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Summer Reading Round Up

7 Jul

This summer I’m planing on spending a lot of time curled up with a good book. Keeping a book in the bottom of my bag ensures that I have instant entertainment for when  I’m lying out on the beach, cuddled up with Goose at the park, bored on a plane, or unable to concentrate a the gym. While I know that some people prefer kindles or other reading devices, for me nothing can rival a good, old-fashioned book. To me there is something about being able to turn pages, highlight favorite parts, and simply hold it that technology simply can’t rival. Here are a list of must-reads to suit any style reader.

For the avid traveler: The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys Famous travel writers describe 21 incredible places to visit, telling both of their own adventures and their insider-tips for getting the most out of a trip to each city. Considering that the accounts are coming from some of the world’s most experienced travelers, their rave reviews of often overlooked places like Savannah, Georgia and their adventurous accounts of far-out places like Ethiopia bear greater weight. I loved reading this book because it gave me great new insight into places to visit and brand new places to add to my list of places to visit. I especially can’t wait to visit Tanzania, Provence, Iceland, and Petra now!

For the foodie: Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas- Thomas’s recollection of her two years living in Paris and sampling all of the cities’ best sweets while working for Louis Vuitton is both a tantalizing treat for the taste buds and a touching account of her very relatable struggles with loneliness, infertility, and homesickness. Each chapter pays homage to a particular dessert, describing the best places in enjoy it in Paris and in New York while simultaneously tying the particular sweet back to Thomas’s own life and her present predicament. Every delectable description made my mouth water, especially this glorious homage to a fruit crumble, “the fruit lends tartness, the streusel topping adds sweetness-one without the other is like peanut butter without Fluff, cake without frosting, an Oreo denuded of its white cream center.”

For the hopeless romantic: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton-This is my favorite classic novel of all time. It chronicles the doomed romance of two high-society New Yorkers in the 1870s. Wharton’s beautiful descriptions of the elaborate social engagement and unspoken communications make this novel as emotionally stirring as any Nicholas Sparks novel but with greater elegance and originality.  In a world that has been taken over by 50 Shades of Grey, there is something amazing about being able to read a romance novel in which the lovers never progress beyond a simple kiss. Click here for my full review of the book.

For the nature lover: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver- Kingsolver chronicles her family’s year-long adventure in locovorism. She proves  that a local diet is not just better for the economy and environment, but tastier too. Her husband and eldest daughter also contribute to the book with his educational excerpts and her personal essays about adapting these views to life as a teenager. Their story of working together as a family to plant, weed, diversify their cooking, harvest their own animals, and seek out other locally produced items shows that any of us can start making small changes to bring ourselves closer to the food we eat. Packed with tasty seasonal recipes and fascinating data, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the perfect combination of a culinary blog, a cookbook, and a newspaper.

For the person who’s read everything: In One Person by John Irving-This is the only book on the list that I have not yet read, but I can’t wait to dive right into it! Irving’s latest novel challenges readers to confront their own beliefs and reexamine their degree of tolerance as Billy, the protagonist, reflects on his own difficult journey of sexual self-discovery. It is the story of a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman. I cannot wait to see how Irving daringly approaches this too-often avoided sector of the population.

What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

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Halfway Cookie Bars

17 May

Recently I’ve been reading Amy Thomas’s dessert-filled memoir, Paris My Sweet in which she describes her journey to track down the most delectable sweets in Paris. I am so impressed by how simply through her mastery of language, she can make my mouth water! I’ve had an insatiable desire for an indulgent treat ever since reading Thomas’s description of macarons as “firm but tender, shiny yet rigged ,with ethereally light shells and heavy middles [that make them] miniature studies of contrasts-and deliciousness.”

While these Halfway Cookie Bars definitely lack the delicate refinement of macarons, they make up for it with their melty chocolatey deliciousness.

Cookie Dough

Press it into the pan: Layer one done!

I’m warning you now…these cookies are addictive. Make them at your own risk. Luckily for me, I made them and then was immediately able to dispense them among ravenous friends, our high school’s victorious baseball team, and much-deserving teachers.

Chocolate: layer two

These things are ridiculously good! If chewy chocolate chip cookies and fluffy meringue cookies had a love child, this would be it. These bars consist of a classic cookie dough base topped with a layer of chocolate, and then finished off with a meringue coating. The lightness of the meringue makes it so that you can scarf down two or three of these bars without going into a butter-induced food coma.

Whipped Brown Sugar Meringue

Scoop all of that fluffy deliciousness on top of the cookie dough and chocolate…what could be better!

Three layers complete. Add the sprayed parchment, then into the oven they go!

My little sister helped me make these scrumptious treats, and while they do require quite a few steps, none of them are that difficult… except for the last one.

 

Halfway Cookie Bars

Adapted from The Kitchn

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, separated
  • 1 whole egg + 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of milk chocolate chunks
  • Canola oil cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover a 9 x 13 inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving some extra foil to  hang over all four sides of the pan and spray the foil with cooking spray. This will ensure safe removal of the bars after they cool.
  2. Make the cookie dough by whisking together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl. Then use a mixmaster to blend together the butter, the granulated sugar and just 1/2 cup of the brown sugar until it’s smooth and creamy. Slowly mix the egg into the sugar-butter mixture until it is completely absorbed, then mix in the water and vanilla. With the mixer at a low speed, add the flour mixture and beat gently until all the flour has been absorbed and the dough looks crumbly.
  3. Gently press the cookie dough gently into the pan with your hands, making sure the surface is even.
  4. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and chocolate chunks on top of the cookie dough and use your palms to press them slightly into the dough. This will help keep the chips from moving when you add the meringue.
  5. Start making the meringue by whisking together the two egg whites in the mixmaster in a clean bowl with a clean whisk attachment. Gradually increase your speed to medium-high. When the egg whites are very frothy and look like loose foam, start adding the remaining half cup of brown sugar a little at a time. Continue increasing your speed to the highest setting. When all the sugar has been added, continue whipping the meringue until it holds firm peaks.
  6. Use a spatula to gently spread the meringue on top of the chocolate layer. Star by dumping the meringue in the center of the pan, and gradually spreading it out towards the edges.
  7. Coat a piece of parchment paper with cooking spray, then lightly press it on the top of the meringue to protect the meringue from scorching. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the parchment. Continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the edges look toasted and are pulling away from the sides of the pan.
  8. This is the most difficult step of the entire process, but do your best to wait until the pan is completely cook before lifting out the bars and cutting them into pieces.

Optional Variations:

  • Add some espresso powder or cocoa powder to the top merangue layer for a more pronounced flavor
  • Swap some or all of the chocolate chips for butterscotch chips or toffee pieces
  • Replace the chocolate layer with a fresh fruit preserve layer
  • Replace the classic cookie base with a peanut butter cookie base
  • Add old fashioned oats and coconut to the bottom for a bar reminiscent of Hello Dolly Bars

Or try anything else you can think of, the sky’s the limit!

A Plea to Madame Bovary

19 Apr

Upon reading Gustave Flaubert’s renowned novel, Madame Bovary, my annoyance at Emma Bovary’s self-indulgent and ceaseless dissatisfaction with her life prevented me from appreciating the eloquence and subtle nuances of Flaubert’s writing. Flaubert depicts Emma, the titular character, as a hopeless romantic whose impossible desires cause her to resent everyone who comes into her life. She laments over the fact that her husband, while hopelessly devoted to her, is not as chic or visibly passionate as the men that she reads about in romance novels.

Emma is one of the most despicable literary characters that I have ever encountered not because she is evil, but because she has no purpose in her life. She is a damsel in distress in the very worst way possible. Emma becomes so bored with her marriage to a small-town doctor that she acquires lovers and massive debts in order to entertain herself. Never once in the course of her downward spiral does Emma tell Charles that she is unhappy or ask for him to help make any changes in their life.

What drives me craziest about Emma is that despite her complaints, Emma does not truly want to improve her life, and all of the things that she complains about are the result of her own actions.Emma’s idealistic desire to behave as she believes a romantic heroine should, leads her to despondently wallow in her misery, instead of taking action to achieve her dreams of love with Léon or anyone else. After contemplating her marital woes, Emma “[asks] herself if there might not be a way, by other combination of fate, to meet some other man” (43). Instead of expressing her unhappiness to Charles, Emma maintains a façade of complacency, while inwardly awaiting a knight in shining armor to glamorize her mundane life.  By passively going through the motions of her life, Emma fails to create her own sense of satisfaction because she feels entitled to have someone else enrich her life.

In third grade my teacher gave me a piece of advice that I have lived by ever since. She told me to never ask someone to do something for me that I could do for myself.  I wish that Emma Bovary could hear this advice.

If I could travel into the pages of Flaubert’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, I would beg Emma to take up a hobby that brings her happiness and a sense of satisfaction and stop reading books that evoke nothing but envy and discontentment. Instead, Emma should take up yoga to increase her appreciation of the good aspects of her life, try pottery so that she can take out her frustration on the clay instead of the people around her, start a journal to channel her emotions and release her negativity instead of keeping it all bottled up inside of her, or begin gardening so that she can become more grounded and less materialistic.

Although I cannot convince a fictional literary character to improve her outlook on life, you do have the power to increase your own happiness. Whenever you start feeling down, take a little while to vent your feelings by calling a friend, doing a little retail therapy, or digging into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s; and after that simply move on. Wallowing in despair won’t solve your problems, nor will it make you feel better, so instead return to something you can always rely on to bring you happiness, or if that fails, find something new that does make you happy.

What do you do to cheer yourself up when it seems like nothing is going your way?

Book Love: Taschen Sale

24 Jan

Here’s something about myself that I haven’t fully expressed to you lovely readers yet: I’m a book addict.

Sure, I love reading literature and I adore flipping through cookbooks, but what really captivates me is searching for inspiration on the pages of art and architecture books.

Pinxit by Mark Ryden

This leads me to the problem…art and architecture book with their big, glossy pages are expensive. If I were given $1000 to spend on anything, I would without a doubt run to my local Taschen store and splurge on the beautiful Mark Ryden book, Pinxit.

Even though I only discovered Tashcen a few weeks ago when my dad took me there, I’m already hooked. The beautiful books cover everything from photography, to film, to music, to fashion, to architecture. The high ceilings, long display tables, and adorable gnome door stopper make me want to stay here forever.

 

I was lucky enough to snag a two-book Impressionism collection that normally costs $60, for just $20 because it was already half off, and the accommodating salesperson gave me an extra $10 off because of the messed up spine on the book cover.

I’m super excited to add these two lovely hardbacks to my other three Taschen finds. It makes me so happy to see that my art library is already growing!

Everyone at Taschen is super friendly and they can make great book recommendations.Whether you’ve never been before, or you’re a regular visitor to Taschen, I highly suggest that you go take a peek around the  New York, Miami, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, or various European stores.

Interior of Taschen from You Are Here

If you aren’t a book lover already, I guarantee that a visit to this beautiful store will convert you!

Book Review: The Age of Innocence

7 Jan

Over the past two weeks I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Although the story takes place in 1870s New York, the criticisms of society’s restrictions are still very relevant today.

Newland Archer’s censure of the hypocrisy, unspoken rules, and shallowness of the world around him make this a timeless novel. Despite the difference of 140 years, the aristocratic forcefulness that Newland deals with is not that different from the peer pressure that plagues high school and the work world today. People’s preoccupation with how others with perceive their actions still causes them to deprive themselves of what they want most in the world, whether it’s a massively caloric slice of birthday cake, sharing their feelings with the man or woman of their dreams, or simply an hour of alone time. It is sad how deeply this notion of sacrificed happiness is ingrained in our world.

However, the romantic attitudes of the characters of The Age of Innocence differ tremendously from those of people today. Newland and Ellen, forever separated from each other by their respective marriages, survive their loveless marriages by relaying on the happiness that they receive simply from being in the same room during a dinner party and by spending time alone every few months. Their ability to use the joy of a few brief encounters to carry on with their unfulfilling lives for months or years at a time is a stark contrast to modern society’s need for instant gratification. Today the idea of living in hopes of a brief encounter seems inconceivable because people want their desires to be fulfilled as soon as humanly possible.

The other remarkable, foreign aspect of Newland and Ellen’s romance is that throughout their two years of mutual temptation, their romance remains almost purely emotional with only two kisses to fulfill their physical yearnings. In today’s world where most rap songs revolve around “getting some” and no movie with a PG 13 rating is complete without a steamy love scene, the willpower and resistance that Newland and Ellen maintain out of their respect for May is admirable. The fact that Newland was willing to “marry one woman because another told him to” truly attests to the rare intensity and sanctity of their love.

Although the movie beautifully brings to life the elegance and luxury of high society New York, the film lacks much of the complexity and emotion that Wharton manages to infuse into the lengthier novel. Director Martin Scorsese dazzles viewers with the opulent lifestyle that the characters in The Age of Innocence lead, but the film conversion of Edith Wharton’s magnificent novel lacks the subtler nuances of society’s unspoken judgements.

I highly recommend that anyone in search of a good book picks up a copy of Edith Wharton’s emotionally trying, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Age of Innocence. Consider watching the dazzling movie afterwards as a supplement to more clearly visualize Newland Archer’s world, but don’t rely solely on the movie to grasp the universersal themes in this incredible love story.