Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bananas for Bananas!

I am nuts about fruit this summer. I cannot get enough of it--so much so that I've started having to limit my fruit intake slightly, since I think I'm actually eating too much sugar from it! I mean it, bowls of cherries, fresh apples, peaches, plums...I even started to like kiwi. And bananas, oh bananas. The sweet, meaty fruit that's so good for baking. I'm an addict, I can't help it. 

Yesterday, I had a delicious, banana food-filled day, starting with these single serve banana pancakes. 

I combined:

1/3 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 a banana (of course, I ate the other half)
1/4 c. almond milk
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
A dash of vanilla extract
A dash of cinnamon

I mixed it all up, and got two large, sweet, delicious pancakes from the mix. I enjoyed them with a small pad of butter and some cool whip free. 

After that, I made this healthy, vegan twist on banana bread. I adapted the recipe I found on one of my new favorite blogs, Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth. It was my first attempt at cooking with ground flaxseed, and I'm calling it a successful one!

2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. very ripe mashed bananas
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I was very generous with this)
2 tbsp. ground flaxseed meal + 6 tbsp. water
1/4 c. almond milk

In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed and water, mixing occasionally until it has formed a thick, gooey substance.

In another small bowl, mash bananas and almond milk together. Here, I added a packet of Splenda, because my bananas were not as ripe as they should have been, and therefore not as sweet. You could eliminate this step if your bananas are a nice ripe brown.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and then pour in the wet. Mix everything together, and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 300* for 45 minutes to an hour, cool, and enjoy!

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

I was thoroughly creeped out by this book. Don't worry--I'm pretty sure that was the intention.

I've been hearing rumblings about this book for a while (in the slightly moving walls of my mysterious old mansion--no, no, wait, thought I was in the Cavendish home...) and was waiting to get my hands on it. So imagine my excitement when I pawed through the Where's Waldo tote I landed at BEA and found an ARC in it. Wooo for a job that supports my habits!*

This middle-grade novel somehow combined all my favorite parts of stories like Matilda and The Stepford Wives with almost every creepy movie and scary story I watched or heard as a kid. It was excellent. It was extremely fast-paced, and really really scary, but still appropriately middle grade. I loved it. 

*In case I haven't mentioned it, I'm a firm believer that you should get a job that supports your habits, thus negating extra expenses. In high school, I got a job that got me free french fries. In college, free coffee. In my post-grad life, free books. And free coffee, and sometimes even free french fries, come to think of it. Mission accomplished.

Disney Cupcakes

Sometimes, things that actually make me really sad give me a good excuse to make some really cute cupcakes. One of my favorite people at work is leaving to go work for Disney. While obviously I'm really upset that she won't be working with us anymore, I of course took this as an excuse to make these adorable Mickey Mouse cupcakes.

I made vanilla bean cupcakes and topped them with a thin layer of oreo buttercream frosting (I had to do something with the center of all those oreo-turned-ears, so I combined it all with some butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder, and voila!). Then, I dipped each frosted cupcake into a bowl of oreo crumbs, and topped it with two oreos, trimmed down a bit to be proportional with the cupcake to look like Mickey Mouse's ears.

Here's the recipe for my fluffy vanilla bean cupcakes:

Ingredients :
1 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. flour
1 1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk (I used vanilla almond milk, but any kind you like will do)
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (scraped vanilla bean would also work, although the paste is obviously much easier to work with)
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately, combine.
Fill cupcake liners, or greased cupcake sheet, 2/3 full with batter.
Bake 18-20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.

Vacation Reads

I picked up these lovely ARCs at BEA and was lucky enough to have them signed. I took them both with me on my vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina next weekend. Okay, okay, I finished The Diviners on my way down there. But Liar & Spy made for some excellent, light, middle grade beach reading.

I'd never read anything by Libba Bray before, which is a little hard to believe since I work in the YA world. I definitely plan to read more of her work, especially since I've been told The Diviners is a much different type of story from her usual. However, I loved this. It was a little long and drawn out in parts, but for the most part incredibly intriguing and very unique. I was very impressed with her ability to write convincingly about life for young adults in 1920's New York City, and even more impressed that she seamlessly combined that with a powerful supernatural tale. Did I mention this book was scary? It was creepy as all hell. And trust me, Hell there was--a convincing depiction of the closest I can imagine to Hell on earth.

Admittedly, a little part of me wishes that this wasn't a series. It's not that I didn't love it, or that I won't read the next book--it's that I will. And this is no small novel, folks, it's a BIG book. Almost 600 pages. I read fast, I read a lot, but if each book in the series is this large, that's a big chunk of my life to devote to one series. Not a bad gripe, though, right?

Can't wait to see this as a hardcover when it comes out. In case you didn't know, eyes really freak me out. But I still found this cover fascinating.

Then there was this touching, light-hearted little book by Newbery winner Rebecca Stead. I don't read a ton of middle grade--it's just not my preference, but when I do, this is what I want: the sorts of books that are reminiscent of Ramona Quimby: Age 8. This book was cute, funny, and realistic. At times, it was so real that it was even slightly sad, but at the end, the book was overwhelmingly...well, heartwarming.

Plus, the biggest bonus of this book, is that it actually hit the age it's aimed for right on the mark. I'd definitely hand this book to a nine year old (or a ten or eleven year old), and despite it being less than 200 pages, I wouldn't feel as if I were handing them anything dumbed down.

Oh yeah, and the vacation rocked, too. I only got a litttttle sunburned in my distraction with these wonderful books. ;)

Between the Lines

Jodi Picoult goes YA! I've been excited about this one for quite a while, since my YA-loving self has been reading Jodi Picoult since I actually was a young adult.

For this novel, Jodi teams up with her daughter, Samantha van Leer, for their take on the classic fairy tale. 

This book read a little young to me for the age group it was aimed toward (12 and up). It was a very quick, light read, and altogether enjoyable but by no means my favorite. The idea--what happens inside our favorite books after we close them--was creative, and the story well told, but the main characters fell a bit flat. The illustrations (not to be confused with the little clip arty silhouettes, which I found to make the book even more childish) were gorgeous and nicely paired with the colored text.*

Mostly, I hope Sammy keeps writing. Any novel at her age (she's a high school junior)--or at any age for that matter--is impressive, and I hope to see her storytelling grow and mature as she continues. Actually, I'd love to see her try her hand at screenwriting.

*How is it possible that this incredibly commercial YA novel is able to have multi-colored text and sell for roughly $15 and Hemingway's The Sound and the Fury--released now in color as he originally intended it--is going for $345? Grr. It's not that I don't see the value of one over the other, I'm just so sad that I can't afford the colored Hemingway.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finally, I baked!

Guess what?

I’ve been baking.

Not one thing, not two…three things lately!

First, I went home last weekend for Colin’s graduation party. He’s getting old too fast. Or wait, that’s what he said about me. But he really is! I was so glad I got to go home and spend some time celebrating with him and the rest of my family.

The day before the party, my mom panicked a little (of course) that she wouldn’t have enough food. That’s happened to her exactly once in my recollection, but now I think it’s always in her head and she can’t relax until she knows she’ll have more than enough (or in the case of this party, way more than enough). Anyway, she asked if I would make some cookies to go along with the huge cake, so I made a batch of oatmeal peanut butter cookies. The result: super moist and super delicious.

When I returned to the city, I knew there was much more baking in store for me, since last week was birthday week! My roommate and two of my coworkers were celebrating, and I had promised baked goods all around.

First, Snicker’s inspired cheesecake for my roommate:

The cheesecake had a graham cracker crust (which admittedly I slacked on and bought instead of making—but you know I usually do!), and then a lightly caramel-flavored and very creamy cake. I topped it off with a layer of walnuts covered in chocolate fudge. Seeing as it’s almost gone, I think she liked it!

My third creation was also by request, chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting:

I jump at the chance to make chocolate cake whenever anyone asks me, which is funny because I don’t really love chocolate cake. You can find my recipe (or at least the one I use as my base, usually with minor adjustments depending on my mood) here. But what I was really excited for was the frosting on these puppies. And it turned out deeeeelicious. Too delicious. I ate way too much of it whilst baking (and I’ve been so good lately!).

Here’s how I made that:
½ c. butter, just barely softened
4(ish) c. powdered sugar
1 c. creamy peanut butter (but even as I type this I think crunchy may have been an interesting texture idea)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. milk (I used almond, because that’s what I keep on hand, but any kind will do)
Cream together, and voila! Tastes just like peanut butter…but so. much. naughtier.

The Shack

For the longest time, The Shack has been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. Practically begging to be read, in fact.

My mom read this book a couple of years ago and strongly recommended it to me (no better way to put me off reading it, a trait I have in common with an amazing professor I once had). She’s even asked me a few times what I thought of it. My brother read it, too, and I’m pretty sure he got a lot out of it as well.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I picked up The Shack and read it. It was a quick read, just a couple of days of subway rides.

If you haven’t heard of The Shack…well, I’m not sure where you’ve been for much of the early two thousands. No, I’m totally kidding.  But really, here’s just a short snipit of background: After his young daughter is brutally murdered on a family camping trip (it’s a true story, and it’s my worst fear in so many ways. Needless to say, I didn’t handle this part of the book so well). Some time later, Mack receives a note in his mailbox summoning him back to the shack near the scene of the crime, and he returns, unsure of his exact intentions. While he is there, he meets God.  Most of the book commences from here, as do my thoughts on it:

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much I actually got out of the book, which surprised me given how many hold it in such high regard. I don’t know—something about reading about others’ reflections on their lives (like Mack’s, in the book) makes it tough for me to reflect on my own, or something like that. I guess I tend to get more out of books that don’t almost beg a personal reflection, as I felt this one did. For some reason, I felt like I was better able to connect with myself and my own beliefs and personal thoughts and things when reading a fictional piece than I was during my reading of this book. Weird? You decide.

Mack’s story was, however, touching. One thing I cannot say is whether I did or did not believe it. I can say with great certainty that whether or not the events within it are completely factual is in no way the point. Strangely, though, I also cannot say with any certainty whether I want the story to be factual. Of course, without question, I would want this story to be true for the sake of Mack and his emotional growth and well-being, and it obviously was true for him within his mind. But at least for me, stories giving any clear indication of what God is, or looks like, or feels like, or sounds like, or anything else, make me all the more uncertain of what might actually be true. I know, I know—the God in Mack’s story took several different shapes and felt several different ways, etc. etc. depending on what was being conveyed at any given moment.  Essentially, though, I suppose, I want my own story. One day, I have to believe that I’ll know what’s true one way or another (even if that something is, well, nothing). It’s not that I don’t think this story comes close, or is false, or anything at all about it actually. It’s just that it’s not mine—and until it is, I’m not sure how much I can take from it. Until then, I’ll continue questioning my own faith through the characters I often connect with best—the fictional ones.

Apologies for the ramble!