Cookies and Books
It’s been a busy week so far, getting ready for Christmas. I haven’t heard back from my mother as to what shenanigans might be in order, but I’ve been working on baking cookies as I traditionally do.
My mother used to bake a lot of cookies when I was young. I think the most we ever made was 18 different varieties, and she always made a ton because she gave a lot away. I generally make about 12 different kinds, and I do give quite a few away but not to the extent that she did.
This is probably the latest start I’ve ever had at baking, but things are working out so far and I’ve been able to make two batches of cookies each day. If I can keep up the plan, I will have my 12 batches finished on Saturday.
So far I’ve made a batch of Chocolate Raspberry Streusel Bars (right) and a batch of Pecan Pie Bars (left). The streusel bars are a recipe my mother had, so I don’t know where it’s from originally. The pecan bars came off the web and were a little bit of an experiment this year since I didn’t have as much corn syrup as the recipe called for. I think they turned out just fine, though pecan pie purists may disagree! I’ve never been a fan of the “goo” in pecan pie, so less is more in my opinion.
A new recipe I tried this year is the Amaretto Butter Balls. These are basically almond cookies with amaretto mixed into the dough for a little added “oomph”. They smelled good baking, but I haven’t tried one yet! They’ll get a second coating of powdered sugar before serving. The first coating goes on while the cookies are still warm so it melts a little and sticks.
These gingerbread camels are another old recipe my mother has made for a long time and were always one of my favorites as a kid. They’re nice and spicy and also fun to decorate! This year, I used a silver candy ball for the eye – something we often did in the past – and sprinkled them with a little yellow sugar. They can also be glazed with a powdered sugar glaze after baking if that’s what you like.
Finally, I wanted to make something fruity this year, so I looked around for a lemon cookie and thought about making a checkerboard style cookie. What I ended up doing was adapting a recipe I already had for layered Neapolitan cookies (chocolate, vanilla, and cherry). For these, I just divided the basic dough in half and added a bunch of lemon zest, a little lemon oil, and some yellow food coloring to one portion.
In the book arena, I’ve finished a couple more. First, A Lonely Death by Charles Todd – back in the world of post-World War I London. Inspector Rutledge is called out to investigate a series of deaths in a small town that appear to be linked to the War. Identity disks (the forerunners of the dog tag) are found in the mouths of several men garrotted in isolated locations – only the names on the disks are not the names of the dead men! Rutledge must find the connection between the men and their histories to discover the killer. As always, the writing here is engrossing and I find myself easily imagining the world of 1920s England, where appearances are still essential and what’s “proper” in society weighs heavily on people’s relationships.
Secondly, City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. This is the sequel to Finding Nouf and we are again taken to the closed world of Saudi Arabia. A woman is found murdered on the beach near the city of Jeddah and she isn’t the usual housemaid killed by her employer. Once again, we follow forensic examiner Katya Hijazi and desert guide/accidental investigator Nayir Sharqi as they find their way through the social confines of Saudi life to discover the identity of the woman and the reason for her death. Katya and Nayir are also navigating the pitfalls of their own relationship – an unmarried man and woman spending time in close company goes against the strictures of Saudi custom and Nayir, a devout Muslim, must reconcile his beliefs with the realities of dealing with an independent woman. There is a third book in this series, which I’m hoping to find soon, and ideally there will be more to follow!
I also finished one of my paperbacks that I keep in the bag I carry to band practice. Dragon by Steven Brust is an installment in his long series of “Jhereg” books featuring assassin and crime lord Vlad Talotos, a human living among the race known as Dragaerans on a fictional Earth. In this book Vlad ends up joining the army – not his usual practice, since he typically lives a life outside the conventional authority – in the service of his friend Morrolan as a means of getting back at another Dragonlord who has stolen a very important object. We follow Vlad’s exploits as he experiences military life and eventually learns that his magical artifact known as Spellbreaker is a Great Weapon in the making! These books are always a fun read. Vlad is smart and sarcastic, and the world Brust has created between humans and non-humans is familiar and exotic at the same time. I always look forward to more!