Monday, April 29, 2013

A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty: Oh, Cello there, you manic pixie dreambook!

A Corner of White
Jaclyn Moriarty
New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-54539736-0
ARC copy via NetGalley

Realism and magical realism entwine to make beautiful music together in this enchanting first book in a planned trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty.  In two cities populated by two quirky, endearing, supporting casts, two hugely likeable teenage protagonists grapple with missing people, life and familial changes, challenges, and adapting to them.   Serial runaway Madeleine has finally made it permanent by bringing her mother along.  She is struggling to adapt to her new life, and begins to worry about her mother’s health as she attempts to complete a home-school history assignment to channel Isaac Newton.  Town golden-boy Elliot, however, is eager to find his missing father, who disappeared in the same storm that killed his uncle.  He reluctantly agrees to delay his trip to help his mother prepare to rent his fathers shop to the strange newcomers to town.  Things begin to come together when each teen finds a mysterious letter, tucked away in an unlikely place, and begin the most unusual pen pal exchange ever to occur between the Land of Cello, and the world.  Playful, yet deeply thoughtful and well written, this is a unique and delightful novel.  Parts epistolary, narrative, fantasy, realism, it abandons genre and reader expectations and is wholly, whimsically, realistically, magically fantastic.  It is strongly recommended for both teens (grade 8 and up, but younger readers who can hang with complex plots with like this too) and adults.  

If you couldn’t tell, I maybe kind of really enjoyed this book.  I suspected I would; I have found Jaclyn Moriarty’s books to consistently be majorly delightful, and was pumped to have at A Corner of White.  You guys – she did not let me down.  In fact, I was so engrossed that I didn’t realize until about 60 pages that I had no idea how two such seemingly disparate stories would, or could even come together – and then was like I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE when she did, in a way that was very true to her previous books.  I won’t say any more to spoil it though!  I will say that there HAS to be something in the Australian water – yet again I’ve fallen for the charm from down under!

I took copious post-it notes, while reading this on a bus to and from Newark, NJ, to hang out with ¾ of the super fabulous Brown family (hi guys!).  Being that my copy came from NetGalley, this was a slightly weird process, whereby I stuck them all to the back of my Nook, and now can’t read them, because who writes legibly on a bus?  I’m also pretty sure a bunch of them fell out…because I swore there were more than four.  But I digress.

Pecan Pienana Bread

Pecan Pienana Bread
 I just finished reading a magical and delightful book (A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty), that left me craving banana bread, pecan pie, and assorted cakes.  Please note that I have never been a fan of pecan pie either (that is, until I met the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie at Petsi Pies, but that's a story for another day, amigos).  But that Jaclyn Moriarty, mistress of words, chuckles, and quirky books turned into a tastebud tease! It seemed like half the book took place in some sort of bakery, and the other half involved meals and snacks.  Something was always in the oven and  I couldn't stop thinking about all the treats I was reading about!  

Unfortunately, as you're probably aware, my beloved hometown Boston had a rough last week.  We're a tough sort, us Massholes, and we made it through a very sad, scary Patriots Day and Boston Marathon, in addition to a really crazy, confusing, high stress multi-city lockdown with the same pluck, verve, and charm that has been beguiling New York sports teams into defeat for like, a century now.  Unfortunately, however, the bananas I left on my desk at work on Thursday to eat on Friday morning did not weather the lockdown and consequential 3 day weekend well.  But friends, when life gives you mostly rotting bananas, we Bostonians make lemonade.  Errrr, banana bread.  And because I'd been thinking about nothing else but the goodies in A Corner of White, I decided to combine the two to create a hot mess of an experimental yet magical dessert/coffee cake/hybrid that I'm calling Pecan Pienana Bread.  

I have to admit, I had no idea how this would turn out.  I've made banana bread a gajillion times, but I've never really gone in for making Pecan Pie, on account of not really liking it.  Shocking, I know.  I was hoping the topping would be a little runnier or have more of a solid crust across the top, but in the end it was more like a coffee cake. There are probably ways to alter it to really make it like a pecan pie filling sitting on top of banana bread, like waiting until the topping has entirely cooled to add the banana bread, or using some corn syrup, upping the butter, pecans, sugars, maybe even adding some rum, etc., but I like that pouring the banana bread in when it was still a little warm meant that it kind of created a crust down the sides and a ring on the top, avec un cake du cafe.  I don't have one, but imagine that it'll be easier to get the cake out (less fear of burns from hot caramelized things!) if you use a springform pan.  I often choose to use some whole wheat flour in many of my recipes because I like that it makes cakes and breads a bit more hearty, and almost lends a very light flavor of nuttiness.  That said, this will be more cake-like and a little lighter if you exclusively use all-purpose flour.  Don't worry too much about having perfectly mashed bananas, or little dark brown sugar balls; it adds some nice texture within the cake, especially as the topping and bread kind of bind together.  In a final note, I was rather distracted by the dread scourge of laundry, and overcooked my bread just a smidge.  Make sure it is a nice golden brown.  Not Tan Mom bronze, because that, friends, is hard to cut (but still tastes great!).  Anyways, enjoy this cake outside, on a lovely spring day, with a nice cup of tea and a copy of A Corner of White

Recipe below:

Saturday, April 27, 2013


  • If there is a stronger case for why Kate Middleton might be the world's communal bestie, I'd like to see it.
  • Please meet your potential husbands from YA, kids.  There's some solid choices, but where are Logan from Babysitters Club, Will from Saving Francesca, Judah from Jellicoe Road, Finnikin of the Rock (duh, name in title), Po from Graceling, Sean Kendrick from Scorpio Races, and the only age appropriate one I can come up with, smokin' Joe Solomon from the Gallagher Girls books?!
  • Oh hello, badass library predecessors.  Especially you, original sexy librarian with the handlebar mustache.  You work that card catalog!
  • If my only quibble is that she's not as blonde as the Tris in my head, then I think I'll survive.  First photo from Divergent, squee!
  • Yay! The trailer for Tiger Eyes looks pretty great.  (I totally thought that was Nina Dobrev for a hot minute). 
  • I wish I could say I felt less eh about Graceling & co. being optioned...but some things are just so much more enjoyable inside my head, Hollywood.  TBD!
  • You guys know my feelings on Little you can imagine the squee that emerged from my heart when I saw the adorableness of this library of miniature books.  Kind of maybe want to join the Miniature Book Society now.

Friday, April 19, 2013



Monday, April 15, 2013

Dinner Train: The House of Mirth Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies

A fair warning: I’m going to spoil the end of The House of Mirth in describing why I chose to make these cookies, so if you don’t want to be spoiled and only care about the recipe, scroll down to the recipe, which contains no spoilers, just recipe.  You’ve been fairly warned!

Arsenic?  Or sugar?

As those of us who have read The House of Mirth are well aware, it doesn’t exactly end well for our girl, Lily Bart.  While there’s some controversy as to whether she meant to overdose on sleeping pills or if it was accidental, she tragically does, right before George Selden comes to propose.   Ice cold, Edith Wharton.  (But as I note in my review, I doubt it would have made difference to Lily anyways; I believe she was just done.)  Needless to say, short of like, tea and finger sandwiches, I wasn’t quite sure what to make for this that wouldn’t be kind of expected or appropriate to the book and time, or that was something I’d kind of already done (see the ladies tea party/picnic menu for The Anne of Green Gables).  There is so much opulent elegance that I initially thought I’d do something like Madeleines, but that just also seemed too obvious.  And then it struck me: Lace cookies.  These ladies love them some lace!  And this is an old book!  Even better, I could be inappropriate and make them a little trite, and go all out for The House of Mirth by filling them with “arsenic,” and call them Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies.  It’s a little tongue in cheek, but you know you liked it. 
Bashing the bejesus out of sugar cubes: strangely satisfying.
My secret ingredient: arsenic.  MWAHA. 
 There are a ton of recipes out there for Lace Cookies; they seem to tend to be primarily comprised of butter, sugar, and some sort of oatmeal/flower starch to bind the sugars.  I set my stomach on this one, and then, as per, went a little off the rails.  I chose to use almond extract to give mine a little bit of flavor that struck me as ladies who tea appropriate.  In order to channel the arsenic, I knew I needed a white crunchy sugar.
These Arsenic and Old Lace cookies are ready for a hot date with the oven.
I mean, I think…having never actually seen arsenic in the flesh.  I’d heard of this magical sugar called Pearl Sugar; it allegedly holds both its shape and opacity as it cooks, giving whatever it is added to a nice white crunch.  I went to three grocery stores to attempt to get the mythical pearl sugar I’d heard of, and struck out three times.  When I realized I was up a creek without a paddle, I decided to go rogue and use lightly crushed sugar cubes to get the same effect.  I cut the sugar in the recipe, and used the same amount to be stirred in as arsenic chunks.  It turned out mostly okay, but I may have been a little over zealous in my crushing efforts, so the chunks didn’t hold as well as I’d envisioned.   I’d still recommend the pearl sugar, which I have since learned can be ordered online.   SIGH.  Anyways, give these plenty of time to dry out, cool, and crisp up, and enjoy them with a nice cup of tea.  I think Lily Bart would agree that they’re kind of addictive (too soon?).
Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies and a 1905 illustrated copy of the book
Dinner Train Book Club recipe for The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
Arsenic and Old Lace Cookies
(makes about 2-3 dozen)

Dinner Train Book Club: The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

My illustrated 1905 library discard copy of
The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
and some Arsenic and Old Lace cookies
The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton
Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1905

Lily Bart is a Guilded Age socialite; though her bankrupt parents have died leaving her only a small inheritance, she has a wealthy elderly aunt who gives her an allowance and provides her with the wardrobe she needs to fit in with the right set.  Lily spends most of her time as women of her time do; vacationing at the country mansions of her friends, taking tea, and paying social visits., and her aunt is not growing younger.  At age “nine and twenty,” Lily’s own funds are running out, her aunt is not getting any younger, and she is growing desperate to shed the miss title and become a misses.  She begins to gamble, both literally and socially to maintain her lifestyle and appearances. After a chance meeting leads to taking tea with journalist George Selden, a favorite of her set, Lily finds herself conflicted for the first time, realizing that what her heart and brain want might not add up.  She wants the easy, comfortable, socialite life to which she is accustomed, but is fast realizing the price she will pay as the unquestioning wife of the man who provides her with it may not be worth it.   

Buddies, this won’t be short.  I suggest you grab yourself a freshly made Arsenic and Old Lace cookie, make a cup of George Selden’s caravan tea (whatever that is), and get settled in.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Recipe 10: Minted Roasted Cauliflower and Pea Soup with Lemon

Minted Roasted Cauliflower and
Pea Soup with Lemon
Spring is finally hitting New England with the same glee as the snowstorms seemed to show allllll winter long.   One of my favorite things in spring?  Green.  It's everywhere (or will be, soon), especially in the produce.  Asparagus, peas, name it, I want to dress it up with some bright lemon juice and gorge myself on it!  Since starting this project, nigh on a million years ago, I've had some recipes for soups with cauliflower I'd done nothing with, and was waiting for an opportunity to try.  While on my London trip, I had an excellent lamb roast dinner with some mint sauce and delicious peas...which made me think that if I combined the cauliflower, peas, mint, and lemon, I might, just maybe, be on the cusp of the spring soup I've been dreaming of.

It is, indeed, pretty great.  I had googled the idea when I had it, and as far as I know only one other person has been enough of a genius to try!  I took mine in a slightly different direction by roasting the cauliflower and lightly caramelizing the onions first; I love roasted cauliflower and wanted to try to get soem of that flavor into the soup.   I made mine entirely vegetarian, but you can easily use a chicken stock if you prefer.  You can even keep it vegan by eschewing the dairy mix-ins at the end!  If you do, you can dress it up with the roasted nuts of your choice, and maybe some avocado.  If not, I tried it with Greek yogurt, parmesan  and goat cheese, and there was no clear winner.  I wound up using both the yogurt and parmesan when I served it, and think it was a solid choice.   Serve it with some nice crisp white wine (a Vinho Verde would be awesome) and a crispy, crunch piece of warm bread!  
With their powers combined...
Topping taste test in progress!
Minted Roasted Cauliflower and Pea Soup with Lemon

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Quintana of Charyn, by Melina Marchetta: Can't we all just get along? Call me, maybe?

Quintana of Charyn (The Lumatere Chronicles)
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick: Somerville, 2013. 
ISBN: 9780763658359 (ARC reviewed)
Available in the USA/Canada April 23, 2013. 

When last we left them, the titular characters in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere trilogy had left their readers on the edge of a gravina (aka a cliff). Not literally – it was just the bestworst kind of cliffhanger.  What a way to leave the readers hanging, with our two favorite nations, Charyn and Lumatere, on the verge of letting misunderstanding and deep-seeded grudges steer them in a course of hasty war!   We pick up where we left off, and though the action thankfully shifts, there are several dozen pages of will or won’t they agony, coupled with the fear of the survival of both Froi and Quintana.  All these important questions, plus some you didn’t even realize you had, are summed up in Marchetta’s presumptive finale to the series.  Characters travel great distances, searching for answers and for each other, and prejudices and fears must be tested and unlearned.  Politics, family, forgiveness, and love are the powerful and pensive themes in this title.  Though the course is agonizing, and to go into detail would be to spoil SO many of the myraid plot points, Quintana of Charyn is a deeply satisfying read.  Deep breathing technique practice is optional, yet encouraged.  It is a strongly recommended book for older teens and adult readers, and for all libraries with a vested interest in smart, well-crafted fantasy.  If you own the first two and are reconsidering, what are you, monsters?  
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