Books & Cookies!


Hey there– It’s reading weather around here– cooler, calling for mugs of tea and books on the couch.  I wonder if you’re in the middle of a good book these days.  What are you reading??!

“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading.”
– Lena Dunham

If you’re a reader (and I think a lot of you are!), get read to be charmed by Anne Bogel’s new book, I’d Rather Be Reading, the Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. You’ll see yourself on these pages in chapters like Confess Your Literary Sins or Bookworm Problems (so funny!).
Here’s a quote from Anne:
“It took me thirty-five years to find my twin… We’re no bound by blood or formal ties. We’ve never shared a last name or an address or Thanksgiving dinner. Our twinness is confined to our reading lives: she’s that remarkable reader whose taste bears an astonishing resemblance to my own.”
The good news is that Anne also has a well curated book blog at Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Check it out!!

I discovered Kate Morton this year and am starting to make my way though her engaging stories.  Mostly recently, The House at Riverton.  In this book, is the recounting of a 98 year old woman with the family who lived in the house and the tragic death that shaped their history.  It was written before Downton Abbey but feels very much the same in detail and characters (I wonder if Julian Fellowes read the book!).  The narrator tells the stories of Hannah and Emmeline, sisters, whom she served as a lady’s maid.  The story pulls you along right until the end when the mystery unfolds. Now I’m waiting for her newest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter!

I have a special affinity for Fatiima MIrza’s book A Place for Us. Rafiq and Lyla are the parents of 3 grown children who were raised in their conservative Muslim family in the Bay Area.  When the oldest daughter marries, the prodigal son, Amar, returns to the family.  Different family members recount incidents in the the growing up years of the children with tenderness and sometimes sorrow.  I loved the parents hearts for their three children and the last section of the book, the father’s recounting of his interactions with his son, had tears streaming down my face.  Beautiful complicated characters and the beautiful telling of one family’s story.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain describes of the tumultuous love affair and marriage of Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway.  Mostly told from the point of view of Martha, third of Hemingway’s four wives.  She is a writer and journalist and strong personality who comes to love Hemingway when they are both war correspondents, in war torn Madrid, as Franco captures the country.  They made their home together in a writer’s get away in Cuba and travel and write around the world.  Fascinating picture of their relationship– and of course, it sent me to Wikipedia to see home much of the story was actual.  MacLain also wrote The Paris Wife, the telling of Hemingway’s first marriage, also a worthwhile book.

Last month’s book for our was Lit group was Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward.  This story was a difficult one, narrated by sturdy 13 year old Jojo and his drug using mother Leonie.  Living in southern Mississippi with Jojo’s grandparents, they set off on a road trip to collect Jojo’s father who is being released from prison.  The story is populated by Jojo’s younger sister, his steady grandfather, Pop, an ailing grandmother and a pair of ghosts from the past.  The book is at points disturbing and at others hopeful.  Not an easy book, but a worthwhile one.  Winner of the National Book Award.

I’ll end with a sweet story, Dear Mrs. Bird by A J Pearce.  Emmeline is a young woman, living with her best friend Bunty, in war torn London during WWII.  She spends her nights at the phone bank for the Auxilary Fire Services, which responds to nightly bombings.  And by day, she is the assistant to crotchety Mrs. Bird, an advice columnist for a women’s magazine.  When Mrs. Bird discards letters from people who truly need help, Emmy can’t help responding to them.  It’s a story of deep loss and firm loyalties, of the courage of two young women.  I’m not sure why, but this book reminds me of a 1940’s Katherine Hepburn movie– girls with spunk!  Very enjoyable

   To read more book notes (all my books from the the last 3 years)–
Click on Booklist

 

 

And to go with a good afternoon read on the couch, it’s pretty essential to include a mug of hot tea and perhaps a plate of cookies.  Here’s a chewy chocolaty cookie that came out of our kitchen this week.  You might like them along with a good book…

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE OATMEAL COOKIES
3/4 cup butter (1  1/2 stick), room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa*
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup whole oats (uncooked!)
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

With an electric mixer, beat together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar to make a creamy paste.  Then beat in the egg, water and vanilla.  When that’s blended, mix in the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and oats.  And finally beat in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop the batter by large spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray (or has a silpat mat).  Bake them up at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until they feel firm.  Let them cool a couple minutes on the cookie sheet before you lift them onto a cooking rack.  So chocolaty good!

*I used Hershey’s dark chocolate cocoa

 

And here’s a couple other cookie recipes that could accompany your reading:


Chocolate Toffee Slice and Bake Cookies


Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Cookies


Lemon Nut Shortbread Cookies

 

And to finish up– a few of my favorite pictures of people reading:
     
The Lady in the Polka Dot Pants by Rae Andrews
Self Portrait by Michelle Ranta


Little Girl and her bedtime books– Claire Fletcher


Daniel Gerhartz

   
Yuri Petrovic Kugach
Young Clergyman Reading by Martinus Rorbye


Henry Loved Eating all sorts of books!  Oliver Jeffers

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
– Henry David Thoreau

The brilliant painting at the top of the post is by Karen Cooper.  thanks.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes with PB Cream Cheese Frosting


Hello all– Peanut Butter & Chocolate– goes together like peaches & cream or bacon & eggs.  It’s just a pretty irresistible combination.  I’m imagining this could be a hit at your 4th of July Bar-b-que!!

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CUPCAKES WITH PB CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Cupcakes:
1 chocolate cake mix
vegetable oil
water
3 eggs
1/3 cup peanut butter

Frosting:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter
4 oz. cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar (about 3  2/3 cups)
1/2 tsp.vanilla
3 to 4 tab. milk

Make the cake mix according to the recipe on the box. (Mine used 1/2 cup oil, 1  1/4 cup water and 3 eggs.)  Use an electric mixer– and also add in the 1/3 cup peanut butter.

Use cupcake paper liners in cupcake pans to make 24 cupcakes.  Fill the cupcake cups 1/2 full with batter and the pop them into a 350 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until the cupcakes are firm to the touch.

Let the cupcakes cool before you frost them.

To make the frosting, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, 1/2 cup peanut butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla.  Add the milk, a little at a time until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

Top the cupcakes with frosting and dig in!

Toffee Cookie Bars


Hello there– You know that addicting toffee that people make at Christmas?? So so delicious!  Just in case you’re reading Tammy, it was the best Christmas gift — I’m remembering that jarful you gifted us.

Well, this is the cookie version of that toffee, more crumbly and tender, but studded with almonds and toffee bits, topped with chocolate.  It really is delish, in that toffee candy sort of way!

TOFFEE COOKIE BARS
6  tab. butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup plain toffee bits, divided*
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup whole toasted almonds, chopped

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and powdered sugar until it forms a thick paste.  Then beat in the flour and salt until it looks like sandy crumbs.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the toffee bits.

Spray a 9″ square baking dish (or 11″x7″ baking dish) with cooking spray and then spread the crumb mixture into the dish.  Pat it down to make a smooth even surface.

Bake the cookie layer at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the cookie layer when it comes out of the oven.  Let them sit 5 minutes to soften and then use a broad knife to spread the chocolate evenly over the cookie layer.
Sprinkle on the chopped almonds and remaining 1/4 cup toffee bits.

Let the cookie bars sit until they cool to room temperature and then cut them into neat little squares.

Best Basic Bundt Cake!


Hey there– Here’s a little cake recipe everyone should have up their sleeve.  Easy, quick and it always comes out moist and tender– and so so chocolatey!

And thanks Trisha (the world’s best neighbor) for the loan of the bundt pan.  I can always count on Trisha to borrow an egg or some butter when I’m out.  And there’s the time she let me use her oven in the middle of her kitchen remodel on the morning when my oven went out and 20 ladies were coming for breakfast!!  I hit the neighbor jackpot with Trisha!

BEST BASIC BUNDT CAKE

Cake:
1 chocolate cake mix
1 box instant chocolate pudding (3.9 oz. size)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1 packet instant coffee (about a tablespoon)
2 cups chocolate chips

Glaze:
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tab. butter
1 cup chocolate chips

So easy– with an electric mixer beat together the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil, water, eggs and instant coffee for 4 minutes.  Then stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into a bundt pan (or any tube baking pan) that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Put it into a 350 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes– until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely before you invert it onto a pretty plate.

To make the glaze, heat the butter and cream in a sauce pan until it just starts to simmer.  Turn off the heat and stir in the 1 cup chocolate chips.  Keep stirring briskly for 3 or 4 minutes to temper the chocolate.
Drizzle it over the cooled cake.  Yummm!

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cake (for Easter)

Hey all– It’s the day after Easter here.  Spending the morning stashing bunnies and plastic eggs away for next year.  And toasting up some leftover biscuits and jam for breakfast.

And sending off this Easter Cake recipe to you.  It’s cherries and chocolate nestled into a white cake, with cherry cream cheese frosting.  Add a few Cadbury eggs on top (or birthday candles for a different occasion) and it’s ready to go!

CHERRY CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE

Cake:
1 white cake mix
canola oil
3 eggs
water
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped to tiny bits

Frosting:
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
8 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. amaretto (or vanilla)
1 pound box powdered sugar (3  3/4 cups)
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped fine
2 tsp. juice from the cherry jar
garnish: Cadbury Easter eggs

With an electric mixer, make the cake mix according to the directions on the box (mine added 1/3 cup oil, 1 cup water and 3 eggs).  Beat for 2 minutes.  Then stir in the chocolate chips and chopped cherries.

Spoon the batter into 2   9″ cake pans (or a 9″x 13″ pan) that has been spray with cooking spray.  Pop it into a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake layers are golden and firm to the touch.  Let the cakes cool completely before you frost them.

To make the frosting, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, cream cheese, amaretto, powdered sugar, chopped cherries and cherry juice.  (Start on the lowest setting or the powdered sugar will fly out of the bowl!)  Beat until it is all smooth and creamy, with little cherry bits here and there.

Spread frosting on the first layer.  Top it with the second layer and then frost the top and sides.  So pink and pretty!

Chocolate Toffee Caramel Cake

Hello all–  We’re still in Wisconsin here.  And still waiting for snow.  I checked the weather report today and it’s suppose to snow later in the week, the day after we leave!!  Meanwhile it’s sunny with a cold wind that will take your breath away!  OK, that’s all for the weather report– will send along more Wisconsin news (and photos!) in a couple days…

So now here’s the cake– crunchy toffee bits, tiny his of chocolate and caramel sauce and wrapped in and around a moist tender cake.  With a scoop of ice cream, just grand!  I think you’d like it!

CHOCOLATE TOFFEE CARAMEL CAKE
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1  1/2 cups canola oil
5 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
8 oz. bag toffee bits
1  1/4 cup mini chocolate chips*
1 cup caramel sauce

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the brown sugar, white sugar, oil land eggs.  Add in the flour, baking powder and salt and keep beating.  Beat in the milk.  And finally, fold in the  mini chocolate chips (save out 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top the finished cake)  and toffee bits (save a handful to sprinkle on the cake later).

Spoon the batter into a large bundt pan or tube pan that has been sprayed well with cooking spray.  Pop it into a 325 degree over for 80 or 90 minute (!!) until the cake is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the pan for at least an hour.

Remove the cake to a large plate and Drizzle the caramel sauce over the top and sprinkle on the reserved mini chocolate chips and toffee bits.

* I like mini chocolate chips more than the standard size, because they don’t sink to the bottom of the cake and spread the chocolate more uniformly.

Strawberries & Cream Chocolate Cake

Hi everyone– Happy to say the strawberry stands around here have opened up for the season!  I don’t know about you, but when the strawberries appear, it seems like spring is here.  So we’re putting them to good use with this creamy strawberry filled triple fudgy  chocolate cake.

STRAWBERRIES & CREAM CHOCOLATE CAKE

Cake:
1 chocolate cake mix*
water
canola oil
3 eggs
1 cup mini chocolate chips**
1 cup hot fudge sauce

Topping:
2 cups strawberries, cut to small bits
1 pint heavy whipping cream (2 cups)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup instant vanilla pudding mix
1 big pretty strawberry for garnish

Using an electric mixer, make the cake according to the directions on the box.  (Mine used 1  1/4 cups water, 1/2 oil and 3 eggs.)  Stir in the cup of mini chocolate chips.  (Save the hot fudge for later)

Spoon the batter into a 9″x 13″ baking dish*** that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  And bake the cake about 25 minutes until it is firm to the touch on top.

Poke holes into the top of the warm cake and drizzle in the cup of hot fudge to fill the holes and coat the top of the cake.  (You may need to warm the fudge sauce 30 seconds in the microwave to make it pourable).

Let the cake cool completely before adding the topping!!

Remove the leaves and cut the strawberries to small bits and set aside.  With an electric mixer beat the cream, pudding mix and powdered sugar until it is thick and set (the whisk attachment works best for this).  Stir in the strawberry bits and spoon the cream onto the top of the cooled cake.  Garnish with a single pretty sliced strawberry.

You can serve it right away, but if it sits in the fridge for an hour or two the topping will set up more firmly. Enjoy!!

*I like Betty Crocker Triple Chocolate cake mix
**Mini chocolate chips are best because they don’t sink to the bottom, like the regular size ones.
***In place of a 9″x 13″ baking dish, I used an 11″ springform pan.  If you don’t have one of those on hand and want round cakes– put the batter in two 9″ cake pans.