Monthly Archives: April 2011

Passover Popovers and Homemade Chocolate

Today was a beautiful day, and I woke up full of energy. I opened some windows, put my new plants out onto the porch for some sun, and started baking! A strange activity for Passover? Maybe, but King Arthur Flour helpfully posted this recipe for Passover Popovers. I made them in muffin tins (2 tins, 24 popovers) and they turned out really well. Only recipe I’ve ever seen that calls for an entire dozen eggs…

They are exceptionally tasty with apple butter, should you happen to have any hiding in your fridge.

I tried another new recipe today too – this evening an old friend came over for dinner, and for dessert I made homemade chocolate with a recipe from The Living Kitchen. It’s not on their website, I don’t think, but I hope they won’t mind me sharing it here:

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 Tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Optional: 6 drops of peppermint extract, or 2 Tbsp almond butter, or a sprinkling of cinnamon

Melt the coconut oil in a double boiler. (I just used my smallest saucepan inside a medium saucepan, which was half-filled with water.) Whisk in the cocoa powder, then syrup, then vanilla and mint or almond butter. Remove from heat and spoon or pour chocolate into empty ice cube tray. Freeze for 15 minutes.

This recipe yielded 6 chocolates for me. I also used 1/2 tsp mint extract – didn’t have a dropper – and they were in the freezer throughout dinner, so longer than 15 minutes. But they were fantastic, and really easy – I encourage you to try them!

What I’ve been reading: Room, Emma Donoghue; The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
What I’ve been listening to: Belle & Sebastian


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More Exploits in the Kitchen

A couple weeks ago I made banana bread again, this time substituting plain whole yogurt for sour cream. Final result was slightly less rich but tasted just fine!

Last weekend I also undertook to make Chicago deep-dish pizza from scratch, using the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which calls for the cheese to go underneath the sauce (other toppings still go on top). I like this approach a lot. Also, the recipe said to use a cake pan, but I used an iron skillet, which worked out fine.

The dough, however…I think I am just plagued when it comes to yeast. I had two different kinds at home, active dry yeast and instant, and I proofed them both, only to discover they were both dead. Not a major problem; I live walking distance from a 24-hour grocery store, so I just went to get a new packet. Even that yeast did not rise to my expectations, though (forgive the pun). The pizza turned out well and tasted fine, but the dough never rose much, and I think the final crust should have been airier.

I hope I will not be prosecuted for copyright violation if I share just this part of the recipe: the step-by-step instructions with helpful illustrations of how to prepare the dough.

Needless to say, like all good things, it involves a lot of butter.

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Mystery vs. “Psychological Thriller”

Note: If you haven’t read Tana French’s books – In The Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place – and are planning to, stop reading this post now! Or go ahead, but consider yourself warned: I give away at least one ending.

I used to re-read books much more often than I do now. The publishing business is so future-focused (content-wise; I’ll save the dead tree vs. e-reader discussion for another time) that when I was working in it I was hyper-aware of what contemporary fiction was coming out, and eager to get my hands on it and discuss it with friends who were similarly immersed in Book World.

However, even when I did re-read books more frequently, I re-read mysteries less than other genres, because mystery books tend to be plot-driven, and if you remember every twist and turn, they are less fun to read. At the very least, it’s better to leave long gaps between readings so that you forget some of the details, and can read it without knowing what’s going to happen ahead of time.

Tana French mysteries are a different animal. Some might not call them mysteries at all, but psychological thrillers. There is a difference between the mystery, thriller, and suspense genres, and it’s an important difference for authors and dedicated fans, but I have never really distinguished between them, as a reader; if the main propelling force of the book is a question – anything from “Whodunnit?” to “How did these letters from the Civil War get into the attic?” – I call it a mystery.

Back to Tana French, author of In The Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. I read these in the order they were published; the first two back-to-back in December 2008, and the latter when it was released in July 2010. I remember being disappointed/outraged at the end of In The Woods, because the book actually involves two mysteries, and the initial one (the spooky, possibly supernatural one) is not solved. However, looking back at my review in Goodreads, maybe I wasn’t upset as I remembered.

I found a copy of In The Woods in a used bookstore recently and decided to re-read it, this time knowing in advance not to expect resolution of the first case. Also, it had been long enough since my first reading that the story was familiar, but I had forgotten enough so that I was pulled along by the story almost as well as the first time. And I did enjoy it the second time around – maybe even more so, as I was prepared for and had accepted the fact that one of the two mysteries remained just that – a mystery. (Though Rob and Cassie’s partnership seemed even more romanticized – by narrator Rob – than I remembered.)

The Likeness had no such problem: one main mystery, resolved neatly. But the premise is so inventive (if unlikely) and the detail so vivid that the word “neat” hardly applies – The Likeness is fabulously gripping, and I enjoyed re-reading that as well. In fact, looking back on my review from December 2008, I think my enthusiasm for both books grew upon re-reading.

Faithful Place was perhaps a fraction less special than the first two, in that it was more straightforward: a complicated case, sure, and the main character is emotionally invested in it, but it has neither the lingering spooky mystery of what happened to Adam (Rob) Ryan as a child and the charged relationship between Detective Ryan and his partner Cassie from In The Woods, nor the incredible premise of The Likeness, where Cassie goes undercover for a dead lookalike. (French uses the same “stable” of characters, but the narrator shifts from book to book: Rob Ryan in In The Woods, Cassie Maddox in The Likeness, and Frank Mackey in Faithful Place.)

French’s books are less formulaic and more lushly detailed and imaginative than your average mystery (or thriller), and I recommend all three of the books she has published so far. Be prepared for them to get in your head though, beyond just the addictive, “what happens next?” page-turning quality of a good mystery – perhaps that’s what’s meant by “psychological.”

What I’m reading: In The Woods, Tana French; The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
What I’m listening to: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, Guided By Voices

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April Fool’s Day, Boston edition

It took me a week to get over the bitterness, which is why this post is a week late.

But apparently New England’s idea of a good April Fool’s joke is: snow.

The poor geese flew north too early. You think they’d have learned by now.

What I’m reading: The Cradle, Patrick Somerville
What I’m listening to: The Saints Go Archin’ In, compiled by Ben Apatoff

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Truth in Advertising

On the drive down to New York last weekend two weekends ago, we stopped briefly at a gas station somewhere in Connecticut. Turns out they were hiring!

Let this be a reminder to employers to consider carefully the placement of job ads. Good places to advertise: company website, front door, front desk, bulletin boards, telephone poles. Bad places to advertise: bathroom doors.

What I’m reading: The Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness; Watchmen, Alan Moore
What I’m listening to: El Momento Descuidado, The Church; Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan; Funeral and The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

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