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book review, recipe

The Immortalists + Apple Noodle Kugel

I included Chloe Benjamin’s novel The Immortalists on my list of Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2018 over eight months ago. It’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly as long (shortly after it came out in January), and I just — finally! — got around to reading it. I’m happy to say it lived up to expectations!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The novel follows the four Gold siblings: Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon. In 1969, when they’re still quite young — Varya, the oldest, is thirteen and Simon, the youngest, is only seven — they visit a mysterious psychic because Daniel has heard she is able to tell anyone the day they will die. They leave shaken but armed with a glimpse into their futures.

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book review, recipe

The Cast + Summer Picnic Food

Amy Blumenfeld’s The Cast centers around a group of friends — Becca, Jordana, Seth, Holly and Lex — who are bonded and forever touched by Becca’s battle with cancer as a teenager. Though as adults they’re not the tight-knit group they once were, this intense bond brings them back together when life happens. Jordana organizes a 4th of July weekend getaway to celebrate Becca’s 25th year cancer-free, and that’s where we begin.

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

Life never goes as planned, and their get-together embodies that perfectly. Everyone is hiding something but trying to keep a brave face for the others. When that all breaks down, their friendship shines the brightest and it’s obvious why it has endured so long. It was an easy book to get through, but it wasn’t “light.”

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book review, recipe

Mother, Mother + Lemon Blueberry Scones

I read Koren Zailckas’ memoir Smashed about her “drunken girlhood” over a decade ago, and I absolutely loved it. It was a sober (and sobering) look at her past that also touched on the societal and social pressures that cause many young women to drink so heavily in the first place. Not only was her story powerful, her writing was as well. So, when I came across her novel Mother, Mother at a used book sale a little while back, I didn’t hesitate to scoop it up.

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

In the Hurst family, no one is perfect. The oldest daughter, Rose, has seemingly had enough and run off with her mysterious boyfriend, leaving her sister Violet struggling to cope with an ever-changing home life. Will, the youngest, clings most closely to his mom who has been homeschooling him since his recent diagnoses with Asperger’s and epilepsy. Meanwhile, their father, Douglas, is mostly absent and, when he is home, distracted and taking phone calls in whispers. In the center of it all is Josephine, the Hurst matriarch, a narcissist and master manipulator. Hiding behind her facade of caring homemaker, she may just be the worst mother ever.

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book review, recipe

Castle of Water + Banana Fritters

I have never before had to request that my library purchase I book I wanted to read, but for Dane Huckelbridge’s Castle of Water, I’m SO glad I took the extra step to do so. I had selected this novel as part of the Book Challenge by Erin not only because it fit perfectly into the category “book with a water-related word in the title” but because I had heard amazing things about it. Its impressive 4.24 rating on Goodreads also promised an amazing read.

Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge

The majority of the story takes place on an island in the middle of the South Pacific, near where a small plane was was downed in the ocean, leaving two passengers stranded. Sophie is a newlywed French architect, and Barry is a former investment banker from New York who has decided to turn his attention to painting. They must learn to survive together with the limited resources they have on the island — for food, they have some fish, coconuts and an abundance of bananas. It’s a castaway story, yes. But it’s also much more than that. It’s about what it means to truly need someone else. Ultimately, they find that a home is what you make it.

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book review, recipe

The Hating Game + Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

I went into Sally Thorne’s novel The Hating Game without much research. I’d seen some chatter about it in my online book club – most people loved it. If anything, it seemed like a fun, quick read, and summer is always the perfect time for something on the lighter side. It’s the story of two executive assistants at a publishing company who loathe each other (hence the title), but then, in true romantic comedy fashion, feelings begin to change and they find themselves in an entirely different kind of relationship.

The Hating Game Book Cover

As with our characters, Lucy and Josh, it wasn’t love at first sight for me. Somewhere along the line though, my feelings changed. I began to find their interactions endearing, the other characters got a little more detailed and things fell into place. Yes, the plot was a bit predictable, but that shouldn’t be unexpected for this type of book.

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book review, recipe

The Optimistic Decade + Honey-Lemon Popsicles

I was drawn to my latest read both by the striking cover art and the following description:

You say you want a revolution? This energetic and entertaining novel about a utopian summer camp and its charismatic leader asks smart questions about good intentions gone terribly wrong.

Framed by the oil shale bust and the real estate boom, by protests against Reagan and against the Gulf War, The Optimistic Decade takes us into the lives of five unforgettable characters, and is a sweeping novel about idealism, love, class, and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it…

Heather Abel’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the bloom and fade of idealism and how it forever changes one’s life. Or so we think.

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book review, recipe

Educated + Peach Cobbler

As I mentioned in this month’s edition of Show Us Your Books, I read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated in a whirlwind over the weekend. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so even though I was excited to get a free copy from NetGalley (and read it before it even came out!), a little bit of me was also nervous to read it and be disappointed. Luckily, it lived up to expectations; I couldn’t put it down.

Tara grew up in Idaho, where her parents were determined to be self-sufficient, teaching their children to be prepared for the end of days that were always just around the corner. They canned peaches and stocked up on other necessities, saved for solar panels and built a bomb shelter. The Westovers didn’t believe in government-sponsored education and insisted on homeschooling all of their children, though the education they received was more of the hard knocks variety than something akin to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Tara’s parents was their refusal to submit to the “Medical Establishment.” Every wound or injury – no matter the severity – was treated at home.

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book review, recipe

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo + Strawberry Milkshakes and Dirty Martinis

I chose Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as my Book of the Month in June last year because people were raving about it, and at the time, it seemed like a perfect summer read, light and juicy. Summer came and went and I never picked it up. The book’s cover and its title struck me as a little more salacious than I must have initially thought, and the longer it sat on my shelf, the less I wanted to read it.

Still, I kept hearing about it and it was always in the back of my mind. Finally, when I joined the Book Challenge by Erin (8.0), I decided to add it as my “book with a character’s name in the title.” I am SO glad I did, and I am SO sorry I judged it by its cover for so long. I devoured this novel, which told a beautiful and unexpected story cleverly executed.

Evelyn Hugo was a glamorous actress whose success looked easy from the outside, though it often came at a price. She became entangled – and disentangled – with various men throughout her career, sometimes for love and sometimes with a different endgame in mind. This, of course, is the premise of the novel and the story Evelyn decides to share with an obscure reporter – one of the great loves of her life, both known and unknown.

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book review, recipe

The Secret Life of Bees + Banana Cream Pie

I always appreciate a book where you can immediately fall into it and remain completely immersed to the end – part of the joy of reading, for me, is leaving your own world/viewpoint/experiences and hanging out in someone else’s for a while. The powerful storytelling in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees did that for me.

During a hot South Carolina summer in 1964, Lily Owens is about to turn 14. Propelled by a fuzzy recollection of the day her mother died and desperate to know more, she sets off on a haphazard journey from home with Rosaleen, a black woman who has become her stand-in mother. Their immediate safety may be Rosaleen’s driving force, but Lily’s search for clues about her mother’s existence brings them to Tiburon.

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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.