Books and bakes #7: Klara and the Sun and oatmeal cookie bars

The bake

I’ve been craving oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. On Friday, I decided to do something about that, although it was Friday, which meant I had basically run out of energy for the week. This may make me sound like the laziest baker, but even though drop cookies are one of the simplest things to bake, sometimes I just can’t be bothered to divide the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place them on multiple pans that will require me move them between racks. It’s much easier to put everything in one pan and pop it in and out of the oven in one go. I remembered seeing a recipe for oatmeal cookie bars from Baker by Nature recently, and it seemed like it would satisfy both my craving and my desire to do as little work as possible. The bars turned out chewy and yummy, but I should have just made cookies. That’s what I really wanted: a cookie, not a bar. Even though I don’t have anything bad to say about this recipe, it didn’t satisfy my oatmeal cookie craving.

The book

Taking a chance with my cravings this weekend turned out to be somewhat disappointing, but stepping out of my comfort zone with my reading has been rewarding. It may be hard to believe, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the Sun. You see, as much as I try not to dismiss entire genres, science fiction and speculative fiction aren’t the types of books I tend to gravitate toward. I’ve read two of Ishiguro’s celebrated novels, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. While I enjoyed both books, it was the science fiction elements of Never Let Me Go that kept me from loving it. So when I heard that Klara and the Sun was about an “Artificial Friend” named Klara, I wasn’t sure this was a book for me. However, several readers I trust read an advance reading copy and loved it, and I was curious to give it a try. I’m only 50 pages in–too early to give a final verdict–but the character of Klara and her observations of the world have pulled me in. I guess this weekend has shown me that while sometimes taking a chance doesn’t work out the way you hoped, sometimes it can turn out even better than you expected.

Books and bakes #6: The Divines and chocolate pudding

The bake

Okay, this isn’t a bake, since it was made on the stovetop, but this pudding turned out so well–and I’m so pleased with my presentation–I couldn’t resist posting about it. I had been thinking of making a chocolate mousse for Valentine’s Day, but I just didn’t feel comfortable serving something made with raw eggs. It’s one thing to give myself salmonella, but I would have felt terrible if my Valentine’s Day gift to my boyfriend was food poisoning. That’s why I decided to look into chocolate pudding.

I have never made any kind of pudding before, and all my memories of eating pudding are of the Jell-O brand variety (that never actually tasted all that good and definitely weren’t very chocolatey). But I trust the recipes on the Smitten Kitchen website. If this was called “best chocolate pudding,” I knew it would have to be pretty good at the very least. Well, that proved to be true. This pudding was chocolatey, smooth, and not too sweet. I served the pudding in antique teacups along with a dollop of whipped cream on top and chocolate-covered strawberries on the side. It was a perfectly delicious special-occasion dessert, and it was so simple, I think I will make it on not-so-special occasions, too.

The book

I’m reading The Divines by Ellie Eaton, a book I have been anticipating for a little while. This novel is about a clique of girls who attend an all-girls boarding school (St. John of the Divine) in England in the 1990s. The story opens with a scandal surrounding the death of one of the students and then moves to the present day, as newlywed Josephine is coaxed by her husband to tell her about her past. I love a good dark academia novel, and the ’90s references in this one add a bit of nostalgia for me. I’m only 60 pages in, but I can’t wait to see where the story goes.

Books and bakes #5: The Push and cinnamon roll blondies

The bake

This week, I unintentionally combined two other bakes featured on this blog (cinnamon rolls and blondies) and made cinnamon roll blondies. I’ve been craving cinnamon a lot lately, which is a change from my usual chocolate cravings. I didn’t have the patience to make cinnamon rolls, so when I found this recipe on My Baking Addiction, it sounded perfect. The bonus was the icing used up the leftover cream cheese from last week’s cheesecake attempt. These were so easy to make and very easy to eat (I found it hard to hold myself back from eating “just one more small one”).

The book

I’m at the tail end of The Push by Ashley Audrain, a book that has been getting a lot of buzz. This suspenseful novel is about the dark side of motherhood and family life. While protagonist Blythe didn’t have a good relationship with her own mother, that doesn’t stop her from wanting to become a mother herself. But when her daughter arrives, motherhood isn’t what Blythe imagined. The story and the tension builds from there. I’m not the type of reader who can sit still long enough to read an entire book in one sitting, but I did read 80% of this book in one day. Today I’ll finish it, along with the last couple of cinnamon roll blondies.

Books and bakes #4: A Lover’s Discourse and Japanese cheesecake loaf

The bake

Not all bakes turn out great, and this is proof of that. This weekend, I suggested to my boyfriend that we make the Japanese cheesecake loaf from Baking Day by Anna Olson, a book that he gave me for Christmas. It’s one of the recipes listed under “more involved,” which is the middle level of difficulty in the book. I felt confident we could handle it.

Well, I was wrong. We messed up with the egg whites. That much I know for sure. The consistency wasn’t right. I’m just not sure if we didn’t beat the eggs enough or if we beat them too much. At the time, I was sure we had over-beaten them, that they had collapsed. Figuring there was no way to fix this (unless we started from scratch), we continued. I thought the result would be a cake that was less light and fluffy, but I didn’t realize it would turn out so rubbery. The texture made it practically inedible. I think we’ll try the recipe again, after we’ve had more success with some other recipes first.

The book

I’m currently reading A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo. This novel is about a woman who moves from China to London, England, to pursue her PhD. Both of her parents are dead, and she feels ready to leave behind her life in China to start a new one. When she gets to London, she is a bit lost and lonely, but soon meets a man whom she falls in love with. The novel is told in the second person, as the narrator addresses her partner, recalling pieces of conversations they’ve had. Thankfully, the book is much more palatable than the cheesecake was.

A reader’s guilt

Reader’s guilt. That’s a thing, right? Logically I know that the only way guilt is worthwhile is if your conscience is telling you you’ve done something wrong and that you should take steps to fix it. When it comes to reading, I don’t feel like I have done anything wrong. (I mean, how can you do reading wrong?) But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling guilty when it’s not warranted. What I’m not as sure about is if other readers feel guilty about the same things I do. So here I am, coming clean about what I feel guilty about when it comes to reading.

Giving a book fewer than three stars on Goodreads

When I first started using Goodreads, it was just so I could track the books I read. I didn’t use any of the social aspects of the site, and I didn’t think about my ratings contributing to a book’s overall rating. But as time has gone by, I’ve become more aware of this. When I finish reading a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy, I struggle with how to rate it. This isn’t so much the case for classics or extremely successful writers, but it’s certainly true for new books and even more so for debuts. I don’t want to deter others from picking up the book (tastes are so subjective). On the other hand, I want to keep an honest record of how I felt about what I’ve read.

Not finishing books

I’ve been getting better with this one, but there’s still some guilt when I put a book aside before reaching the end. But I’ve realized that sometimes you just can’t get into it. Maybe it’s the particular time you picked up that book, or maybe it really is that that particular book isn’t for you. But if you’re not enjoying reading a book, you don’t have to keep reading it. What a concept! I think the pandemic helped me finally learn this. Read the book you want to read in that moment. (Unless you are a student, or an academic, or a book reviewer, or–okay, I’ll just clarify that I’m talking about reading for pleasure here.) Why does it sound like l I am trying to convince myself?

Not being able to read all the books

This is a common feeling amongst avid readers. And it can be stressful, too. There are so many books out there and new ones coming out all the time. And this is actually great! This is wonderful! Let’s surround ourselves with books and never run out of stories to choose from and new voices to hear from. But it’s just impossible to get to all the books we want to read. The TBR pile is always going be teetering. I will always regret that I can’t get to all the books I want to. But never running out of things to read? It seems like a pretty good trade-off.