Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Salon 35: Rediscovering the Library

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I don't use the library very often for somewhat ridiculous reasons. Mainly, because I already have so many unread books on my own shelves I feel funny about checking out other books to read before the ones on my shelf. That in itself isn't really a ridiculous reason--actually it's quite sensible to want to get through my own books first before seeking out others. Especially when most of the books I own but haven't read have sadly been sitting on my shelves for years!

The ridiculous part comes into play when I think about how easy it is for me to drive to the bookstore when I want/must have a book even though I sometimes won't actually read the book for a year or even longer!! It's a sickness, I swear, but I bet some of you do the same. Even if you wont admit to it!

The reasons why I don't use the library are varied, but once upon a time I was a loyal patron. I remember visiting the library all the time as a child and just as frequently as a teen. Until I checked out The Joy Luck Club my senior year of high school. I don't remember all of the circumstances, but what I do remember is that I failed to return the book, got late fines, got threatening letters about my [minimal] fines going to collections, and finally my card was revoked. I never did finish the book, though I did return it, and never visited the library again outside of what was needed for college courses.

Once I had my own income and budget, I didn't need to use the library anymore.  I could hit up massaive book sales and come home with boxes full of books.  Or if there was something I really wanted to read, I could just pick it up at the store.  Truthfully outside of the massive book sales, I didn't buy books to read later until I started blogging, and now my shelves are literally overflowing with books.

My local library isn't very conveniently located to where I live, but a year or two ago they built a new branch right down the street from me. I worked up the courage and got my first library card in over 10 years.  I still haven't checked out any books (save for one needed for book club), but I've rediscovered the library through their online audiobook database.  I've been able to download audiobooks online and upload them straight to my iPod without having to leave my living room. 

Photo Courtesy McKinney Public Library  

The other day, however, I couldn't find an audiobook I needed online so I ventured to the main branch of my library.  All the way downtown (downtown McKinney isn't really a downtown...just one of those cutsey little squares with a courthouse and fun novelty shops).  I was astounded by the hugeness of the library.  The shelves.  The books.  The smells.  It brought back so many memories from childhood (though back then I lived in another city).  It's still too far for me to drive to on the weeknights after work, but having been once has broken some of the intimidation.  I'm not sure I'll ever get to the point where I'm checking out books regularly, but I'm trying to listen to audiobooks more frequently and hope to utilize my library in this way.

Sunday's Questions:
What kind of relationship do you have with your public library?  Do you check out a lot of books or do you tend to purchase books you want to read instead? 

Looking Back to Last Week
-I shared random pictures from my iPhone during Wordless Wednesday
-I made a delicious cake from scratch and wrote a post to prove it

Looking Forward to Next Week
I'm hoping to be a little more bookish this week than last!  Ulysses starts on Tuesday and I have my book all flagged and ready to go.  I listened to the librivox version of Episode 1 yesterday while sewing and it was horrendous.  Like seriously bad.  I think it was just a bunch of drunk grad students who got together to read the book.  Ha!  I have a review of The Book Thief half written and hope to get some thoughts on True Grit down as well.  Finally, I'll be hosting this month's Whip Up Something New challenge so watch for the link post on Tuesday (fingers crossed).

The rest of today?  Sewing, grocery shopping, and celebrating my dad's birthday.  Whew!

Hope you're all having a lovely Sunday!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Coconut Cake: Barefoot Contessa's Recipe Roadtest

Over two years ago my sister, Brooke, emailed me a recipe for the Barefoot Contessa's Coconut Cake.  It was for one of those recipe email exchanges that no one ever really follows through on--you know: email to 10 of your friends and have them send a recipe to the person who sent you the email and in return you'll get 100 recipes from your friends' friends?  This may have been the only recipe I received.  Printed it is two pages and the ingredient list scared the bejeezus out of me (turns out I'm intimidated by lengthy ingredient lists).

So, since we're doing the Whip Up Something New Challenge and my mom's birthday was last weekend, I decided to skip the boxed cake and make Ina's Coconut Cake.  How'd it turn out??  (ps, even though recipe was sent to me via email, I also found on Barefoot Contessa's website--directions below are straight from her recipe [my asides noted as such]).

Barefoot Contessa's Coconut Cake


3/4 pounds [3 sticks] unsalted butter, at room temp plus more for greasing pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra large eggs at room temp
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese [16 oz], room temp
1/2 pound [2 sticks] unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour. [more on this later]

[I've learned the way to tackle recipes with many ingredients is to gather everything together ahead of time so you're not constantly starting and stopping.  Apparently I'm not the only one as there's a fancy French term for this: mise en place].

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled, don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold the 4 ounces of coconut in with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly in to the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

[I don't grease and flour pans--instead I use Cake Release by Wilton.  It's a little goopy, but after so many disasters of cakes sticking to pans during my cake decorating class, I've never used anything else since and usually have good results.]

[Batter was much thicker than a boxed cake, but I gotta admit those rounds came out beautifully! The strips around the pans below are Bake Even Strips (also Wilton).  Don't know if they really do anything or not but supposedly they're supposed to keep your cake from getting the doomed top.  I did have some crispiness around the edges that I cut off with a serrated knife, but that's probably more due to overcooking the cake just a few minutes too long--oooooor the fact that I used 8 inch pans instead of 9.]

[trimming and frosting a cake is much easier when it is cold, so once your cake has cooled, wrap it and stick it in the fridge until you are ready to frost]

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth .

To assemble, place one layer on a flat serving plat, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides.

To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut on the sides. Serve at room temperature.  [I grabbed a handful of coconut and patted around the sides of the cake and then sprinkled remaining on top]

Everyone raved about the cake, and when I took the leftovers to work, the cake disappeared immediately. I found it it be a little dry and much denser than a boxed cake.  Some of this is because it wasn't quite room temperature, but I wasn't sure how long the cream cheese could sit outside of the fridge?  I really liked the almond flavoring, but it certainly wasn't overpowering.

So what do you think?  Worth the time and effort or easier just to buy from the box?  I really enjoyed taking the time to make this cake, but I had the time to do so--something that's uncommon for me.  I'm undecided as Duncan Hines does make a pretty dang yummy cake!

If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out for you!

Nom Nom Nom,

I tried this recipe as part of the Whip Up Something New ChallengeJoanna is hosting this month so be sure to pop over to her blog to catch the other participants' recipes and include one of your own. Next month I'll be hosting Whip Up Something New here--watch for the post on February 1st.  So far everyone's having a blast whipping up their new recipes, so I hope you'll join us from month to month!

Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  "Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs."  Hope you'll join the fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Almost Wordless Wednesday: iPhone Edition 1

Did you really expect me to be Wordless when it's been days since I've posted?  All is well, just busy doing other things--like lazing around on the couch watching Anne of Green Gables and cutting fabric for my quilt.  Thought with everyone Bloggiesta-ing last weekend I'd take a break and do non-blogging/bookish things for a few days.

Annnnnyway.  Scott was flipping through my pictures on my iPhone the other day and I realized that I take a lot of freakin' random pictures.  Do you with your phone?    Here are a couple of the earlier ones (all several years old).  After posting these I realize that probably no one cares but me, but too late now!!  Ha!

Ok, Scott took with *his* phone, but I love.  LOVE.
My little lovey.

Last day as a blonde

Halloween at the office.  Don't ask...I don't know.

Sweet Lexi Dog.  My desktop background at work. 

Me and sister Brooke with baby Emma

Was overly excited about gas being so cheap! (2+ years ago)

Sadly I must have toe drag as several of my shoes have this mouth.

Was "mad" at Scott and wanted to prove it

Hahahahahaha!  In my parking garage at work.

Seriously?  I mean, seriously?

Today's [Almost] Wordless Wednesday inspired by a post my cousin Elise wrote.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Loathing Books - Literary Bloghop

Literary Blog Hop

It's been several weeks since I actively participated in the Literary Blog Hop, but since I haven't actually finished a book this year, I'm feeling a little too quiet for my own good. Ha!

Today's question:

A work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university. Why did you dislike it?

I was a bad student.  It still amazes me how many books I failed to finish when I was in school--grade school AND college.  Even some grad school courses!  I'm not sure what my problem was but for some reason when I *had* to read books I just never really wanted to.  And yes, grad degree in literature.  I read most of them, but when I was reading over 1,000 pages a week for three classes and teaching freshman writing, sometimes time was not enough.
Melville (from wikipedia)
Thinking back on books I truly hated--only one name comes to mind.  Herman Melville.  I actually enjoyed Moby Dick, perhaps because I really forced myself to read it and study it, but anything else by Mr. Melville?  Boring as hell.  Bartleby, the ScrivenerBilly BuddBenito Cereno?  I couldn't seem to make it through any of them without falling asleep after two pages.  I'm not sure if it was the subject matter that I wasn't interested in or the heavy writing, but I always dreaded when I saw Melville's name sneak onto the syllabus for a course. 

Image from wikipedia
 Other honorable mentions?  Pamela by Samuel Richardson and Robinson Crusoe by Danial Defoe.  Early novels (18th century) don't seem to do much for me, but maybe I just haven't read the right ones yet--I've heard Tristam Shandy is a hoot.  Other than those, I don't remember hating many of the books I read.  Some I wasn't as excited about, but not pure loathing.  Now, Brothers Karamazov, which I read last year away from academia?  Ha!

Have you read Melville?  Shoud I give the guy's shorter fiction another shot?  I mean, he does have a pretty awesome beard, but...

What books have you read and hated?  See other answers on The Blue Bookcase.

Oh, and if you're curious about Moby Dick...I'm thinking about a readalong in the fall.  After Little Miss comes and life settles a bit. 

Happy Friday!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday Random Rambles

I was going to do a Wordless Wednesday today, but Lisa reminded me that I haven't updated my ever-expanding tummy in a while (really four weeks ago?!?), so I figured I'd whip up a rambling post instead.

I swear I'm bigger in person than in these pictures...but if you look back at the last rambling post (22.5 weeks), and the one before that (19.5 weeks), you can see progress.  Right?  I should be more diligent about taking pictures but time is going by WAY too quickly.  I only have 13 weeks left.  Unbelievable.

26.5 Weeks

I'm feeling great.  My sciatica is mostly gone, which seems strange to me since I'm getting bigger, but I won't complain.  I had my first experience with calf cramps at 4:00 in the morning, but so far it was just that one morning.  I tried to do a pre-pregnancy step aerobic video today and only lasted 15 minutes--guess you don't realize how depleted of energy you are until you compare yourself to your old activities!  A little bit of the morning sickness is coming back but no actual sickness.  My biggest complaint?  Heartburn.  Tums has become my best friend. 

We have baby furniture! My mom bought our crib and we have the dresser ordered and on the way. She also gave us the pink camo bedding for Christmas--we still have a long way to go before it's all set up, but isn't it darling? And the pink walls Scott painted couldn't match any better. The little horsey is from Scott's sister.

I'm slightly addicted to pink material. In the past couple of weeks I've acquired 17 pink fat quarters.  I'm making Georgia's Quilt--a pattern from Red Pepper Quilts. My sister Brooke is also making the same pattern but with blue fabrics. Other than buying the fabric, I haven't made much progress.  Do you buy fabric just because it's pretty?  I always used to buy to sew, but now I have fabric for "future" projects.  How do you store your fabric stash?

I did pull out Scott's quilt fabric and took it over to my sister's when I helped her set up her new sewing maching. Got a whole stack of squares cut! One side of the quilt will have vehicle prints with cream background and the other side will have vehicle prints with black background. Why it's taken me so long? I bought the fabric online and realized that I'll have to fussy-cut most of the material. Any secrets for quick fussy-cutting?

Speaking of creativity--other people's creativity, this week I won a handmade notebook from Iliana of Bookgirl's Nightstand. She's got an Etsy shop with so many adorable notebooks.  The bookmark was made by my sister, Brooke, who is much more creative than I am.  She also has an Etsy shop, but no bookmarks yet--maybe if we pester her enough she'll add some!  I've temporarily set aside The Knife of Never Letting Go to read True Grit for my book club meeting that didn't happen.  I can't say I'm terribly interested in the book, but it's short and I think I'll finish soon.

Anyone know how to get pictures like the ones above side-by-side? You're thinking--but you did it here. Yes, had to go to an old post created with the old Blogger editor and use the html coding from there--apparently the new Blogger editor uses completely different picture html. Weird, huh?

Not really as random or rambly as normal, but there you have it.  How's this Wednesday treating you?

Ta-ta for now!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jousting with Joyce (aka, what the hell was I thinking?)

They did it again.  That Jill and Trisha have talked me to into a painful and impossible readalong of Ulysses by James Joyce.  Technically I think we can blame Trisha as it was her idea! I say all of this with pure loathing (ha!) but yet, I was the first to jump on board.  And gotta love me some Jill and Trisha.  Don't know them?  You should.  Immediately.

I almost typed, "I love/hate Joyce" but then realized that's not true.  I've only read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man--twice--and I hated it--twice.  I wanted to enjoy it, I really did, but that Stephen Dedalus was just enough to drive me bonkers.  And I can't say I'm a fan of Joyce's writing style either.  And this is supposed to be THE impossible book.

I admit, though, the fact that it's impossible intrigues me.  And then I listened to South of Broad last summer and there was so much about Joyce and Bloomsday.  Then Ms. Jill at Rhapsody of Books (not Jill above) posted a Bloomsday post last year and I popped over to the link she provided about Molly Blooms soliloquy and wow.  It's beautiful isn't it?  I know it's super duper long, but it kind of makes you want to read the book, too.  Doesn't it?  If too long for you, skip to 9 minutes and see what I'm talking about. 

So, I say Joust with us.  And Joyce, too.  We start February 1st and will read for six weeks. 

Head over to Ms. Fizzy's blog to sign up for the Ulysses readalong.  Do it.  Misery loves company--and we do have fun with our readalongs, whether we love or hate the book.

Sooooooo....??  You in?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Salon 34: Processing Reading

Happy Sunday Morning! Hope everyone's having a lovely morning.  My mom had minor knee surgery this weekend so I've been spending time at her house mommy-sitting.  It's been so nice spending time with her just chatting and relaxing.  The weather is a bit warmer than last week; I'm sad to see the snow all melted but I'm sure we'll be getting more before the end of winter.

This year I'm trying to utilize my commute time (two hours a day--one hour each way to work) by listening to audiobooks.  I listened to Good to Great last week and this week have been enjoying Friday Night Knitting Club.  I do enjoy listening but have a tough time focusing at times and also find that my brain seems to process audiobooks much differently than when I'm reading a paper copy.

Last year when I was reading Brothers Karamazov I thought a lot about reading processes and how my brain seems to function completely differently when reading certain times of books.  I stored away the idea of processing certain types of books as a Sunday Salon topic but forgot about it until this week when I realized that just like classics I don't "read" audiobooks quite the same way.

With classics, or even more involved types of books I tend to focus more on the texture of a book rather than the plot.  I pick apart or am more analytical of the characters and some of the themes in the book.  I really look at the words and phrasing--often times I have a pencil close by so that I can underline and make notes.  With fluffier types of books I'm focus mostly on the plot and surface level elements of the book.  Even though reason tells me that there are thematic elements to these books as well, my brain doesn't seem to want to dig but rather just enjoy. 

When listening to audiobooks I realize that my brain functions much the same way as when I'm watching a movie that I've already seen a dozen times.  I can't grasp the writing style of the author, it's tougher to grab quotes, and even just the more detailed aspects of the book are lost on me.  I still get a lot of enjoyment out of listening to audiobooks but because my brain doesn't process the "reading" of them the same was it does a regular book I find it's tougher for me to conceptualize the actual book.  I think this is also why I have a tougher time writing about audiobooks after I've listened to them--to date I've only written about one book I've strictly listened to.

Sunday's Questions:
Do you find that you process various types of books and media in different ways?  Do you find yourself looking at certain aspects when reading classics versus newer fiction?  Do you think about audiobooks in the same way that you think about print books? 

Sometimes it's nice to not have to tear apart a newer book like I would a classic--reading classics can be mentally exhausting (although oftentimes more rewarding), but I do wish that I could process audiobooks in the same way that I process print books.  Perhaps it just takes time and practice?  Or maybe one part of my brain focuses on reading and another on listening.

Looking Back to Last Week
-I got excited about a new food challenge--Whip Up Something New
-We had our first snow storm of the winter
-I finally reviewed a book!  The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Looking Forward to Next Week
I've been reminded I need to update you on my expanding tummy, so I feel another random post coming on.  I'd love to review another book--maybe The Book Thief from last year or maybe I'll finish The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I'd love to find a recipe in my stash to post my first Whip Up Something New recipe.  I'm hoping for a productive week, so we'll see how organized I can be!

Hope you're all having a wonderful Sunday! 

Happy Reading,
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