iscribblings

Charting life's circuitous path


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A Box Full of Christmas

We have a bookshelf.  Still.  A good friend of mine wants to replace her bookshelves with ebooks, and I can see her point.  Books are big, they take up space, some have horrid spines with tatty edges.  Perhaps she dreams of filling that space of old paper and dried glue with something more . . . well, more.

We don’t buy a lot of books anymore.  I borrow from the library like an addict seeking their next big hit.  Buying a book feels more like an investment – will its physical presence pay off in the end?

And then there are books you want to buy for everyone you know and that guy down the street because, obviously, their bookshelf is deficient and paltry without it.

The Fault in Our StarsOur book club’s first selection was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s epic while being so very simple.  It’s a tearjerker, a laugh-maker, a thought-creator all in one.  It’s about love and death and disease, but even more so it’s about life.  You’re forced to look at how you treat life and the lives of those you know and don’t.  It explodes the question on how we deal with death while we’re alive and if our lives are filled with a life worth its deserved weight.

It’s all kinds of wonderful and I was ecstatic that it was our first choice.

However, no matter how many ideas, thoughts and cookies I brought to the table, I can’t share it adequately when no one shows up.

sugar cookies

One person did come, and I tried not to reveal my true fanaticism about this book or else scare her away, but in the end I was still left with an abundance of thoughts and cookies. (Is a club still a club when there are just two?)

snickerdoodles2

I made sugar cookies and snickerdoodles because not only do they make the holiday that much more sparkly, but they’re my grandmother’s favorite cookies.  She would always have a pile of them at her house on Christmas and we would be allowed to eat as many as our sugar-blitzed stomachs wanted.

She’s in her 80s now and hasn’t cooked or baked for a few years since my grandfather died.  We aren’t quite sure why she stopped cooking, but it was one of the first things that would become a part of the list of symptoms we would later see.  Holidays are still full of home-cooked meals and desserts, but they’re brought in by the rest of the family.

Her cookie recipes weren’t exactly special.  She wasn’t adventurous, either, with her cooking and preferred to do things exactly by the book.  But while her cookies wouldn’t win a blue ribbon, they won a place in my memories forever.  They’re what make me feel like Christmas is here, that the world is that much cozier and that for one sugary, spiced second, it’s all okay.  They remind me of warm houses, tall trees, bustling noise and bossy relatives.  They remind me of smiles, laughs, and the thrill of being at grandma’s for Christmas.

present

Which is why I’m packing them and sending her a tin of cookies and cocoa this year.  It’s alright that I didn’t share them with others at our club meeting.  It’s okay that I’ve stuffed myself with memories sprinkled in sugar.  It’s all okay because in the end, it’s my grandmother who’ll open a box full of Christmas.

(And The Fault in Our Stars?  It has a permanent spot on our bookshelf.)

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Books, Cake and Good Discussion

Well, I’m pooped!  After a night of intense baking, planning and a morning of nervous fretting, our first book club meeting ended as a success.  Even if only 3 people came and no one ate the cake.

These people must have nerves of steel! Layers of fudge, cookie crumbs and dense cake. I admire them already (course, I’d love them even more if they raved about my amazing cake baking skills, but I still think they’re pretty spectacular 😉 ).

We’re reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green this month and Angelmaker by Mark Harkaway next time.  I’m really looking forward to the next meeting and seeing how the discussion evolves and the group bonds.

The meeting today, though, was a success on a personal level.  This was the first time in my life where I took an idea I had been sitting on as a vague desire and actively set it into motion.  It’ll be lovely if the group comes together and we all become best buds, but really, I’m counting the day already a win.  There are many opportunities out there but so few are taken.  I’ve passed up on so many things because of little worries: will I look silly, will people like me, will I have the time, etc.  It’s when we stand a little straighter and blink our eyes clear of all doubts that we can truly grasp life and all it has to offer.

Book Club Fudge Cake

Note: Original recipe by Foodess (called Moist Chocolate Cake) and can be found here.  I didn’t tweak this at all, but I did use the shortcuts.  I also used her fudge icing recipe, which is amazing!  The cocoa I used was Trader Joe’s unsweetened cocoa powder which gave the cake a more smooth cocoa flavor than other sharper cocoas. This cake is easy, delicious and it looks special.  Give it a try and you’ll definitely love it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I substituted 1 cup skim milk mixed with 1 tbsp white vinegar with no problems)
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick unsalted), melted
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup freshly brewed coffee (I used 1 cup hot water and 2 tsp instant – couldn’t taste the coffee at all)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 deg and line two 9 inch pans with parchment paper.  I used pre-cut parchment rounds and trust me, they’re brilliant.  No more tracing, cutting and waste.
  • In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, cocoa and baking soda.
  • Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed until smooth (about 2-3 minutes).
  • Add coffee and stir with spoon to blend (mixture will be runny).
  • Pour evenly into pans and bake for 35 minutes until toothpick comes out mostly clean except for a few crumbs (this is important to remember since I was waiting until all crumbs disappeared and almost burnt my cake.  A few crumbs is fine and means it’ll be moist later.)
  • Allow cakes to cool in pans for 15 minutes.
  • Gently run a knife or spatula around the edge of the cake to separate the cake from the pan.  Place a parchment lined cooling rack over the top of cake pan, grasp the edges of the pan with mitts and flip cake over to dislodge.  Using the parchment paper will help your cake from sticking to the cooling rack.
  • Cool completely before frosting.

Fudge Frosting

Note:  Foodess gives us a roundabout recipe that is defined more clearly by another poster, but which I found to be not quite right either.  Basically, follow the proposed recipe but adjust it to your desired taste and consistency.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup milk (err on the side of caution and use less to begin with and add more as needed)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt (depending on taste and whether or not you used unsalted or salted butter)

Directions:

  • Beat butter on medium speed until smooth.
  • Add vanilla and mix.
  • Using a spoon, add dry ingredients and stir well.  It’s okay to break out the mixer to smooth any lumps, but I found a spoon did the trick just fine.
  • Use immediately as icing does firm up a bit while it sits.

Cookie Crumbs:

  • Pulse 5-6 Cookie Sandwiches in a processor until small crumbs form.
  • Using a small piece of parchment paper, angle parchment at a 45 deg angle from the side of the frosted cake.
  • Carefully pour a tsp or two of crumbs unto the parchment while you gently press upwards to align the crumbs and paper with the edge of the cake.  The crumbs will stick the to edge without getting everywhere.  (Well, almost. 🙂 )


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And the Ball Starts to Roll

Desire

A calendar hangs empty.

Scattered here and there: doctor’s appointments, family gatherings and moon phases.

Blank squares with black lines separating each from the other.

One after another.

Not for long.

Beginnings

Cool air brushes strands of dark hair away from a wrinkled brow.

A shelfari page bursting with good reads, low opinions, and wacky recommendations.

An emerging idea – so simple, so easy – lights the steps before her.

Ideas

Do you love books? I do!

No, too nerdy.

Tired of reading alone?

Definitely not.  Too lonely hearts.

Tapping fingers on black keys.

Fear

A crisp piece of paper becoming a bit battered on the corners.

Moved to the hallway for easy grabbing.

Left there to acquire more knocks.

Will they like us?

Courage

The bed shakes as she throws herself on her napping hubby.

She liked it!

The Start

Life is malleable.

That first step is waiting to be taken.

Jump.

(And, yes, we did get our book club idea approved by our apartment manager! 🙂  Took me a week to get up the courage to give her the proposal, but all of my worries were swept away under a gush of excitement and enthusiasm from her.  Now, it’s all down to planning.  Have a book club experience you want to share to help me navigate this new world?  Please do!  I’d love to hear all the good, bad, and beautiful!)