new holiday recipe? check!

Sunday, December 12, 2010 | | 9 comments

This autumn has been interesting. I’ve changed jobs, had a blog hiccup, and have a lot of unanswered email in my inbox. On the flip side, I’ve cultivated friendships, read some amazing books and made a triumphant return to cooking. But I’ve known for a while that it wouldn’t be in my budget to get gifts for everyone on my list. Instead, I resolved to go the baked goods route for those lovely friends.

I’ve made up little confectioner’s bags of Christmas Fudge and this new (to me) recipe of Peanut Walnut Brittle – and I have to say that they’ll be perfectly sweet holiday treats. In the interest of full disclosure: I was scared to attempt the brittle. I’ve never done candy or anything (aside from fudge) that required a candy thermometer. Luckily, this is a simple, straight-forward recipe. If you have all of the ingredients ready to go beforehand, you should be just fine. At least, I was. Yay!

Peanut Walnut Brittle (adapted from this recipe)

peanut walnut brittle on the right. also in process: peppermint bark!


1 cup white (granulated) sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup water

1 cup nuts (half cup peanuts and half cup walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 teaspoon baking soda

right after we'd poured the brittle into the pan


Grease a large cookie sheet. Set aside.

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in nuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.

it seemed like there was a lot of butter on the brittle, so i took a paper towel to it

my friend Greta takes a turn breaking up the peanut brittle with a wax paper-covered hammer

Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With wooden fork, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14x12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

I tripled this recipe and didn’t have any problems, although I waited a bit longer than the recipe called for to add in the nuts. If you DO triple the recipe, have two cookie sheets ready to go – it’ll fill them right up. OH! And most useful tip ever: have boiling water ready to pour into your cooking pot right after you finish with it. Makes cleanup about a thousand times simpler. Store in an airtight container for up to a month!

Recommended for: a not-too-sweet holiday staple, a versatile snack, and a challenge for anyone who wants to wander on the adventurous side of Christmas baking.

the kid table

Friday, December 10, 2010 | | 11 comments

I’ve said it here before, and I’ll probably rave again – I’m a fantasy geek. I love escaping the here-and-now and experiencing the only-in-someone’s-wildest-imaginings. BUT. Every once and a while contemporary fiction punches me in the gut. In a good way, if you can picture that. Well, never mind, I can’t either. I meant to infer that there’s something so very raw and honest and mirror-like about it that you can’t help but be caught up, moved, and possibly even changed forever. Andrea Seigel’s novel The Kid Table was a bit like that for me. Or a lot. You decide.

It's there at every family event. A little smaller, collapsible, and decked out with paper napkins because you can't be trusted with the good ones. But you're stuck there. At the Kid Table. Because to them- to the adults- you're still a kid.

Ingrid Bell and her five teenage cousins are in exactly this situation. Never mind the fact that high school is almost over. They're still eating mac and cheese with a toddler. But what happens when the rules change? When Brianne, the oldest cousin, lands a seat at the Adult Table, the others are in shock. What does it take to graduate from the Kid Table?

Over the course of five family events, Ingrid and her cousins attempt to finish childhood and send the infamous table into retirement. But as Ingrid turns on the charm in order to manipulate her situation, the family starts questioning her motives. And when her first love comes in the form of first betrayal, Ingrid is forced to consider how she fits into this family and what it means to grow up.

First off, you should know that I’m from a large family of VERY close siblings. I mean there are five of us kids, and only six and a half years separating us in age. So there’s that parallel with the story already. I could picture Ingrid’s family (albeit extended, while mine is immediate) so clearly that it startled. I felt like I’d lived the scenes. The ones where one relative does that THING or someone else has THAT quirk – it was just real, you know? I discovered a very rare and authentic connection. With a fictional family.

And then there was the narrator, Ingrid – who discovered (for herself) what she was really like over the course of the book, and if she was okay with that. I identified with Ingrid's psyche, and not always the good things, either. The Kid Table was seriously eerie in parts, because I found myself in it. I was tempted to write to Ms. Seigel immediately after finishing the novel to demand to know how she’d gotten in my head. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling necessarily, but it was true.

As for the novel on its own merit, it’s about coming of age/adulthood. In other words, it’s a universal story. It has real-seeming characters, making real mistakes, on a very real stage. I think it will appeal to a lot of young adults, and probably even more so to the older readers of young adult fiction – those of us a couple of years on, who are still wondering faintly if we did it right? If we’re there. Adults. Or wherever it is that we’re supposed to be. I really enjoyed The Kid Table. Go read it, find bits of yourself in it or perhaps bits of others. But I hope you’ll find that it’s as true and beautiful (in a hard-as-diamond sort of way) as I did.

“This book is the real thing—hilarious, original, and as true as your mother thinking your boyfriend's too good for you. Boy do I wish I'd written it.”

—Meg Rosoff, author of the Michael L. Printz award winner How I Live Now

Recommended for: older teens, anyone with a large family or a treasure trove of stories from family gatherings, fans of contemporary young adult novels, and those looking for honest fiction.

in which i haven’t abandoned my blog after all (+ giveaway)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | | 30 comments
November 2010 is going to go down as the month my blog (almost) died. December might seem like a close second, but I’ll fight that, starting right now.There’s no particular ‘reason’ I stopped writing – just a combination of factors that together add up to something called “real life.” The only thing left to do, I think, is to apologize for the interruption in service and get on with it.

Well, and offer a giveaway. It’s been a while, so if you’re still reading, I figure you deserve it.

[this lovely image is from aliette's etsy shop]

Prize: Two winners will receive $25 US to either Amazon or The Book Depository.


To enter:

Fill out the FORM. Giveaway is open internationally, and will end on December 22 at 11:59pm EST. I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.


If you are looking for the best thing since sliced bread, try making yourself a grilled cheese sandwich. Or if you don’t do dairy, perhaps a hummus pita bread hybrid. But, you know, don’t count on Delirium. That’s not to say it’s drivel or that it won’t be passionately loved by someone out there. It will. Probably several someones, actually. But it’s just not, you know, whipped cream in a can. Which is pretty much one of the best inventions ever, for obvious reasons.

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that one love -the deliria- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

To succeed with me, a dystopian (or any genre, really) novel must have a couple of key elements: a character or two that I absolutely fall in love with, a certain level of trust in/for the world they live in, and a tense or mysterious unveiling of events. I can give or take one element if you hand me beautiful writing on a platter. But you must want an example! Here, I have one all ready: The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Todd (main character in aforementioned novel) is young, but he’s already been through a lot. For most of the book he is confused, but he’s 100% about doing the right thing. Or what he thinks is the right thing. And when he gets it wrong, his guilt is palpable. You literally HAVE to feel for him. I didn’t understand his whole society/world at first, but the gradual reveal was both sinister and awesome. I never once ‘popped out’ of the story and told myself it was unrealistic. And as for the plot: nonstop action, danger, tension. No space for doubt or disbelief. Now, go read that book!

Delirium disappointed me on all three counts. 1) I never invested in any one character. Although all of them have some redeeming qualities, I didn’t see enough change, growth, or any really deep human emotions to cause me to root for someone. I saw some ugliness, I saw awful memories, and I saw bad friendship. I did not find a connection with anyone because of those. The most interesting characters (to me) were the ones not present: Lena’s mother and sister. The ones with the most face time didn’t exactly change my world.

2) This dystopian-thing. I may just be a born skeptic, but I didn’t buy it. There were a couple of creepy people dedicated to the cause and keeping order. Not so much actual violence. But the main problem: even though love is a powerful emotion, it is not the ONLY emotion. And the world that Oliver painted was definitely grayscale without love. I am not convinced that society would have worked the way it was described given the parameters the author laid out. I found myself putting the book down to ponder what would have made it more believable, and to analyze which elements rang false.

And finally, 3) the plot. It’s a slow starter, but that in and of itself isn’t always a bad thing. I will admit to reading Delirium compulsively up until page 120, about which time I realized that nothing spectacular was going to jump out and grab me. It’s not that nothing happens. It’s just that I knew what was going to happen. I felt let down.

Now, lest you get all up in my face and say that this is/was/will be your favorite book ever, and I’m a horrible person for hating it, let’s review. I may be a horrible person. But I did not say that I hated the book. Just that it disappointed me. And every reason I used to substantiate that claim was an opinion and personal experience thing. This book can work for you, you can love it, and we can still be friends. I’m just not joining the fan club.

My question coming out of this: can you be spoiled for dystopian novels? Because this one read like Uglies to me. Uglies for girls who wouldn’t usually touch dystopian lit. I begin to wonder if I’ve read so much end-of-the-world goodness that I won’t find anything new under the sun. If that’s the case, I’m very sad.

Also sad? This snippet of text:

“He left me a note. He left me a note. For me. The idea – the fact of it, the fact that he even noticed and thought about me for more than one second – is huge and overwhelming, makes my legs go tingly and my hands feel numb.” -page 142 (ARC, subject to change)

Let’s hope it gets cut from the final version. That’s all. Really.

Are you still looking forward to Delirium?

Delirium releases February 1, 2011 from HarperTeen. I received a review copy through Traveling ARC Tours. Delirium also counts for the 2010 Dystopia Reading Challenge.

teaser tuesday (58)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | | 5 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

“‘Of course, sir,’ said the woman meekly, with another look at Fever. She carried her bags through into a kitchen which opened off at the conservatory’s farther end, and the children went after her with the baskets, Fern saying loudly, ‘…and I want all my hair cut off, because it gives you pastarites…’”

-p. 46 of Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb

waiting on wednesday (5)

I’m participating today in "Waiting On" Wednesday. It is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, and its purpose is to spotlight eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

I originally saw a blurb for this one on the Orbit website, and it sounded like just my sort of thing (bizarre shenanigans? check.). And then NetGalley seemed to be offering an e-galley, so OF COURSE I requested it. Turns out there are a couple of other odd steps in there before advance reading worthiness, so I’m still trying. But in the meantime, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages sounds hilarious and wonderful, and it comes out from Orbit on February 11, 2011.

Tom Holt is back with a hilarious tale of magic, real estate, and a very important pig.

Polly is a real estate solicitor. She is also losing her mind. Someone keeps drinking her coffee. And talking to her clients. And doing her job. And when she goes to the dry cleaner’s to pick up her dress for the party, it’s not there. Not the dress – the dry cleaner’s.

And then there are the chickens who think they are people. Something strange is definitely going on – and it’s going to take more than a magical ring to sort it out.

What books are you waiting on?

happy halloween

Sunday, October 31, 2010 | | 12 comments
I’m not really a Halloween person. I don’t do scary, and I’m not a huge fan of dressing up, so it makes sense. Now Christmas – give me Christmas any day (yes, even in July). BUT! Over the last year and a half my tolerance for zombies has grown into something fairly substantial. And some of my friends have dubbed me the ‘zombie girl.’ What better night to actually try out my zombie face than Halloween? So, for your viewing pleasure, a step-by-step transformation…

The blank page. I usually don't wear my hear pulled back like this, but the YouTube 'how to' videos strongly suggested it. LOVE that there are tutorials on how to do zombie makeup. I mean, seriously awesome.

The tools (thank you, generic party store).

After applying the white base coat. I already look pretty crazy, but there's plenty of ground to cover. Err...brains to eat!

The finished product. I smudged black and grey around my eyes, and used the 'vampire blood' to create a realistic look on my shirt. Because I didn't really want blood on my face.

Pretty freaky, huh? It was FUN. And kind of perfect. Because when we went out, everyone thought it was cool, but no one got too close. Just the way I like it…

the iron duke

It was about a year ago that I first began to research the term ‘steampunk.’ If you’re new to it yourself, check out this definition. Ever since those early days, I’ve been hooked on this genre. And one of my best author discoveries this year has been Meljean Brook, an established urban fantasy/romance author now entering the world of steampunk with The Iron Seas series, the first novel-sized installment of which is called The Iron Duke.

After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power — and fear — of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

Even though Mina can’t afford his interest, the investigation prevents her from avoiding him…and the Iron Duke’s ruthless pursuit makes him difficult to resist.

But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans — and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

Now, you might have caught the fact that I mentioned that The Iron Duke is the first NOVEL in the series. I originally fell in love with Brook’s novella “Here There Be Dragons” in the anthology Burning Up. While the two stories are tied together by a shared world and general cast of characters, it is not necessary to read one to appreciate the other. But I think once you’ve read one, you’ll be craving the next installment. At least, I was. Still am, truth be told.

It’s hard to categorize this steampunk story (or any steampunk story, probably). Is it romance? Action-adventure? Mystery? Hard-core sci-fi/fantasy? I want an option that reads ‘All of the above.’ Mina’s investigation takes her too close to comfort to the Iron Duke, and she’ll need his help to solve the crime. But what will happen along the way? And most importantly, will they come out of it with their reputations and lives intact?

One of the things I love about steampunk as a genre is that authors often create a world that evokes the morals and sensibilities of the Victorian era – with a twist. So in the world of the Iron Seas, one’s reputation is everything, as it seemed to be in ‘our’ Victorian time period – but for different reasons. Wealth and gender are important, yes, but race and perceived ethnicity are two other concerns that are explored in depth and to interesting effect.

Not only are the social dynamics fascinating, but the ‘science’ of this steampunk setting is first-rate as well. The technical explanations were actually a bit vague, but I found myself curious about the exact epidemiology and activation of the ‘virus’ of nanos. I often find myself scratching my head a bit with the science portions of science fiction, but in this case, I can only look forward to more explanation as the mystery is further unveiled in the next couple of installments.

Seriously, I was that pleased with this book. I love the intelligence and profundity of it (in parts), and I loved the romance part of it and the humorous dialogue, too.The different types of desperation felt by each character create drama and connection, and the rest is pure, satisfying entertainment. Of course, it’s adult-level reading. Not for you young ones. But if you’ve been teetering on the edge of steampunk and wondering if you could like it, let me recommend Brook’sThe Iron Duke. Excellent reading!

Recommended for: fans of historical romance, sci-fi and fantasy, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and those curious about this thing called ‘steampunk.’

I won this book in a giveaway on Meljean Brook’s blog. This counts for the Iron Seas Reading Challenge hosted by vvb32reads.

it’s kind of a funny story giveaway winner

Monday, October 25, 2010 | | 4 comments

As is the way of the world, I’m forever late in posting giveaway winners. And this was a shiny contest with brand new Google Forms, too. It may have helped with efficiency overall, but it didn’t make me any more prompt. *sigh* That’s a problem for another day. Please join me in congratulating the winner of a paperback of Ned Vizzini's It’s Kind of a Funny Story and a CD of the film soundtrack…

Eva SB of Eva's Black Spot!

If you’ll remember, I asked entrants respond to this prompt: “What is one thing that helps you ‘cope’ when life gets stressful? If your life doesn’t get stressful (lucky you!), mention something that is calming or relaxing.” Eva SB answered with, “Nowadays it is my husband. If life is just getting [to be] too much I phone him.” I think that’s a lovely answer. I hope you’ve shared it with him!

Many thanks for all of your responses – I had a great evening cooking and looking them over. You’re a creative lot! And if you didn’t win this time around, be on the lookout for another contest very soon.

how to make your life at least 12 times more awesome

Sunday, October 24, 2010 | | 12 comments

In the grand scheme of things, a week and a half is nothing. But a week and a half without blogging has made me feel crazy, guilty, and pent-up by turns. I started a new job, integrated a couple of new friends into my ‘tribe,’ and doubled my commute each day. Several little things added up equal a lot less time, as it turns out. It’s a good thing I have a lazy Sunday afternoon to finally catch up and put everything back to rights. Hopefully I didn’t lose too many of you in the process!

I went back to baking hardcore when I was unemployed (for a thankfully short time!), and the results were mostly in the muffin category, although I did make a freaking delicious white chicken chili (more about that to come!). Today I am bringing you a recipe that will indeed ‘make your life at least 12 times more awesome.’ And if you lick the bowl, you can move that right up to 13 times more awesome.

Nectarine and Banana Muffins


1/3 cup vegetable oil

generous 1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

pinch each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves and ground ginger

½ cup sugar

½ slivered almonds (or chopped)

½ to ¾ ripe nectarine, peeled and chopped

1 ripe banana, slices

2 eggs

1/3 cup thick strained plain yogurt (a flavored version will do in a pinch)

1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Line a twelve-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and spices into a mixing bowl. Then add the sugar and almonds and stir together.

In a separate bowl, mash the nectarine and banana together, then stir in the eggs, oil, yogurt, and almond extract. Add the mashed fruit mixture to the flour mixture and then gently stir together until just combined. Do not overstir the batter – it is fine for it to be a little lumpy. NOTE: this recipe makes the most delicious batter I’ve tasted in a LONG time.

Divide the muffin batter evenly between the muffin cups. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden. Remove the muffins from the oven and serve warm.

yum! (i really enjoyed these. if you couldn't already tell.)

Recommended for: a delicious morning snack, people who like to lick the mixing bowl clean, and a tasty departure from the usual banana muffin standby.

teaser tuesday (57)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 | | 10 comments
It's Teaser Tuesday, a bookish blog meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Here's how it works:

Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!

“White’s made it up to fourth gear, which makes her coupe the faster beast. Given enough of a straightaway, she would catch me now for sure. There’s only a short distance left to the tracks, though. I still might make it.”

-p. 105 of Robert Paul Weston’s Dust City

wonderful news!

Monday, October 11, 2010 | | 28 comments
And on a MONDAY, no less. That hardly ever happens. Okay, NEWS: I got a job! I start Wednesday! I can continue to buy books and pay for the interwebs for blogging purposes and have a roof over my head and other awesome things. So happy today! And I don't even care that I used a super run-on sentence back there. DON'T CARE. I'm grinning.

[graphic found in dazeychic etsy shop]


Alyce at At Home with Books is doing a weekly feature where she highlights one of her favorite reads from the past and encourages others to do so as well.

While I am a fan of (almost) ALL fairy tales, I do hold a chosen few close to my heart. One of those is the East of the Sun, West of the Moon myth. My grandmother donated a beautifully illustrated book from her personal library to my family sometime in my pre-teen years. East of the Sun and West of the Moon, illustrated by Kay Nielson in Art Nouveau style, had me enthralled from page one. The illustrations were finely rendered and almost mystical, and the pages were so fragile that the reading experience itself was quite tenuous.

That early exposure taught me to love the story, and reading different retellings since hasn’t shaken my affection for it. My preferred retelling in more recent times is Edith Pattou’s East.

Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.
As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine.

Main character Rose feels stifled and misunderstood. Family pressures and misfortunes are exacerbated by her mother’s superstitions and her father’s job, which takes him away on map-making expeditions. But when adventure comes for her, she finds that the world and love are strange and that survival will be harder than she ever imagined.

While Pattou’s story follows the general outline of the original fairy tale, it is told from alternating viewpoints of five or six of the main characters. Each voice adds something to Rose’s story, even as they add to the overall picture. This movement and cycling through different voices could be confusing, but the author pulls it off. The technique lends itself to a sense of passage and travel that is not only unique, but also particularly suited to a tale that is essentially a journey.

Another distinctive (and perfectly wonderful!) ingredient in this story is the pervading superstition attached to the compass rose. Obviously, a sense of direction is central to the story. I mean, look at the title – East! But Pattou has created or borrowed superstition about birth order and personality type to attach to peculiarities of each point of the compass, and combined it with detailed descriptions of maps and the Far North. Added up, it is both beautiful and strange.

These elements, in conjunction with an honest and tender love story, equal not only a sterling fantasy tale, but also one that has earned its rightful place on my ‘re-reads’ shelf.

Recommended for: fans of fantasy, fairy tales, delightful young adult literature, unique world cultures, and journeys that end in love, sadness, and other essentials of growing older (and wiser). Enjoy!

This book counts for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

i just want to cuddle up

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 | | 10 comments
It’s fall again, and I LOVE it. We’ve had rain and cool weather, and it makes me want to find a fleece-lined nest, cuddle up with hot apple cider and watch the leaves turn different colors. What’s your favorite autumn activity?

[image found at dogbatcat etsy shop]

cure for stress: banana pecan muffins

Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | | 20 comments
Baking is my self-imposed therapy. I discovered the calming properties of this activity almost two years ago when I was figuring out whether or not to quit grad school. Rough time. But then I discovered that kneading a loaf of bread or mixing up a batch of cookies was a guaranteed way to calm myself down. Fast forward to this year: I was having a pretty strong summer and didn’t do too much baking (also, it was WICKED hot outside), but life has gone a bit haywire again (jobless), and I need it. Lucky for you, I share my recipes. *grin*

Banana Pecan Muffins (recipe adapted from Muffins)


1 generous cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

1/3 cup golden or white sugar

1 cup chopped pecans (you can also try walnuts or hazelnuts)

2 ripe bananas

5 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Place 8 or 9 muffin paper liners in a muffin pan. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, add the sugar and pecans, and stir to combine.

Place the mashed bananas, milk, butter, egg and vanilla extract in a separate bowl and mix together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and gently stir until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the paper liners and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from oven and pan and let cool.

Recommended for: a special treat on weekend mornings, using up those ‘just too ripe’ bananas, and for a healthy fix if you’re craving carbohydrates.

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