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November 2017

book review, recipe

The Word Exchange + Mini Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes

For those of you who read my recent Top Ten Tuesday, where I covered books I’m thankful for, you’ll recognize today’s title. Alena Graedon’s debut novel is a dystopia called The Word Exchange. It had been on my TBR list for a little while now, but I forget how it got there. I remember adding it to the consideration set for our office’s Diversity Book Club when we were selecting from various dystopias one month. It didn’t win then, and honestly, it may have taken me a lot longer to get to it if not for my good friend Deanna suggesting it for our most recent book club meeting (outside of work).

Though I ended up loving The Word Exchange, it wasn’t an instant hit for me. I struggled a bit through the first couple of chapters; I even warned our book club to get started sooner rather than later and break out the dictionary. The language was complicated (purposefully, I found out later) and those chapters were dense. But, after about 50 pages or so, I began getting into the story and was suddenly hooked.

Graedon describes a near-future where the death of print has happened and handheld devices are taking over society. Furthermore, people begin to rely on something called The Word Exchange, where people makeup definitions and words in a sort of online marketplace. Anana works with her father at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and when he goes missing, she finds herself in a world where language is quickly losing meaning. She enlists her bookish coworker Bart in the search for her father and answers – trying to avoid contracting the rapidly spreading “word flu” all the while.

The combination of the importance of language and our reliance on technology was done quite skillfully, in a way that still haunts me whenever the novel comes to mind. I’ve tried to be more conscious of my use of technology – particularly my cell phone and social media – since finishing this book. Not that any of it is bad in and of itself, just that it’s important to me to not become dependent on these, particularly as a way of passing time. As I learned over the recent Thanksgiving Readathon, putting down my phone gives me a lot more time to focus on something more worthwhile – like spending time with family or reading.

Anana’s father’s favorite fruit is a pineapple, and if you’re wondering why I know that, it’s actually a bit of thing throughout the book. Anana’s name, in fact, means pineapple when an s is added to the end. I knew almost immediately they would be a huge part of what I made to go along with the book. If I’m remembering correctly, pineapple upside-down cake was his favorite dessert. I decided to make it in mini form, thinking that would be easier. (In the end, I don’t think that’s the case.)

It was really important to me to find a recipe that used the rings rather than the chunks, and so after a bit of research, I found this one from Baker by Nature. I started the whole process by ordering some jumbo muffin tins from Amazon – the jumbo ones are required so that the pineapple rings can fit in the bottom.

They arrived in time for me to make the mini cakes for our book club meeting, so I got to work the night before. I preheated the oven and greased the jumbo tins.

Then I mixed together the cake batter. I combined the eggs with the sugars and rum, beating until smooth. To that I added the pineapple juice, just stirring it in. Separately, I sifted together the dry ingredients, and then added them into the wet ingredients, whisking until just combined.

In a small saucepan, I made the topping for the cakes. I melted butter and then added brown sugar, rum and salt, stirring while it cooked.

I added the topping to the bottom of the jumbo tins (because they’ll be flipped upside-down later!) to start.

Then, I added in the pineapple rings on top of that, with a maraschino cherry in the middle of each.

Finally, I added the cake batter, filling them roughly ¾ of the way full.

I baked the cakes for about 20 minutes and then pulled them out of the oven to cool.

They cooled in the pan for 5 minutes before it was time to turn them out to cool on a rack. I want to caution you to be very careful when flipping your pans. If you have two tins of 6 cakes each, please do them individually and not at the same time – even if you think you can manage it. The topping is VERY hot and still ooey gooey, which I can tell you from personal experience makes a huge mess if something goes awry and it happens to get all over the kitchen.

It is important to place the cooling rack within a baking pan with a lip. Place that upside down on top of the muffin tin and then quickly and carefully flip that over so that the pan and cooling rack are on the bottom. Repeat with the other rack/pan/muffin tin.

I hadn’t had pineapple upside-down cake before, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Anana’s dad was onto something!

Mini Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes

  • Servings: 12
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • 2 teaspoons rum (or pure vanilla extract)
  • 1½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 teaspoon rum (or vanilla extract)
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 12 pineapple rings
  • 12 maraschino cherries

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Generously spray a 12-mold jumbo muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl; whisk smooth. Add in the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and rum (or vanilla), and beat smooth. Stir in pineapple juice and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and cornstarch. Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until just combined. Be sure not to over mix here! Set mixture aside while you make the topping.
  4. For the topping: In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the brown sugar, rum, and salt, and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat.
  5. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the topping mixture into the bottom of each muffin tin; place a pineapple ring on top, then place a cherry in the middle of each pineapple ring. Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared tins, fill each muffin tin 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops are puffed and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool in pan for 5 minutes. Gently run a knife around the edge of each cake to help loosen any stuck bits, then gently place a wire cooling rack on top and quickly flip over. You will want to place the cooling rack on a large sheet pan before doing this, to help make it less messy. Serve cakes warm or at room temperature.

From: Baker by Nature

Recipe Notes: Rum may be substituted with pure vanilla extract. Cakes are best eaten the day they are made, but may be stored in the fridge, in an airtight container, or on a plate covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.


of interest

Thanksgiving Readathon Wrap-up

What a whirlwind 5 days this Thanksgiving Readathon has been! I set a loose goal to read 5 books in 5 days (read my announcement/sign-up post here), since this “challenge” is supposed to be less of challenge and more of a conscious effort to set aside some time for yourself to read in a stress-free way while interacting with other book bloggers and bookworms on social media. 

I don’t think I actually expected to get through the entirety of the stack of books I lined up to read during the readathon, so maybe that’s why I stayed un-stressed. Somehow, though, I did it, and I’m super excited about it. I also finished my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal in the process (with book number 4), which means I’ll also be less stressed next month because I’m already set for the year. Woo hoo!

Here’s a brief overview of the books I read, some of which I’ll write longer reviews of in future posts (with book-inspired recipes, of course!):

 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

I expected this to be a bit like The Family Stone, as I mentioned in my kick-off post, but it wasn’t. Even though it took place over Christmas, the story was more about the family dynamic and the fact that they were stuck together in a seven-day quarantine, which just happened to take place over the Christmas holiday. I’m going to do a longer post on this one, so I won’t go too deep here, but I did enjoy it for the most part. It was a solid read, and it led to an interesting back-and-forth with the author, which was a wonderful bonus. (I didn’t include some of the conversation, which was a bit spoiler-y.)

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

I was sure this would sustain me through a readathon, since it’s one of my favorite faux-genres, books about books. Alas, it was my least favorite of the long weekend; it was also the longest. I’m not sure what to say about it, though I suppose I’ll have to formulate some thoughts, since my book club is discussing it next week… The characters were all a bit one-dimensional and sometimes felt a bit mixed up, as though the author got them confused.Above all, it took much too long to get to the charming-bookstore-turns-the-town part of the plot, and that didn’t really land for me. I’m not sure the bookstore changed the town at all! Mostly, it was just disappointing.

It also lacked descriptive food mentions, and though it prompted a brief discussion about mini dogs versus sloppy joes – sadly, the only foods relevant to the story – I’m left feeling too underwhelmed to be inspired to do a longer post on this one.

 

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

I have been listening to Molly’s podcast Spilled Milk for a few years now, and though it’s one of my favorites, I had yet to read any of her (or her co-host Matthew’s) books until this weekend. I am delighted I did! I loved this food memoir so much; it was definitely my favorite of the readathon. It is full of rich descriptions of every food that ever made an impression on Molly, and of course, the recipes for most of them. I’m going to have a lot of trouble deciding what to make for my review post on this one, guys. Has anyone else read it and made the recipes? Any suggestions?

 

 

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

At 160 pages, I expected this environmental dystopia to be a quick read. That was an understatement. I don’t think I spent more than an hour with this book, which read more like lyrical or poetic meeting notes. The only character that was named was Zeb, the main character’s son, but he was primarily called Z as all the other characters were only called by their first initials as well. I’m not sure I’ve completely processed it, but it didn’t haunt me like dystopias usually do. The characters as initials felt distant to me, and in the end, the immediate threat (which wasn’t well-outlined to begin with) seemed to disappear, or at the very least lessen.

 

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

My final read, which I started on the way to a football game Saturday (lest you thought I curled up in my reading chair all weekend!), was a quirky novel about a brilliant French family. It’s told through the eyes of eleven-year-old Isadore – who prefers Izzie though everyone calls him Dory – the youngest of 6 children. As he figures out how exactly to be a normal adolescent in a family of overachievers, he makes sharp and amusing observations about those around him. It struck me as a sort-of The Family Fang meets This Is Where I Leave You and ended up being a wonderful note on which to end the readathon.

 

Aside from the football game, I spent a lot more time not holed up reading than I had initially thought I would. I enjoyed most of Thanksgiving Day with family (not reading); scored some shopping deals and celebrated a birthday with family on Friday; wrote and cooked for Saturday’s blog post; and even got in a little yard work (ugh) and holiday decorating (yay)!

I loved participating in the Thanksgiving Readathon because not only did I surprise myself by reading so much, it was fun following along with everyone else on social media and being a part of those interactions too! Most importantly for me, though, it made me realize that I probably can squeeze in more reading each day if I just make the time for it. 🙂

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Bread & Wine + Bacon-Wrapped Dates

It’s wonderful to have someone so enthusiastically recommend a book to you one day and then, because they know you’ll love it, present it the next day for you to borrow. I am forever recommending books to others, and often pushing my own copy on them unbidden at the next opportunity, but it’s rare that I have someone do the same to me. I am forever grateful to my new coworker, who upon learning about my loves of reading and cooking (and subsequently my blog), shared one of her favorite books with me during her first week on the job.

Aside from recipes – admittedly, the cover looked delicious – I had no real expectations when sitting down with Shauna Niequist’s popular food memoir, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. As the title suggests, Niequist’s essays are overflowing with rich descriptions of food and the community it can help create. The memoir touches on not only her family and friends, with whom she loves to share meals, but also on her relationship with God and how that nourishes her in other ways.

In a memoir peppered with meaningful recipes, it can be challenging to choose the one that most represents it. While so many of them sounded appetizing, I went with the one Niequist had me wondering about from one of the very first chapters. She mentioned bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with goat cheese, at least twice (and maybe more) before she finally revealed the recipe on page 171. The book is only 288 pages, so I was starting to get nervous it would never appear…when suddenly, there it was!

Niequist herself says in her introduction to the recipe that this appetizer is not the most practical thing to choose, if you’re only going to make one recipe from her book. Thankfully, since my heart was already set on them, she goes on to say that “practicality has never been my strong suit, so I think you should make these.” With her blessing, I did.

She describes them as a “go-to, serve-at-every-gathering, take-to-every-party treat” that people adore, so I decided to share them at Thanksgiving dinner this week. With only 3 ingredients and a strong suggestion to serve at room temperature, they were the perfect no-fuss thing to bring to my in-laws’.

On Thanksgiving morning, I gathered my ingredients – pitted dates, goat cheese, and bacon.

I started by slicing the bacon in half and then slicing the dates open to make little “date books” (pun intended).

I stuffed each date with a proportionate spoonful (using the teaspoon from our flatware set). I recommend using the date itself to help scrape the cheese off the spoon as you close it up.

Finally, I wrapped each date with a half-slice of bacon and placed each one seam down on a foil-lined baking sheet (with sides).

I placed the pan in a 400-degree oven and let them bake for 25 minutes, until they were crispy and brown. I let them cool for a moment before transferring them to a paper-towel lined plate to drain off a bit.

Before we left for our Thanksgiving dinner, I put the still warm bacon-wrapped dates into a serving dish to bring along. Of course, they were served on a much prettier platter (thanks to my mother-in-law), but here they are just before we left the house – looking delicious and tantalizing.

Thankfully, they were as delicious as promised and everyone enjoyed their addition to the appetizer selection. I would absolutely recommend adding these to your repertoire.

I’d also recommend picking up a copy of Niequist’s memoir, so you can read about all of the other recipes that had me drooling as I read. I can’t wait to try more of them myself.

Last but not least, I hope all those celebrating had a Happy (and food-filled) Thanksgiving! If you’re following along with my Thanksgiving Readathon, I’ll be wrapping that up with a post on Monday.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

  • Servings: approximately 32 pieces
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. package of pitted dates
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 16 oz. bacon

Directions

  1. Slice alongside one side of each date, from the top to the bottom, so you can open it like a tiny book. Scoop a small amount of goat cheese into the center of each one, and then close it back up.
  2. Cut the whole package of bacon in half, so that each long strip is now half as long. Wrap a half-slice of bacon around the outside of each date.
  3. Arrange seam side down in a baking dish or on a baking sheet with sides to catch any grease. A foil pan is really nice for no cleanup.
  4. Bake at 400-degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until well browned and crispy. Drain on a paper towel, and serve warm or at room temperature, but definitely not hot, unless you want to burn the roof of your mouth so badly you don’t taste anything for days.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I’m Thankful For

Hi everyone! It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time again for my monthly Top 10 Tuesday list. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish. I participate about once a month, but each week there is a new, fun bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here.

If you’re in the U.S., it’s also almost Thanksgiving and this week’s topic gives me a chance to reflect on the books that have made a difference in my life. That is, the Books I’m the Most Thankful For.

Obviously, I’m extremely thankful for books in general and the authors that write them, those who so deftly create worlds and characters and scenarios different from my own (and even those that mirror my own experiences), allowing me to walk away with a new perspective, or in some cases, the comforting feeling that someone else gets me. I appreciate the entertainment or escape they can provide and the empathy and emotions they illicit. I think we can all agree, books are amazing things, right?

That being said, I’ve culled down the list of books I love and tried to take a look at books I really appreciate and why. Let’s check it out:

1. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – Though I’d already been reading for a while, this was my first chapter book as a child. It immersed me in a story that went beyond what I had ever read before, one that continued beyond one short story. Not surprisingly, it also sparked a love of (obsession with?) horses that would last through middle school. Black Beauty absolutely cemented my already-budding love of reading, and I will forever be grateful for that.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – This classic taught me that books can deserve a second chance, even if you didn’t like it the first time. In middle school, my best friend Katie and I decided to read this together, and while she adored it, I got frustrated with the complicated language and slow narrative (just before it got good, it turns out) and didn’t finish it. She explained the rest of the story to me, and I felt like I’d missed out. Years later, during college, I picked it up, stuck with it and fell in love with it too.

3. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – Somehow this novel ends up on every list I make lately, but that just shows the impact it’s had on me. I didn’t expect to like this book, let alone love it as much as I did. I’m thankful for this story because not only does it tackle tough issues in a relatable way, above all, it helped me look at the world – and myself – differently. I haven’t stopped recommending it ever since.

4. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks – This is the first book I remember both laughing out loud at and crying about while reading it. Aside from The Notebook, it’s the only Sparks book I’ve enjoyed (and I have since stopped reading them), but it is still one of my favorite books overall. This is one of the first books I ever recommended – to my dad, and I still remember both of us laughing to the point of tears over one of the passages – and being able to share in the appreciation of a story together has led me to join in several book clubs (virtually, and in real life) and, ultimately, start this blog. And, of course, I still recommend books constantly.

5. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – I’m including this novel because it taught me not to give up. I don’t remember exactly what led me to read this book a few years ago, and looking back, it’s not something I’d normally choose. The story is kind of bizarre (as magical realism can sometimes be) and it works with split narrators/points-of-view and, oh yeah, it’s a thousand pages long. Despite not always being sure what was going on, I stuck with it and ended up rooting for the characters and becoming completely absorbed in the writing style. While I have nothing against DNF-ing a book that just doesn’t work, I’m glad I stuck with this one. When the payoff is worth it, it’s usually really worth it.

6. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling – It probably comes as no surprise Harry Potter made the list. There are so many reasons to be grateful for Rowling’s bestselling series, but for me, it was a chance to be a part of something bigger than myself for the first time. I tore through the first four books, long after the rest of the world fell in love with the boy wizard, and I was shocked and awed to see the turnout at my first (and certainly not last) midnight release for the fifth installation. Each new release gave me something to look forward to, and even now, the series provides me with a comforting world to dive back into whenever I want.

7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I’m eternally thankful to Cline’s sci-fi novel for keeping me entertained on the bus ride from NYC to Philadelphia and back again, when I had to travel there for my best friend’s wedding a few years ago. This book was so immersive, time just flew by and the four hours I spent on the crowded buses didn’t seem so bad. Beyond that, this is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s forward-thinking and nostalgic all at the same time. It’s versatility has led me to recommend it countless times, and as a result, I’ve enjoyed many spirited conversations about its various plot points. For me, RPO is a book that keeps on giving.

8. The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon – This dystopian novel surprised me when we had to read it for book club recently. It combined the importance of language and our reliance on technology in a way that entertained me and freaked me out at the same time. It made me examine how dependent I am on my cell phone (and I know I’m not alone in this). I’ll go into more detail in my full post next week, but it’s on this list because I appreciate that it’s prompted me to take a break from my phone now and then and to be more conscious of having a reason to pick it up.

9. Voracious by Cara Nicoletti – I threw this food/book memoir on my wish list one Christmas without much thought aside from it seemed like something I would like. (Thank you to my wonderful then-fiance, now-husband Scott for actually gifting it to me!) Of course, I enjoyed it and it’s still a book I think of often. While everyone knows food often plays a role in great literature, it was the first time I’d seen such a blatant combination of food and books. It planted the seed in my mind that eventually became this blog, and I would not be here writing this post if I hadn’t read it two summers ago.

10. On Writing by Stephen King – As an aspiring writer and an insatiable reader, I’m so grateful for this memoir. Not only does Stephen King share stories of his own ups and downs as an author, he instills it with excellent advice about how to hone your craft and persevere. When I first borrowed it from the library, I was so excited to find his lengthy list of book recommendations at the end that I took pictures of it until I could procure my own copy. A dedicated reader himself (for one cannot write well if one does not read), his suggestions have prompted me to discover some books I may not have otherwise picked up.

Which books are you most thankful for? I’d love to hear some of your picks in the comments below 🙂

I hope all of you enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving with friends and family! Until next time…

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Announcement – Thanksgiving Readathon 2017

I recently found out about this year’s Thanksgiving Readathon, put together by fellow book bloggers Ottavia at Novels and Nonfiction and Jackie at Death by Tsundoku – just in the nick of time! And I am beyond excited to participate! Thankfully, I had already taken off of work on Wednesday, November 22, which is the first day of the readathon, and am fortunate enough to have the rest of the time off as well.

I was already hoping to use the extra time away from the “everyday” to catch up on some reading and meet my 2017 goal, or get much closer to it, so this readathon couldn’t come at a more perfect time.

Here’s what I have on my TBR shelf, ready to go! I’m planning to start with Seven Days of Us, which is a cozy Christmas novel that sounds reminiscent of The Family Stone (one of my favorite holiday movies). I’m hoping it will be the perfect way to kickoff the season.

From there I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go, but I’ve opted for a stack with both genre and topic variety to keep it interesting: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (a book about books!), The End We Start From (a short environmental dystopia), How to Behave in a Crowd (a supposedly hilarious but dark family drama), and finally, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table (a food memoir).

I’ll keep you updated on my progress across my social channels (check me out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, if you’re not already a follower). You may also want to follow the dedicated hashtag #ThanksgivingReadathon across all channels to connect with other bloggers and readers who are devouring books over the holiday.

On a Thanksgiving note, tomorrow I’ll be posting the 10 Books I’m Most Thankful For as part of my usual Top Ten Tuesday participation. I’d love it if you’d stop by again to check them out and share which books you’re most thankful for too!

book review, recipe

The Red Tent + Honeyed Cake

Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent has been on my radar since I read The Boston Girl earlier this year. Several people recommended it to me, so I bought it at my library’s used book sale in the spring. I finally got around to reading it, and though I was expecting a bit of a grueling read – it’s set in biblical times – I was pleasantly surprised.

In this piece of historical fiction, Diamant explores the life of Dinah, who is briefly mentioned in the Bible as the only daughter of Jacob (father of a dozen sons). The Red Tent starts with the story of Dinah’s mothers, the four wives of Jacob – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah – and continues into her life as she grows up and leaves the land of her father.

For the most part, the lives of women are glossed over in the Bible, and this novel takes an interesting look at what life might’ve been like for a woman of that time. It gives several strong female characters a voice when the book in which Dinah first appears did not and thoughtfully portrays the unique relationships that women have with one another. It also offers a different, and dare-I-say feminist, perspective on a Christian narrative in which things may not have been exactly as depicted.

In Jacob’s camp – which is how I thought of it, as it was rambling and full of tents and animals – the family usually ate quite well. In an interview Diamant said, “There’s a lot of food in The Red Tent…To not write about food…is to not talk about women’s experience.” They depend on the land for food, and the selection seemed quite abundant. There is mention of olives, lamb, figs, pomegranates, barley, mint, and of course, honeyed cake.

Honeyed cake, in fact, was mentioned a few times, and though it was given little description, I was intrigued. I wanted to make it try it myself. After a Google search, I finally settled on a recipe from Genius Kitchen for a recipe that seemingly dripped with honey. (And drip with honey, it did!)

To start, I combined the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and some orange zest. The orange zest smelled absolutely amazing while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

In a different bowl, I creamed the butter with the sugar and then added in the four eggs, one at a time. To these ingredients, I added the dry mix, mixing just until incorporated. Then, I added the chopped walnuts.

I poured the batter into a prepared square pan and set it to bake for 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Meanwhile, I began making the honey sauce. This recipe uses quite a bit of honey, which can be expensive, but otherwise the ingredients are pretty run-of-the-mill baking ingredients. Still, we used almost half of this little honey bear.

In a saucepan, I combined 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of white sugar and ¾ cup of water. I let it simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice and bringing it to a boil. Please use a medium-sized saucepan. When it gets boiling, it can boil over easily and quickly – it’s not as easy to tame as boiling water. And it’s possible you’ll get a sticky mess all over your stove, like I happened to do. Anyway, once it was finished cooking for 2 minutes, I removed it from the heat, where it say until the cake was ready.

After the cake finished baking, I removed it from the oven and allowed it to cool for 15 minutes.

I then cut it into triangles. The original recipe recommends diamonds, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how to accomplish that. I’m not sure shape matters that much, though the more cuts, the more honey will soak through the cake. Regardless, after cutting the cake, I covered it with honey sauce. I used about a third at a time and did my best to allow it to soak in before covering it with the next third. (This requires some patience.)

I found the cake to taste a bit like Fruit Loops (probably from the orange zest). Overall, it was quite good but very sticky.

Greek Honey Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange rind. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into diamond shapes. Pour honey syrup over the cake.
  4. For the Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine honey, 1 cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Show Us Your Books – November 2017

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Show Us Your Books, where I briefly recap what I’ve read since last time, giving you a sneak peek of what I might be reviewing on the blog next. What’s really exciting about this month’s edition is that there were a lot of books I was really into. It was a good month 🙂 Let’s take a quick look!

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, December 12, 2017.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

Last Month’s Edition

 

Engrossing Reads

The Rules of Magic – This prequel was one of the books I was really excited about this month. I read and post about Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic in anticipation, and I scooped this one up from the library the first day it was available (thank you, waitlists!). I adored this much more than I thought I would. You can read my review here and check out a delicious recipe for Tipsy Chocolate Cake while you’re at it.

The Word Exchange – This debut novel by Alena Graedon combines our dependence on technology and the importance of language in a dystopian way that’s truly haunting. We read this for one of my book clubs, and even though we met almost two weeks ago, I still think about it almost every day. Admittedly, it started out a little slow, but just two chapters in and I was hooked. Keep an eye out for my review later this month!

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – I gushed about this book last week, and today it’s available to own! My post about Ruth Emmie Lang’s novel says a lot, so I encourage you to pop on over and read it here. I adored this imaginative story, and I know you will too. 🙂

They Both Die at the End – Since reading this novel, I’ve read some mixed reviews, but that doesn’t change how I felt about Adam Silvera’s young adult dystopian novel. Imagine a world where you knew exactly which day you would die but not how – on the morning of your death, you get a phone call with the warning and are instructed to make the most of it. That’s the premise behind this novel, and I devoured it in a single day. Even though the title is basically a spoiler, I appreciated that the ending wasn’t what I was expecting.

Passed the Time Just Fine

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green’s latest novel (also YA) was released to much fanfare. While I really enjoyed it, it wasn’t my favorite this month – it had a lot of stiff competition. I still like The Fault in Our Stars the best of all his work, and I can’t resist picking up a new John Green whenever one is released. This book takes on the important topic of mental health, and honestly, it’s executed expertly. Definitely worth a read.

Little Fires Everywhere – This is another novel that’s been getting a lot of attention since it’s recent release. Having enjoyed Celeste Ng’s previous book, I was absolutely looking forward to reading this one, which many people have said is better. For me, it was 3 stars (not a bad thing!). I liked getting immersed in the world of Shaker Heights that Ng described, and I thought the characters were very interesting. I just finished it this past weekend, and it’s possible that the more I think about it, the more I’ll like it. Another one I’d recommend – especially if you like keeping up with the latest in contemporary fiction.

Not Worth It

Nothing – way too many great reads this month! (But here’s looking at you, currently reading category…)

 

Did Not Finish

The Refrigerator Monologues – I was pretty excited about this book’s combination of feminism and superheroes. It was pretty short, and I thought I could power through, but I read about 25% of the book and still wasn’t feeling it. I had a lot of books I was really looking forward to in the TBR pile, so I just let this one go.

 

Currently Reading

The Power – I’m trying to save my judgments of this novel until the end, but I’m almost finished – last 100 pages to go! I will say that so far, I’m underwhelmed by Naomi Alderman’s dystopia. (Wow, I’ve read a lot of dystopia this month…) I was expecting amazing things, but I’ll admit I’ve put it down to read a few other books since starting it. I just picked it up again after finishing LFE and I’m determined to finish.

What did you read this month? Which books did you enjoy most? Least? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

 

book review, recipe

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance + Sponge Cake with Forest Berries

One of my favorite things about Book of the Month (among the many) is the opportunity members sometimes get to read a book before it’s released to the rest of the world. Ruth Emmie Lang’s wonderfully unexpected novel Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, which will be released next week on November 14th, was one of the October selections, and honestly, I was planning to share this post with you then, but I enjoyed this book so immensely, I couldn’t wait.

Lang’s imaginative novel follows Weylen Grey, a young orphan who was raised by wolves, as he grows up and travels the country looking for his true home. Each section of the story (set in a new year and different location) is told by those around Weylen – young Mary who befriends him in the woods while making deliveries for her father; a teacher who is taken aback by the student refusing to sit in a desk; an inexperienced mayor whose town is faced with an impending hurricane.

Judge Steph Ortiz, who chose this book for BOTM, described Beasts as “so comfortable and uplifting” and said it was “exactly the book [she] needed right now, and it made [her] so happy [she] wanted to howl at the moon.” After finishing the phenomenal The Rules of Magic, I was ready to be swept away again. A book that made me extraordinarily happy was exactly what I was looking for, and this one didn’t disappoint!

Unlike many of the other books I recommend, which while amazing are often full of tough topics, this novel left me with a wonderfully cozy feeling, and seriously, if you haven’t stopped and pre-ordered it yet, I’d suggest you do so now. It’s an excellent debut; I can’t wait to see what else Lang cooks up in the future.

Speaking of cooking (you had to know that was coming, right?), I decided to whip up a whimsical dessert to go along with this fairy tale novel. On one of her visits to the forest to see Weylen, Mary brings with her a freshly baked sponge cake, which they eat with hand-picked berries. I found a slightly fancy-sounding but down-to-earth-looking sponge cake recipe from Vikalinka and knew it would be a perfect fit.     

The only tweak I made to her recipe was to add some additional berries to the compote (and in decorating). In fact, I started by making the berry compote, adding the raspberries and blackberries to a small saucepan with a touch of water and some sugar. After about 15 minutes, I smushed the berries up a bit because there didn’t seem to be much thickening occurring. I let it continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so before following the rest of the directions. I used my food processor to blend the mixture until smooth, pushed it through a fine sieve and set it aside.

To make the cake, I started by preheating my oven to 350 degrees F and greasing my cake pans. (I didn’t line them with parchment paper, like the original recipe directs, but I didn’t have any issues getting the cakes out of my pans once they were cooled.)

In a large bowl, I mixed the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, adding the eggs one at a time and mixing for about a minute each. Finally, I added the vanilla and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, I combined my dry ingredients, sifting together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I added the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing well. The end result was a very thick batter (according to Vikalinka, it should be the consistency of buttercream frosting).

I scooped approximately half into each cake pan and then used my kitchen scale to ensure they were even (about 2 pounds each, including the pan). It wasn’t specified in the original recipe, but I had some minor concerns they wouldn’t spread out due to thickness, so I used a scraper to spread the batter as evenly as I could in each pan. Then, the cakes went into the oven for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I made the mascarpone cream. I used a hand mixer to whip the chilled mascarpone with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract for about 2 minutes. To that mixture, I added the whipping cream and whipped for a few more minutes until it was stiff. I covered the bowl and put it in the fridge to stay cool while the cake finished baking and cooled.

Once the cakes were out of the oven, I allowed them to cool on a baking rack for 20 minutes, before turning them out so they could cool completely. I was a bit nervous about assembly (since I’m not usually the best cake decorator), but this cake features a very unfussy decor and is perfect for an imprecise decorator such as myself.

To start, I placed one of the cooled cakes on a cake stand. I covered that with a thick layer of the mascarpone cream (I ended up having a little bit left… it seemed like a lot when I was decorating).

On top of the layer of cream, I poured the berry compote and spread it a bit with a cake spreader. (Mine ended up being somewhat thinner than it appeared in the original recipe, but it still tasted delicious, and made for a lovely garnish on the plate afterward.) Atop the filling, I added the second cake and began the decorating process. I used some of the leftover cream on about half of the cake, used leftover berries to make a design and dusted the whole thing with a bit of powdered sugar.

The finished cake may not have been as gorgeous as I had hoped, but it still looked impressive (in my opinion). More importantly, it tasted amazing. This is definitely a cake I’d like to try again.

Sponge Cake with Forest Berry Compote

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients

  • 1⅕ cup blackberries and raspberries
  • ⅕ cup sugar
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 cup butter, softened and unsalted
  • 1⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, large
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract, divided
  • 1¾ cup flour
  • 2½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup mascarpone, chilled
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup whipping cream

To make the forest berry compote

  1. In a small saucepan combine berries, sugar and water. Smash berries and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until the syrup coats a spoon.
  2. Remove from the heat and process in a food processor or a blender until smooth.
  3. Push through a fine sieve to get rid of the seeds and set aside.

To make the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, grease two 8″ round cake pans and line with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream softened butter with sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Start adding eggs one by one, whipping until well combined after each addition for about a minute.
  4. Add 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/extract and lemon zest.
  5. Combine sifted flour, baking soda and powder and salt in a separate bowl.
  6. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix well, stopping the mixer and scraping sides and the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Divide the batter between two pans. Weigh them to get exactly the same cake in size.
  8. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely.

To make the mascarpone cream

  1. Whip chilled mascarpone with powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/extract for 1-2 minutes until well combined.
  2. Then add whipping cream and whip for 2 more minutes until stiff.
  3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Assembling the cake

  1. Spread mascarpone cream on the bottom layer of the cake.
  2. Pour the berry compote on top and gently spread with a offset spatula.
  3. Top with another cake layer and dust with some powdered sugar for the traditional look. Optional: top a portion with leftover mascarpone cream and/or berries.

Slightly adapted from: Vikalinka

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