Thursday, June 20, 2013

Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella: Let's put on the ritz and flap around together this summer, doll.

Twenties Girl
Sophie Kinsella
Dial Press Trade: New York, 2010

Twenty-something Lara's life is not going so well these days.  Her boyfriend has dumped her, and to add insult to injury, her new business partner has run away to follow a man to Bali, with no plans to return, leaving Lara to keep things running on her own.  When Emma attends her great-aunt Sadie's funeral, things reach a head: the ghost of Sadie as she was in her twenties (in the 1920s) begins to haunt her.  Sadie appears only Lara, proclaiming that she won't be able to rest in peace until she is reunited with her favorite necklace.  Lara, and the ghost of Sadie, are launched on a mad quest through London to fulfill Sadie's last wishes, and get to know each other better as they discover secrets hidden with the missing necklace.  Though there are romantic elements typical of Kinsella's other works, this book is a departure in that the relationship of most central importance is firmly platonic.  It is a fun, light, occasionally romantic read with lots of 1920s fashion and culture nods, and an undercurrent of mystery.  I'd recommend it to female readers 15 and up.

I really enjoyed reading this one.   As I mentioned, the focus is not on finding a man and thus fulfilling all your needs, but rather more holistic.  Kinsella usually has plucky, if slightly lacking in confidence/brains protagonists, but I think the reason I liked this much more is because the romance with a dude is just kind of background, a device which actually tries and strengthens the development of the protagonist and her growing friendship with Sadie, which is truly the relationship at the heart of this book.  Sure it is a silly premise, but it is a rare Chick Lit find in that it is smart enough to realize that romance doesn't solve everything; people need personal growth and development in addition to their white knight (or lady equivalent).  Most important: it is a really fun read.  Older teens and ladies* who don't get carded anymore, make sure to throw this in your beach bag this summer (along with a bottle of water and sunblock - don' be a dummy!).

*Especially read this if you're digging what appears to be a revival of 1920s culture - I'm looking at you, all you recently opened speakeasies!  But honestly, if anyone wants to don a flapper dress, drink some giggle water, and learn the Charleston with me, I'm available. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: Sometimes books for grown ups happen, even to the best of us

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn

Crown: New York, 2012
ISBN: 978-0297859383

By all accounts, Amy and Nick Dunn are the perfect couple, from looks on down to their marriage.  When the recession leaves both of them unemployed, they move from New York to Nick's suburban Missouri hometown to care for his terminally ill mother.  Using the remainder of Amy's trust fund, Nick opens a bar and they settle into a life very different from their urban one, until Amy disappears with signs of a struggle on the fifth anniversary.  Nick and the police are left bewildered, with few leads.  All is not as it seems in this contemporary noir though things are starting to point to Nick.  Told in alternating chapters between Amy's diary recalling their past, and Nick's narrative voice in the present, this novel is suspenseful and engaging.  It is easy to see why this became such a bestseller, and it is recommended for adults and mature teens aged 16 and up, for sexuality and violence (and sheer plot complexity).  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake (is fairy delicious)

Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake
Well, lords and ladies of your own kitchen tables, I made a magical recipe for my book club this month (the real one, not the one I fake started online to motivate myself and still haven't finished...).  We read a compilation of rewritten short fairy tales by Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch.  The book was fine - a great quick, LGBTQ reworking of 13 known stories - but the recipe, my friends, came to me in a vision sent by my very own fairy godmother: my stomach.
I mean, they're fairy tales, right?  We're all familiar with the ol'poisoned apple trick, right? And how you should never ever enter a gingerbread house if you find one in the woods, even if it smells really good and you're really, really hungry, right?  This also comes to mind.  Naturally, my mind first jumped to conclusions of a caramel apple nature, but I a) don't really like said caramel apples, and b) I wanted to make it poisoned...which in my mind equals booze.  In this case, rum, because rum+cake generally portend good things.   Judge away, teetoallers; this one is for you! I also really, really like gingerbread.  It's so good, you guys.  Double naturally, I just had to combine these things.  And so I did - behold, my glorious, beautiful, Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake!

Oh look!  It's my busted ugly stepsister of a Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake!
Errrrr...that is one busted ugly stepsister of a cake!  Guys, I think I got my yearly recipe collapse syndrome out on this one.  Or else an evil witch cursed me.  I'm inclined to go with the former, though.  Does anyone else suffer from this?  (I know some of you chocolate banana fiends just had a case of it!)  Like many Grimm fairy tales, this cake did not have an attractive ending.  Some of the cake decided to stay put in the Bundt pan, half came out, and the remaining pieces tragically fell into my mouth...

Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake
(so good I suspect it's laced with a love potion)
Long story short, this is a delicious, but super heavy and moist cake.  My oven also tends to overcook, and I was a little more proactive about not doing so, to the point where though it was cooked, it probably should have been a little more dried out, almost erring on the overcooked side (especially because you'll be adding more moisture at the end).   In the end, though I was sad it was a supremely unattractive cake, it almost worked.  I mean, it's supposed to be poisoned, right?  It looked pretty dodgy!  More importantly, the flavors more than make up for it. I'm pretty sure I actually laced it with a love potion, not poison, because it is so delicious, to the point where I ironically ate so much that I got a stomachache...from ginger. Luckily there are MANY fairy tale adaptations (some included below the recipe), that you can use it for many book clubs of your own - let me how yours turn out!

Tips and Notes:
- Don't mess around with preparing your pan.  Grease it up, and then generously flour it down.  Seriously.  Look at my cake.  I'm not joking.
- The next time I make this, I plan to sub in 1/2 cup of wheat flour to see if it helps dry things out a bit.  If you do, let us know how it turns out!
-  I used a combination of Blackstrap molasses and Corn Syrup, because that's what I had.  The original recipe suggests just using dark molasses.  Pick your poison (ba dum?).
- Make sure that the cake is well cooked.  Prick with a skewer to test, and when it comes out clean, give it approximately 5 more minutes.  I'm dead serious; there's a lot of liquid in this one.
- If you are lazy, you can mix the cake all in one bowl.  This might, however, be why the gods of Pastry and Dessert smote me...whatever.  If you want to mix it in multiple bowls, check out how Smitten Kitchen does it.
- I used Flor de Cana rum, straight from my Nicaraguan aventuras.  Use any rum, dark or light, you've got though!
- I used Fuji apples, and would recommend sticking with a sweet, slightly sturdy type that will soften but still hold the rum mix and some semblance of shape.  I consulted the Apple Lover's cookbook!
- I got this recipe from a holiday cookbook released by my graduate school; it had been adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it had been adapted from the Gramercy Tavern.  I also looked at The Apple Lover's Cookbook, where there is a chaste and different version of an apple gingerbread cake, and The New Best Recipe, for rum glaze ideas (isn't anything involving rum subsequently glazed, especially your eyes?)

Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake

Poisoned Apple Gingerbread Cake

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tidbits: Cleanup in aisle Four

Sorry to disappear, dudes.  It was the end of my school year, and Ms. Paperblog had a million things to do.  Luckily, it is now officially summer vacation, so I'll make big noise about how often I'll review and cook, and get sidetracked with hummus, crudite, iced tea, wine, and a book, inevitably dropping the ball while wearing the same outfit daily in my backyard.  Who else thinks that summer vacation plan sounds awesome?!? 

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