chocolate nutella cookies. need i say more?

Monday, March 28, 2011 | | 7 comments

If you haven’t noticed my crazy obsession with cookies, you should check out the recipes tab. I just looked it over and couldn’t believe how much mileage I’ve gotten out of a single food item. And we’re not even talking gourmet concoctions, people. These are all recipes that can be made with very basic materials (and prodigious elbow grease).


This latest baking experiment occurred because I have two awesome friends. J was taking the GMAT test (to get into a graduate program in London) a couple of weeks ago. L had been studying with him and encouraging him all along. She called me up (as her baking expert – I was so proud!) and asked if we could make something special as a ‘you’ve finished the test’ celebration gift. I tossed out cookie ideas, and we eventually agreed that I would find something with Nutella in it, because Nutella is generally wonderful, and because it’s EUROPEAN-flavored. Or…something. It made sense to us at the time. *grin*


Chocolate Nutella Cookies


INGREDIENTS


1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup of brown sugar

3/4 cup of white sugar

1 cup of Nutella

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup of chocolate chips



DIRECTIONS


Preheat oven to 350˚F. Cream butter, the sugars and Nutella until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each. Add the vanilla and gently mix.


Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda (do not skip this step as sifting eliminates clumps of cocoa). Mix into the butter mixture until fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips and refrigerate the dough for ten minutes.


Spoon tablespoon-sized drops of dough onto parchment paper lined (or non-stick) cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on the sheets for a minute or two before transferring to a wax paper or aluminum foil-covered table. Yields: 3-4 dozen cookies.


Chocolate + Nutella = amazing in all shapes and sizes. And these cookies are no exception. I heard a report that J walked around the house telling everyone how nice L and I were, all the while munching on cookies and smiling. THAT is what I call a good recommendation.

a contest winner, and spring is here (at least in DC)

Saturday, March 19, 2011 | | 6 comments
As is ever the case, I’m late in announcing a contest winner for my it’s (almost) spring giveaway. In fact, I waited long enough that it actually IS spring. Well, in two days it is. Just to refresh your memory, the winner of this giveaway will receive a $75 gift code to CSN, to spend on anything available in their 200+ online stores. I have personally ordered cookware and decorative items from CSN, and found the service superb (yes, it’s true)(and no, they didn’t pay me to say that).

[graphic from dreamstime.com]


Please join me in congratulating the winner:


Thank all of you for entering the giveaway! I’ll host another one soon, so check back in. Now go forth and enjoy your weekends!

steam & sorcery

When I started blogging about books, my general goal was simply to write about the ones I was reading. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the recommendations of other bloggers would inform my reading choices and introduce me to new genres altogether. With very few exceptions, I don’t read a book these days unless I’ve seen it mentioned by a book blogger I trust. Steampunk is one of those new discoveries (haven’t heard of steampunk? check this out).


I’ve found a lot of stellar reads in this ‘genre’ over the past two years. I have also found a few that I couldn’t like. That’s the way a reading life goes. On the whole, though, steampunk has been good to me, and that’s why I’ve kept searching it out. Thus I was inordinately pleased to find a lovely new novel Steam & Sorcery through NetGalley (also, in case you didn’t know, NetGalley is THE BEST).


Sir Merrick Hadrian hunts monsters, both human and supernatural. A Knight of the Order of the Round Table, he uses both magick and the technologies of steam power. But his considerable skills are useless in the face of his greatest challenge, guardianship of five unusual children. At a loss, Merrick enlists the aid of a governess.

Miss Caroline Bristol is reluctant to work for a bachelor but she needs a position, and these former street children touch her heart. Merrick is the most dangerously attractive man she's ever met – and out of reach for a mere governess.

When conspiracy threatens to blur the distinction between humans and monsters, Caroline and Merrick must join forces, for the fate of London hinges upon their combined skills of steam and sorcery.


There are three main things I want to say about this novel (novella? it’s short-ish for a novel). Please don’t be put off by them. Or by that cover art. *shiver* I truly enjoyed this read, and I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. Not in the ‘it’s so haunting!’ sort of way, but in the ‘I’m really enjoying that book and I’d rather be reading it right now than whatever else I’m doing’ sense. Understood? Awesome.


Numero uno: the steampunk elements are fairly light. Cindy Spencer Pape’s universe is very much along the lines of Gail Carriger’s steampunk creation from Soulless, and that puts it squarely in fantasy territory rather than science fiction. Also: I thought a couple bits of the plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I was really having too much fun with the characters to mind.


Secondly: this is (adult) romance. I know I just turned a bunch of you off with that, but WAIT, please. I said this book was enjoyable, and I meant that. It was quite entertaining aside from the romance, though I thought that bit was well done. Also: if you’re not into ess-eee-exx, you can skip or skim those parts. Really. It’s a part of the novel, but it doesn’t overpower it, and there’s plenty of warning before any such scene. Also? Did I mention that the love story was sweet? I. LOVED. IT.


Part C: fighting street orphans (!), Victorian-era London, mayhem, clockwork pets, paranormal creatures and mystery. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, this might not be the book for you. I found it endearing and just the sort of thing that I like. It wasn’t perfect, clich├ęs abounded and there were some bits I glossed over, but I’m actually planning to go re-read it after I post this review. Commendation, hey?


Recommended for: fans of the lighter side of steampunk, Regency romance readers willing to try out a new genre, and anyone looking to while away a couple of hours with a comfortable and lovable story.


[I received an e-galley of this novel courtesy of Carina Press and NetGalley]

green

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 | | 7 comments

I have morphed into an internet shopper. It’s a symptom of the age of technology. Well, that and the fact that I don’t own a car. I do my commuting by bus and metro, on my own two feet, or by hitching a ride with friends. Ergo, I don’t usually shop in brick-and-mortar bookstores. When I actually do go to a bookstore, I can easily get caught up in the wonder of ‘so many new books in one place!’


Let’s recap: physical bookstores are dangerous. I am liable to pick up any pretty book that catches my eye and wander to the cash register with it. I’m not so likely to do that online. In fact, when I shop online I usually search for books I’ve heard about from fellow bloggers (thanks for all the amazing suggestions, by the way!). BUT. I went to a bookstore the other day and actually touched real books, and Green is the one I came away with, despite having never heard of it before that day, and having no recommendation beyond a blurb by Mary Robinette Kowal on the back cover. You’ll remember Ms. Kowal from the insanely awesome Shades of Milk and Honey. Yes, that one.


She was born in poverty, in a dusty village under the equatorial sun. She does not remember her mother, she does not remember her own name—her earliest clear memory is of the day her father sold her to the tall pale man. In the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was taught the ways of a courtesan…and the skills of an assassin…she was named Emerald, the precious jewel of the Undying Duke’s collection of beauties.

She calls herself Green.

The world she inhabits is one of political power and magic, where Gods meddle in the affairs of mortals. At the center of it is the immortal Duke’s city of Copper Downs, which controls all the trade on the Storm Sea. Green has made many enemies, and some secret friends, and she has become a very dangerous woman indeed.

Acclaimed author Jay Lake has created a remarkable character in Green, and evokes a remarkable world in this novel. Green and her struggle to survive and find her own past will live in the reader’s mind for a long time after closing the book.


I haven’t read truly enjoyable first-person narrative in a while. I tend to have a hard time with it – the unreliable narrator issue, flashback scenes and narrowed focus put me off. [insert obvious question: but don’t I read a LOT of YA novels? And aren’t they KNOWN for first person?] Part of the reason I bought this book was that the first two pages were compelling, and Green’s voice was authentic. I felt the dust and the heat, I heard the bells. I could see the scene – almost be a part of it through Green’s eyes – in a way that I haven’t since my experience with the first chapter of Alex Bracken’s Brightly Woven. It had slight shadings of Memoirs of a Geisha, the tiniest of flavors from The Good Earth – mostly in a descriptive sense.


But even as Green succeeded as a first person account of a girl being raised as a courtesan and trained on the side as a fighter, it was uneven in other respects. The book captured a lot of the uncertainty of finding yourself, finding a goal to live for and a way to move forward that happens as a teenager. What it didn’t do was convince me that Green had any emotional connection to other characters (and I know she was meant to). Secondary characters were perforce slighted in stage time, and felt like flimsy paper stand-ins for real people.


The book also contained a lot of ‘mature content.’ Let me be clear: GREEN IS NOT A YA NOVEL. There’s sex, violence, violence AND sex, among other things. Regardless of the moral compass of each character and/or the specific reader, such content can work in a novel, or it can seem out of place and weird. In Green, it worked part of the time, and in other parts felt like a teenage boy’s favorite skeezy dream. I was unimpressed.


Let’s review: Green was really interesting. I read fantasy and science fiction a lot, and yet I haven’t read something like this in a long time, if ever. I read it the whole way through, even though I objected strongly to certain material, and felt that portions of the novel lagged. I contemplated it for days to find out why I reacted negatively sometimes, and why other pieces spoke to me so clearly. In the end, I’d dub it a book I ‘like,’ but not one that I will return to.


Recommended for: those who like their stories a with a touch of the exotic and a strong lashing of dark content, enthusiasts of god/goddess myths in literature, and fans of a strong first-person narrator in an epic fantasy tale.

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