Books and bakes #19: The Guest List and peach crumb bars

The bake

Peaches are one of my favourite fruits–quite possibly my absolute favourite. But let me clarify that the peaches must be local and perfectly ripe. Biting into a peach that isn’t in season is a different experience entirely. So when I heard Ontario peaches were out this year, I grabbed a basket as soon as I could.

The thing is, while I love peaches, eating a perfectly ripe peach can be a little tricky. Or at least I haven’t mastered the art of it. They are so deliciously juicy that you basically have to eat one over the sink. (It’s worth it, but it’s just not ideal.) Luckily, there are so many things you can do with peaches. You could make a cobbler or a crisp, slice them up and eat them with some whipped cream or ice cream, dice them and toss them into pancakes or muffins. You can grill them and/or add them to a salad. Did I mention I love peaches?

Last year, I made these peach crumb bars from Brown Eyed Baker after buying a few too many peaches that I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat before they went bad. But this year, I bought the peaches specifically so I could make these bars. I liked them that much! The shortbread crust and topping provide an excellent balance to the peach filling. Try to stop at just one.

The book

I gave The Guest List by Lucy Foley to my mother as part of her most recent Christmas gift. I had heard such good things about it, and I know my mom enjoys a good thriller just as I do. And I guess a part of me knew she would be willing to lend it to me after she’d finished it, which she has.

The story is about a group gathered for a wedding taking place on an island off the coast of Ireland. There are multiple perspectives told in the first person, but smartly, the author begins each chapter with not only the name of the character whose perspective we’re getting, but also includes their role in the wedding. It really helps keeps everyone straight. I am about a third of the way through, and the tension is building. I can’t to see where the story goes.

Books and bakes #18: The Wild Laughter and banana chocolate chip muffins

The bake

As I mentioned in my last “books and bakes” post, I haven’t been baking as much since it has gotten hotter. However, I had three overripe bananas sitting on the counter, staring at me. I usually make banana bread when I have overripe bananas, but I decided to do something different this time. OK, who am I kidding? These muffins are just banana bread baked in a muffin tin instead of a loaf pan. It might not be a different flavour, but it’s a different shape! That still counts as changing it up. Plus, I used a recipe that was new to me (favourite banana chip muffins from Taste of Home).

I was a little skeptical of the 1/2 cup of chocolate chips; it seemed a bit stingy. I went with it, though, and I found the ratio between chocolate and banana bread to be on point. These muffins were flavourful, moist, and light–perfect to pair with my afternoon cup of tea.

The book

I just finished The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. This slim family drama is set in rural Ireland in 2008 and centres around adult brothers Cormac and Hart and their parents. The family farm that Hart is supposed to take over is struggling and his father’s health is rapidly declining. And then Cormac and Hart’s father makes a request of his sons that could have devastating consequences for the entire family.

I enjoyed how Hughes illustrated the complexities of familial relationships, particularly between the parents and sons, and especially between the brothers. Alongside all of this, there is so much humour, making the heavy parts of the story much lighter. To be honest, I wasn’t drawn into the book right away, but when I did get into it, I was very into it. And that almost makes me want to go back to the beginning to see if I might get more out of it now.

2021 reading: half-time update

We’re halfway through 2021 (which seems wild to me, by the way), so it felt like a good time to reflect on some of my favourite reads so far this year and share some of the books I’m anticipating.

5 books I’ve read and loved this year

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (March 16)

I tore through this novel that made me love a robot more than I’ve loved many human characters (and I don’t typically read science fiction). Several months later, I still think about Klara.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex (March 16)

I relished the different layers in this beautiful novel and in all the characters’ secrets as they were slowly revealed.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (April 13)

This short novel broke my heart with its examination of race and masculinity and the barriers to maintaining a connection.

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker (May 18)

Disturbing and dark from the first sentence, this story is told through the first-person perspective of an 8-year-old girl who murders a younger child. It’s difficult subject matter for sure, but the story is gripping and moving.

Animal by Lisa Taddeo (June 8)

A man shoots himself in front of a woman, compelling her to escape New York City and finally confront her traumatic childhood. Gritty, raw, and so engaging.

5 books I’m looking forward to this summer

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin (July 6)

A woman struggling with anxiety is mistaken for a job applicant to replace a recently deceased church receptionist. After getting hired, she becomes fixated on her predecessor’s mysterious death.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Cobb (July 13)

The true story of a Victorian doctor who committed murders in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin (July 27)

These short stories are described by the publisher as “surprising” and “darkly funny.”

All’s Well by Mona Awad (August 3)

A theatre professor with chronic pain is at the end of her rope when she decides to work on a production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya (August 31)

A young woman lives in rented rooms and on the sofas of strangers as she searches for her own home and a place in the world.

5 books I’m looking forward to this fall

The Pump by Sydney Warner Brooman (September 7)

A gothic collection of linked short stories set in a southern Ontario town called “The Pump.”

Unreconciled: Family, Truth, and Indigenous Resistance by Jesse Wente (September 21)

A non-fiction work that examines relations between white and Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette (September 28)

A family saga following generations of the Strangers.

Dog Park by Sofi Oksanen (October 5)

A woman sits on a bench, watching a family play in a dog park. Someone sits next to her, and the woman realizes it is a person whose life she ruined decades ago.

People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (November 30)

A tiny book of short stories about the different people belonging to a neighbourhood.

Books and bakes #17: Heaven and lemon blueberry yogurt loaf

The bake

I haven’t been baking as much lately, and it’s all because of the changing seasons. When the weather is nicer, I want to be outside more, and I can’t say I love turning the oven on when I’m already sweating. Also, I have been eating a lot of ice cream, so it’s not as though I’ve needed to satisfy my sweet tooth with some baked treats. But I did feel the urge to try this lemon blueberry yogurt loaf from Jo Cooks the other day. The yogurt, along with the lemon syrup, made it so wonderfully moist. The glaze added even more lemon flavour with a bit of sweetness to balance it out. (But I do wish I’d made the glaze a little bit thicker.) The result was a light cake bursting with flavour that wasn’t too sweet. I recommend it for late spring or early summer evenings when you want to take a break from all of the ice cream you’ve been eating (although I’m sure a scoop of vanilla alongside a slice would be quite delicious).

The book

I recently finished Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, a short coming-of-age novel translated into English from the original Japanese. The book centres on a 14-year-old boy called “Eyes” by his bullies (a reference to the protagonist’s lazy eye) and describes the isolation and torment he experiences. The boy becomes secret friends with a schoolmate–a girl who is also being bullied. The two friends never speak in school and communicate primarily through letters and by occasionally meeting in private. The depictions of the bullying can be quite intense–it might be quite triggering for some people. Reading about the trauma these two young teens endure was difficult, to say the least. There is a lot of pain in this book, but there is a lot of beauty, too. I particularly liked the relationship with the boy and his stepmom. And, honestly, I am just in awe of any writer who can provoke so much feeling in a reader with such a short work.

Books and bakes #16: Secrets of Happiness and poppyseed bagels

The bake

I’ve wanted to try making bagels for a while. But, for some reason, I was intimidated. I guess I thought they were complicated. I built up the courage and told my boyfriend I was going to try. He was also interested, so it become a Saturday afternoon project.

It turns out bagels aren’t that difficult to make! We used a recipe from King Arthur Baking Company. Since this was my first time making bagels, I can’t compare to other recipes, but I think the trick to a good bagel is using bread flour (not all-purpose) and kneading the dough long enough to give it that chewy texture. We topped the entire dozen with poppyseeds, but the recipe is for plain bagels with some tips if you want to try variations.

The one part of the process that gave us some trouble was rolling the dough into “smooth” balls. We did our best, but they weren’t totally smooth, meaning the shapes of the bagels were less than perfect. But does it matter how a bagel looks if it tastes as good as these ones did? We didn’t think so.

My one complaint was that some of the bagels stuck to one of the two pans. So next time, I’ll try with greased parchment paper instead of just greased pans.

The book

I’m halfway through Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber. The book is divided into seven sections–sort of a novel and sort of a collection of linked stories. It opens with New York lawyer Ethan learning that his father has a second family and has been living with this secret for years. This first story is told from Ethan’s perspective, and the subsequent sections in the book are first-person accounts from different characters connected to this. (Or at least that’s how it’s been so far. I’m in the fourth section.) I seem to have a thing for linked stories. I like getting an inside look from various perspectives on the same events. So far, I wouldn’t say the book has been “unputdownable,” but I am quite enjoying it.