Cookie Table Project, Part Deux: Spritz Cookies

You’d think that since summer was over that would also mean that wedding season was over too — but not for me! In fact, my wedding season is just getting started for 2013. And, just like last year, that means cookies. If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, check out my series of posts from 2012 talking about the Cookie Table tradition that we have here in Northeast Ohio.

My cousin gets married in two weeks and my mom and I have been making a variety of cookies for the event. Last year, I blogged about how Pinterest helped me find new cookie recipes. This time around though, I decided to focus on tried and true recipes that I or my family have been making for awhile.

First up: Spritz Cookies.

Spritz cookies are great because they’re versatile. You can make them using a cookie press (like in this recipe) or you can simply make the dough, roll it into balls, and drop them on the cookie sheet. They really don’t need frosting or a lot of ornamentation — a little decorative sugar is a perfect complement. They’re also a great Christmas cookie to make.

photo (3)Makes 6-7 dozen small cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Decorative sugar

Equipment Needed:

  • Stand or hand mixer
  • Spatula
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Electric or manual cookie press (optional)*
  • Cooking spray
  • Cookie sheets
  • Cookie cooling racks

*If using a cookie press, I highly recommend purchasing an electric one.

Instructions:

1. With the mixer, combine the margarine and shortening. Beat thoroughly approximately 2 minutes.

2. Once the margarine and shortening are thoroughly beaten, add the sugar gradually. Continue to beat the mixture for approximately 5 minutes until it becomes light and fluffy.

3. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Continue to beat the mixture.

4. Add baking powder. Gradually add flour, mixing the dough slowly until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Mix well for approximately 1 minute, making sure you stop to scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate any lingering ingredients.

5. Once fully mixed, the cookie dough will be stiff.

6. If you are using a cookie press, now is the time to assemble and fill it. Please follow the directions included with your cookie press as they differ from one brand to another. For this recipe, I used a Cuisinart Cookie Press (available for less than $30). If you are not using a cookie press, simply make drop cookies.

Using a cookie press takes practice. Do not expect to make "prefect" cookies the first time you use a cookie press.

Using a cookie press takes practice. Do not expect to make “perfect” cookies the first time you use a cookie press.

7. Once you have assembled and filled your cookie press with dough, press the cookies onto a greased cookie sheet. Leave approximately 1-2 inches between each cookie.

I used the Flower design.

I used the Flower design.

8. Decorating the cookies with sugar is optional, but since the color scheme for this wedding is purple, I went with purple decorative sugar.

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9. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown. Reduce temperature to 325 if needed. Be careful not to overbake.

10. Remove cookies from cookie sheet immediately and place on cooling rack.

11. Serve and enjoy!

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Like Downton Abbey? Pick Up Lauren Willig’s “The Ashford Affair”

I don’t think I need to explain to anyone how much I like to read. I do. A lot. So much in fact that recently I’ve been wondering why I haven’t absconded to the publishing capital of New York City and started a life of reading bliss. But, that’s a discussion for another time…

One of my favorite author’s is Lauren Willig. Her Pink Carnation series is excellent and definitely gave me much reason to procrastinate throughout college and graduate school. Okay, let’s face it — it still gives me reason to procrastinate. With 9 Pink books currently in publication, a 1oth due out in August 2013, and an 11th in progress, Willig has provided readers with a fun and easy to read adventure through history as main character Eloise Kelly researches her doctoral dissertation in England and discovers that her interest in the flower-named spies of the Napoleonic Wars is more involved than she could ever imagine. Intrigue, mystery, a little bit of danger, humor, and some romance never fail.

Now, however, Willig has embarked on a new adventure: a fantastic stand-alone saga called The Ashford Affair.

Source: laurenwillig.com

Source: laurenwillig.com

In 1906, 5 year old Addie is taken in by her wealthy Uncle and Aunt, Lord and Lady Ashford, and goes to live with them and her four cousins at their estate Ashford Park. Seen as a poor, heathen relation and an imposition by her Aunt Vera, Addie spends her childhood and adolescence trying to make up for what her Aunt sees as her bohemian origins — even though her father was the younger brother of Lord Ashford.

Despite her Aunt’s criticisms, Addie quickly befriends and forges a sisterly bond with her cousin Bea. Different in both outward appearance and personality, Addie and Bea do everything together and travel through their childhoods and adolescences as each others’ closest companions. As adulthood beckons, Bea is fêted as the Debutante of the Decade and quickly marries the Marquess of Rivesdale, securing her mother’s expectation of a successful marriage and her own childhood dream of becoming a Marchioness. As always, Addie is by Bea’s side through it all. However, the aftermath of the First World War and personal choices create fissures in their relationship, and when one cousin makes a decision that transports her from the grandeur of London to the red dust filled fields of Kenya, the cousins find their bond tested to its very core…

Nearly 70 years later in 1999, 34 year old Clementine Evans is on the cusp of achieving her dream of making partner at her Manhattan law firm, even if doing so has come at great cost to her personal life. When she attends her beloved Granny Addie’s 99th birthday party in New York City, Clemmie has no idea that her life is about to be turned on its head. Despite her close relationship with her grandmother, Clemmie doesn’t know much about Granny Addie’s history. So when in her weakened state Addie reveals a snippet of information that leaves Clemmie confused and her mother, Marjorie, and Aunt Anna suspiciously silent, Clemmie becomes curious.

Clemmie’s confusion and curiosity lead her to uncover a deeply held family secret that threatens everything she knows to be true and holds the key to her family’s often complicated dynamics. From the rooms of Ashford Park and the 1920s nightclubs of London to the coffee fields of Kenya and the streets of 1999 Manhattan, the events of The Ashford Affair questions the strength of sisterly bonds, explores the true meaning of family, and reveals the complexities of life and love in times of drastic change and war.

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I really enjoyed this book and it was definitely a nice departure to read a totally different kind of book from Lauren Willig. I am a great fan of historical fiction, particularly the kinds of historical fiction that juxtaposes a modern frame story with a historically placed story. In The Ashford Affair, Willig weaves an intricate mystery of the character of Addie and does an excellent job of placing her characters within the complex period of the early twentieth century. I had a great time uncovering the true story of Addie and Bea and watching Clemmie discover just what the truth was. Willig deftly stretches the mystery out until the final chapters, revealing bit by bit as she goes but never giving away too much too soon.

 

 

On Reading “The River of No Return” by Bee Ridgway

Some of my friends and family make fun of me for having a Twitter account. “What do you tweet about?,” they ask. Or they might say, “I tried Twitter, I thought it was stupid.”

If you really stop and think about it, Twitter is kind of odd. You follow all these people, most of whom you don’t know, and you correspond with each other and the entire world in short messages of 140 characters. But, Twitter does have its uses and its perks.

Generally, I use Twitter to satisfy my inner nerd and my inner fan girl. I follow the news sites, politicians, entertainers, as well as follow my friends who have accounts. I also, though, follow as many of the publishing companies as I can. It’s no secret that I love books and sometimes I feel that for as much as I read, I never have a good handle on when new and amazing books are coming out.

For the most part, following publishers on Twitter only serves to give me information on new books, etc. But, publishers also do free book giveaways through Twitter which is really cool for a bibliophile like me — especially if the giveaway is for an Advanced Reader Copy of a book that is not yet out.

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win an Advance Reader Copy of The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway from Dutton Books (an imprint of Penguin). Here’s my review of this lovely book:

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DISCLAIMER: I chose to write this review. I was in no way compensated by Dutton to do so. All rights for The River of No Return are reserved to its author and publisher.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

In her debut novel, Bee Ridgway — a professor of American literature at Bryn Mawr College — weaves an intricate and nuanced tale of time travel, power, knowledge, and romance. On the surface, The River of No Return is an invigorating and page-turning time travel thriller that places its main characters in a battle against time itself and with those who wish to control it. Underneath, however, is a historical, cultural, and social commentary that takes the science fiction based subject of time travel and turns it on its head, rooting the concept in the power of human emotion and memory. Ridgway’s debut is far more than an adventure story — it is a thought provoking read that incites you to question all what you know about the world around you and what you consider to be the place of the concept of time in our lives.

In 1812, Lord Nicholas Falcott, a member of the British peerage and a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, suddenly disappears from the battlefield at Salamanca as a French soldier prepares to kill him in combat. Against all apparent laws of time and space, he is transported to 2003 London where wakes up in a hospital and is informed that he is now a member of the Guild, a time and government transcending organization that controls time travel and its participants, and that “There is no return” to his previous life. Quickly, Lord Falcott becomes Nick Davenant and is instructed by the Guild in modern life. The Guild, however, is not simply a kindly guiding organization. It is powerful and wealthy, keeping close tabs on its members and gifting each with an annual multi-million dollar stipend. By 2013, Nick Davenant has adjusted to 21st century life, but deep down he has never left his 19th century origins behind. Haunted by homesickness and dreams of his battlefield experiences, Nick uses memories of a young woman he left behind to ease the panic that accompanies the fact that no amount of money can change his place out of time. Soon, however, Nick is summoned by the Guild and ordered to break its cardinal rule: travel back from when he came to help prevent the unraveling of time itself. Attempting to come to terms with the fact that what the Guild preaches as truth is not all that is seems, Nick travels to 1815 and comes face to face with his old life and the woman who has kept him grounded in another century for the last decade.

In 1815, as Nick tries to accomplish what the Guild has asked of him, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather and guards the secret he tasked her to protect on his deathbed: his ability to manipulate time. As her cousin Eamon arrives to take possession of the family home and her fate, Julia quickly recognizes that there is more than one secret pervading her life, and that those secrets are desired by many and have further reach than she can fully comprehend. While Eamon manically scours the house and Julia’s memory for something called the “Talisman,” she observes that her mysteriously returned from the dead and greatly changed neighbor Lord Falcott may be her only solution to the increasing danger in which she finds herself.

First separately and then together, Nick and Julia discover the extent to which the river of time effects them all and how far the Guild will go to control the future and everyone’s fates.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The River of No Return is one of the best books I have read recently, and I unabashedly place it on my list of favorites. Ridgway writes beautifully and evocatively, injecting a complexity into her storytelling that rivals the best puzzle masters. While some compare her debut and its time traveling components to The Time Traveler’s Wife, I would compare it instead to Katherine Neville’s masterpiece The Eight. Filled with clues along the way and peppered with references to historical figures, places, and movements, Ridgway’s first novel is a stimulating and entertaining read.

From the time I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. It truly is a page turner and will leave you zealous to find out what happens next. In addition to its entertainment value, The River of No Return‘s most valuable facet may reside in its subtle observations of time itself. This is especially interesting to me as someone who has studied history in-depth. Throughout, Ridgway deftly conveys that, at its core, time and age is a construction. We are all victims of our time — something that has nothing to do with our abilities. We are products of both nature and nurture. When we are born and the circumstances of that time — its technology, customs, etc. — have much to do with what we become. Our capacity, however, is unaffected by time.

The River of No Return is available for purchase on April 23, 2013.

Marilyn Monroe: That’s (Not) What She Said

Thanks, Abe.

Who doesn’t love a good quote? Sometimes it takes the words of others, famous or not, to sum up our thoughts and feelings when our words escape us. Or, maybe you read something that immediately clicks with you and it becomes sort of a “mission statement” for your life. (After six years in higher education, the thought of a personal mission statement makes me gag a little bit. We love the heck out of our mission statements, apparently.) But, the Internet is a tricky place, and without citations, words are often attributed to certain celebrities or notable figures. The misquote can come from an honest mistake, and after seeing a quote attributed to someone a multitude of times, I can understand that. However, when it comes to things that Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, or Jackie Kennedy allegedly said, I become more than a little skeptical, and maybe just a touch cynical.

Thus Sprach Marilyn.

Thus Sprach Marilyn. (You’re welcome, Internet.)

In my research for this post, I came across several Tumblrs and hundreds of pictures on Google Image Search with images of these women, Monroe in particular, with fiesty-sounding quotes superimposed over them in handwriting-style fonts. (Go ahead, look for yourself.) Most of them are about how men ought to love women, flaws and all, or how society is ugly for making a woman feel anything less than pretty. I’m on board with those ideas, but I highly doubt to absolutely don’t believe that the late icon uttered those quotes. I’m not saying that Marilyn Monroe was not bright enough to come up with such, um… philosophical thoughts; I’m saying that others who have done much more research on her, things she’s actually said/written, and speech patterns of her time don’t think she came up with them. The most comprehensive website I’ve come across debunking these attributions is Immortal Marilyn, which, while it looks like a Xanga page from 2000, is quite informative. “Janie’s Take on Marilyn Monroe” discusses five of the more questionable quotes the Internet alleges came from Monroe. Here are a couple of my favorite excerpts:

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” — This one seems to be everybody’s favorite Marilyn quote… except no one can find where she actually ever said it. Does it sound like her? Somewhat, although I can not find other examples of Marilyn referring to herself as selfish, insecure, out of control, or anything similar. While she did acknowledge issues such as her lateness, failure to show up on set, or rumored difficult to work with, rather than being defiant she offered both plaintive and valid reasons for her flaws, in the hopes of garnering understanding. Until an interview transcript of Marilyn saying these words can be located, it should be kept in the ‘questionable’ category.”

“Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” — Another very popular quote, once it’s parsed it does not sound like Marilyn at all. “Imperfection is beauty”? Marilyn was well known as being an absolute perfectionist, asking for take after take on the movie set until she felt she got her scene just right. She refused to give moviegoers anything less than what she felt was her absolute best. She would apply her makeup only to wash it all off and do it over again, taking hours to prepare so that she presented herself to the public as nothing short of absolutely perfect. After a photo shoot she would pore over contact sheets, destroying any images that she didn’t approve of. In a 1960 interview, she did say: “My one desire is to do my best, the best that I can from the moment the camera starts until it stops. That moment I want to be perfect, as perfect as I can make it.” Hardly seems that someone so hard wired to perfectionism would say “Imperfection is beauty.” As to the second part, “Madness is genius,” this seems even more unlikely. Marilyn’s mother suffered from severe mental illness that traumatized the actress when she was a child. As an adult, Marilyn’s biggest fear was inherited madness like her mother’s. Considering her first hand account with what madness truly was, and her deep rooted fear of it, how likely is it that she would declare it ‘genius?’ Not very.

I tend to agree with those observations. To be frank, they sound more like snarky quips from a teenage girl, using Monroe as an excuse for her behavior. The whole idea of falsely attaching a name to a quote can be summed up in Poe’s Law, which basically states that ” a parody of something extreme can be mistaken for the real thing, and if a real thing sounds extreme enough, it can be mistaken for a parody.” A great example that most people would probably be familiar with is Stephen Colbert’s character on The Colbert Report, which some Political Science students at Ohio State decided would be an interesting subject to analyze. (Unfortunately, the full article is only available for purchase or if you’re logged on through a subscribing university or college’s journal access system, but the abstract will give you the general idea.) We can also learn from the case of the Notre Dame football player and the death of his online girlfriend, who may or may not have actually been a real person: never believe anything online. If those quotes resonate with you, that’s great, but its important to question the source; otherwise, it might as well have come from a snarky teenage girl.

If this keeps up, this is what I imagine we’ll have fifty years from now:

I can't. I just can't...

I can’t. I just can’t…
(Again, you’re welcome, Internet.)

A Few of My Favorite Things

You kids need to get out of my room.... you're all up in my personal space.

You kids need to get out of my room…. you’re all up in my personal space.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s December already. Summer doesn’t seem like it was so very long ago, and I can’t remember having a distinct “fall” season this year. I’m sure no one needs to tell you that all of this means that the holiday season is well under way. Christmas trees were on sale before Halloween, and radio stations started playing every version of “The Christmas Song” the week before Thanksgiving. To the Targets, Macy’s, Wal-Marts, and other retail stores of the world, I simply say,

Stop it. Just staaahp, please.

One of the songs I’ve noticed on the radio is “My Favorite Things,” which I had never actually considered to be a Christmas song. I just thought it was the song Maria sang when the Von Trapp kids were afraid of the rain. My cousin’s daughter is in love with The Sound of Music, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it. I recently read that Carrie Underwood will be playing the part of the rebellious nun-turned governess in NBC’s remake of The Sound of Music, which is scheduled to air sometime during the holiday season in 2013. (I think I’ll pass on that version.) The song made me think about a few of my favorite things, whether they’re cool products I’ve seen in stores, shows, holiday traditions, or other items… that rhyme with “things.” 😉

Bath & Body Work’s French Baguette Candle

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This candle is nothing short of amazing. It *literally* smells just like fresh-baked bread. Brian and my sister, Carmen, both make fun of me for my need to smell all the candles I see. I think it’s a tactile+smell thing; the act of picking up the candle and smelling it are soothing for me during a trip to a crowded mall. I’m sure you’ve smelled at least one candle in your life and thought to yourself, “You know, I wouldn’t mind living in between that space between the wax and the lid…” No? That’s just me? Ok, nevermind. Anyway, search for this one next time you’re in Bath & Body Works. You won’t be disappointed.

Adventure Time

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Is it weirdly animated? Yes. Is it aimed at young boys? Probably. But, over the past summer, I’ve become hooked on this cartoon. It’s about a boy named Finn and his magical dog, Jake, who encounter many strange adventures with plenty of odd characters in the Land of Ooo. Finn and Jake serve as the doers of good in Ooo, performing various knight-like tasks and protecting the citizens of Candy Kingdom, which is ruled by Princess Bubblegum. If my sister was a cartoon character, she would be Lumpy Space Princess.

Watching White Christmas

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White Christmas is one of the only holiday movies I actually enjoy watching. I remember my dad teaching me the song when I was little. Later on, one of my uncles introduced me to Bing Crosby, and I grew to appreciate the jazz standards. There’s something about the “Hey kids! Lets put on a show!” mentality that always seemed fun to me. When we were growing up, my sister and I would participate in “productions” with our cousins whenever they’d visit. They grew up on the other side of the world, so it was always a big event whenever they were here. One year, we performed our version of “The Nutcracker,” and I starred as Clara. White Christmas is a classic (and hello! Rosemary Clooney!), with so many great songs, including this one…

History Channel Series

history channel series

I’m fascinated by History Channel’s original programming, and this year, they really stepped up the game with Hatfields & McCoys, The Men Who Built America, and Mankind: The Story of All of Us. Hatfields & McCoys spurred my search this past summer into my family’s genealogy, since my mother’s family came from the same area in southern West Virginia where several events of this story unfolded. I really like how politicians, entrepreneurs and businessmen, news figures (like my manfriend, Brian Williams), and other public figures are used throughout the other series to help tell the story of the birth of America, the great wars, and the innovations that would change the world. Reruns of these shows are still better than new episodes of a lot of other shows.

Being Engaged!

my ring

I know, it’s on the wrong finger, we’re going to take it to get resized soon. I just really wanted to take it home to show my momma.

Yep, I’m engaged! The night before Thanksgiving, Brian made me a very happy gal and asked me to marry him. Two days before he asked me, I had interviewed for a part-time bridal consultant position, and after the interview, I met him for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. His fortune cookie wasn’t that great, but mine read “A good message is on it’s way to you.” Not twenty minutes later, I received a call from the store manager, offering me the position. I think my fortune cookie was extra-strength, since it held out for another few days. I’m beyond excited to spend the rest of my life with Brian, and I can’t wait to start planning, but first, I want to spend some time getting settled into my new job. Until then, I plan to start putting together my own wedding blog since I don’t want to overwhelm this blog with all of my wedding-related posts. (It’s a good thing I’ll be working at a place where I’ll be talking about weddings all the time.) Whenever that’s ready, I’ll share the link. I’m so happy that I’ll have my Dames by my side, too, along with my sister and best friend since pre-school, who is also in the process of planning her wedding. (All this wedding business makes that separate blog really necessary.) But anyway, yay!

What are some of your favorite things of the season?