Friday, October 28, 2011

Wait, what?

It has come to my attention that it is Friday, and I have written nothing since Monday. Huh. Not sure how that happened. If I recall correctly, this week has taken about a month to pass by, so it is a little surprising that it is over so quickly. Anyway, my dad sent me this picture the other day. Guess who?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Weekend Update

One of these days, when Benjamin goes out of town, I am going to spend the entire time sitting on the couch reading a book or watching TV. Not this past weekend. Nope, nope, I was too darn busy. On Saturday, I played tennis (twice), had a hair cut, did the weekly grocery shopping, walked the dog, did dishes. Sunday, I did three loads of laundry, went to church, cleaned the bathrooms, vacuumed, baked bread, made soup, made yogurt, walked the dog, washed dishes (at least twice, thanks to all the baking), and eventually picked Benjamin up from the airport. And in doing all these things drove at least 200 miles - half the things I did were in Conway, which is 15 miles to the north, and the tennis was 20 miles to the south.

Oh, and I baked these cookies. So good. Go make them. Now. Here is the recipe from Simply Recipes (if you follow the link, you can get a handy printable version, which is very handy).

Chocolate Orange Shortbread Cookies Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes 
Cook time: 40 minutes

I like Hershey's Special Dark for this recipe as it gives baked goods a dark, nearly black color and a rich cocoa flavor. However, Ghiradelli unsweetened cocoa or any other brand will do just fine and give more prominence to the orange flavor.


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (*Hope's note - yes, Kosher salt for baking. It give the cookies a great bit of saltiness that keeps them from being too rich or sweet.)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon of orange zest


1 Preheat oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl. (Do not skip this step as cocoa powder has a tendency to clump. You want the dry ingredients sifted to ensure a tender cookie.) Set aside.
3 Beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed in a mixer for 5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom as needed. Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix for 30 seconds. Add about half the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Scrape down the bottom and sides and add the rest of the flour mixture. Once incorporated mix at medium speed for 2 minutes.
4 Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and place the dough on it. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness with a rolling pin. (You can also lightly flour a work space, but I find my method far easier, cleaner, and the shortbread keeps a sandy texture by not picking up the extra flour.) You may find the dough getting too soft. If it does, place it in the freezer for ten minutes to firm it up before you continue rolling or cutting. (The dough is very hard to work with when soft.) Cut into desired shapes and place on the baking sheets about 1-inch apart.
5 Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. It can be difficult to tell when these cookies are done, so when they smell like freshly baked cookies and the edges are slightly firm but still give a bit then consider them done (simply enough, it takes some judgment on your part). Remove the pans and allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
Yield: Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on my short perusal of the other reviews on Goodreads, this is one book that you will either really like or really dislike - not too many in-the-middles. I would give it 4.5 stars, if able. I doubt I will stop thinking about it for a while, and I want to read it again, soon, to catch things I missed, to revel in the story without the mystery.

It is not an action-filled magical romp; there is no heart-pounding suspense. It is a story that takes time to unfold, and for much of the book you will be slightly confused about what just happened, or why it was important. The dates at the beginning of each chapter are very important to following the flow.

I do think that some of the dislike from other readers comes from disappointment that they got a different book that they expected from the descriptions. Some of the marketing around the book makes this sound like it will be a circus-centered Harry Potter or a Victorian Lev Grossman-style post-modern take on the magical adventure, with some Romeo and Juliet action as well. It is not. The magical contest that sets events in motion is never clearly defined, for the reader or the two main participants. It is not explosions and obvious displays of power. That vagueness continues through much of the book, clouded in a dream-like state and mystery. If you are expecting magical duels of the Harry Potter sort, you will need to look elsewhere. It is not that sort of book.

However, if you are interested in dreams, and the power of stories, and the way both unfold and change with the telling, you may like this. It is also about obsession and love, and friendship, and, of course, the circus.

Not for everyone, I do realize, and I don't know if I would actively push it on any of my friends - in part because I wouldn't want to tarnish it for myself if they didn't like it - but I do recommend you at least give it a try.

All in all, I am very happy that I won a copy of this in a Twitter contest, so I don't have to wait for it at the library, and I have it around to read again, when I get a chance.

View all my reviews

In other news, Fall seem to finally be making an appearance here in Arkansas. On Monday, the temperature hovered near 90; yesterday it never got to 60, and it rained! After my trip to Seattle, where it felt just like Fall should (well, to me anyway), I was rather sad to have to return to the extended summer that had captured Arkansas, so I am pretty darn happy about this turn. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cranky Monday/Stuff I Like

Maybe it is because I have been hit with a new wave of homesickness after my weekend trip to Seattle, maybe it is because that trip meant I had to spend three hours sitting in the Chicago airport yesterday, and more hours crammed into flying tin cans, or maybe it is just because it is Monday, whatever it is, I am feeling cranky today. So instead of telling you about my trip (which went really well, apart from crankiness) because I would probably just rant about fellow travelers etc, I will tell you about a few things I really like right now.
  • Kickstarter:  "A new way to fund creative projects," Kickstarter is a website that allows people with creative ideas to find funding to help them realize their projects. You can find all sorts of things on there, from movies to music to public art and a calendar made entirely from keyboard keys (I am thinking about pledging for that one). If the project doesn't get at least 100% of its funding pledged, it doesn't happen. You can't lose your money. Everyone who pledges is rewarded in some way - at the lowest levels, that is often just a thank you card, but at higher levels, you often get a copy of the completed project, signed items, etc. I have pledged for a couple of movies, both documentaries, that I am really excited to see when they are finished. 
  • Twitter - OK, not a new thing, and not terribly original, but I have really gotten into it lately. At first, I didn't see the point, but that was because I wasn't following anyone. Now, I use it to find new articles about topics I am interested in, and to interact with some of my favorite authors. I don't really share many of my own thoughts or whatnot on Twitter, the way I do here or (less and less often) on Facebook, but if I find a good link, I will probably throw it up there. It feels less invasive to share on Twitter than it does on Facebook, in part because I don't have to have all my personal info there to share with a wider group. And if I never tweeted myself, I would still be welcome to see what others post. 
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A really good new fantasy novel. I won a copy in a contest on, where else?, Twitter. A mix of magic, romance, mystery and a circus. Makes me want some cotton candy and cocoa.
  • Jonboy Caramels: Found these at the Bellevue Farmer's Market last week, while I was home. I bought a box of the Absinthe with Black Salt. Now I must restrain myself from ordering the minimum 5 boxes...and wipe up the drool.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Judgment Day by Penelope Lively

Judgment DayJudgment Day by Penelope Lively
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Penelope Lively's books, and I always find it so hard to describe why. They are generally quiet, without the bluster or bombast of so many novels, yet they are not cloying or claustrophobic. They are observational, but not overly full of description. Generally, I have to like a character in a book to like the book, but I don't feel that need with Lively's books. Certainly, there are characters I empathize with, and others that I dislike immensely, but I don't latch on to any one person.

Judgment Day is very much a Lively novel, in all of those senses. Set in a small English village, it is centered around an ancient church and its neighbors, and the events that happen one spring and summer when they plan a church fundraiser. The fundraiser is to be a play based on several violent moments in the history of the village and church. Throughout the story, there is an undercurrent of tension, or possible violence, like a tiger waiting to spring, and you don't know until the end how or if it will strike. Several of the main characters ponder faith and fate and existence, as many people do, and come away changed, and yet the same, as most people do. Lives are changed forever, and not changed, as is so often the case in real life. A picture of a village, and a picture of the wider world.

Note: This was one of my TBR challenge books for this year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Terrible Minutiae of Daily Life

I wish I had something amazing to share with you here. I don't, since life is pretty much trundling onwards, with only minor diversions and hiccups. One of the problems of keeping a random-focused blog is that there isn't any one topic to fall back on when nothing is going on. I mean, I played four tennis matches in 2 days this weekend, but since I am really just an amateur and the stakes weren't very high, I doubt that qualifies as an exciting adventure. Now, if I were writing a tennis blog, I could feel justified in regaling you with all the details (as much as I remember of them). Instead, I will just say that I won one of my two singles matches, and lost the second, and Benjamin and I didn't win our mixed doubles matches, but we didn't disgrace ourselves either. We got t-shirts.

Apart from that, I am heading home to Bellevue on Thursday for a few days to visit my parents while my dad continues to recuperate from the open heart surgery he had last week. I think my main job is to keep him occupied and save my mother's sanity - not necessarily easy tasks when done at the same time! Anyway, the upshot of that is that Benjamin and I won't be having any interesting hiking adventures this weekend, and I won't be taking my camera to Bellevue, so you won't even have any pictures of my mother's extremely fat cat (he's 30 pounds, but he has an extended colon and possibly glandular issues...). Then Benjamin is going out of town the next weekend for a conference, and I will be left up to my own devices, which means I will probably watch far too many episodes of Leverage and clean the house. Ooh, I can feel your excitement building from here.

Maybe I will think up something clever to say while sitting on the airplane, and if I do, I will try to write it down so I can share it. Otherwise, you may have only books reviews and observations about how mundane my life is for a little while.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Ganymede (The Clockwork Century, #4)Ganymede by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cherie Priest is one of my favorite authors right now, and Ganymede is a good example of why. You start with a hefty helping of adventure, some humor, a little social commentary, mix it all up, and you get a novel that compels you to keep reading (even when you should be cleaning house or something else "productive").

This time, the action is mostly centered in New Orleans, where Josephine Early is trying to get a purloined Confederate submarine out of Lake Pontchartrain and out to the Gulf, where it will be given over to the Union. Problem? The sub has killed just about everyone who has tried to sail it, including its inventor. As a last resort, she sends to Seattle for her old friend (and lover) Andan Cly, airship pirate (last seen in Boneshaker, the first Clockwork Century book), on the chance that an airship pilot will have better luck than the sailors who have tried in the past. Cly sets out from Seattle with a new love interest on his mind, and a couple of new crew members. Throw in occupying Texians, zombis, and the tension from a long ago love affair, and you have another great story.

My only quibble is that a few bits of plot don't seem to lead anywhere, exactly, like the Texian who has basically taken up residence at Josephine's "boarding house." He plays a small part in learning about the zombis, or at least I assume he does, since the last we see of him, he is heading off to talk to a Texas Ranger in his hat and underwear, but there were so many hints that he was something more that I felt like he got lost somewhere. There were also hints that Kirby Troost, Cly's newest crewmember, may not be all that he seems - but no revelation.  But these are really only minor quibbles in a book that kept me turning pages and holding my breath more than once.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

This is just to make me feel better

Open letter to the lady who was so rude to me yesterday while I was driving:
I am sorry you were having a bad day. But did you really have to try to ruin mine as well? Honking like that, just because I merged into your lane (in a safe, legal, polite way) is really obnoxious. I didn't cut you off, didn't make you miss the light, didn't make any gestures at you. We were hardly moving as it was, and I used my blinker. Part of the responsibility of driving is being able to subsume your own desire to get somewhere and your own self-centeredness under the greater good of traffic flow and civil society. I know I am not always patient with other drivers myself, but if they use their blinkers and don't do anything that might cause an accident, I try to cut them some slack (Note: Benjamin might disagree). So, for the sake of anyone else who has to be driving around you: Grow Up, learn the rules of the road, and let someone merge once in a while.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Shoulda played hooky

The weather this month (all four days so far) has been gorgeous - perfect temperatures, light breezes, sunshine. On Saturday, I spent most of the day outside - first through 4 hours of tennis, and then at a picnic/potluck in the afternoon. Sunday, I was inside more, but I still managed to get in some time in the yard. What I haven't managed to do is go for a hike. This is almost the perfect time of year to head out to the woods in Arkansas. The various and many fall hunting seasons have started, but aren't yet in full swing, so there is less danger of being mistaken for a deer as you hike than there is in November; the weather is not too hot or too cold or too wet. The trees are starting to turn, so there are pretty things to look at.

Alas, we probably won't be hitting the woods until the end of the month, thanks to a tennis tournament and various travel commitments. I was so very tempted to kidnap Benjamin and head out to the woods today. Would have been a lot nicer than the test grading he has to do and the sitting at a desk staring at a computer that I have to do. I wish I wasn't so responsible!