Archive for December, 2006

December Books

As December comes to a close, it’s time for December book recommendations. This month is by coincidence, the month of books about or set in New York City. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to spend less time watching television and more time reading, so hopefully these recommendations will get more interesting!

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

This book was yet another discovery during my frequent perusal of my parents’ bookshelves, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It is a story that has a book within a book, and the readers of that book within a book are connected through the translation of the book, the original owners, lovers, and other generational paths. At first it is hard to keep everyone straight, but soon the fog clears and you are left with a often sad but heartwarming story of older people finding new connections and younger people understanding the history of those around them.

My favorite character is Leo, an elderly man who is searching for something to either ease the pain of his lost love or just fill the days tht he has left. His relationship with his best friend, (whose name could be Nick I can’t remember!) is both sweet and slightly morbid, as they have an agreement that they will check on eachother once a day in their apartments that are one floor away from each other, just in case the other has fallen down or is sick and can’t call for help.

This style of Krauss’ writing reminded me of another author I’ve featured here before, Jonathan Safran Foer. Both Krauss and Safran Foer write the stories of individuals who are seeking new connections but also often trying to leave behind something in the past. For both writers New York serves as a poignant background to the sometimes chronic loneliness of their characters.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

This book was for a Book Club meeting that I ended up not being able to attend, but I still got to talk to Leah about it which was great. I have always liked books by Quindlen, in that a lot of her fiction, like Anne Tyler, is comforting and well-written. It doesn’t require me to stretch my brain too much yet it is of higher quality writing-wise that a good many books out there.

Rise and Shine is the story of two sisters, one who lives in the glare of the public eye as a morning news anchor (a la Katie Couric before her move to CBS) and the other who has gone about life in a more nomadic way before finally ending up running a shelter for battered and homeless women. Quindlen tries to make this a story of what happens when a public figure falls from grace, but in reality she writes a beautiful and powerful story of a relationship between two sisters and what happens when one sister subsumes their own life in favor of the other’s seemingly more compelling narrative and need.

If you do read this book please comment and tell me what you thought of the ending, there was a variety of opinions among the people I know who have read it, and I would love to hear yours!


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Merry Christmas!

It is Christmas Day, and I hope everyone is happy and eating as well as I am! It has been wonderful to be back in the home state, not having to cook and sleeping late. I sort of had an accidental vacation coup this year, and I’ll actually be off until after New Year’s, I doubt every year will be this wonderful! But I have lots of new things to try when I do get back to DC, especially with my brand new Cuisinart! I didn’t think I was a good enough cook to own a food processor, but I am so excited to have one that I daresay there will be some new smells in my apartment.

Home is wonderful and Boston is on the horizon, I am happy and hope everyone is having a very Merry Christmas!

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I debuted this recipe for the office Holiday party. I think they went over well, although I could have chopped the hazelnut more finely (lack of food processor makes it difficult!) and I think it could have used a little less flour and a little more butter.

But here you go, enjoy!

2/3 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet
chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Make dough:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in middle rack of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll the dough into balls and cover generously with confectioner’s sugar coating completely.

Bake, between 10 and 14 minutes depending on your oven.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

The title is another family saying, much like “most of your worries won’t happen,” that I have been feeling especially lately. Don’t worry, I won’t get too sappy but suffice say I am feeling very grateful right now that my family and friends are healthy, happy and helping me through this crazy thing called life.

So that’s my holiday motto and I’m looking forward to having an “attitude of gratitude” going into the New Year!

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There are few things to me that are more relaxing or enjoyable than baking. I had a wonderful time on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend making cookies (oatmeal choclate chip) listening to music and hanging out wiht my puppy dog while my family went on various walks and hikes. I probably should have joined them, but I needed the peace of the kitchen and a little cookie dough. Now normally I wouldn’t blog about baking but when I was walking to work this morning I listened to the latest installment of This I Believe.

This I Believe is a program done by NPR which asks people to submit their essays on a core or the core belief of their lives. This week was a woman named Emily Smith who believes in the power of baking as the foundation of how she wants to live her life. Her story is exactly how I feel about baking, so you should definitely read it, because she says it far better and more eloquently than I could. I think it is one of the biggest reasons that I love Thanksgiving, and Christmas too, is all the baking I get to do!

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