Plight of a Bookworm #5: “What’s your favorite book?”

 

I don’t know why I asked it. Maybe it was the shock of hearing someone say that they hated “The Time Travellers’ Wife”. Maybe it was a 2:45 pm blood sugar low. All I know is, I didn’t mean to say it, but I opened my mouth and there it was: “Well, what IS your favorite book, then?”

And there it was. One of my most hated things to be asked, and I had just asked it of another person. She looked (understandably) taken aback. I felt (suitably) ashamed of my behavior. Because, as any bookworm knows, the worst book-related question to be asked, and todays “Plight of a Bookworm” is:

“What’s your favorite book?”

If it is well-known that you like to read, then this is a question you will encounter often. It’s a favorite of various icebreakers and of first dates and online profiles of any sort. But here’s the thing, I don’t have a favorite book. At all. For me, this is up there with “Who’s your favorite child? Come on, there has to be one that stands out.”

Lots of books stand out.

The first book I read so much that the cover fell completely off (Billie Letts-Where the Heart Is).

My favorite book for when I want to read about great parties and terrible people (F. Scott Fitzgerald-The Great Gastby)

My favorite expose of the inner workings of Mormon polygamous cults (John Krakauer-Under the Banner of Heaven).

My favorite book for subverting the patriarchy (Jessica Valenti- Full Frontal Feminism)

My favorite autobiography of a person famous for nothing but her autobiographies (Jennifer Lancaster-Bitter is the New Black )

My favorite childrens’ book (Classic: Dr. Seuss-One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, New: Drew Daywalt-The day the Crayons Quit)

Favorite guilty pleasure books (Sophie Kinsella- Confessions of a Shopaholic  Series)

Plus there are so many more books that I couldn’t live without that don’t fit into any categories. Favorite books are like songs or body parts or friends, you can’t have just have one. Someone could really like “Party Rock Anthem” but they maybe wouldn’t always want to hear it, like at a funeral (actually, that would be pretty awesome…). I like some books and dislike others, but there isn’t any one book that I am always in the mood for. While being asked “Whats your favorite book?” may not stress normal people out the way it does a bookworm, I think a lot of people would have difficulty answering it.

So, if you ever want to strike up a conversation about books, do NOT ask “Whats your favorite book?”. Be better than that, show a little respect, be a more creative conversationalist. Ask “Whats your favorite book that was set in the future upon writing, but is now in the past?

And, obviously (George Orwell-1984).

Book Cookin Thursday #5-Little House in the Big Woods Molasses Snow Candy!

When I was little I loved “Little House on the Prairie”. Like, REALLY loved it. I loved the books, I loved the show, I loved my rose-patterned pioneer replica bonnet, loved it. When I was 10, one of the little museums down by the lake had a “Little House” exhibit, and it was one of the best days of my young life. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my Hannah Montana.
One of the things I really loved the most was all of the DIY, making fun out of nothing. Inspired by Laura and company, I made my own paper dolls (with a good amount of success, although I doubt the pioneers had Cheerios boxes to use for the dolls), attempted to sew bedding for my dolls’ cradle (with decidedly less success) and collected buttons for a button string (not as fun as advertised). One thing I never got to do was make any pioneer food.
In the book “Little House in the Big Woods”, Laura and Marys’ favorite winter treat was Molasses Snow Candy.

Ma boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in little streams onto the snow.They made circles, and curlicues, and squiggledy things, and these hardened at once and were candy. Laura and Mary might eat one piece each, but the rest was saved for Christmas Day.

I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but we’re got a little snow to spare up here so Book Cookin’ Thursday #5, we’re making Snow Candy, pioneer style! I got this recipe here.

Ingredients:

1 cup molasses
I cup brown sugar
Fresh, clean snow (or crushed ice) I can’t speak to how clean the snow is in Toronto but..it’s white, so I’m going with it.

  • Boil the molasses and sugar together in the large pot until the mixture reaches the “hard crack” stage on a candy thermometer, or until a spoonful dropped into cold water forms a hard ball and cracks. Remove the syrup from the heat. I KNEW candy thermometers were a crock!
  • BE VERY CAREFUL. THE SYRUP IS EXTREMELY HOT AT THIS STAGE. Don’t tell me what to do, “Little House-Big Fun” blog…
  • Scoop fresh, clean snow (or crushed ice) into the shallow pan. Dip up a spoonful of syrup and dribble it onto the snow. It will harden and become candy. Lift the candy off the snow and onto a clean towel to dry.

Starting out: So, right from the outset, this isn’t looking good. Molasses has very much the same consistency as cough syrup. But maybe the brown sugar will do the trick? 

Halfway through: This smells awful, and everything that touches it is instantly ruined because boiling molasses is natures’ ultra-glue. Good for waterproofing birds nests and removing stains from the forest floor. Did you know molasses can remove rust from cars?

Verdict: Remember those little candies, that were wrapped in orange and black and always the last thing to be eaten from your Halloween haul? You’d get into late November and figure that they were better than no candy and you’d try one, and they were AWFUL? Turns out, that’s molasses candy. Tastes terrible. Sticks to EVERYTHING. Googling “How to remove molasses from dishes” is no help.

DO not make molasses snow candy, unless you like those awful Halloween candies.

 

 

Call me Ishmael: Kerrys Top Picks for kickass opening lines

The say you only get one chance at a first impression. So it’s no wonder that many writers report that the first sentence is the hardest to write.  A good opening line can set the tone for the whole book and quite often when considering buying a book, I’ll check out the first line. Here is my top 10 list of authors who nailed it!
And before anyone asks, I did omit “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. I just can’t un-hear “it was the best of times…it was the BLURST of times!”-Sorry Mr. Dickens.

On with the show!

10. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

9. Charlottes’ Web (E.B. White)
“‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

Note: I love Charlottes’ Web, it’s one of my favorites, but what do you think the chances are that a book with an opening line about slaughtering a pig would make it into the hands of a 4-year-old today? Now all kids get are books are sharing and pooping and how everyone does both. Mollycoddling!

8. 1984 (George Orwell)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

7. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

6. A Series of Unfortunate Events-#1 A Bad Beginning (Lemony Snicket)
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”

5. Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

4. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

3. Matilda (Roald Dahl)
“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

2. The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
1. Pride and prejudice (Jane Austin):
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

As true today as it ever was 😉

From the Huffington Post: 11 Reasons to Date a Bookworm

Next time a certain someone expresses dismay at the overflowing bookshelves, frustration at the constant threats from the library police or fatigue at the 2 hour mark in the local bookstore, perhaps direct them to this handy list, courtesy of the Huffington Post-Books!

Some other fun facts about readers?

  • There is a relationship between reading for pleasure and a decreased likelihood of Alzheimer’s later in life
  • People who read are more likely to exercise, vote and be involved in other cultural activities
  • Reading fiction in particular makes people more empathetic
  • Reading can lower stress hormones and muscle tension

And you don’t have to be a full-blown bookworm to enjoy these benefits, many of these studies define “readers” as people who read 10 or more books/year! And none of them commented on the “quality” of book. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading “War and Peace” or “Gears of War”, letting your inner bookworm out is good for you and it makes you a better date, apparently 😉 .

So maybe some people should stop adding the accusatory “Another?” every time a box comes from Amazon…or Chapters…or Albris.

 

Book Cookin’ Thursday #4: Prison Cheesecake

(Yes, yes, it’s not Thursday, but let’s all just pretend. It was a long week at the ol’ day job!)

There are certain universal truths about any large gathering of women. There will be gossip. There will be long lines for the bathroom.

There will be pot lucks.

My day job, which is predominantly women, actually seems to have some things in common with the womens penitentiary that Piper Kerman describes in her biography “Orange is the New Black”*; a lot of negativity, there are certain people you don’t want to piss off, English-speakers are the minority, news spreads faster than wildfire, the furniture is from 1982 ( the magazines in the lobby, however, are from 2007), but we do eat very well.  At least every month there is a massive pot luck, and everyone has a specialty, something they always bring. Feeding each other is a part of the bonding experience for women, it seems. This is true wherever you are; in girls dorms, at work or in a womans penitentiary.  So today, I’m making Pipers’ Prison Cheesecake. Maybe it will become my go-to put luck dish and I can stop being assigned to salad duty.**

*Obviously without the sexual harassment, constant threat of abuse, isolation from loved ones and metal bars.

**Probably not, I make really good salads…and they don’t trust anyone under 50 to cook any main dishes 😦

“Orange is the New Black”-Pipers’ Prison Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 pats of margarine
  • 1 six-oz. package of Graham Crackers, Vanilla Wafers or Oreos (I used graham crackers, about 12)
  • 6 oz. of Coffee Mate
  • 4 cups of vanilla pudding
  • 1 ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 round of Laughing Cow cheese (8 wedges)

1. Steal the margarine from the dining hall, melt in microwave and crumble cookies into a 1-quart Tupperware dish that you’ve bought from the commissary or borrowed from your bunkie along with the margarine. Mix well and press firmly into the bottom of the dish. Place in the microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. Your crust is done. I just got mine from the fridge and I assume that a “pat” is like a teaspoon?

2. In a separate dish, squash Laughing Cow cheese into as smooth a mass as possible. Mix in part of the lemon juice and continue to blend. Try to work out the lumps. Mix in pudding and continue to blend, add more lemon juice to taste. Blend until filling is as creamy as possible, then gradually mix in Coffee Mate. Some people double the Coffee Mate; this seems overboard to me. When mixture is smooth & thick, pour over the crust. Start with about a half cup of lemon. I only used a cup altogether and it was REALLY lemony. So taste periodically. I also split the difference and used 1.5 times the amount of coffee mate. Also the vanilla pudding was sugar-free, so I threw in about a tablespoon of sugar.

3. Chill in your plastic washbucket filled with ice under your bed (or in a refrigerator if the part of the prison where you work has one you can slip it into), for at least 4 hours. Eat. Obviously I used the fridge. I thought about using a basin on ice for authenticity but I already have the reputation as the messy one in this marriage. I don’t think hiding cake under the bed will help my situation.

4. Enjoy!

I’m a bit of a cheesecake snob, so being that this was no-bake I wouldn’t say that this is great cheesecake.  But you know, it really was a nice no-bake cheesecake dish. Smooth and creamy

Make this cheesecake literally ANYWHERE!
Make this cheesecake literally ANYWHERE!

but it held its form when served in slices. I really liked it, I’ll probably make it again, maybe top it with some cherry pie filling…and if I ever get thrown in the slammer I’ll make friends so fast with this pot-luck favorite!***

***Not true. I’m totally getting shanked on the first day.

Sisterhood 101

I’m an associate editor for my company newsletter (because there are 24 hours in a day, and I like to fill all of them 🙂 ), and the February issues theme was “Life Lessons”, to which I was to write a related piece. I set out to compile what probably would have been a rather boring list of lessons I have learned in my almost-30 years. It occurred to me that whenever anyone talks about life lessons or good advice, they generally go on to talk about advice they have been given over the years that have made a difference in their lives. I myself have received countless lessons and tidbits of advice that have shaped my life and kept me from making a myriad of mistakes (notable tidbits include “Be kind to others, be kindest to yourself” and “Never put your hand where you can’t see it”).

But I think that learning is dynamic; we don’t just learn from what we are taught, we learn just as much from what we teach other people. Our role in the lives of other people and how we relay learned information out into the world is both telling of who we are and has impact on how we take in our own advice. So, when thinking about the theme “Life Lessons”, I asked people close to me “What memorable advice have I given you over the years?” . I got a lot of really great stuff back from friends and family, but what stuck out the most for me was the overwhelming input from my sisters.

Like anyone, I play many roles in my life- a daughter, a wife, a friend, an employee, a reader, a cat-mama, but the role that I try the hardest not to mess up is that of a sister. I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers whom I love dearly and judging from the number of responses I got from my sisters, it seems as though I am constantly bombarding them with advice. Not all of it was company-appropriate and hence, I am “double-dipping”, re-working the article I wrote into a blog post so I can include some of the sisterly advice that I have apparently dished out over the years. Advice such as:

  • Try not to eat things the same size as your windpipe
  • No needle drugs
  • Dance to the radio in the grocery store
  • If you’re at a bar with bottle service, keep the glass from the first drink you buy. Boys will trade drinks from their bottles for your (fake) phone number.
  • If you need brown sugar to make cookies and the corner store is out, you walk to the next one and the next one. Keep walking until you find a store that has some… 4 hours later. NEVER give up.
  • Don’t be blinded by perfection. Sometimes good enough is really good enough.
  • Live Fearlessly. Being afraid is unavoidable, but live as if you are fearless.
  • It’s not enough to like the people you keep around you, you have to like who you become when you’re with them.
  • Dancing with your eyes closed isn’t extra sexy, it’s extra drunk.

And here are some of the things I have learned from my lovely sisters in return.

  • You’re never too old to break out the glitter and glue guns (L) or Disney movies (B) but you can be too old for glitter eye shadow (T).
  • The best accessory a woman can have is comfort in her own skin (B).
  • Embrace your weird (K).
  • After everything else washes away, there is only love, so love well (L).
  • Say yes. Join every team. Learn new things all the time. Opportunity awaits those who say Yes (T).
  • There is only “Yes” and “How”. “No” is for losers (B).

xo

Me and my sisters.
Me and my sisters.

Books to love about love!

I would be remiss if I started February without a listing of my top picks for Valentines month reading. Whether you’re dressing in pink angora and hoping there’s a ring in a tiny box hidden in his sock drawer*, or you’re telling everyone who will listen that Valentines day is just a “made up holiday to fill a drop in chocolate sales between Christmas and Easter”**, I bet you’ll find a book on this list that you’ll enjoy.
Best Pet-Love Love story: Marley & Me (John Grogan)

My cat is a jerk.
She bites people, and she tries to wake me up at 7am on Saturdays (she feels strongly that the weekends are no excuse to deviate from mealtime scheduling). If I close the bedroom door to sleep, she bashes it open with her chubby little body. She very well may be the worlds worst cat. But I love her like crazy. She’s my best friend. Anyone else out there with an animal best friend will love this classic pet-love story. John Grogan chronicles his 13 years with Marley the golden retriever, whom he describes as the “worlds worst dog”

 

 

Best “I-Hate-You-Wait-No-I-Actually-Love-You” Love story: Pride and Prejudice.

A Jane Austin classic, this witty love story about the hate-turning-to-love banter between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy was the first “thin line between love and

image: hate”. Elizabeth Bennet is the only Bennet sister not looking for a husband, so when a couple of eligible gentlemen move into town, she takes little notice. But soon she finds herself sparring with the very disagreeable yet very handsome Mr. Darcy. Disagreeing turns to banter and eventually love. A lovely tale from when romance was civilized and proper. The perfect antidote to the current dating protocol of “wat u doin 2nite?” text messages and whistling in lieu of proper compliments.

 


Best love story whose movie adaptation starred Rachel McAdams: The Time-Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Neffegger)

This was actually the toughest category. In the end I had to go with the best BOOK, which was not necessarily the best movie. The Time-traveler’s Wife is a wonderfully complicated love story. Henry DeTamble is a genetic anomaly who uncontrollably travels through time, punctuating not only his life but the one of his wife, Claire. The book uses alternative first person narratives and a non-linear story time line but somehow keeps this book an easy pleasure-read. Highly recommended.
Runner-up: The Notebook (the movie.) Watch. Cry. Love Ryan Gosling more and more every scene.

 

 

Best love story for a good cry: P.S. I Love You (Cecilia Ahern)

Not just a sniffle, or a little weep. A whole body sob, after which you will have a headache from dehydration. If you happen to be in a relationship, you won’t let the person out of your sight for days after reading this book. Newlyweds Holly and Gerry are your classic “meant to be” couple. Young, energetic, best friends, soul mates and so very in love. Before the book starts, Gerry passes away from a quick-growing brain tumour (ready your tissues…). Holly is devastated, obviously, and soon she discovers that her late husband has left her letters, gifts and advice to get her through her fist year without him (and now we’re all crying).This is a book about love, grieving and moving on.
Note: While I distinctly remember loving this book, so I am confident in recommending it, I actually have not been able to get beyond page one since I started seriously dating J. Its just too intense if you tend to be an overly involved reader. I’m going to try again, so if you see a girl on the bus, sobbing, come on over and say hi!

 

Best “Love Stinks” anti-love story: Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
Not feeling the love? Looking for a tale of passion gone awry? Of sadness and despair where there once was the thrill of romance? I’ve got you covered. Nothing less romantic than the predatory tale of Humbert Humbert’s passion for the young (like,12 years young) Dolores Haze. It is a creepy, eerily plausible “love” that ends up ruining both of their lives.  Love Stinks! ***

 

 

 

 

 

* There isn’t. If he was going to propose he would have done it at Christmas. Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to get divorced than engaged in February.
**All holidays are made up, silly. Just eat some heart-shaped chocolates and it’ll all be over soon.

***Unless you have a husband as great as mine xo