Thursday, September 27, 2012

Recipe Book: Blondies (White Choc Brownies)

First off: these do not, and have never, turned out 'yellow'.  Not using dark brown sugar anyway.  They do smell and taste delicious though - so that compensates for the slightly misleading name.  I found this recipe here (note, there's a paywall).  I altered it a bit - it recommends adding some dried cranberries but I chose against (purely on the basis of them being a bit out of my budget).

If you attempt this recipe - do let me know! I'd love to know how you got on (and just enjoy photos of food anyway. ha!)



340g dark brown sugar  
280g plain flour
240g white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
230g butter, plus extra 
if you're greasing the tin 
Pinch of salt 
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180C/
Gas 4. Line a square, relatively thin baking tin with greaseproof paper.


Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the sugar and salt. (A good whisk now will make 
the mixture slightly lighter 
and fluffier.)
Add the vanilla extract and whisk again. 
Remove from the heat.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture and stir well.


Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a large bowl, then whisk in the egg and butter mixture a little at a time. (It’s important to do this in stages so that you don’t get any lumps.)


Leave the mixture to cool slightly, then fold in the chocolate chunks and any fruit / nuts you wish to add. (If the mixture is too hot, 
the chocolate will melt.)


Spoon into the prepared cake tin and spread out evenly.


Bake for 35-40 minutes until the outer edges are firm and the middle still a little soft.

 Leave to cool on a wire rack 
for at least 10 minutes, then 
cut into squares before serving.

Once cooled, the blondies will keep in an airtight container 
for up to a week.   

voila! enjoy!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Bloggers: My Response

You probably have not even read the offending article, but I'm sure you can guess why it interested me! I don't have much time to pen this - so it'll only be short, and not as well written as I would like, but let me know your thoughts on the topic in the comments - I'm really interested to know what you think!
The chair of this year's Man Booker prize judges has warned that blogging is drowning out serious criticism, to the detriment of literature. 
A book blog is no different from a book review read in various magazines and newspapers all over the world.  There is nothing to say that the people writing those reviews are any more entitled to have an opinion on a book than a blogger is.  Largely magazines in particular gear books reviewed towards their readership - you won't find a review of Salman Rushdie in Cosmopolitan.  The larger the publishing house - the more money it has to spend on advertising - the more copies it can give away to newspapers and bloggers alike.

As a book blogger I pride myself on selecting works not only from major publishing houses but also from newly developing (and often self-financed and self-published) authors and independent publishing houses.  Something which I feel big awards with big prizes attached often overlook - why else was everyone shocked and horrified that nothing published by Penguin had been selected?  There is a snobbery attached to books - only the good ones are picked by the big publishing houses, which in my opinion, is just simply not the case.

Literary criticism needs "to identify the good and the lasting, and to explain why it's good. You don't read a literary critic to explain why a new Ian Rankin is any good – the people who know about him don't need that explaining."

Actually, I disagree with you there as well.  You'll find that literary criticism is as much about analysing popular books as it is 'classics'.  It is commonplace for people to write dissertations about Harry Potter. We have turned from scoffing at difficult to read novels to scoffing at easy and enjoyable reads instead.  Who is to say that a novels literary worth is measured by the amount of re-reads necessary before you finally 'get the point'?

A 'classic' doesn't need to be hard to read.  Nor full of serious topics.  It can be light-hearted and silly, and blogged about. 

Maybe, Mr Stothard's problem is more that book bloggers are putting him and The Times' literary supplement out of a job!
In conclusion: book snobbery has to stop. 
the original article can be found here.
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Caitlin Moran: Moranthology

I'll be honest - this time last year I had never heard of Caitlin Moran.  Then this happened and suddenly I was a convert - reading everything and anything that she had written.  She is a columnist for The Times and somehow found the time to write a little book called 'How To Be A Woman', where she took on (and shook-up!) feminism,  in between writing her three weekly columns.  I can only assume her passion for feminism was a great motivational tool!  This is a collection of her columns which she has written over the years on a substantial number of varied topics including --

Caffeine, Ghostbusters, Being Poor, Twitter, Caravans, Obama, Wales, Marijuana Addiction, Paul McCartney, The Welfare State, Sherlock, David Cameron Looking Like Ham, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson's Funeral, Big Hair, Failed Nicknames, Sexy Tax, Binge-Drinking, Rihanna's Cardigan, Party Bags...

Why do I love her so much? Quite simply because she's hilarious.  She makes excellent observations, which make you laugh, and at the same time consider often serious topics from a new light.  You learn something, you feel entertained.  What's not to love?

She also interviews celebs a lot.  Including a now super-famous interview with Lady Gaga in Berlin which culminated in them all going off to a sex club in Berlin, dancing the night away, and Lady Gaga doing a wee in front of her (she was then able to put an end of the 'Gaga's a Man' rumours which were circulating at the time).  

Not every column is mind blowingly refreshing writing - but the majority, in my opinion, is.  And if you in anyway enjoyed "How To Be A Woman" I dare say you'll enjoy Caitlin's new collection as well.  It's not as good as HTBAW (it takes far too long to type out the title each time, I'm sorry) - these are only short comment pieces often of around 500-1000 words range.  But it is definitely worth a read.

PS: on a completely irrelevant note -- it is so refreshing to not only be reading a real life book for a change - but also a hardback.  there are some things which a kindle, no matter how excellent, cannot replace!
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Poet Laureate: A Poem for Hillsborough

THE Cathedral bell, tolled, could never tell;

nor the Liver Birds, mute in their stone spell;

or the Mersey, though seagulls wailed, cursed, overhead,

in no language for the slandered dead...

not the raw, red throat of the Kop, keening,

or the cops’ words, censored of meaning;

not the clock, slow handclapping the coroner’s deadline,

or the memo to Thatcher, or the tabloid headline...

but fathers told of their daughters; the names of sons

on the lips of their mothers like prayers; lost ones

honoured for bitter years by orphan, cousin, wife -

not a matter of football, but of life.

Over this great city, light after long dark;

truth, the sweet silver song of the lark.  

This is a poem written by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, on the wake of the new report into the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989. 
This post is dedicated to the 96 innocent people who lost their lives that day.  As well as their families and loved ones who have been forced to live for so long without being allowed the justice of knowing that their loved ones died at the fault of others.
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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Newspaper Ads for Books

As we walked past Waterstones in Piccadilly, my friend recalled the time she was there, at midnight to buy a certain book. The book in question was the last in the Harry Potter series. Future generations will not know what it was like to finish one book and have to wait YEARS for the next to come out - why couldn't JK Rowling write a bit quicker?! You would wait AGES for it to come out and have finished it in a day. It seems funny then to think of books before our generation, right, which weren't considered 'classics' but rather new and exciting books which you should read. Here's some of the original advertisements for some books you may have heard of ;) 

This post has been unashamedly borrowed from the wonderful 'Brain Pickings' a site which I highly recommend you check out - full of literary posts as well as other intellectualisms.  Perfect for your inner nerd who would love to learn something new!
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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Raising Wild Ginger by Tara Woolpy

Parenting is hard. That's what Edward Rosenberg has always assumed, although his only experience with children has been as the drunken uncle. Now the love of his life, Sam DaCosta, is yearning for fatherhood. Edward's been sober for years. He and Sam are in a good place. Why rock the boat? On the other hand, how can he deny Sam his dream of a family? 

Then they meet Ginger. At twelve she's been through more than either Edward or Sam can imagine. She's seductive, secretive and dishonest. But somewhere between stealing his cash and alienating Sam, Ginger manages to wind herself into Edward's heart. Can the three of them create a family? Or will Ginger blow them all apart?

There is magnificent details of the everyday, the town they live in, the secondary characters are three-dimensional, you know these people, you could close your eyes and instantly be transported there and be in the action with them, with Woolpy's writing.  Yet this is paired with a clever mastery of the traumatic childhood of Ginger, the subtle details describing an abused child's upbringing, and her adjustment into the new household.   

Foster parenting isn't easy, and not every family which fosters is a perfect cookie-cutter family, Edward and Sam aren't angels, they have pasts of their own, it is not a fairytale relationship - it is a realistic portrayal of the give and take of adult relationships. This isn't exaggerated though, the characters have an edge of realism which is refreshing, and this combined with the fantastically delicate descriptions of their surroundings, their day-to-day life make Raising Wild Ginger such an enjoyable read.  

Emotional, touching, it may just make you cry (it certainly made me cry!).  It is a refreshing read on the difficult and often overlooked subject of foster caring.  And in my opinion not to be missed!  It's available on kindle for $3.16

ps: please take a moment to fill in the form on the right - it's just so i can get an idea of what posts you guys would like more of on the blog! thank you :)

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sweet Tooth By Ian McEwan

It is a spy novel.  Set in England in the 1970s it is a novel of the creative cold war. Our narrator, Serena is beautiful, bright, could read three to four novels a week and went to Cambridge, at her mother's insistance, to study Maths.  Where she found that she was perfectly adequate at maths at a school level but poor at a Cambridge level; however, she managed to scrape a third, before beginning a summer romance with a history professor who reshaped her knowledge of British history, prepping her for an interview with MI5 which he would arrange.

She soon finds that working for MI5 isn't as exciting as it sounds.  Mostly dull office work, where office friendships aren't encouraged.  Until she is invited to take part in an operation named 'Sweet Tooth'.   A plan to fund emerging writers with strong anti-Soviet views, strongly based on the CIA’s infamous involvement with Encounter magazine, as the characters acknowledge.  The cultural cold war was very much present in the 70s, as people waited for the next Cuban Missile Crisis to strike.  Serena is paired with a novelist, TH Hardy, who is based at Sussex University (McEwan's alma mater).  It isn't long until they are smitten.  With weekend trips to Brighton, waking up to the sound of Haley's typewriter as he writes his first novel - a post apocalyptic nightmare - exactly the type of thing MI5 were hoping to avoid.

McEwan examines what it is to be a reader, the power which authors have in creating 'reality' for the reader.  What do we look for when we read books?  Serena speeds through books looking for glimpses of her own life - her family, her education, her past lovers.  She is interested only in the fate of characters resembling somebody she recognises.  I think we're all a bit guilty of doing something like this - we all expect something from the books we read, hence why we return to the same genre or author time and time again.   (let me know what you think you read for!) 

It is as much a spy novel as it is a historical one - with detailed insight into every day life in Britain in the 70s with the prospect of a three day week and fuel crises.  There is romance, intrigue, twists and turns.  One thing - as soon as you finish reading this you will want to start over again.  So just make sure you don't have tons of university reading lined up or something (like I do...whoops!) 

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Bookshop Idyll by Kingsley Amis

There are certain books you will have read purely because they were part of a syllabus.  Poets, authors, writers, with whom you're familiar because you studied them or saw them in a bestsellers list.  Then there are the books which the characters in your favourite novel read; they visit a bookshop and are overwhelmed by a poem --- and today, this poem comes courtesy of Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.
Tom promised to read me a Kingsley Amis poem, 'A Bookshop Idyll', about men and women's divergent tastes.  It went a bit soppy at the end, he said, but it was funny and true.  I said I'd probably hate it, except for the end.  He kissed me, and that was the end of the literary discussion....

A  B O O K S H O P  I D Y L L
Between the gardening and the cookery
    Comes the brief poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
    Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
    I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
    No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
    Landscape near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
    So does Rilke and Buddha.

'I travel, you see', 'I think' and 'I can read'
    These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
    Poem for J.,

The ladies' choice, discountenance my patter
    For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
    A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
    Or squash it flat?
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;
    Girls aren't like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
    Can get by without it.
Women don't seem to think that's good enough;
    They write about it,

And the awful way their poems lay open
    Just doesn't strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
    No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
    We sat up half the night
Chockfull of love, crammed with bright thoughts,
    names, rhymes,
    And couln't write.
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