Personal & Round Ups
On February 17, a couple of weeks before anticipated, Sophie turned our family of 2 into a family of 3. We’re overjoyed that she’s finally here and can’t take our eyes off of our perfect little angel.
The proud dad won’t put her down; the new Grandpa is planning trips to the beach and historic sites; Grandma is spoiling her with cute outfits and making beautiful quilts for her; and her great uncles are shopping woot like crazy and planning her first cooking lesson (stuffed cabbage and Polish bow tie cookies). And her mom is enjoying every minute of it.
I’ve got a couple of posts started, including a wonderful guest post by Lynsey Lou’s, that will be out shortly.
In addition to being on Facebook, Books n’ Cooks is now also on Pinterest (check out the books on my to-read list, some of the recipes I’ve bookmarked to try, and a bunch of cool book-related and foodie crafts) and Google+.
I also attended my first food bloggers conference this year – Mixed. It was such a great weekend of networking with fellow food lovers and sessions on all aspects of blogging – from photography and food styling to videography and ebooks. I met some amazing people and came away incredibly inspired, with lots of ideas for the new year.
But without further ado, I give you the top posts of 2012 – both my favorites and yours.
In the Kitchen: Personal Favorites (I couldn’t keep the list to just 5)
- Strawberry-Feta Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
- Chicken Enchilada Soup (Crock Pot)
- Mixed Berry Salad with Vanilla Syrup
- Citrus Martini
- Almond Poppy Seed Bread
- Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
In the Kitchen: Reader Favorites - You guys apparently really like my sweets
- Chocolate Cake Batter Cookies
- Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate Mix
- Caramel Macchiato Cupcakes
- Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels
- Pretzel S’mores
In the Kitchen: Recipes Made or Tried That Didn’t Make the Blog (either the photo wasn’t pretty enough, it was eaten before I could photograph, or a friend made the recipe)
- Dark Chocolate Earl Grey Cupcakes from Dessert for Breakfast – Love love love the Earl Grey flavor in the icing. This will definitely be made again!
- Blueberry Crumb Bars from Sweet Remedy – The dessert fairy dropped these off one day. Let’s just say that my husband didn’t quite get his fair share of the package.
- Caprese Salad on a Stick – now I’ve seen this idea several places, but a friend made it for a joint baby shower we threw earlier this year. Simple, easy to make, and tasty. What’s not to ask for. (Link goes to the blog post where she originally found the idea, but again, it’s everywhere).
- Coconut Zucchini Bread from Two Peas and Their Pod – I had sent this recipe to my mom when she had an abundance of zucchini. I only recently pulled on of the loaves she made out of the freezer. Moist and sweet, I like it better than my family recipe.
Off the Bookshelf: Personal Favorites
- The Bronze Horseman Trilogy (The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander, and The Summer Garden) – I had read the first book before, but reread it and finished the series this year.
- The Night Circus
- Shadow of Night (second book in the All Souls Trilogy, following A Discovery of Witches, read in 2011)
- The Graceling Realms Series
- The Invisible Bridge
- The Lover’s Dictionary
Off the Bookshelf: Reader Favorites
The Hunger Games review is the only one on this list not published in 2012, but I felt the need to highlight it as it was the top book review for 2012. Also, like last year, my Nook-ADE Tutorial (for getting library books onto your Nook), Nook screensavers, and my tutorial on removing books from your Nook were the top book-related posts of the year.
What were your favorite recipes and/or books read from 2012? Leave me a comment – I’d love to check them out in 2013.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
I say it every year, but each year seems to be busier than the last. Well, this is the last year that I’m saying it – I know next year is going to be crazy busy. We moved in the final days of 2012, so the first half of the new year will be spent getting settled into our new house, and getting ready to welcome our first child, a daughter due in early March.
Blogging Goals: This time last year, I had hoped to get in the habit of posting twice a week in 2012. I started off strong, but a combination of visitors, travel, and first trimester laziness meant that I slacked off quite a bit in late spring/early summer. I didn’t start posting again regularly (weekly), until fall. I know that 2013 will be a lot of change for my husband and I, but I’d still like to continue to post at least once a week throughout 2013. I think that’s a manageable goal, don’t you?
I also want to continue to work on my photography. I upgraded to a DSLR after Thanksgiving, so now I need to take the time to learn how to use it, find my light, and style my photos. I do think I improved in 2012, but I want to continue improving! I’m hoping to do my own sort of Project 365 so that I’m using my camera every day and maybe take a photography class next summer to helop me rewch this goal.
In the Kitchen: My bucket list for 2012 included making perogis, stuffed cabbage, homemade pasta, caramel, tiramisu, and bagels (although the list could go on forever). I did make stuffed cabbage with my mom, although I didn’t blog about it. And for the first time ever, I made caramel (for salted caramel hot chocolate mix) without burning it! I’ll continue working on the other items on this list next year.
Off the Bookshelf: In 2011 I had set the following goals for myself for 2012:
- Read all of Jane Austen’s works (6 books, 1 short fiction, and 2 unfinished fiction)
- Read the Lord of the Rings series. I love the movies, I just need to start the books!
- Read the Eragon series
- Read Paullina Simon’s Tatiana & Alexander Series.
I didn’t get to the other books because as soon as I found out that we were moving, I started reading mysteries and books that I knew I would want to donate instead of moving. This means Jane Austen’s works, the Lord of the Rings series, and the Eragon books are still on the list for 2012.
Do you have any goals for 2013? Any recipes on your bucket list for the year? Any books you’re excited to read? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to in 2013.
I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction novels, and actually tend to read a good number of them. Most of the historical fiction that I read are from the WWII time period. In January, I decided to challenge myself to diversify my reading habits a bit more. I stumbled across a historical fiction reading challenge, hosted by Historical Tapestry, and thought I’d give it a shot. My other motivating for participating in this challenge was to encourage myself to post more book reviews (I know that I post a lot more cooking/baking posts). Part of that is because I read a lot of mystery novels, but don’t usually feel that those books deserve their own post. However, I do review most other books that I read.
When I started the challenge, I had hoped to read at least 20 historical fiction books during the course of the year (reaching the highest level of the challenge, “severe bookaholism”). Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards this year. 2012 ended up being busier than I expected with lots of travel, family in town, and getting ready to move. I also lost a couple of months to general listlessness during my first trimester.
While I didn’t meet my goal, I did read several historical fiction novels that I really enjoyed. Below, you can find a wrap-up of the books I read,with links to my reviews.
1 – The Invisible Bridge (by Julie Orringer)
2-4 -The Bronze Horseman Trilogy: The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana & Alexander, The Summer Garden (by Paullina Simons)
5 -Shadow of Night (Book 2 of the All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness)
6 – The Historian (by Elizabeth Kostova)
7 – The Secret Speech (by Tom Rob Smith)
I also read, but did not review The White Queen (by Phillippa Gregory): This book would probably have gotten a C- had I reviewed it. I remember really enjoying The Other Boleyn Girl, but The White Queen just didn’t do it for me. My attention kept drifting throughout the book.
Are you a fan of historical fiction novels? What are some of your favorites? I’d love some recommendations to read in 2013.
This past weekend was amazing. I got to attend my first foodie conference! The first ever Mixed!
Mixed was hosted by Paula of bell’alimento and Susan of Doughmesstic. The conference was held at the Mountain Lake Hotel in Virginia. Look familiar? The classic movie Dirty Dancing was filmed here. I was beyond excited. Since I arrived on Friday with plenty of time, me and my new camera went on a Dirty Dancing walking tour (photos here). I was happy to have the opportunity to test out my DSLR.
I was a little nervous at the start of the weekend – so many talented foodies and photographers and I had never met any of them in person. There were five women, my “internet friends” that I have been chatting with online for quite some time, that I immediately met up with. The six of us (Heather from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks, Lynsey from Lynsey Lou’s, Maeghan from The Way to His Heart, Stephanie from Brownies and Blondies, and Amy from What’s Brewing in the Kitchen) hit it off, sharing stories about our families, homes, and of course cooking and baking, like we were old friends. We met and mingled with fellow foodies throughout the weekend – everyone was so nice! And it was awesome to meet some foodies that lived relatively close to my hometown.
Saturday was filled with lectures and activities. Bree Hester of Baked Bree spoke about food photography (and took professional headshots for us!); Tami Hardeman from Running with Tweezers spoke about food styling, Lenny Ferreira of Chez Us spoke about videography, and Heidi Larsen of Foodie Crush spoke about creating an ebook. There were two interactive sessions – Marian Poirier of Sweetopia gave a demo on decorating holiday sugar cookies before we got to decorate our own and Duff Goldman, Mary Smith, and Elena Fox of Ace of Cakes led us in cake decorating using Duff’s own line of gear. I had a blast, even if my cake wasn’t the prettiest out there.
Finally, I can’t say enough about the fantastic sponsors that Paula and Susan lined up for this event. These companies (and their representatives who participated in the conference) made it a fantastic experience for one and all. Thanks to them, I had a tasty lunch for my long drive home (the Wisconsin Cheese brie, arugula, and fig jam sandwich was amazing) and I now have a new favorite snack (the tortilla chips from Way Better Snacks are like crack – and healthy too!). I came home with a huge bag of swag from Hershey, Oxo, KitchenAid, and Dixie Crystals Sugar, Real Butter, Dreamfields Pastas, Attune Foods, Lucky Leaf, Duff, and Stoneyfield, just to name a few.
Finally, the event was not without thinking of others. Oxo matched raffleticket purchases, with all proceeds going to Cookies for Cancer. Participates also went home with a tin, encouraging them to Bake It Forward – to whip up some baked goods, send them in the provided tin which will be registered online, and then send the goodies to someone who needs a smile. The idea is that the recipient will eventually send it to someone else, spreading kindness and smiles to those who could use it.
The weekend was fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed my first food blogger conference. I learned a ton and met some amazing people. Thanks again to Paula and Susan for organizing such a wonderful weekend!
Severe thunder storms this weekend completely derailed weekend plans. We lost power in the middle of the night on Friday and almost 72 hours later, still do not have power restored.
So what do you do when there’s no power in 100+ degree heat, when the weather service advises you to say indoors in the air conditioning?
You stare at the downed trees in your yard. You can’t clear them because they’re too big to cut with a hand saw and your chain saw is electric.
You wander the maze of your neighborhood trying to figure out which streets are blocked and if you can get out.
You cry because you know that you won’t get out any time soon… not with this massive tree laying on the power lines a block from your house.
You take a trip to Barnes & Noble…. and buy another cookbook that you don’t really need, along with a couple of new books that will overflow your bookshelves a little bit more.
You become extra thankful for good friends… spending
the day three days at Camp Karen with a bunch of friends – watching Madagascar and Cars II, watching the hubby play video games, charging your phones/computers, and drinking… a lot. You also partake in nap time, snuggling with your favorite 2-year old.
You show off your new drool-worthy cookbook and get suckered into making cookies. Thanks to Lindsay Landis from Love & Olive Oil for an awesome cookbook. It’s not often where I can look through a cookbook and want to make every single recipe in it. In fact, I don’t think that’s ever happened. Until now.
You reorganize your Pinterest boards. Instead of having one giant recipes to try board, I’ve split it up into courses. I need to start pinning more savory dishes instead of just desserts.
You attempt to save some of the food in your fridge and freezer…. either using friend’s fridges/freezers and by grilling for a crowd.
Thanks to all of our friends who helped out over the past few days, and who will be helping out in the days to come. It sounds like we’ll be at least another two days, if not longer without power. Send happy thoughts our way as we mooch off of friends and try not to make ourselves crazy.
The beginning of June was a whirlwind of travel for me – 4 states in 10 days. I got to hold my niece for the first time (I’m an aunt!) and attend my future sister-in-law’s bridal shower. I spent the time in between hanging with my parents, reading (the Graceling Realms series and The Little Giant of Aberdeen County), and playing in the kitchen.
But for one brief day, I got to channel the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. You see, my uncle just bought a place out in the Hamptons and Mom and I went to visit. We got up really early in the morning. We planned to arrive mid-morning, beginning the day with a couple stops for bagels and the makings for this Citrus Martini (Ina’s Juice of a Few Flowers) on the way. Unfortunately, fate was against us. Mom plugged the wrong town into mapquest and we ended up lost for over an hour. So no martinis for us.
While we missed out on morning martinis (don’t judge – mimosas are acceptable for breakfast/brunch, so these should be too!), but I did get a little Ina tour. We drove by Ina’s house, although we kind of debated about which one it was. And we took a quick trip to Loaves and Fishes, one of the stores Ina shops at. The shop carried absolutely beautiful pieces of silverware, serving pieces, and linens. It was a bit out of my price range, but I enjoyed meandering up and down the aisles, drooling at all the pieces I’d like to take home. I could have easily come home poor.
Even though I didn’t get my cocktail in the Hamptons, it was one of the first things on my list to make when I returned home. It was even better than I expected… slightly sweet and tangy, but not definitely not tart (which I expected based on the grapefruit, lemon and lime juice in the recipe). While I enjoyed my
martini martinis as an evening cocktail, this would also make a fun alternative to a brunch mimosa.
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics p. 37
Makes 3-4 Servings
- 1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (~2 oranges)
- 1/2 c. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (~1 grapefruit)
- 1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice (from 1 lemon and 1 lime) – save the lemon pieces
- 1 c. good quality vodka
- granulated sugar
- Combine all juices in a measuring cup or pitcher. Be sure to reserve the lemon pieces for rimming the martini glasses.
- Strain into another measuring cup, bowl or pitcher. Add vodka and stir to combine.
- Spread a little sugar on a small plate, covering the bottom. Using a reserved lemon slice, rim a martini glass with lemon juice. The dip the rim of the glass in the sugar, twisting to rim the glass in sugar.
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour 1/4 of the mixture into shaker and shake vigorously until martini if thoroughly chilled. Pour into prepared martini glass. Use fresh ice for each additional drink you make. If not finishing immediately, refrigerate vodka-juice until serving.
Number of servings: 3-4
This year, Books n’ Cooks went through a site redesign and moved to a new web hosting service. I like the new format – including the recipe/book review index and reading sidebar – but because of the new format, I can’t pull most popular posts for the year. Instead, I’ll give you some of my personal favorite recipes (there were quite a few this year) and books.
Links to reviews in bold.
IN THE KITCHEN
I spent a lot more time in the kitchen this year, than I had thought I did. I had a hard time narrowing down the list, so you’ve got about 15 of my favorite recipes here.
- Baked Fontina: This baby didn’t last long. It’s super easy to put together but seems so classy. Serve with a giant baguette and it’ll be done before you know it.
- Buffalo Chicken Dip (aka Crack Dip): I’m waiting for the hubby to invite some guys over for fight night or a football game so that I have an excuse to make this again
- Soft Pretzels: Oh so good. One of my first experiences working with yeast. Although a little time consuming, these addictive game-day snacks were easy to make and flew off the plate.
- Mini Crab Cakes: Although crab is a little expensive for hosting a lot of people, these crab cakes won’t disappoint. This recipe was easy to assemble, could be cooked ahead of time, and simply reheated. I made it once this year, for our holiday party, and had several requests for the recipe.
- Tomato Mozzarella Tart: This is one appetizer that felt like a real treat. It was pretty light but still satisfying. Serve with a glass of wine and a side salad for a refreshing lunch with the girls.
- Cinnamon or Cardamom Palmiers and White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies are two of my favorite cookie recipes to whip up. The palmiers are super easy and look impressive. The white chocolate chip oatmeal cookies have just the right amount of sweetness, and taste great slightly cold from the freezer (where we keep a bag stashed!)
- The hubby and I rate the following three cupcakes as our favorite of all time (although our order differs slightly): Irish Carbomb Cupcakes, S’Mores Cupcakes (made in 2010) and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes (recipe not yet blogged). I was also surprised when I made Lemon Limoncello Cupcakes this summer, and ended up loving them. They had a nice light lemon flavor, with a burst of lemon from the filling and the candied lemon slices. Thanks to S for picking out this recipe for her birthday this summer!
- Homemade Vanilla Extract: Made for the first time this year, homemade vanilla extract was super easy, and cheaper than buying at the story. I now keep a couple bottles going at once so that I always have some ready. This would also make a great gift as well!
- Herbed Baked Eggs: This recipe turned me into an egg-lover. The Parmesan and herbs turned a blah breakfast into a fantastic breakfast.
- Apple Almond Chicken Salad: Poor photo aside, this chicken salad was awesome. A little bit of homemade mayo, the sweetness from the apples, and the crunch from the almonds made this a winner. Wonderful on a sandwich, salad, or on its own.
- Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri: The hubby and I improvised this meal after craving our friend’s Brazilian steak and chimichurri. It wasn’t the same, but it was a pretty good substitute. The salt and pepper steak had a freshness of flavor from chimichurri spread onto.
- Pasta with Gorgonzola, Brussels Sprouts and Candied Pecans: I have no idea what tempted me to try this recipe, since I’m not really a creamy/cheesey fan, but I really enjoyed it. The cream sauce was light, and the gorgonzola was only as heavy as you made it. I can’t wait to make this for my vegetarian brother, if he ever escapes law school for a visit.
- Tilapia with Cardamom and Basil: Made in my quest to use cardamom more, I loved the flavors of the cardamom and herbs on this mild fish.
- Roasted Shrimp with Feta and Tomatoes: The ingredients for this shrimp dish are always in my kitchen. It’ easy to throw together and wonderfully flavorful.
Soups & Sides
- French Onion & Fennel Soup Gratin: I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this soup. I’ve never been a big French Onion Soup person, unless I was in Canada (the soup tends to be too salty whenever I get it in the U.S.). This was amazing. I brought it to work for a friend and people were furious there wasn’t enough to share. So good!
- Old-Fashioned Potato Salad: There’s really only one thing to say about this. The girls and I were eating it straight out of the serving bowl while the guys were grilling. I think we ate close to half of the double batch before the guys finished grilling. Enough said. Make it.
OFF THE BOOKSHELF
2011 was a pretty slow year for me. I read over 110 books in 2010, but barely hit 80 in 2011. I think some of the books were longer, and life was just busier in general. Here are my favorite books of 2011, in no particular order:
- The Zookeeper’s Wife (by Diane Ackerman): Based on memoirs, interviews and historical documents, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a story about a Polish couple who owns a zoo during WWII. They struggle to keep the zoo’s inhabitants (animal and refugee alike) alive and safe as long as possible.
- Revolution (by Jennifer Donnelly): A young adult book that flip-flopped between past and present France as a girl struggled to overcome depression and find herself. Great story. The story should have depressed me, but Donnelly did a great job not dragging the reader down with the character. I still felt empathy towards the character, but didn’t get depressed as a result.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (by Rebecca Skoot): The “immortal cells” that were “donated” by Henrietta Lacks to science in the 1950s. This book is about medical history and advancements, black history in the Virginia-Maryland area, and the struggle of the Lacks family to understand what the cells mean to science. What I had assumed would be a boring, slow sciency book turned out to be a fabulous, easy-to-read book about a family, history, and medicine explained in layman’s terms so that even I could understand it.
- The Millennium Triology (by Steig Larrson): This trilogy includes the popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest. While a bit graphic, I thoroughly enjoyed this series. I would compare them to many American mystery novels but much more complex.
- A Discovery of Witches (by Deborah Harkness): Supposedly a young adult book, this paranormal romance feels more like an adult book. The characters were much older and more mature than most young adult books, and the lengthy descriptions of alchemy and ancient texts are something that an adult would enjoy more than a young teen.
- Bossypants (by Tina Fey): This hilarious autobiography slipped in just before the new year. Witty and sarcastic, Fey describes her childhood and career in comedy, writing, and producing for both Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.
With so little free time, I tend to read only books that I know I will be interested in, which is part of the reason you don’t see a lot of negative reviews on this site. Life is to short to read books that I won’t enjoy. The one exception, the least-favorite book of the year was One Day (by David Nicholls). It was chosen for my book club, and like a true champ, I powered through it. I liked the concept but hated the characters. This was the one book that I really wish I had skipped this year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Since graduating college seven years ago, I feel like each year is busier than the last. 2011 flew by! I’m not even entirely sure why I was so busy. I did work quite a bit and spent some time doing home improvement projects, but that doesn’t account for a whole year. Oh well.
Here are some of my goals for 2012:
In the Kitchen
In 2012, I would like to regularly post two recipes each week. I’ve done alright with it in 2011, but really want to commit for 2012. I’d also like the posts to be bit more balanced – desserts and sweets should not outweigh breakfasts, lunches, dinners and sides. Part of the reason for this is that I find desserts easier to photograph. So clearly, I need to focus on really learning to use my camera better, perhaps making a light box, and taking more time to style and photograph my creations. Think I can keep the hubby away from dinner long enough to do that?
I do have a bit of a bucket list for items I’d like to make, but I’m not going to swear that it’ll get done during 2012. I’d love to make perogis and stuffed cabbage (perhaps on Polish Day, if I can ever pick a date to get some friends and family together for it). Homemade pasta has been on my list for a while (I keep swearing that I’ll steal my mom’s Kitchen Aid attachment). Caramel and tiramisu continue to intimidate me (I’ve failed at both once before), but I swear it’ll happen eventually. If my brother comes to visit, homemade bagels will be attempted, per his request. The list could go on and on. If only I didn’t have to work or keep a clean house…
Off the Bookshelf
In 2009 I had set the following goals for myself (I apparently didn’t do a New Year’s post last year):
- Read all of Jane Austen’s works (6 books, 1 short fiction, and 2 unfinished fiction)
- Read Gone with the Wind, a book that has always intimidated me a little bit in its length
- Read the Lord of the Rings series. I love the movies, I just need to start the books!
I am sad to say that I only accomplished one of those – reading Gone With the Wind, which I finished earlier this year. I’ll be keeping the other two goals on my list for the year. In addition, I would like to read the Eragon series (which I had been putting off until the final book came out) and Paullina Simons’s Tatiana & Alexander books (I’ve read the first, but would like to reread it and finish the trilogy).
Also, like last year, I want to work on reading through and donating the many mystery novels that line my bookshelves. Until I have a bigger house and more bookshelves, I cannot just keep them all! I have to be selective!
Please share! I’d love for you to share your cooking and/or reading goals for 2012. What are your plans for the new year? Leave a comment, but before you go, check out this recipe for Champagne Cosmos, a nice change from your glass of New Year’s champagne. The touch of cranberry-lime-Grand Marnier takes the edge off the champagne and sweetens the drink just a little bit. Love it! We drank four batches of this over Christmas week, and I fully intend on bring some to our New Year’s Eve party tonight.
Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 96 p. 62
- 2 bottles of champagne or prosecco
- 3 Tbs. fresh lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
- 1 c. cranberry juice cocktail
- 1/2 c. Grand Marnier
- lime curls, for garnish
- In a small pitcher or large (2 cup) measuring glass, combine lime juice, cranberry cocktail, and Grand Marnier. Stir to combine.
- Pour a couple tablespoons of cranberry mixture into champagne flute (will be about an inch of cranberry mixture in bottom of the champagne flute).
- Top with champagne and garnish lime curls.
Serves 8 (with two glasses per person)