Wishing you and your loved ones a very good year in 2015!! And, a sincere thank-you for reading this blog in 2014. Stick with it. Look forward to happy reading, eating and writing in 2015. Keep the conversations going. Love to hear from you!
At the end of last month I suggested six book-based movies to see before the end of the year. So far, I’ve seen three. Here’s basic data and my brief impressions.
MOCKING JAY PART I
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Peter Craig and Others
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Awards: Golden Globe nominee for best original Song, Critics Choice Award Nominee for Best Actress in an Action Movie
Given my recollections of Catching Fire, this movie is easily second best. Photography and sound are paramount. Story and character are overshadowed by the noise.
Jennifer Lawrence as our heroine is subdued, performing mostly in one key. Emotions seem to be conveyed by film editing and not by actors. Katniss flounders, and it is painful to watch. Julianne Moore takes center stage; mostly she reads lines with expertise in speaking to large audiences in the underground skyscrapers. Well, they are very tall buildings. I’d best not use the word skyscrapers since they do not touch the sky.
Having said this much, I will say the film held the attention of all my companions, family members of different ages and interests. The film meets that standard. One theater was sold out at 1:00 in the afternoon.
But, even the youngest critic remarked on the slow pacing. I can only agree.
Director: Tommy Lee Jones,
Writers: Tommy Lee Jones and others
Actors: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter
Awards: Palme d’Or
PFCS Award Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading role, nominees
And others including nominee for World Soundtrack Award Film composer Marco Beltrami
Disappointing and disjointed best describe this movie for me. It is essentially about a place and about women, but it is titled The Homesman. Tommy Lee Jones, a very capable actor, is the writer and director, but whenever Hilary Swank is not on screen, the movie seems as bland and boring as the scenery. The western plains can be beautiful even as they are dangerous and difficult. I did not see that. Swank gave her character depth, but then, her character surprised viewers and not in a satisfactory way.
The story is strange and surreal, rather than realistic and gritty. It’s not exactly untrue, but stretched and distorted like the mirrors at the carnival. The Tommy Lee Jones character morphs into different personalities at different times. Instead of a realistic gradual change, we think we are seeing, and expecting, at the end he reverts into someone else yet again.
This movie will elicit many different opinions. It’s absence from many award lists testifies to this. Different viewers will see different movies. For me, somehow the excellence of the actors, the beauty of the place and the high interest of the topic, women in the early west, are all lost in the strange incoherence of the story.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Writers: Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Bay Hoffmann, Michael Huisman and Thomas Sadoski
Awards: Golden Globe nominee for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Critics Choice Award Nominee Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay
This movie scores in many areas: photography, acting, story all come together to make an unforgettable experience for movie-goers. Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, we see her character played in perfect pitch by Reese Witherspoon save herself as she deals with her demons while hiking the Pacific Coast Trail alone.
Laura Dern is excellent in the role of Cheryl’s mother. Other actors do well with their roles. Witherspoon holds us mesmerized in every frame. Clarity is a feature of both acting and story. As we watch we are not confused, but entertained, interested and thoughtful.
For my money, this movie is clearly the best of the ones on the list, I’ve been able to see so far.
I’ll add another movie to my list: Into the Woods. So along with Unbroken, Gone Girl, and Still Alice, I hope to see more movies.
Do tell us what holiday movies you like, whether they are based on a book, or are filmed from an original screenplay. It seems movie genres span a wide range of interests this year. Let us know what you like! Maybe you are off to see The Hobbit, Intersteller, or a biography. Keep the conversation going, in many directions. Thanks.
One of my most treasured Christmas books is a beautiful pop-up book by Robert Sabuda. The 12 Days of Christmas: A Pop-up Celebration. It was a gift a few years ago, and I am most grateful to the colleague who gifted me this book. It brings the beauty of Christmas into focus, both the beauty of art and the beauty of giving.
Paper engineer and artist Robert Sabuda created this timeless elegant classic in 1996. He expertly crafted the paper cut-outs. Each page fascinates readers. An anniversary edition is now available.
I display and share this book every Christmas. Young and old alike treat this book with respect and admiration. Perhaps you will gift this beautiful book to someone special in your life.
Do tell us about your favorite Christmas book.
We all love to do a favorites list. Here’s mine. Many good books are not on this list. I didn’t read them. I wish I had read more books. Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. So from the 40-50 books I did read this year, here are my picks for the best reads, listed in no particular order.
Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel by Nickolas Butler. This book might be described as realistic fiction set in the Midwest. The story is narrated by a male character who tells about himself and his friends navigating early adult life.
The Secret Place by Tana French. Fiction/mystery. The Dublin murder squad investigates a death at a local girls’ school. Readers see the mystery unfold from two viewpoints: the young detective and the adolescent girls involved in the incidents.
Sous Chef by Michael Gibney. This book is nonfiction, memoir. It takes the reader inside a restaurant kitchen. Perhaps the most riveting book on the list.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Memoir. A young woman recounts her hike over the thousand-mile Pacific Coast Trail while negotiating not only the hike, but also the hairpin curves life has thrown her way.
Lila by Marilyn Robinson. Fiction. Readers return to the Iowa town of Gilead and learn more about the minister’s unlikely wife and her earlier life. It is a thought-provoking book with much wisdom.
Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen. Fiction. Probably the most charming story I read this year.
Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business by Christopher Leonard. Non-fiction. This book presents the magazine-expose type story of the industrial system that brings meat to the people of our country.
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe. Non-fiction. A compelling story of women in combat and the tremendous sacrifices they make in the service of our country.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This critically acclaimed historical fiction tells an unusual story giving readers new knowledge about World War II.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikrey by Gabrielle Zevin. Fiction set in a bookstore. It vies with Still Life for the charming book of the year award.
The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot. This is a very enjoyable piece of historical fiction. It addresses the age-old question. Who is our neighbor?
The New Midwestern Table by Amy Theilen An interesting and readable cookbook with so much information about food. There’s never been a cookbook like it, or so it seems to me.
A Place in Time by Wendell Berry. A collection of short fiction. More stories about the people in the fictional community of Port William, Kentucky.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. This mystery/thriller combines beauty and enjoyment. The story takes readers to the countryside outside of Montreal.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz. This gripping story written for young readers is special in any genre.
Why did some books make this list and not others? I judge all the books on this list to be well written. I admit to being influenced by critics and other opinions. I found these books interesting and enjoyable, a personal choice. These are also books I feel others would enjoy if inclined to the topic or genre of the book. Each book delivers something important. Probably, personal enjoyment weighs most heavily in adding a title to the list.
Many of these books have been reviewed in this blog. Type the title in the search box if you wish to find the review. The review for Esperanza Rising was posted on the Reading page and is not longer available. The review for Still Life With Breadcrumbs is on the Writing page.
From Liz Hurbis
Toffee Oatmeal Cookies
Martha Stewart’s Version of the cookies are pictured above.
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup light-brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 cups oatmeal
• 1 cup dried cherries
• 1 cup bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup toffee pieces, (5 1/2 ounces) This year chocolate covered Heath chips.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and baking soda, and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice during mixing. Add egg, and mix on high speed to combine. Add vanilla extract; mix to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sifted flour a bit at a time on a low speed until well combined. Add oatmeal, cherries, chocolate, and toffee pieces; mix to combine.
Divide dough into three equal portions, and roll into logs using plastic wrap, approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. To bake, cut logs into 3/4-inch pieces. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a baking rack to cool.
From Barb Dean
EASY OREO TRUFFLES
36 OREO Cookies, finely crushed, divided
1pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
4 pkg. (4 oz. each) BAKER’S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, broken into pieces, melted:
RESERVE 1/4 cup cookie crumbs. Mix cream cheese and remaining cookie crumbs until blended.
SHAPE into 48 (1-inch) balls. Dip in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs.
REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm.
How to Melt Chocolate:
Place chocolate in microwaveable bowl. Microwave on HIGH 2-1/2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted, stirring every 30 sec.
How to Easily Dip Truffles:
To easily coat truffles with the melted chocolate, add truffles, in batches, to bowl of melted chocolate. Use 2 forks to roll truffles in chocolate until evenly coated. Remove truffles with forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl. Place truffles on prepared baking sheet; let stand until firm.
How to Store: Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator
Compliments of Kraft Foods
2 12-ounce boxes Nilla Wafers
1 egg white
¼ cup sesame seeds
4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
4-5 Tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon almond extract
yellow food coloring
red food coloring
1 cup coconut
green food coloring
2 10 oz packages Grasshopper chocolate-covered cookies.
Sort both boxes of wafers placing broken wafers to the side and the perfect wafers on two trays; one tray with wafers facing up and the other with wafers all facing down. Each tray should have the same number of wafers, about 35-40.
Start with the tray of wafers facing up (round side up, flat side down). Brush them one at a time with a little egg white, then sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top and place the wafer back on the tray to dry. Repeat until half of the wafers have been brushed with the egg white and sprinkled with seeds. Set aside.
To make frosting (cheese), place confectioners sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle with 4 Tablespoons milk and almond extract; stir. If necessary add 1 more Tablespoon milk, Add yellow and red food coloring until desired American-cheese color. Set. Aside.
To color coconut, place coconut in a large jar, sprinkle with green food coloring, cover with a tight fitting lid, and shake until desired green color is reached, adding more green color if necessary.
To assemble Cheeseburger cookies, keep in mind that the frosting becomes the glue and each layer is glued together. Start with the tray of wafers that are upside down; place a dab of frosting on the wafer and then a grasshopper cookie; repeat until tray is completed. Next, place a dab of frosting on top of the chocolate cookie and dip into the green coconut (lettuce); repeat for entire tray. The last step is to dab with frosting and top with sesame wafer; repeat until all burger cookies are complete.
To wrap burgers, cut plastic wrap to about 3-by-six inches. Place a burger in center, gather and twist at one side and tie with orange and black curling ribbon. Makes about 25-40 cheeseburgers.
FROM SUSAN CARTER
Recipe from her grandmother
1 package dates/cut up
1/2 lb raisins
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Cup nuts
1 tsp lemon juice
Just cover all ingredients with water & cook until thick. Spoon filling onto pastry rounds (can use regular pie crust). Fold over, press edges together & crimp. Bake in a 350 degree oven until slightly browned.
See the comments section (Replies) for some fabulous sounding cookies from Bernadette Mainzer
Thanks a million to our contributors for sharing their recipes. Happy Christmas Cookie Baking to you all!
Are you dreaming of Christmas Cookies? Our readers share their recipes! What fun!
The recipes have been coming in. Thank you to those who have sent recipes we all can share! There are some delicious sounding and interesting recipes here.
From Judith Vitali
SWEDISH CREAM WAFERS
2cups all-purpose flour
1cup butter, softened
1/3cup heavy cream
1 box powdered sugar
½ cup butter or margarine, softened,
cream, as needed to reach frosting consistency
red and green food coloring
• In medium bowl, mix flour, 1 cup butter and the whipping cream with spoon. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour or until firm.
• Heat oven to 375ºF. Roll one-third of dough at a time 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured surface. (Keep remaining dough refrigerated until ready to roll.) Cut dough into circles with 1 1/2-inch cookie cutters. Have bowl of granulated sugar and generously cover both sides of dough with sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Prick each cookie with fork two to four times
• Bake 7 to 9 minutes or just until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely … about 1 hour.
• Meanwhile, mix all filling ingredients until smooth. Separate into two bowls … add red coloring to one bowl, green to the other … filling should be pale pink and pale green
• Spread generous amount of filling on one cookie and add another to top. Cookies are rather fragile….work carefully.
And another recipe from Judith.
2 c packed brown sugar
2 c flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp each: soda, salt, pepper
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped almonds
15 oz. ground raisins
1. beat eggs and sugar until thick and spongy
2. sift dry ingredients over ground raisins and nuts mix to cover … pour over egg mixture and mix to a stiff dough
3. chill and roll into balls
4. place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet
5. bake at 375 for 10-12minutes
6. while still warm, shake in bag with confectioner’s sugar … set to cool on racks
From Lee Tobin
Lee believes this cookie is of Swedish origin.
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of unsalted butter (no substitutes)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Brer Rabbit Gold Label Molasses
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped
Sift flour with ginger, soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Cream butter. Gradually add sugar, creaming well. Blend in molasses. Add dry ingredients gradually; mix well. Stir in almonds.
Divide dough in half. Shape into rolls, 8 inches long. Wrap; chill overnight.
Cut into 1/8 inch slices; place on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Makes 8-10 dozen cookies
And another recipe from Lee. This one from Italy. She has baked these cookies for over 50 years. I say they are a tradition at her house.
Italian Sesame Cookie
2 eggs, well beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup of canola or soy shortening
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Knead dough a couple of minutes. Break off pieces the size of a walnut and roll in hands.
Roll in milk and then sesame seeds. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake in 375 degree
oven for 20 minutes.
Makes about 50 cookies.
Here’s another Italian cookie from Lee served with coffee for dipping or dipped in red wine at a cocktail party. She says her neighbors love them and she has been baking them sine 1996.
CRANBERRY ALMOND BISCOTTI
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon pure almond extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 6-once package of Craisins Sweetened Dried Cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk together eggs, egg whites and almond extract in a separate bowl. Add to dry ingredients, mixing until just moist, using an electric
mixer on medium speed. Add dried cranberries and almonds; mix thoroughly.
On a floured surface, divide batter in half and put each half into a log approximately 14 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until firm.
Cool on wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Cut biscotti into 1/2 inch slices.
Stand upright on cookie sheet and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Let cool and store in a
loosely covered container. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.
Note: When you print from the home page of this blog, you will use the print directions on your computer. Most likely you are able to print just the first few pages, but follow the directions on your screen. Do not simple click print or you may get many many pages. You will want to choose the pages to print.
MORE CHRISTMAS COOKING SHARING NEXT WEEK.
READER INTERVIEW WITH LIZ HURBIS, MICHIGAN READER
Conducted November, 2014
Welcome to another installment in the popular series: Reader Interview. Thanks to thoughtful and enthusiastic reader Liz Hurbis for sharing her reading knowledge with us. You readers out there in blogland will find some worthwhile book recommendations here, thanks to Liz.
Tell us what you are reading?
I am currently finishing and have enjoyed, Sue Monk Kidd’s, “Invention of Wings,” in the historical fiction department, and am still working on a political nonfiction book by Ben Carson, called “One Nation.”
Recently I finished Nancy Horan’s “Under the Wide and Starry Sky,” historical fiction. Horan researches her subjects well and writes an incredibly factual story about the life of Robert Lewis Stevenson. I was especially intrigued by his unusual writing process. Her first book, “Loving Frank,” (Frank Lloyd Wright), was another compelling read, even if you didn’t like the man very much, it was worthwhile. “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, another recent book, tells an incredible story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone, after her divorce and the death of her mother. I enjoyed the writing of both of these authors.
What books are in your waiting-to-be-read stack?
Waiting in the wings is “Ordinary Grace,” by William Kent Krueger and “Round House,” by Louise Erdrich. Sitting on the table patiently is “Stonewalled”, by Sharyl Attkisson, my next nonfiction, followed by “Patriots and Rebels,” by John Bush, “The Good Funeral,” by Thomas Lynch and “A Separate Peace,” by John Knowles. So many books, so little time.
Do you have a favorite author or two, or more?
This year I discovered Ann Mah and her entertaining second book, “Mastering the Art of French Eating,” and that lead me to read her first book, “Kitchen Chinese,” both non fiction. I love her insights on other countries, the people, culture and food. She tells her stories with humor. Among others, I loved “Yes, Chef” by Marcus Samuelsson. He is a well-known chef in NYC born in Ethiopia, orphaned, and adopted by Swedish parents, then raised in Sweden, it’s a wonderful story. In his restaurants he integrates his African/Swedish background to create a unique cuisine. I hope to dine at his restaurant The Red Rooster in Harlem one day. I really enjoy “foodie” books.
I’ve also read a few of Geraldine Brook’s books, “March” and “A Year of Wonders” among them. I would like to read more by this author. I enjoy her characters when they have unimaginable circumstances to endure coupled with their great spirit.
Do you have a favorite genre or topic that especially interests you?
Food seems to be a theme with me; paradoxically, I also enjoy reading about nutrition. “How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” by Caldwell Esselstyn and “The China Study,” by Colin Campbell immediately come to my mind. These authors are spirited doctors from fine hospitals trying to spread the word of the importance of good nutrition, and how it can affect every aspect of your life and prevent so many diseases and much suffering. Esselstyn, his son Rip and wife Jane will be speaking at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, MI in January.
What authors would you like to invite to lunch?
What a spirited conversation we could have with the aforementioned doctors and food editors, like Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet Magazine and author of “Comfort Me with Apples,” and Chef Marcus. But what ever would I serve them?!
How did you become a reader?
For the most part my family loved reading. My mother was in a great books club in the 60’s, before book clubs were so common. I loved going to the library at an early age, something I still enjoy. My sister is a voracious reader and she has kept me informed and interested.
Are there books you truly treasure? Tell us about them and why they are important to you.
I think the books that have been truly important to me would include Marcus Zusak’s “Book Thief,” and Eric Larson’s “In the Garden on Beasts,” both about the horrors of Nazi Germany; “Sandcastle Girls” about the Armenian genocide, somehow lost in history. “Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand, a must read. I would be remiss not to mention “To Kill A Mocking Bird,” by Harper Lee, a favorite of many and made into a wonderful movie.
I like a book that teaches me about history and important events, the human condition, how others think and solve problems, or one that gives me new ideas and teaches me about myself. Sometimes a book can give several enlightenments at the same time…that’s usually a good book.
How do you decide what to read?
I make my book choices by listening to what friends are reading, or their book clubs are reading, and book reviews. My sister, again, is a good source. No matter how much I try to investigate a book before I read it, I always have a few disappointments each year.
Note from Paulette: Readers can see why I go to Liz for recommendations. She always has a good book to suggest, one I have not read. Thanks for that, Liz, and thanks for doing this interview.
Chris Van Allsburg arrives at Book Beat. Welcome Mr. Van Allsburg.
Chris Van Allsburg, a Michigan native writes and illustrates children’s books. He has won two Caldecott Medals. Adults and children love his books. Some of the best known are Two Bad Ants, The Polar Express, and Jumanji. Here’s a quote from his website: “The idea of the extraordinary happening in the context of the ordinary is what fascinates me.”
The author patiently signs books.
The crowd patiently waits to have books signed.
Owners and staff are always ready to help book searchers.
I’m glad he visited. Filled with joy to be back at Book Beat and meeting Mr. Van Allsburg again.