Sunday, July 18, 2010

Coffee Table Book: Chelsea Handler's "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea."

Chelsea Handler keeps me laughing during her evening routine on her show "Chelsea Lately." Her quick wit and and offbeat (often inappropriate) humor are perfectly balanced.

When it came to this book, I expected the same. Her three published books have all been New York Times Best Sellers. That being said, when I ran across "Are You There, Vodka?" at McKays, I scooped it into my basket as quickly as I could.

Handler's self-deprecating humor is what keeps this book together. It's a collection of short stories from her early life and young adulthood that's littered with awkward sexuality and blatant cynicism. The stories, though wild/unusual/mostly unbelievable, seem so random and the book itself doesn't flow and I ended up just looking for good stopping places so I could take a refreshing dip in the pool.

Conclusion: I'll still recommend people check out her show on E!, but as far as the book goes, I'd definitely say pass the vodka ... and not the book.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes w/ Peanut Butter Frosting

First off, Happy (belated) Independence Day! I hope everyone was able to share the day with people they love. And if not, at least to have pride and/or love in their hearts. Even though my husband and I are usually apart on the 4th, my heart always swells at remembering our past 4ths together (in addition to the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner and the brave that defend our freedom).

The other great thing that the 4th brings is my little brother's birthday the day after - today being his 14th (big gulp). To celebrate, we spent the day poolside and then out to dinner at his choice of restaurants -- Foster's. Between catching rays, I was inside working on these puppies: Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. I found the recipe this morning on AllRecipes.com after searing broadly for cupcakes. When the birthday boy woke up and joined me on the couch for his morning dose of World of Warcraft, he glanced over and saw me looking up cupcakes. He said, "Ok, ok - they have fudge cupcakes but what if you could make fudge cupcakes with peanut butter?" Done deal.

To my sweet, not-so-little brother who will probably never read this, but the world should know: You are such a loving guy with a unique sense of style and humor to match. I'm so excited to watch you grow and mature and share in your adventures to come. I love you!

Ingredients:

  • 1 - 19.5 oz. package Pillsbury brownie classic traditional fudge brownie mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the Frosting:
  • 1 - 12 oz. container Pillsbury vanilla frosting
  • 3/4 C Jif creamy peanut butter
  • *For added effect, I grated dark chocolate on top. 60% cocoa or higher, if possible. 
Directions:
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Line 18 regular muffin cups with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Mix brownie mix, eggs, oil and water in a medium mixing bowl until well blended. Fill the muffin cups half full with brownie batter. Place about 1 tbsp of chocolate chips in the center of each cup.
  3. Bake 18-20 minutes until set. Cool slightly. Remove from muffin pan and let cool completely on wire racks. 
  4. Stir together frosting and peanut butter in a medium bowl. Spread over top of cooled cupcakes. 
  5. Sprinkle grated chocolate on top of frosting (optional). 


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Coffee Table Book: Jodi Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper"

As summer progresses and my time at the pool increases (thank you, summer!), I'm thankful to report that I've been able to read a lot more than usual. This week afforded me the opportunity to finish up My Sister's Keeper (a book I started nearly two months ago).

Anna Fitzgerald is a young teen looking to be medically emancipated from her parents who conceived her and "use" her to keep her sister who is dying of a rare form of leukemia alive. She seeks out representation from Campbell Alexander, a workaholic who learns how to relate to his young client.

The book is as much about Anna's relationship to her sick sister as it is about the family's relationship with each other and the legal system (in more ways than one).

Conclusion: The language and writing style is simpler than desired at times, but the storyline is thoughtful and challenges the reader to put themselves in Anna's shoes.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Excuses and Everyday Granola

So, I should definitely apologize for going AWOL here the last two weeks. I have good excuses - honest! The first being that, with the husband gone, I really didn't do much cooking. I literally went four days just mooching on half-full boxes of anything in the cabinets. (I was tickled with myself for being able to throw together my Orecchiette, Broccoli and Chickpea dish found here.) My second reason was that I was blessed enough to reunite in Pensacola Beach, Florida with some of the greatest friends a girl can have.

After husband and I graduated college, we moved back "home" to Quantico for him to attend the Marine Corps' officer version of school. The Basic School was six months of dinners that sat for hours in Corningware, tons of swamp-smelling laundry and frustrated phone calls/texts between antsy wives and exhausted husbands. The Basic School did, though, give me many shared bottles of wine, nights filled with laughter and "oh-thank-God-that-happens-to-y'all-too?" moments, and many girlfriend memories that I'll cherish forever.

I digress. Pensacola Beach! When The Basic School ended, many couples started the next part of their Marine Corps journey by moving. I just happen to be lucky enough that three of them ended up in Florida. So, some best wives of mine flew out from Oklahoma and I from Quantico and we had ourselves a little beach-filled, drink-filled, girlfriend-filled vacay. Without getting into all the fun (that just wouldn't be nice of me, would it?), I've shared a few pictures at the end of this post. (Parasailing photos are yet-to-be-shared from one wife who we love dearly, but downright stinks at uploading photos.)

Now that I've shared my mini-life story, I guess I'll go ahead and share my new-found love: Everyday Granola. This recipe comes from this June's issue of Bon Appetit. It's so so so tasty! Just like the article ("Breakfast Outside the Box") says, it's delicious with plain yogurt or milk. This is a sweet treat that leaves the house smelling divine.

(Makes about 5 cups.)

Ingredients:

  • 3 C old-fashioned oats
  • 1 C coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 tbsp (packed) brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp (generous) salt
  • 1/3 C honey
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 C assorted dried fruit (we love dried cherries)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Line rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl.
  4. Stir honey and oil in saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth.
  5. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture; toss.
  6. Spread on prepared sheet.
  7. Bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes.
  8. Place sheet on rack. Stir granola; cool.
  9. Mix in fruit.
 
Et voila!