano Teacher' by Janice Y. K. Lee

I can't wait to read all of these! Also, my mom got me these book covers which I am so excited to decorate with! Thanks Mom and Grandma!

Did anyone else get some great new reads over the holidays?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Heading South

Tomorrow morning the boyfriend and I are boarding a plane and flying down to San Diego to hang out with my mom and stepdad. My grandma and her studmuffin are also driving in from Phoenix so it will be quite the fun filled four days. My mom is a fabulous cook and I am sure she will completely outdo herself. Everyone please send up a silent prayer to the cooking gods because there has been a dishwasher meltdown today so let's hope that gets fixed or I do believe all the men should have to be on dish duty. :) At any rate, while I will be reading, I will also be spending some quality time with the family and therefore may not be blogging again until Sunday.

I hope everyone has a most wonderful and fabulous Thanksgiving!!

Much love,
Amused!

In For A Penny ...

... in for a pound, as the saying goes! Surprise, after joining my first challenge, two more have tempted me. As my boyfriend said when I told him I joined my first reading challenge, "why would I be surprised, competitive reading has your name written all over it!" So game on!

Here's what I'm joining:

The idea behind this challenge is to read works by authors who have been recommended to you time and again, yet someho
w you haven't managed to read any books by t
hose authors. These are the authors that everyone else tells you are awesome, thus the "Awesome Author Challenge" title.
Here are the guidelines:
  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.
  2. Crossover from other challenges is allowed.
  3. Choose the level at which you would like to participate, post about it and come back and leave a link.
  4. Titles and authors do not have to be predetermined, and can change at any time.
  5. Books can come from any genre or reading level, the only requirement is that you have heard great things about the author, but haven't yet read any of their works.
I have chosen to enter in at the 'Easy Level.' This level instructs us to 'choose three authors and read at least one title from each author'.

Here's where I need your help book readers. The three authors I want to read that I have always been told to read are:
  1. Kate Atkinson
  2. Margaret Atwood
  3. Elizabeth Berg
Not having read any of these authors, which book from each of the above 3 authors should be the one that I choose to read for this challenge. Please help!



Here are the guidelines:
  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.
  2. Crossover from other challenges is allowed.
  3. However, the authors must be new to you and, preferably from novels.
  4. You can pick to do either 15, 25 or 50 new authors.
I have chosen to enter in at the 15 book/author level. Personally, I think I try quite a few new authors every year but I've never counted which is what makes me want to try this challenge in the first place and see how I'll do!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does She Get Her Wish?

'The Sleeping Beauty Proposal'
Sarah Strohmeyer

I can't believe I somehow haven't reviewed a chick-lit book yet! I love chick-lit. The one beef I do have with this genre however, is their cheesetastic covers. Why oh why do they always have to be pink, purple, or light blue and scream to the world that I am reading the girliest of girl books? Is it so bad to announce to the world that something in them might hold some merit because many of them do. It's odd that the book which really kicked this genre off, 'Bridget Jones's Diary', does not fall into this trap with it's eyes staring out at you on a black and white background but clearly marketeres forever after felt female = female colors. Oh well. On with the book which was another fun example in this genre.

I usually stick with 'Brit Chick-Lit' but after reading this review on write meg! I thought I'd give the 'The Sleeping Beauty Proposal' a try and I'm glad I did. It was a great read. The premise is this: Genie Michaels has been dating her now-famous author boyfriend Hugh for four years and wasn't pushing for a proposal but hoping none the less. While being interviewed on TV about his new book, Hugh proposes to his girlfriend, however as Genie soon learns, it's not her. He's been dating someone else on the side! That cad! Now he's off to Britain to continue to promote his book and she decides screw it, everyone thinks we're engaged so why not. She and her best friend concoct the Sleeping Beauty Proposal wherein you act like you are engaged and hopefully your prince will magically show up.

What's more important in the book is the message. Genie realizes her life has been stagnant and this proposal debacle ends up being just what she needs to kick her life into gear. Because she has to change her life to start acting more independently to plan this 'wedding' on her own she starts acting more independently on her own in other ways as well and learns all kinds of valuable life lessons along the way.

Bottom line, the book is fun and charming with a humorous cast of supporting characters. It's the perfect anecdote to this crazy busy time of year. I've already gone ahead and 'wished' for her other books from paperbackswap.com!

(I got this book from paperbackswap.com)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Do I Dare?

Ever since joining the book blogging community a couple of months ago everyone has been participating in reading challenges and I thought to myself, "Self, that seems a little much to handle." But how quickly I change my mind! It appears that as the new year approaches so do challenges that last a whole year and this seems to me to be a lot more manageable if there are ones full of the types of books that I would already read anyway. Then my tune changes to, "Self, why the heck not?! Could be fun and a way to meet other bloggers." Therefore I am officially joining my first ever reading challenge!

It's called the TwentyTen Reading Challenge and it's hosted by Bart over at Bart's Bookshelf.

The aim is to read a total of 20 books, over ten categories, in 2010.

Rules:

  • Read 2 books from each category, making a requirement of 20 books total.
  • The categories are intended to be loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked **)
  • Categories marked with ** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.
  • Each book can only qualify for one category.
  • Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.
  • Books read from 01/01/2010 to 31/12/2010 are eligible.

So, on with the categories

  1. Young Adult
    Any book classified as young adult or featuring a teenage protagonist counts for this category.
    (I haven't read Y.A. in a long time, um since I was a young adult, but since reading other bloggers I now have a few on my paperbackswap wishlist which should show up next year. These include 'Beautiful Creatures' and 'Thirteenth Child'.
  2. T.B.R. **
    Intended to help reduce the old T.B.R. pile. Books for this category must be already residents of your bookshelves as of 1/11/09.
    (Great, I have about 70 of these to choose from, done and done.)
  3. Shiny & New
    Bought a book NEW during 2010 from a bookstore, online, or a supermarket? Then it counts for this category. Second-hand books do not count for this one, but, for those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts or won in a giveaway also count! (I have a Barnes & Noble gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket so this will be perfect!)
  4. Bad Blogger’s ***
    Books in this category, should be ones you’ve picked up purely on the recommendation of another blogger count for this category (any reviews you post should also link to the post that convinced you give the book ago).
    *** Bad Bloggers: Is hosted by Chris of Stuff as Dreams are Made on. (The amount of books I add to my paperbackswap wishlist every week thanks to other bloggers is ridiculous. This one will be a breeze!)
  5. Charity
    Support your local charity shops with this category, by picking up books from one of their shops. Again, f
    or those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts also count, as long as they were bought from a charity shop. (Can do, I live on the same block as a Salvation Army and go to charity book sales throughout the year.)
  6. New in 2010
    This category is for those books newly published in 2010 (whether it be the first time it is has been released, or you had to wait for it to be published in your country, it counts for this one!) (Oh boy I am sure there will be plenty released next year to entice me!)
  7. Older Than You
    Read two books that were published before you were born, whether that be the day before or 100 years prior!
    (Ok I've been thinking I should re-read a couple classics next year anyways. This can be the gentle push I needed.)
  8. Win! Win!
    Have a couple of books you need to read for another challenge? Then this is the category to use, as long that is, you don’t break the rules of the other challenge by doing so! (As of right now I am not signed up for anything else but who the heck knows with me!)
  9. Who Are You Again?
    This one isn’t just for authors you’ve never read before, this is for those authors you have never even heard of before!
    (Great, thanks to book bloggers there are plenty out there I haven't heard of before so again this should be fine!)
  10. Up to You!
    The requirements for this category are up to you! Want to challenge yourself to read some graphic novels? A genre outside your comfort zone? Something completely wild and wacky? Then this is the category to you. The only requirement is that you state it in your sign-up post. (I have multiple science based, non-fiction books that I fear might bore me so this will be good for me. 'The Botany of Desire: A Plant Eye's View of the World', 'A Short History of Nearly Everything', 'The Female Brain', etc., etc. They are supposed to be really good for everyone/fascinating so that's why I want to read them but I get easily bored so I just don't know. This will force me to read them!)

Let the games begin on January 1st. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Posterity

"Booking Through Thursday" is a weekly meme that gets book bloggers to come together and post their thoughts on different topics , mostly about books. Here's this weeks topic:




Today’s question was suggested by Barbara:

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?


First of all I will say that I think those authors, Dickens, Austen, Bronte lasted, not because what they wrote was mind-blowingly ground breaking, but instead because it was universal and therefore they were popular and have been able to maintain that popularity. While the struggles that humans deal with may change, the same basic ones remain the same, love, loss, etc. and these authors wrote about them and wrote about them in a way people enjoyed and so they still read.

So are there authors today that people will pick up over and over again? I think that Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is one of those classics that even if you are forced to read it in school you love it so it must be good! Therefore I believe that will endure.

But Ms. Lee hasn't written a book since so if I had to stick to someone who was CURRENT and strictly that, I would have to say Nick Hornby. I think his books write about the same themes as Dickens, Bronte and Austen - love, loss, etc. but now his characters are trying to understand the modern world. He's books are incredibly relate-able. That's who I'd offer as someone whose works might survive.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Viva La Mexico!

'Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines'
By Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Depending on where you live, and who you are, this book may be incredibly relevant to you. I am a whitie who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle. I thought it was multi-cultural and upon moving to San Francisco over 4 years ago I realized that in fact, it was not. San Francisco however is! I currently live in the Mission District which is historically the Hispanic part of town because it is where the Spanish built their Missions (hence the name) way back when and is still 50% Latino. Recently it's being overrun by hipsters with their trendy restaurants and bars but its still where everyone comes for delicious burritos and every billboard here is in Spanish and all of the streets are named after historic Latino families. Because this is now my home, this book called out to me.

'Mexican Enough' is the story of Stephanie. A thirty something woman who is half Mexican and half white and grew up in South Texas and now wants to do some soul searching with her Mexican side. Along the way she documents gay rights, professional Mexican wrestling (luchadores!), undocumented workers, and native Indian struggles, among others.

What made this book fascinating for me was that Stephanie was so likable. I really rooted for her and wanted her to be able to find what she was looking for in Mexico. Also, all of the people she met in her travels were, at turns, funny, sweet, and heartbreaking. So it wasn't just a fact finding book to tell us how to fix all of the problems with Mexico or what America has done wrong, it showcased all of the people that make up that country. She presented many hard hitting facts, which were also fascinating and thought provoking and my boyfriend I think was annoyed at times because I'd be like, "did you know..." Seriously though, Mexico and the United States are forever tied so I found this book great and like I said, it wasn't just fact after fact. It was real people.

One final quote I'd like to leave you with that to me really summed up Ms. Griest's soul searching journey through Mexico: 'It goes without saying that I will never truly be Mexican, not even if I moved there for the rest of my life and acquired the requisite customs and traditions. Because what binds a people are their bedtime stores. The songs they sing on road trips. Political and historical events. Fads and crazes. Shared memories." Does she finds what she needs? You'll have to read it to find out!

(I bought this book at a garage sale)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Save the Short Story

I don't know about you but the words 'short story' to me instantly bring me back to school work. It was always something we were forced to read in school. I think because they were more manageable than making a classroom of kids read a whole book in a quick amount of time, yet easier to comprehend than poetry.

Well, the short story is somewhat of a dying art form and One Story is here to save it. One Story is a non-profit literary magazine that features one great short story mailed to subscribers every three weeks. They hope to save the short story by making it reader friendly once again, as a stand alone work, like a magazine, that you can throw in your purse and read on the go.

They promise never to publish a writer more than once and so are always looking for new and exciting writers. Many of their writers have gone on to publish books.

Could make a great gift!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good for a Laugh

Got some time to kill and want to fill it with a laugh? Especially during the hectic holidays, it can be good to have a quick giggle. Well I stumbled upon this hysterical blog Awful Library Books. They find old library books and post about them and the results are great! Recently they've found books about clowns celebrating New Years (why?!) and the fundamentals of baton twirling. Good times!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Makin' Me Hungry!

'From Here, You Can't See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and It's Restaurant'
By Michael Sanders

I've travelled to Paris and throughout some smaller towns in rural France and I'll admit, that title hooked me. I enjoyed the allure of the rest of France much more then I did Paris. Normally, I love reading books about travel adventures, small towns, cooking, and people adapting but honestly I struggled with this one. It was just too slow for me. Maybe it was because their way of life is just so much slower than mine and that had to set the pace of the book. I also felt that Sanders repeated things he'd already told us a lot. Often within a few pages of having already told us something, I had to check that I wasn't re-reading a page. But alas, lets get to the good points for there are many.

'From Here, You Can't See Paris' is the story of Michael Sanders and his wife and 6 year old daughter who move to the small village of Les Arques (small = 159 people!) in the district of France known as The Lot for 1 year to write about how a restaurant has made this village thrive again. The restaurant is La Recreation, and while other small villages are falling away, theirs fills up every day with rich tourists to visit the one business in the town. The wonderful thing is the locals also visit, and obviously benefit from, the restaurant. It speaks to the slow food movement and the wonders of growing organic which I really enjoyed. La Recreation is owned by Jacques and Noelle Ratier.

What I did love is the descriptions of village life and the random characters that often fill it up. I enjoyed how they had to adapt from their life in Maine to one in rural France - it led to many funny moments. I enjoyed the descriptions of the food and how it made for a positive and uplifting story. Maybe it's one of those books that would be better if I had just been there or was about to go there but standing on its own with no thought of me going to France any time soon, it didn't capture me like some of my other favorite books set in rural France, 'A Year in Provence' or my fiction favorite 'Chocolat'.

(This book was given to me by my mom. Thanks G!)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Too Short?

"Booking Through Thursday" is a weekly meme that gets book bloggers to come together and post their thoughts on different topics , mostly about books. Here's this weeks topic:



Suggested by JM:

“Life is too short to read bad books.” I’d always heard that, but I still read books through until the end no matter how bad they were because I had this sense of obligation.

That is, until this week when I tried (really tried) to read a book that is utterly boring and unrealistic. I had to stop reading.

Do you read everything all the way through or do you feel life really is too short to read bad books?


Well since I've started doing this blog I believe I've abandoned two books so I definitely agree with the old adage that life is too short to read bad books ... and that there are far too many other great book possibilities taunting me from my bookshelf! Sorry, but I am not one of those people who feels the need to suffer through a book for the sake of supporting a bad writer. Just like I don't sit through bad movies or TV shows either. Nope, drop it and on to, hopefully, a much better one! You?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

May I Be A Member Too?

'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

First let me start this post by saying a thank you to all of the Veteran's out there who are doing and have done such a fine job serving our country. I have a member of my family who is currently serving and both of my grandpas served during the Korean War. I think this most wonderful book 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' is a great selection to review on a day that honors our Veteran's. It speaks to all of the horrible things that war does to people, but also to the hope that, as humans, we all need to survive it as well.

This novel is told through letters and I really enjoyed that. A lot of books I've been reading today have incredibly long chapters so this was refreshing. The main recipient of these letters is Juliet Ashton. She spent WWII in London writing under the name of Izzy Bickerstaff detailing a modern woman's experience in the War and became very popular when she published these pieces as a book afterwards. Meanwhile, she receives a letter from a Mr. Dawsey who owned a book that she had previously owned and they strike up a conversation via letters about his experience during the War. Mr. Dawsey lives in Guernsey, which if you don't know, was occupied by Germany during WWII. He and his friends, as a way to have some much needed fun, form the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

For me, what was most enjoyable about this book was all of the wonderful people you get to meet. Even though the book was pretty short, the authors introduced us to multiple characters who were well formed, entertaining and believable. Another thing that was really wonderful was that the book honestly portrayed how difficult the War was for both those who had lived in London, and even more so for those who lived in occupied Guernsey. Even more so seemed to be how much they wanted to survive. It really gave a sense, through being a part of the Guernsey community, they were able to rebuild their lives after the War.

The sad thing of course is that because it is a war not all of the characters we are introduced to and grow to love will survive. Also, this book has been a huge commercial success for the authors and it was Mary Ann Shaffer's first book, and she sadly passed away in 2008.

If you have read this book, who were your favorite character(s)? Mine were Eben and Isola!

(This book was lent to me by my mom. Thanks G!)

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