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A few posts ago, I mentioned that my goal has been to try at least one recipe from each cookbook that I get from the library. I have the habit of seeing a shiny new cookbook and putting it on hold, flipping through the recipes picking out ones that look tempting, and then never managing to try any of them before I have to return it to the library. Here’s my current batch:
So far I’ve made recipes from three (all except The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook), although I’ve checked out The Sprouted Kitchen twice, so I suppose I should make a second recipe. And, confession, I had to return The Science of Good Cooking because it had holds, and I barely even looked through it first.
Here’s what I’ve made.
Vintage Cakes: This is one that I requested my library buy, because it looked gorgeous and because I own and like Richardson’s other cookbook, Rustic Fruit Desserts (plus, she’s local). I had it out in the fall and made Pearl’s Chocolate Macaroon Cake (a yummy coconut layer inside a chocolate bundt cake – what’s not to like?) This time I made the Kentucky Bourbon Cake, since someone in my house is a big bourbon fan (and it’s not the baby). If you like the flavor of bourbon, this is a must-try. There’s some in the batter, and the cake itself is a nice moist, buttery bundt. Then you make a bourbon-sugar-butter glaze, poke holes in the flat side of the bundt, and pour half the glaze in. This gives you nice gooey, extra-boozy streaks in the cake. Then you flip the cake out of the pan and pour the rest over the top. Mine was unattractive (it stuck) but delicious.
The Sprouted Kitchen: I can’t remember where I saw this recommended, but I thought I needed something to balance out all the baking books. Lots of things look tasty, and so far I’ve made the Ranchero Breakfast Tostadas. It felt like a lot of steps and ingredients for a relatively humble meal, but it was worth it. You toast a corn tortilla and top it with a black bean mash, a fried egg, cheddar, avocado, cilantro and lime juice. We had them for dinner instead of breakfast, and the runny egg yolk really pulls it all together. I’d make this again – or at least use the basic concept once I have to return the cookbook.
The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: It turns out that I saw this on a list of 2012’s best cookbooks on NPR – along with The Sprouted Kitchen and The Science of Good Cooking. I haven’t made anything yet, but I’ve been eyeing some of the pies, like the Triple Coconut Cream Pie, although realistically I might manage some muffins or scones.
Super Natural Every Day: Some of these recipes have me drooling and some are less appealing, especially in my extremely carnivorous state. However, I made the Baked Oatmeal yesterday, reheated leftovers today, and think I’ve found a new breakfast standby. Not as quick and easy as our current favorite, a Dutch baby with a layer of sliced apples on the bottom (which I can make without referring to a recipe), but nice and hearty. And a worthy use of the last of the summer blueberries. I’d also like to try the White Beans and Cabbage, the Bran Muffins, or the Frittata.
Please excuse the silence on this end – all my reading has been one-handed for the last few weeks, and typing one-handed isn’t my favorite thing. Here’s my excuse:
We seem to be getting into a bit of a routine, 5 weeks into it, and I’m in the curious position of feeling like my time isn’t my own and like I have all the time in the world (at least until I go back to work). I do have nice chunks of time to myself during the day, while he naps, and I’m just starting to figure out how to put them to my advantage. Depending on the previous night, there are naps to take myself, there are chores to be done, meals to be eaten, and projects to undertake.
So many projects!
Run errands while he won’t cause a fuss.
Take a walk if the weather’s nice.
Write a letter. A few friends and I, mourning the coming loss of Saturday mail service, decided to write 30 letters in 30 days – any type of mail counts, from postcards to packages – and I’m loving it, even when I’m a few letters behind. Right now I have three letters to reply to, which makes the whole project feel real.
Bake – I have a pile of newish cookbooks out of the library and I want to try at least one recipe from each before I have to return them. Right now I have The Sprouted Kitchen, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, and The Science of Good Cooking. Meals are always iffy around here – the baby seems to sense that I’m hungry and work up an appetite himself – but I’ve managed some baking during his afternoon nap, and I might as well try some new things.
Read all those books that I kept thinking would be perfect for maternity leave. At the moment, I’m rereading the Elizabeth Peters books that I happen to own. Leila at Bookshelves of Doom is doing an Elizabeth Peters week, which I think is ending today, but it inspired me to pull out a tattered copy of Naked Once More and now Crocodile on the Sandbank – I haven’t read any of the Amelia Peabody books in years (I went on a reread through the Vicky Bliss books a few years ago) and I’m remembering why I loved them so much (even though they do get a bit repetitive as the series goes on…and on). I’m discovering that mass market paperbacks, which I usually dislike because they don’t lay flat – an important quality if you read while eating – are perfect for reading one-handed while nursing.
More soon, I hope. The creature is stirring.
We are getting to crunch time. I woke up last night and couldn’t get back to sleep, thinking about all the things that need doing. And now instead of doing any of them (except laundry), I’m having a lazy Thursday morning (I work 12-9pm on Thursdays). This is quite possibly my last lazy Thursday morning EVER. For the next month or so, Thursday mornings will involve either a midwife appointment or a trip to pick up milk from the farm. At some point a baby will appear, and my Thursday mornings will still involve time spent in pajamas and puttering around the house, but I somehow doubt that the word “lazy” will apply to maternity leave.
This Thursday realization is as startling as that car seat sitting in the corner. Or the idea that my protruding midsection will lead to a real, live, human baby.
Speaking of real, live, human babies, I had my first weird pregnant encounter with a library patron yesterday. So far I’ve been impressed with how polite and kind people are – I get plenty of questions (when are you due, is it a boy or girl, what’s his name) but they’ve all felt well-intentioned. But yesterday, there was a woman browsing the kids’ DVDs who turned to me as I walked past and said something like “Is it a girl?” All I actually heard was “A girl?” Her attitude felt…weird…so all I said was, “no,” knowing what her next question would be. I REALLY wanted to say, “No, it’s an elephant.” Instead, I just said “yes” to “A boy?” and kept walking. After a minute, I wished I’d said, “What are you talking about? I’m not pregnant.” Even though I look like this now:
Oh well, maybe I’ll get another weird comment and be able to use that line (although it would have to be really weird/rude for me to actually have the nerve to say that).
In other news, Merry Christmas! I had a relaxing day, made a chocolate tart, ate well, and (along with the rest of my extended family) spent a lot of time thinking about next Christmas with a baby. The youngest person in my extended family (here on the west coast, at least) is eleven, so it’s about time we had a youngster for holidays again.
And now, before I get too lazy, I’ll dig up some book ramblings I’ve been meaning to post. I update Goodreads regularly, even when I’m quiet here. I don’t always write reviews these days, but I do keep track of what I’m reading.
We’re getting settled into our new place, and can I just say how good it is to live in a house again? It’s not just having more living space (although that is wonderful). It’s be able to be silly and loud and not have anyone overhear you. It’s having a little space around yourself – a view of sky and trees outside the windows instead of just the neighboring house and the complex’s parking lot. Our neighboring houses are both a little ways away, and are vacant at the moment. From our living room windows we can see the lit up Christmas tree in front of City Hall. Our old apartment had 4 windows. Our new kitchen has 3 windows all by itself, plus 8 more in the rest of the house. This feels like such a luxury!
One of these days we’ll get around to clearing out the last of the boxes and setting up things for the baby. Our need for dressers and bookshelves and whatnot feels never-ending. Have we really already been here a month? Will the baby really be here in two months (give or take a few weeks)?
In the meantime, there are piles (and piles) of Cybils nominees to read, and our household has developed an urgent need for chocolate chip cookies (I swear, my husband is experiencing more food cravings than I am). There are letters to write and chickens to roast and babies to fatten up (the other day I heard words I never expected to hear in my life – my midwife told me to eat more! I guess my instinct to add more butter to everything is on target).
Back with more bookish things soon, hopefully, maybe.
I’m not quite sure what happened to the month of September…or June, July and August, for that matter. Although if you could see me right now, you might be able to figure out the answer to that question on your own. I’ve been putting a lot of my energy towards my latest from-scratch creation. Not a cake, not a pie, but a new, tiny human. He’ll need about four more months in the oven before it’s time to emerge.
Along with the effort of cooking this homemade creation come the piles and piles of books that, like a good little librarian, I want to read to keep myself informed. I thought I’d been doing well and felt on top of things until I realized that I can’t just read about childbirth and baby names, I need to keep right on with breastfeeding and baby care and general parenting because there’s no break! The baby doesn’t come out and then give you a break where you can read up on the next thing. Duh and yikes all at once. (Any book recommendations?)
There is also the search for a more spacious home – say, one with enough floor space for a baby to practice crawling without running into furniture every two feet. You can blame the hormones, but I’ve never had this much trouble finding a place to live. Fortunately, the hunt has paid off and we’re about to sign a lease on a tiny house with a yard. A yard! And a washer and dryer, hallelujah!
Oh, and in case I didn’t feel busy enough, I’m a first-round panelist for the Cybils this year! Last year’s second-round reading didn’t keep me busy enough, so obviously this year I need to go all out and sign up to read All the Books (well, all the middle grade fantasy and science fiction, at least). I’m super excited about it, and hopefully that will inspire me to post more regularly about the middle grade gems we’re reading! If you read children’s or YA books, go and nominate your favorites – you’ve got until October 15!
We’re having a lazy Labor Day around here. I always have aspirations of doing something exciting on three-day weekends, but I usually end up just taking the extra day to sleep in, maybe make something delicious to eat, and catch up on stuff around the house.
I’m hoping to go for a nice walk this afternoon, but at the moment I’m recovering from vacuuming and having glass after glass of sparkling water (it’s an addiction this summer). Why is it that vacuuming a tiny apartment is more exhausting than vacuuming a larger space? Answer: you have to move every single piece of furniture to reach even half the carpet. It’s like disassembling and reassembling a room-sized puzzle. I ignore the corners behind chairs for a while, but I just had to toss a vase of flowers and there were petals everywhere. Plus a nice layer of dust, I’m sure.
I made this blueberry tart over the weekend – the kind with crust, pastry cream, and berries on top. I never manage to get around to making the glaze, but I like the not-too-sweet result. Makes me feel better when I have a piece at breakfast.
I haven’t been baking much this summer – a combination of laziness and a few weeks of heat than made turning on the oven unbearable. But the temperatures have been back in the 70s and 80s and I’m finding my baking mojo again. I made the tart on Saturday, a Dutch baby pancake for brunch on Sunday, buttermilk biscuits to go with leftover soup on Sunday night, and another Dutch baby for breakfast this morning, this time with a nectarine sliced up in the skillet. YUM.
I got a deal on ten pounds of fruit at the farmer’s market on Sunday, so now we’re awash in apples, peaches, and nectarines. I have a recipe for a caramelized peach cobbler that I want to try, and maybe an apple pie after that. I can dream!
In the meantime, I’m not ready to let summer go yet. We’ve got a beach trip planned with my family, and then in the fall I have a girls’ weekend at another beach, and we’re still deciding what to do for our first anniversary.
Ah, finally the temperatures have slipped back down to the low 80s (the heat doesn’t usually last long in Oregon, but it’s always a shock to the system) and I feel human again. Part of the problem is that our whole, tiny apartment heats up if you turn on the stove for five minutes, so there’s been a lack of baking and real, balanced meals around here. Hopefully I’ll get in some serious baking time this fall!
As for books, I’ve been reading steadily but my numbers feel like they’ve slipped. I’ve been doing more ‘reading up on things’ and reading less fiction – boo! I’ll post some complete reviews soon, but here are a few recent reads that hit the spot:
The writing style felt very old-school – not dated, necessarily, but there was something about the book that gave me flashbacks to my fantasy-devouring adolescence. This was my first Mahy, and now I’d like to try more.
It’s been a while since I reread Persuasion, so I enjoyed the similarities without being distracted by any ways that this homage might not have lived up to the original. I particularly liked the ways that the futuristic setting allowed Peterfreund to explore social issues that often lurk in the background of Austen’s novels. Note: not set in space, and I’m not sure exactly why I thought it was (for a few chapters, actually).
Strangely enough, I didn’t love this on audio as much as I loved the print version. The narrators did a good job, but I think I appreciated the material more as ‘silent reading’ – I felt the mood of the story more strongly on my own. Plus, in the early, difficult sections, the audio version doesn’t let you skim over the horrors the way the print version does. I’d forgotten how the story wraps up (my poor memory makes for great rereading) and it was interesting to see which of my guesses were right.
While this was marketed as young adult in the US, I believe it was originally marketed to adults in Australia – and I think it could go either way. There are some aspects of the story that feel YA, and others that feel impossibly adult. I’d recommended it to older teens and adults.
Speaking of Jane Austen, this was a fun read-alike. It felt like something perfectly in between Austen and We Capture the Castle, and it won me over from the opening scene. Sure, there were some predictable elements, but it was sheer fun to read.
Can I just say that cooking for two has led to much better meals? It makes dinner into more of an occasion, it gives me motivation to try new recipes (even though he’s just as happy eating the same thing every day), and (very important!) there is someone to help clean up. In fact, our division of labor is usually that I make dinner and he does the dishes. This makes me much more willing to make multiple courses or just actual meals instead of sandwiches.
Here are a few things I’ve made and loved recently. I haven’t been getting my camera out lately, so you’ll have to go to the original recipes to get visuals. Or, you can take a peek at my Pinterest recipe board, where I’ve pinned a bunch of these, plus more recipes I intend to try.
Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe. Super easy, this feels like a garlicky marriage of comfort food and vegetables. I’ve made this at least three or four times – it’s a new favorite. The first time I made it as directed, with broccoli rabe, but the store was out the second time around and it turns out that regular broccoli works just as well (although it doesn’t have that slightly bitter greens taste).
Tomato Sauce. Simple and buttery and delicious – this has to simmer for 45 minutes but otherwise involves so little effort that it’s perfect for nights when you’re lazy but not starving yet.
Granola Bars from both Smitten Kitchen and Orangette. I made SK’s fruitier version in the fall, but Orangette’s chocolately version made me love them in a new way. Great thing to have on hand for snacks.
Potato Salad. It’s kind of blasphemous to say in my family, but I don’t love my mom’s potato salad. There’s no crunch, it’s a little too mushed together, and it’s yellow. I dunno, other people love it. I liked this one much more – I didn’t use the red onion and my pickles weren’t as crunchy as I would’ve liked, but I love eggs in potato salad and the celery crunch.
Buttermilk Roast Chicken. This involves a bit of planning ahead, but then it’s easy the night of, giving you time to make your potato salad to go with it. Or, you know, maybe a vegetable.
Minestrone from How to Cook Everything. I first tried this when visiting Bronwen years ago and it’s become a staple – I like that he gives you proportions of hard and soft vegetables and then leaves it up to you. I almost always make it with potatoes, kidney beans and kale in addition to the carrots, celery, onions and tomato that he calls for. This last time I finally made my own stock with the remains of a roast chicken. I’d like to get into that habit, but the majority of the time I make this recipe, it’s Lent and chicken stock gets thrown aside in favor of vegetable (I use Rapunzel brand bouillon in those situations).
Glazed Fudge Cake from Bronwen’s mom, who probably knows where it came from originally. This was a Long Distance Kitchen recipe from almost two years ago – you can see Bronwen’s post for photos. The instructions have you use a food processor, and I only recently became the proud owner of one, so I gave it a try for my sister’s birthday this month. I think we have a new family favorite, folks – for once we argued over who got to take the leftovers home, and even my cake-disdaining brother ate a slice.
Oops, I go missing for a month and have way too much to catch up on! The only thing I’ve more or less kept up with is adding books to Goodreads, with the occasional quick review. I’ve been on a long road trip, a short road trip (for work, to OLA in Bend) and a quick weekend trip. I haven’t read as much as I wanted, but I do seem to be getting close to catching up on my library books. I’ve had way too many books checked out for…oh, the last three years. “Catching up” is an illusion, an unattainable goal. Striving is what counts, and not letting the same books sit there so long that I can no longer renew them (6 months, if there are no holds).
I feel like I keep circling back to the same authors lately – in the last two months I’ve read multiple books by Diana Wynne Jones (why oh why did I never read her as a child?), Ally Carter, Hilary McKay, and Caragh O’Brien (first two in a series). I’ve also been working my way through George R.R. Martin’s books, but those audiobooks are so long that it’s months in between finishing one book and the next.
I’ll be back before too long with a few batches of reviews, plus I’ve been thinking about summer reading and I have some storytime posts percolating. Also, some cooking posts inspired by a recent run of yummy, new-to-me recipes.
*Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
I thought I’d do a little catch-up on what I read in November, since I haven’t been good about writing it all up as I go. I posted about my slump a while back, and I don’t think I ever quite recovered from it – at least in terms of speed and quantity, although there have been a few great books along the way.
- Icefall by Matthew Kirby – as I said before, this is pretty fabulous. I loved the claustrophobic atmosphere and the way Kirby kept me guessing, even through the dramatic conclusion. It’s not fantasy, but it as a lot of the same appeal factors in terms of world-building and tension.
- The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout – a lot of fun, and it will be easy to recommend to young scifi/futuristic fans, but it was a let-down compared to Icefall.
- After Hamelin by Bill Richardson – enjoyable, but it never quite caught me up in its magic (this one was for bookgroup). Funny, though – last night I was talking to a now-college-student who was in the bookgroup long ago, before my time, and they read the book then, and it made such an impression on him that he told me about it out of the blue (while I was helping him try to remember historical fiction he’s read, for a class).
- Marty McGuire by Kate Messner – an awesome, funny short chapter book that begs to be handed to young tom boys (and maybe the princessy girls, too, to see what life is like for other girls, and I think most boys would enjoy it, too).
- A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – a character-driven mystery set in WWI, perfect for those of you waiting for the next Maisie Dobbs, or for people who like thoughtful historical mysteries in general. I think I like this series more than Maisie.
- Captive Queen by Alison Weir – here’s what I said in my Goodreads review: “Interesting enough to keep me reading, but it was never quite satisfying. Part of this is probably due to the fact that true stories don’t always make the best novels, but I had a hard time developing real interest in the characters. The sense of history and the world of Eleanor was great, but the rest was more mediocre. By the time I reached that conclusion, I was so far into the book that I figured I should just finish it.”
- Strings Attached by Judy Blundell – I loved the atmosphere and mood, and found the characters intriguing. The resolution felt a little disjointed and not as satisfying as I hoped.
- An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd – back to the Bess Crawford series for another satisfying installment. The fact that I love this time period doesn’t hurt, but I’m also drawn to the mysteries that are as much about human emotion as they are about solving crimes.
- This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel – the only audio book I managed to finish in November (seriously?) I didn’t give it the attention it deserved, since I listened while distracted at the gym, but what I did absorb I really enjoyed. Goodreads review here.
- Hidden by Helen Frost – this is off this year’s OLA/WLA Mock Newbery, which I will (sob) not be attending due to a previous engagement with (yay!) The Nutcracker and two young ladies who will see it for the first time. However, I’m still trying to read through the list and I’m glad because otherwise I might have missed this one. It’s gripping from page one and one of those verse novels that justifies its existence as a verse novel (ie, not just prose broken up randomly into shorter lines).
- Tighter by Adele Griffin – which just made me think I should really get around to reading The Turn of the Screw (should I?)
And then suddenly it was December! Yikes. Time to sort out which Christmas traditions I can squeeze into our schedule (and a tiny apartment). We skipped a tree last year, but I’m itching for a smallish one that will fit on the end table and hold a few of my lighter ornaments. We have stockings to hang (off the bookshelf with cheer) and there will be Christmas cookies and a little party in the week between Christmas and New Years. Just the words “little party” make me feel all warm and cozy (especially if there are cookies and leftover-from-the-wedding sparkling wine along with good company). I just have to figure out how to fit more than four people at a time in the apartment.