Trying something new: Meringue Cookies

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Second Batch, made with chocolate chips 

Well, it happened. Again. My partner and I watched enough Great British Baking show that I had to try a new cookie recipe (just like when I made my own fig bars). This time, I was inspired by all the meringue being used on the show and Mary Berry tapping the top of the structures to see how solid they were.

To be completely honest, I’ve had the recipe that I used since high school when a friend of mine was taking baking and I sampled one of her cookies. Though they look fancy, they don’t actually require a ton of crazy ingredients and, once you’ve figured out what’s supposed to happen, are easy to make.

 

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First batch made with semi melted chocolate, these spread more because the eggs weren’t initially whipped enough

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (I used about 1/2 a teaspoon of white vinegar as a substitiute
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 bag chocolate chips

What you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 300F.
  2. In a bowl, combine egg whites, cream of tartar (or vinegar in my case) and vanilla. Whip aggressively or use a mixture on medium. You should see your mixture form a lot of bubbles and begin to form “soft peaks” (that’s what the recipe says and I can’t really think of a different way to describe it).
  3. Add sugar in slowly while you whip it into the batter.
  4. Whip. It. Good. No seriously, if you don’t have a mixer you’re going to be mixing it for a while. The batter is going to become stiff but light and you should be able to pull the whisk out and have the batter stand stiff. If your mixture is too runny, add a tiny bit more cream of tartar (vinegar) to help stiffen it up. According to the Great British Baking Show, it’s very difficult to over whip the batter.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips. All of them, the first time I made these cookies I thought there wasn’t enough dough only to find out that when they were done there wasn’t enough chocolate.
  6. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper and drop cookies onto it. I’ve gotten about 12 both times, but you could probably get more if you make yours smaller.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Note: You have to let them cool completely before removing them from the baking tray, otherwise they’ll collapse in on themselves.

All in all, I’m happy to have learned a new skill and am definitely planning on gifting tins of cookies around the holidays this year.

Just in case I didn’t do enough baking this month, I also made banana muffins for the first time tripling a recipe promising to be the easiest banana muffins. They were fun to make, but I don’t think I’ll be putting as much sugar in them next time – the bananas made the batter sweet enough.

Trying something new: homemade fig bars

Between the general goal of trying new things, a desire to suck up to the poet in my life, and withdrawal symptoms from a lack of new Great British Baking Show episodes beginning to show, I found myself perusing Pinterest in search of a homemade fig bar that wouldn’t take hours of prep and millions of ingredients.

Enter Alida’s kitchen, or more specifically the blog that I found the recipe of choice on. Alida’s recipe, known as Oatmeal Fig Bars, is seven steps (check) and everything on her ingredients list, minus the dried figs, was already located in my cupboard (check). Skimming the recipe, the only piece of equipment I didn’t own was a food processor. Having a friend I could borrow one from, this satisfies another checkbox for me: no crazy equipment that I need to purchase for one bake.

Sliced dried figs cooking on the stove top.The best part of this bake? Each part was delicious on their own. I can see myself using the fig filling as a jam or as something to add to brownies. Or using the oatmeal base to create other types of cookie bars.

I can’t get over how easy it was to make the fig filling, which was the part of the fig bars that in my mind would be the most difficult part:

  1. In a small saucepan, put figs, water, lemon juice, and zest, and bring to a boil. Simmer until mixture starts to thicken (about 3 minutes). Let cool for about 5 minutes.
  2. Put filling in food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

That was it. Two steps, totaling less than ten minutes. Ten minutes meant the kitchen smelt so good my dog didn’t want to wander too far from it. Another five minutes to make the dough and 25 minutes until they were sitting on the counter waiting to be eaten.

Close up of homemade oatmeal fig bar before being cut.Some general notes on the recipe that it may be helpful to be aware of:

  • The dough is very dry — that’s ok! Do NOT add water. I made this mistake, it made the dough sticky and hard to spread. It also meant my bars needed a little more time in the oven and never goldened.
  • There is not enough dough to have a top and bottom layer. Alida says as much in her recipe, the top of her bars have the dough “crumbled” on top. I would consider doubling the dough recipe in order to have two complete layers
  • The figs are delicious — but that step would be a fun place to add additional fruits.
  • For a fig bar lover, the 35 minutes this process took was too long. I thought it was very reasonable.

March Book Club: Gilded Wolves

39863498I was not expecting the elements of this book to be what they were. In other words, I was expecting a heist that took place in Paris in 1889, not a book about people who have the ability to forge objects through manipulating elements. Actually, I might even go so far as to complain that the story really didn’t need to take place in Paris at all because it didn’t rely on any Parisian elements.

Forging, as it is in the book, is an interesting concept that served as a way to drive the plot forward. I don’t understand why the summary of the book didn’t include a description of it. While I don’t mind a realistic fantasy novel, I found myself longing for the story that was described on the back of the book. The one that exists without magic.

Additionally, this book felt as though it was trying to check a lot of identity boxes without incorporating the identities into the story. This reminds me of when JK Rowling decided to go back and fill her readers on information about her characters that weren’t explicitly said within the narrative (ie Dumbledore being gay) because it feels as though the reader took the opposite approach. Instead of building characters through the reader’s experiences with them, Chokshi just told you “this person is Jewish” or “this person is bisexual”, leaving me torn in my feelings. On the one hand, I want those populations to be incorporated into stories. On the other, I want those characteristics to reflect the character who has them. I was told Enrique struggled on the fact that he was attracted to both men and women, but how much better would it have been to listen to his internal dialog? Especially considering the location of this book is 1889 Paris?

All in all, this is a book I would put into the “passible” category. I read it cover to cover, without feeling the need to abandon it, but it didn’t really engage with me until Tristian was kidnapped. Even then, this novel felt very formulaic. Frustrated, I read the review from NPR and found myself wondering if we read the same book. I didn’t read a book rich with detail, I read a book that told me instead of showing me what was happening. I’m left feeling a little frustrated by this read, frustrated and left wanting things flushed out.

For April, possibly in honor of April Fools, I thought it would be interesting to read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s been on my “to-read” list for a while, the cover and description appealing to my inner child. This book reminds me of the Cirque De Freak series that I couldn’t put down in middle school. Although, probably minus the vampires.

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The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

 

February Book Club: The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess Book Cover
I’m not sure where to start with this one.  For starters, nothing about this general plot of this story was surprising. Girl appears to make mistake, girl has to learn how to stand on her own two feet, girl realizes that she didn’t make a mistake, girl is offered a job back… etc etc. That being said, I loved every moment of it. I loved the image of Samantha walking blindly onto a train only to end up interviewing for a housemaid position. There was something comforting to her putting herself back together, or rather, watching her grow into the person that she was meant to be. In a world where hustle and bustle is everywhere, it’s easy to forget how hard it can be to take things slow and to take the time to  sew a button on yourself.

One of the things that I found interesting was that when Samantha’s life is a mess, so is her work space. True, she had a lot of things going for her when she was a lawyer, but she didn’t have a life. She didn’t have time to do anything, much less hire a milk man. When she ran away from Carter Spink and took a new job, she couldn’t even cook dinner, much less turn on a washing machine. As Samantha began to become the person she was meant to be, or blossom as her neighbor put it, her life and the world around her became less messy. This is an interesting visual to provide the reader, along with the sharp contrast between how Samantha physically looks at the beginning and end of the novel.

Additionally, it was interesting to read about how the press saw Samantha’s decision to remain a housemaid instead of going back to be a lawyer. How it seemed to be telling the world that a woman belongs in a kitchen or that they can’t handle the work force, when in reality feminism should focus on supporting her choice. She had the option to do what she wanted, and she made a choice. It’s always hard to read/listen to women being unsupportive of one another.

That being said, it also made it funny to read about the media trying to get her to pose “tastefully” in a french maid costume — a direct nod against feminism. After all, would her story make the news if she had been a man?

This book also offers excellent life lessons along the way:

  1. A mistake isn’t a mistake unless it can’t be put right
  2. You don’t always have to know who your are, sometimes it’s enough just to know what to do next.
  3. You will never get your youth back.

I found March’s book club book while perusing a list of books that NPR has mentioned curated by my local library. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is the first book in a multi-part series (the second book is slated to be published this coming September and book three has been given a nod to). It will be interesting to see if this book inspires me to look forward to a second novel or if the first one gives me enough of a taste to feel comfortable moving on to a different story.

39863498No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.