Monthly Archives: December 2017

12/30/17

Best Books of the Year (2017 ed.)

It’s that time of year again- the time when we look back, reflect, reminisce, and plan forward into our future.

It’s when we make New Year’s resolutions and set personal goals for ourselves over the course of the next year.

It’s when we dream…

And, one of my traditions each year, that I love so much, is recounting the number of books I have read that year and determine my Best Books of the Year.

Some years it’s easy to determine, and other years, it’s very difficult. But this year was a good reading year, but not really a great reading year. But, a few of my books rose to the top of the pack and really were exceptional reads that I couldn’t wait to share with all of you!

And, one of those was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.

It’s no secret my love for historical fiction, particularly WWII time fiction.

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Not only was it probably my favorite book of the year, but it’s right up there with favorites over time. It’s incredibly unique, incredibly heartwarming, refreshing, and original. And while I love the story line, the historic plot, and the incredibly characterization, but the story behind the book was just as incredibly as the book itself. (Be sure and read the Acknowledgements at the back for that sweet story.)

“Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.”

The Sound of Glass by Karen White

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It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives the unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, SC has now been left to Merritt after his reclusive grandmother’s death. So, she travels from her home in Maine to the beauty and secrecy of coastal Carolina to unravel her husband’s unspoken past.  And among the sand, bluff mud, and the wiry live oaks, Merritt discovers more than just the secret’s of her husband’s unspoken past… Her future.

I read 3 Lucinda Riley books this year, a relatively new author, at least to me, and I have really enjoyed her books. But, 2 of them ran away from the pack.

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

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“Spanning four generations, The Midnight Rose sweeps from the glittering palaces of the great maharajas of India to the majestic stately homes of England, following the extraordinary life of a remarkable girl, Anahita Chaval, from 1911 to the present day…” 

 I found this book to be an incredibly riveting text, heart-wrenching, and a turbulent emotional story, perfectly blending past and present as both Indian and British customs during both World Wars.

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

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La Côte d’Azur, 1998.

In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinières, the last of her gilded, aristocratic line, inherits her childhood home; a magnificent château and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt—and almost as many questions and mysteries to unravel…

Potentially my favorite Lucinda Riley piece of fiction yet!

And the book I just finished…

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

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After a terribly tragedy upsets both Oscar and Elfrida’s seemingly tranquil Hampshire life, Oscar and Elfrida take refuge in a rambling house in Scotland which becomes a magnet for various waifs and strays who converge upon it, including an unhappy teenage girl, a young woman nursing a broken and rejected heart, and a new business owner just passing through, but the roads are closed due to the historic snowstorm. It could be a recipe for disaster, but somehow the Christmas season weaves its magical spell for this motley and unlikely crew, and the effect is the greatest Winter Solstice yet! 

2017 was also a big re-reading year, and I re-read several of my previous favorite novels. And you know what? I think I love them a little bit more with each re-reading, and I take something new each and every time.

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

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And, then there were a few books that didn’t quite meet the mark for me. Ones that were a bit oversold, over-talked about, or the story line didn’t quite work for me. There was bound to be some let-downs.

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Overall, I felt A Dog’s Purpose was a sweet tale, but I found it to be juvenile and a bit scattered at times. Was just OK for me.

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A sucker for all things WWII Historical fiction, plus a book that had been highly-touted and critically acclaimed, but I had a terrible time trying to finish this book.  I felt it started with such promise and I love the characters, the prose, the lyrical way in which Cleave writes. But, around page 150, it almost became unbearable and it was a struggle to complete the book- although I feel I speed-read the last third of the book just to know how it ended. A heartbreaking story with a slight glimmer of hope at the end. I would not recommend.

So, what’s up next, you might be wondering?

I’ve got a few ideas…

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So, what’s been some of your favorite reads for 2017?

Share them with me!

Here’s to Insatiably Happy Reading in 2018!

xoxo….

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12/28/17

Homemade Marshmallows

Homemade Marshmallows.

Mom and I had always wanted to try our hand at making marshmallows, and so it became our after-the-holiday-madness project. It was so much fun and my, oh my, are they good! Beats the pants off those perfectly-circular, extremely-processed Jet Puffed variety that used to pass as marshmallows for me, but not anymore.

So, let me walk you through how to make this delicious confection everyone can enjoy! Nothing is overly complicated, but there are several steps involved and it is a bit of a process. So, just take your time, enjoy time with the ones you love, and have such fun!

And, additionally, I will also share with you the things I learned from this first effort and what I would do differently next time. Because, there will be a next time…

Homemade Marshmallows

recipe from Barefoot Contessa Family Style Cookbook, 2002

(Yield: 20-40 marshmallows, depending on size of squares you cut)

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions:marshmallow1

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the syrup. It will become very thick and granular. marshmallow2

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.marshmallow3

Remove from the heat.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin.marshmallow4

Be very careful as you do this step. That syrup is very hot!

After all the syrup has been added, put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick. This process will take approximately about 15 minutes.

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And it will grow…

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And grow.

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Add the vanilla and mix again once more thoroughly to fully incorporate.

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Look at that! I love how glossy and thick they become. (and I love that little precious pottery bulldog peeking around the mixer… can you spot him?!?) 

With a sieve, generously dust an 9 x 13 inch non-metal baking dish with confectioners’ sugar. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth the top with damp fingertips, and dust with more confectioners’ sugar.

They don’t have to be perfect, just get it into a single layer.

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Allow to stand uncovered overnight until it dries out.  At least 8 hours or so.

When ready to cut, use a flexible, serrated knife, to loosen the edges around the pan, and cut them into squares.

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It helps if the knife has been run under hot water and dried in between cuts to keep the edges clean and the squares more uniform in size.

Just take your time! Remember: It’s a process.

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Dust them with more confectioners’ sugar on all sides and keep in an air-tight container with layers of parchment paper in between the layers so they don’t stick together.

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Will keep up to 2 weeks time.

**A few Notes:

  • I later learned that the trick to getting the marshmallows out of the pan is to line the pan with parchment paper, so that the sides overlap and you have wings, or tabs to pull up on. Then, sprinkle the bottom of the pan completely with powdered sugar, as we have done, and lightly grease the side of the pan with a non-stick cooking spray. They should lift out easily, and then you can turn out onto a powdered sugar covered board and cut into desired shapes.
  • Tips on cutting: The real secret to clean lines when cutting is the more powdered sugar, the better! Don’t shy away or skimp on the sprinkling. It is the same concept as flouring your cookie cutters when making cut-out cookies. Sugar your knife in between making cuts, and occasionally, rinse clean in warm water so that the knife glides along the marshmallows and prevents it from tearing.
  • Wanting to cut out into shapes? Lightly grease and then coat your cutters in powdered sugar and then press firmly and lift the shapes out. Continue to dust the cutters in between each cut to prevent sticking. Use shapes like hearts, stars, squares and circles for best results as the shapes are more simple and not quite as intricate.
  • A great variation on this original recipe would be Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. You can see full recipe here. Those would make beautiful homemade gifts wrapped up in a clear, glassine bag with a nice bow.

My favorite way to enjoy them?

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Floating in a mug of hot chocolate with a good book in hand curled up in my favorite arm chair on a slow Sunday evening. Truly, the best things in life are so simple and often free. Such a simple pleasure.

xoxo….

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