Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Super Easy Sunday: Hot Chocolate

Okay, so its Tuesday! I worked the weekend. On the plus side I also got a cookie press this weekend, so you can expect some recipes involving that in the next few weeks.

This particular recipe I hold no claim to. I've been sorting through Christmas craft and cooking books lately, gearing up, if you will. I found this recipe in Christmas with Martha Stewart Living: Parties and Projects for the Holidays. It looked so darn easy, I thought I'd give a test run.  I'm now spoiled for that powdered gunk. And really, this recipe is so easy why bother with packets ever again?

The original recipe served 4, but I switched it up a bit since it's just me and the boyfriend around here. The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled or quadrupled or.... you get the point.

What You'll Need
Cutting board                                                                     Whisk
Knife for chopping                                                              2 mugs
Small-medium saucepan
1 4.4 oz chocolate bar                                                        2 peppermint sticks
2 cups sweet acidophilus milk

Now Let's Make Hot Chocolate!
Unwrap your chocolate bar and place it on the cutting board. I used a Hershey's milk chocolate bar, but I suppose any brand would do. I wouldn't got too dark on the chocolate, since this recipe relies on the sugar already in the chocolate bar to sweeten it and darker chocolate tends toward bitter. Chop the bar into fine pieces. I pretty much minced my chocolate bar: cutting it into strips across the width, turning those strips and cutting them into small squares.

Scrape the chocolate into the saucepan and turn the heat to medium (that's straight down and a 5 on my stove). Add the 2 cups of milk and whisk frequently as the chocolate melts to prevent burning. Your milk should not bubble, so reduce heat if this begins.  

Once the chocolate melts whisk well to combine with the milk. Continue to heat, whisking occasionally, until the hot chocolate reaches the desired temperature (I used the oh-so-technical finger dip method. Hey, my hands were clean)

Pour evenly into mugs and add a peppermint stick as a stirrer. This will add a nice peppermint flavor, but can be skipped if you'd rather. A cinnamon stick is also nice. Serve and enjoy!


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

So, I've been in another reading funk of late. I realized the other day that my reading habit tend to be very cyclical. I'll go through periods of voracious reading, eating up novels by the handful. Then, one day I'll get sick of it and stop for a while. Sometimes I just feel like doing something else, others I've gotten ahold of a dud of a book and it puts me off. During this non-reading period, no book will appeal and attempting to read results in a whole lot of starting and stopping. Anyone else experience the same?

I was finally pulled out of my funk about a week ago, when my colleague, Melissa (for whom I'm still doing an adoption fundraiser until Nov 1!), pushed a couple YA books into my hands. One of these was The Girl of Fire and Thorns. (what is it with Girl of... title variations lately?)

The Basics
Carson, Rae. The Girl of Fire and Thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2011. Print.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns was Carson first book and the start of a planned trilogy. Carson freely admits to being a nerd (as she should, nerds are the best) and has been writing since childhood. She bounced around careers for a while before she was finally able to realize a dream of becoming a full-time writer (*jealous*).  Her first book is set in time of horses, carriages and war. Princess Elisa, our protagonist, was chosen by God to bear a Godstone in her navel, marking her as a future hero from her naming day on.  On her 16th birthday she's married to the King of a neighboring land who desperately needs her to live up to the hype. Unfortunately, she's always been a bit of a screw-up: though wildly intelligent, she lacks interest in the duties of royal to a kingdom and she overeats to cope with her insecurities. Sound like a long shot? No worries even unlikely heroes save the day.

The Book
I loved this book. I read it with as little ceasing as possible in about 2 days. I find that it's one of those YA books that crosses the age divide from Young Adult to Adult quite well. The complexity of the world Carson creates and the excellent writing allows it to bridge that gap with ease.

Elisa is a great character. She's not your typical heroine. For one thing, she has a problem with weight, as she tends to eat any food within reach in a nervous habit for comfort. But there's a lot more to her than that (looking past the surface of things is part of the point). She's also highly intelligent and a genius at strategy. While her upbringing has left her a little self-centered, she's caring at heart. I'm inclined to disagree that with a few critics who claim the only noticeable character growth is Elisa's shrinking weight. Such critiques have missed the point. Elisa's eating is a symptom not the focus; she eats because she's insecure: she feels unworthy and unable to meet everyone's expectations and lives in her sister's shadow. Long before the weight loss starts to occur, Elisa's growth as a character begins when she starts to wake up to her surroundings. She leaves the comfort of home and opens her eyes as she does so. She starts to see the world and its problems; she begins to see the people closest to her and seeks to learn about them rather than what they do for her. When she reaches her new home, she begins to feel ambition, the first inklings of her wanting to start living up to her Godstone. The forced trek across the desert isn't a plot device to shed pounds (and really, what do you expect when you're walking for a month or more?), but rather a place for Elisa to begin to find her own strength. She no longer has the luxury of laziness and wallowing in the belief that she can't work towards anything, because now she has to. She continues to grow into a strong and worthy young woman over the course of the book; the weight loss is simply a physical manifestation of that process, a visible metaphor.

I also enjoyed how different the setting of this book was. It wasn't really medieval, as so many fantasies are. Instead, I would class it as more 17th century in terms of technology and social graces. But that's not even the best part. Carson moves outside of the pseudo-European scenery and sets the book in a more southern clime: think Spain and Morocco. The Spanish/Portuguese influence to the language, religion and culture is very evident throughout the book. Elisa's home country Orovalle struck me as very like the landscape of Spain and she moves from there to a desert country, which Carson describes beautifully. It all made for a refreshingly different sort of read.

The plot of the book doesn't disappoint, either. It moves along quite believably, with plenty of hiccups along the way to keep everything from seeming perfect. In fact, there's not a lot perfect to be had for our poor heroine. But, that's what makes this such a good read, Carson makes both her characters and her readers work for a decent ending. You'll want to smack Elisa into being better, but you'll root for her to win, too. She's very human: flawed but lovable. Carson also invests plenty of grit into the story. This is definitely a book for older teens, since it doesn't shy away from the realities of war and a harsh landscape.

So, seriously, go read this book already!


  • Visit Rae Carson's website for more information about her world and a peek at the sequels to this book.
  • In her FAQ, Carson interestingly points out that she is not the author of an extensive amount of Harry Potter fanfiction and directs you instead to this person. Heh heh.
  • Her husband is also an author. Pretty spiffy.


Friday, October 19, 2012

A Different Sort of Post - Adoption Fundraiser

So, a friend and colleague of mine, Melissa (everyone say "hi, Melissa") is trying to raise money to assist with her mother's adoption of two young foster children in desperate need of good, stable home. In order to help out, I've agreed to host a 31 Party / Fundraiser. I'll be hosting this as an online party for the next two week. Some of the proceeds (if there are any) from the par-tay will go toward the adoption fees, construction of a wall to create two bedrooms, and other financial needs that will come up during the adoption process.

Please, my readers, do not feel obligated to participate; just ignore this post if it's not your thing (though you might want to scroll down to my upcoming reading list).

However, if you're interested in helping out you can visit my Facebook event or go directly to my 31 Party website. I hope some of you can come join in the fun. 31 offers some really cool products: totes, purses, storage, thermal bags, accessories and stationary. If you can, please help provide a home for two wonderful children.

And, hey, you'll get spiffy gear out of the deal, too! Christmas is right around the corner....

Since I can't legally provide any pictures, I give you Sebastian R. Gato, who would very much like you visit the party website.

You know what's good for you, right, hooman?
And now, to keep this blog a little on topic, I thought I'd share with you a list of my upcoming reads:
  • Scorch - Gina Damico
  • Crown of Embers - Rae Carson
  • King of Thorns - Mark Lawrence
  • Nice Girls Don't Bite Their Neighbors - Molly Harper
  • Christmas with Southern Living 2012
  • Recommendations?


Friday, October 12, 2012

Super Awesome Comic Book Fun Time

Hi all. First off, this marks my 100th blog post! Tonight I'm turning the blog over to my boyfriend (don't worry, you'll survive... mostly). We're all learning stuff tonight: I learned that I (and my abused fingertips) hate basting quilts and you're going to learn all about comics. Fun, right? And now...

Let the Post Commence!

So, I thought a lot about what comics I would recommend for The Book Pantry's first ever SUPER AWESOME COMIC BOOK FUN TIME post but ended up drawing a blank, not because I had no idea on what to recommend, but because I had far to many awesome books. That's the great thing about introducing people to new medium of entertainment, you have the entire history of awesome stories to choose from. Unfortunately, that can lead to a bit of information overload. So, unable to decide what direction to take, I decided to focus on the most recent big blockbuster comic book movies from the previous summer. So, without further ado, here are my recommended reads for those of you who liked The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers.

If you liked The Amazing Spiderman, you'll like:

Ultimate Spiderman Vol 1: Power and Responsibility
The great strength of Spiderman, even from the very beginning, has always been that the life of Peter Parker is never overshadowed by the shenanigans that Spiderman gets up too.  Yes, watching Spiderman beat up giant robot Rhinos or guys with metallic octopus arms is all good fun, but there are literally thousands of comics of spandex clad crime fighters beating the crap out of bad guys. The real fun is watching the impact his double life has on his friends and family. While I'm only listing the first volume here, I can easily recommend the entire run, which consists of nearly thirty books. Over the course of this run, the story never falters, and it includes some of the most consistently good artwork I've seen. I can't stress the quality of this comic enough. It was the first comic I consistently followed on an issue to issue basis, and I still read it every month ten years after it was originally released.

If you liked The Dark Knight Rises, you'll like:

Knightfall and No Man's Land, also every other Batman comic ever cause Batman's awesome. I mean, seriously, there is so much good Batman out there its hard to go wrong. Although, if you want more of what you saw in the movie, then the two books above will serve you well. Knightfall is the story BANE, THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BAT, as he will continue to tell you two decades after his most famous story. Bane deduces that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same, and concocts a plan to exhaust and demoralize Batman, before doing that one thing he's famous for, being BANE, THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BAT!!! (Sorry, I've read these words in giant bold caps so many times I have to type it that way. He has to bring up some version of those words almost every time you see him. "Hi, I'm Bane. I'm a Scorpio, and I enjoy long walks on the beach and BREAKING THE BAT!!!!!!!!)

No Man's Land was the inspiration for the second half of the film where Gotham is cut off from the rest of the world. In the books, Gotham is devastated by a massive earthquake and cut off  from the rest of the country. Believing the damage so severe that any attempt at rebuilding would be pointless, the US government abandons it, declaring it a No Man's Land outside US jurisdiction. Batman's various villians, including Joker, Two-Face, and others battle for control of the city, while Batman and friends try to bring things back under control.

Basically, its hard to go wrong. There are a few bad eggs, but Batman is generally such an interesting character to read that it's hard to mess things up. Batman Year One is lauded as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and is the definitive Batman origin story (It was also the basis for much of Batman Begins, the first of the Nolan Bat trilogy). If you want to get caught up on modern Batman, I recommend starting with Grant Morrison's Batman & Son, since all current (good) Batman stories flow from there.

If you liked The Avengers, you'll like:

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted. What's that you say? I'm recommending an X-Men book for those who liked the Avengers? Yes yes, I may be cheating a bit, but there's a good reason. Astonishing X-Men, widely acknowledged to be one the best X-Men stories of all time, was written by Joss Whedon, who, as you may know, directed The Avengers.  His quality as a writer shows here as well, and his take on the X-men is full of all the elements that made The Avengers great.  Also, this story serves as a good gateway for new readers who have only a limited exposure to the X-men. Yes, references are made to several events from the X-men's decades long past, but these are either immediately explained or don't affect the overall plot.  The fact that the series features almost exclusively new villians instead of having everybody fight Magneto for the 1000th time helps as well.

As far as the Avengers themselves go, there are several places you could start. All Avengers stories of the last decade flow from The New Avengers: Breakout, in which Captain America and Iron Man assemble a new team of Avengers to deal with the aftermath of a massive super villain prison break out. This Avengers team is a lot different than what you got it the movie, including Spider-man and Wolverine, as well as some fan favorite characters like Luke Cage and Spider-Woman (a bit of a Spider redundancy, I know, but it works).

If you want something closer to the movie, you could try The Ultimates Vol 1 and Vol 2, which are set in the same alternate, more realistic version of the Marvel Universe as Ultimate Spiderman, and many of the story elements in the Avengers movie originated in these books. However, a slight warning; these characters are not the ones you know from the movie. Apparently being more realistic means characters behave less like super heroes and more like SUPER JERKS. (Note: I wanted to use slightly stronger language to emphasize that I do not approve of the characters attitudes, but have been informed that this post has to maintain "Safe for Work" language, even though this blog is usually about sexy scottish vampires who cook pancakes on each other's ripped abs or something). (Oh, he's totally going to pay for that; I'll be reading the next "scottish vampire" book aloud. Yeah, that's right, Magneto has nothing on me!)

I hope that helps any of you that liked some of these super hero movies who want to start reading some of the comics. I know it can daunting to try to jump into story with decades of character development, but I think these are some good starting point for newbies. If there were any other characters you're interested in reading, or if you want more suggestions for anything I talked about above, feel free to ask in the comments, and I'll be glad to give you more suggestions.  Happy reading!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Raspberry Upside-Down (Pan)Cake

I mean, really, what other title do you need?  This recipe came about one night after a batch of pancakes went very wrong. I've no idea what happened, since directions were followed to the T, but the pancake batter turned out runny. So runny it couldn't go onto the griddle (at least not without also making its way to the floor).  But, I didn't want to waist a bowlful of potential pancakey goodness, so I poured it into a casserole and baked it. Nom.

What You'll Need
Medium mixing bowl                                                  9 x 9" casserole
Measuring cups                                                          Knife
Stick of butter                                                            Water
Pancake mix                                                               8 oz package raspberries

Now Let's Make Raspberry Pancake Cake!
The great thing about this recipe is its simplicity. Start by preheating your oven to 350F. Grease your baking dish by peeling the wrapper away from the stick of butter and rubbing the stick against the bottom and sides of the dish (Kinda like coloring, but with butter). Rewrap your butter and put it away; set the dish aside.

Prepare your pancake mix in the medium bowl according to the directions on the box. I use the one for 12-18 pancakes (and when does it ever make that many?), which called for 2 cups mix to 1 1/3 cup water. Find the comparable amounts on your box, measure, and mix! Use your whisk and make sure all the lumps are gone, but do not overmix or you'll have a really tough cake.

Rinse off the raspberries and pat them dry with a paper towel very gently.  Layer the bottom of your casserole dish with raspberries, making sure to space them as evenly as possible.

Next, pour the pancake batter on top of the raspberries, making sure to pour evenly across the dish. If any of your raspberries are uncovered, push a little batter over the top of them.

Bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven.  Start checking at about 18 minutes, but do not check too frequently or the warmth will escape the oven. Remove from oven when top is just starting to turn golden and an inserted knife comes out clean.

Cut the cake into squares. Dust with confectioner's sugar or the topping of your choice and serve. There's a lot of toppings that go well with this: whipped cream, cream cheese, maple syrup, raspberry preserves, honey, caramel etc. This cake relies on toppings to sweeten it, so don't skimp. Pick one and enjoy!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Cooking the Books - Southern Living's Cooking For Christmas

Okay, so this is last year's copy and I'm pretty sure they put this bad boy out yearly. But! There are some really awesome recipes in this particular edition.  I'm going to stray a little from my typical review format, since it goes without saying that Southern Living is going to put out a fantastic product.  Since Holiday meal planning can be a little... chaotic, I thought I'd highlight some recipes that are just plain fantastic. Allow me to direct your attention, if you will.

The Basics
Southern Living. Cooking for Christmas. New York: Oxmoor House, 2011. Print

What do you need to know? Southern Living + holidays + recipes = awesome. The end.

The (Cook)book
First, let me direct you to the eye candy that is the front section of this book, which focuses on table settings. Yes, I could look at this stuff for a ridiculously long period of time (seriously, don't take me anywhere near a home store). Even if you don't go all out, this section is great place to get some ideas and inspiration.

And don't pass up the menu section.  Do I follow the menus in books? Ever? No. But this section is a great place to start thinking about putting together your own menu. Plus, it's got recipes. (I'll admit, I mostly come for the recipes).

But let's get to the good stuff: recipes!  This book is stuffed with them, but let me highlight a few of my favorites. (I've tried all of these, so I already know they're tasty and delicious).

Cherry Pecan Brie: This recipe is great. If you get the ingredients together in advance you can churn this sucker out in no time. Mix, pour, serve. And, voila! You've got an elegant appetizer to serve your holiday guests. It looks and tastes wonderful, and no one will guess how little effort it took. And believe me, if you're prepping a huge Christmas (or holiday) Feast, having a few simple dishes on the menu will save you a lot of stress (and sanity; sanity is good). See page 47.

Two-Cheese-and-Honey Fondue: Can you say "nom"? Admittedly, that probably has a lot to due with the heavy cream and the cheese. (Cheeeeeeeese). See page 71.

Grandma Erma's Spirited Cranberry Sauce: Sound familiar? That's because this recipe turned out to be so wonderfully tasty that I had to share it with y'all. It's one of the few test recipes I've done from a cookbook on this blog. I can tell you that I will never serve another cranberry sauce other than this ever again. (You think I exaggerate, but this was my favorite part of last years holidays). And heaven help you if you've been eating the stuff from the can. Stop it. Now. And make this! See page 173.

Recipes I haven't tried but plan to because they look freaking delicious:

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake - the name really says it all on this one, and if you look at the picture that snowflake is way too pretty. (likelihood that I can pull this off: excellent for the cheesecake, slim to none for the snowflake. Curses!). See page 50.

Classic Bake Macaroni and Cheese - sadly, I'm still searching for the perfect Mac'n'cheese recipe. Martha failed me last year, so perhaps I'll go for this on holiday season. If nothing else the sheer amount of butter, cheese and milk should make several family members squirm nicely as they calculate fat content. Heh heh heh. See page 191.

The entire section on breads - What can I say? I like carbs. See pages 201-211.

I hope you pick up the book and give some of these a whirl. There's plenty of recipe to choose from. Needless to say, I'll be first in line for this year's copy. And before you go, let me direct you to one last recipe not in the book: Southern Living's Pumpkin-Pecan Cheesecake. I made this bad boy last Thanksgiving. Perfection.