Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cookies

Sometimes, I have moments where I am so happy that it feels surreal. It's strange in a way, because I'm not really talking about those really obvious ones--like when I graduated from college or the most excellent nights spent with my friends. It's more of that wonderful contented feeling that's the culmination of everything just going my way. Tonight, I had one of those moments.

I made it home for the home for the holidays, and tonight I set about to make some of my brother's favorite Christmas cookies upon his request. Christmas music blaring through the house, I threw the ingredients in a bowl and got to work making these delicious peanut butter cup cookies (and they're his favorite for a reason--they're awesome and incredibly easy).

Oh gosh, they're good. And so simple--just a regular peanut butter cookie, but baked up in a mini muffin tin. Then, right when they come out, you add a peanut butter cup so that it gets all gooey and delicious wrapped up in the cookie. Oh, dear.

I bopped along to Straight No Chaser singing Carol of the Bells, sipped at a glass of Bailey's, ate two cookies that fell apart (oops!) as I pulled them out of the pan, and thought about how lucky I am this year. I got everything I wanted for Christmas, and it's still two days away: a new apartment in New York where I know so many adventures await me and a fantastic new job that I worked really hard for and cannot wait to start. Best of all, I get to be at home with my family--crazy as they can sometimes be--to celebrate my favorite holiday before heading back to the city to celebrate New Years with some of the best of friends. I don't think I could be having a better holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bailey's Cheesecake

It's the holiday season, and that means...Bailey's! In my coffee, in my dessert glass, and in my cheesecake. Yes, in my cheesecake. Usually, I'm a cheesecake purist--I like it plain, with a homemade graham cracker crust. Nothing fussy, no frills, just good old thick New York style cheesecake. But if Bailey's cheesecake is on the menu, I tend to stray from my purism and give it a try. I've had a few kinds before, and this time I decided to make my own. I adapted a recipe I found here with a sour cream topping, and I used my own, my favorite, graham cracker crust recipe. Here's what I ended up doing:

12 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoon butter, melted
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs (room temperature)
1/3 cup Baileys Irish Cream liqueur (a Bailey's substitute would have been totally fine. Luckily, I wasn't buying my own ingredients in this case, so we avoided the bargain shopping)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 ounces white chocolate chips

For Crust:
Preheat oven to 325° F. Lightly butter 9 inch springform pan. Finely grind graham crackers and sugar in processor. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns. Press crumbs onto bottom and 2 inches up sides of prepared pan. Refrigerate 20 minutes. (I had a little too much, so I just used whatever fit, and then I actually made a slightly smaller second complaints there!)

For filling:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Whisk eggs, Baileys, and vanilla in bowl until just blended. Beat egg mixture into cream cheese mixture. Finely chop white chocolate in processor (I used a blender) using on/off turns. Add to cream cheese mixture.
Transfer filling to crust-lined pan. (Again, I had a little too much, so I just poured the excess into my extra little crust.) Bake until edges of filling are puffed and dry-looking and center is just set, about 50 minutes. Cool on rack.

For topping:
Mix sour cream and powdered sugar in small bowl. Spread topping onto cooled cake. Refrigerate until well chilled, about 6 hours (may be prepared one day ahead). Sprinkle grated chocolate (I used little chocolate crumbles, and they turned out all snowy and gorgeous) over cake.

This cake was delicious. But I knew it would be...cheesecake and Bailey's? Where was there even any room for error?

The Marriage Plot

I've been putting off posting about this book for a while, even though I finished it over a week ago. That being said, it also took me a while to finish it, for several reasons. Mostly, I wanted to make sure that I did the reading justice, just as I wanted to make sure that I did the novel justice in my post here.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides could have been the story of my life.

At its opening, we find a girl, Madeleine, in her early twenties and graduating from Brown, completely unsure of where her life will take her. We also meet Mitchell, planning to travel the world before potentially going to divinity school. The book was...not my life. To say the least. I think that was where my first problem with the book took root--I was so expecting it to seem realistic to me all the way through, to match my own life and to mirror my own emotions, that I was disappointed when it didn't. When I opened the book to find that familiar Talking Heads quote, "and the days go by," I immediately felt a connection. While that was far from the only connection I felt with the novel and with the characters, it was certainly one of the strongest...while I had hoped it would be only the beginning.

I think maybe now, I will delve into a pro-con list of sorts to keep my [many] thoughts on the novel organized.

First the bad news:
• As already mentioned, I did not relate to Madeleine nearly as well as I felt I should have, being her age, having just graduated from an accredited university as an English major (and a "Victorianist" at that), and being nervous about what the future had in store for me. That was probably in large part because...
• Eugenides did not capture Madeleine's emotions--and she has, or at least should have, many--nearly as well as I would have hoped. With all that she is dealing with, and I won't give too much away here, I kept waiting for her to fall apart a little more. I realize she was supposed to be a prim and proper east coast young woman of the eighties, but I couldn't help but be annoyed by her unrealistic ability to always hold it all together.
• I was also frustrated with some of the plot points that I felt did not necessarily connect as they should have. For instance, where did all the Hanna family's money come from all of a sudden in the second half? We knew they weren't poor, but when did they win the lottery? Ditto for the little “gift” Madeleine’s sister gave her—it came back up in the end, but almost irrelevantly.
• Also, why did Mitchell suddenly land on a faith at the very end of the novel? I really thought this was going to be a novel about how life not working out the way you had hoped was totally fine--normal, even. Why was it necessary to have Mitchell "find himself" rather than just letting him keep searching, as Madeleine is forced to.

And now for the good news:
• The writing was mesmerizing, at times, to say the least. While I couldn’t always relate like I wanted to, I did find myself wrapped up in the adventures of the characters, and feeling the way about Leonard that (I think?) I was intended to.
• Leonard’s character and his condition were described quite well, for the most part, and my complaints were always about how Madeline related to them, mainly because that’s not how I (nor I think most other reader’s) would have wanted to respond. And I didn’t think love was a good enough cover all for that discrepancy.
• It was simply nice to read about someone with problems far bigger than any of mine. Shallow, I know, but isn’t that always the way? Sometimes, I wished I was Madeleine Hanna—for her beauty, her intelligence, for her sheer lack of money problems. But then, her issues took over, and I realized, as I almost always do, that I would so much rather be me. It’s nice when a book can take me here and there like that (so long as I get back. Admittedly, I’d still be okay with being Hermione Granger).

I won't keep rambling, because I could probably go on and on with this list and it would end up relatively even (or a smidgen longer on the con side), but that's not the point. Here it is: I won't be running for my next Jeffrey Eugenides right now, but I am glad I read this book, and I think others should, too (if only to discuss it with me!). I promise, I'm a harsh critic. Get wrapped up in the writing, people (thanks, NaNo. Another lesson learned).