Books and bakes #14: Empire of Pain and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

The bake

Whenever I bake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, it reminds me of being a kid and baking with Mom. I enjoyed making cookies almost as much as I did eating them. So it’s not really a surprise that making (and eating) them now gives me a sense of nostalgia and comfort.

This time, I used a recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction (as you may have noticed, I seem to get a lot of my recipes from Sally’s website these days). I omitted the cinnamon and molasses because that’s how I prefer my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. (For the record, I do love cinnamon, but I like these cookies to be more vanilla-y. I would use cinnamon if I was making oatmeal raisin cookies for sure.) This cookies turned out really well–soft and chewy with the perfect amount of chocolate chips. But, of course, they didn’t stand a chance at topping how I remember Mom’s.

The book

I read a lot more fiction than non-fiction, but every once in a while a non-fiction book comes along that I just have to read, that calls to me more than any fiction title on my teetering TBR pile. That was the case with Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe, a book about the family behind OxyContin, the drug that created a public health crisis.

I don’t know that this book would have been on my radar if I hadn’t already read Keefe’s earlier book, Say Nothing, as that one blew me away. My boyfriend recently read (and loved) Empire of Pain, and, knowing I was also interested in it, he left his copy with me for whenever I got to it. I didn’t think I would get to it for a little while. But after starting a couple of fiction titles that just weren’t speaking to me, I picked it up. I am only about 50 pages in, but Keefe’s talent for creating an engaging narrative has me hooked.

Books and bakes #13: Infinite Country and chocolate peanut butter bars

The bake

This post’s “bake” is actually a no-bake treat. It’s the second time I’ve made these no-bake chocolate and peanut butter bars from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and they are absolutely delicious. Chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favourite flavour combos: Both elements are fabulous on their own, but when they come together, they result in something even more incredible. They complement each other perfectly!

These bars consist of only five ingredients:

  • butter
  • peanut butter
  • graham cracker crumbs
  • icing sugar
  • chocolate chips

It takes only a few minutes to whip these together, but you will have to wait a couple of hours while they set in the fridge before you can enjoy them.

If it’s not obvious, I’ll warn you that these bars are very rich. I am someone who enjoys her sweets and who will often overindulge when it comes to baked (or no-baked) goods. But–and I’m telling you from experience–overdoing it with these will result in a tummy ache. So be wise and savour those flavours.

The book

I’d seen Infinite Country by Patricia Engel mentioned in several book lists and articles, but somehow I wasn’t grabbed by it. But then I picked up a copy and read the first sentence: “It was her idea to tie up the nun.” And, so, yeah, that’s when I knew I wanted to read this one.

This novel starts with teenager Talia, who escapes from a correctional facility in Colombia, trying to get back to her father in Bogotá. Her mother and siblings are in the United States, and the book intertwines the present with the past to explore how the family came to be split up and in the position they are in.

Infinite Country was one of my Canadian Independent Bookstore Day purchases this year. I started reading it yesterday. It’s a short book, and I expect to finish it tonight or tomorrow. Loving this one!

Books and bakes #12: The Vanishing Half and strawberry-rhubarb pie

The bake

I want more pie in my life. And frozen fruit provides the opportunity to make any type of pie no matter what’s currently in season. Earlier this week, I bought a package of frozen strawberries and rhubarb, figuring I’d find a recipe for pie later. To my surprise, most of the strawberry-rhubarb pie recipes I found advised against using frozen fruit. And the ones that said it was an option warned to make sure the fruit was thawed and drained well, since there was a lot of moisture that could make the filling soupy. So I thawed the fruit in the fridge overnight, drained it in a colander the next morning, and then placed it in a container lined and covered with paper towel. I used the recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction for the filling. (I omitted the orange juice, only because I didn’t have it, and I figured I could probably stand losing the extra liquid.) I made the pastry from the apple pie recipe I use because I like it and know that it’s easy to work with.

The end result? A tasty pie that could use some improvement. The filling was well set–not soupy at all–and a good balance of sweet and tart. And I already knew the pastry would be a winner. The only problem was that I would have liked a bit more filling in the pie. Sally’s recipe called for 5.5 cups of fruit. I measured the entire package of frozen fruit and it came to about 5.5 cups. The issue, I think, was that I measured it frozen, so it may have been slightly less if I had measured the fruit after it was drained. The next time I make a strawberry-rhubarb pie, I’ll use fresh fruit, just to see if it makes much of a difference.

The book

This weekend, I cracked open The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, a novel about twin sisters who run away from their hometown when they are teenagers. Years later, one ends up living her life passing as white, while the other returns with her daughter to live in the black community she and her twin left behind.

I’m looking forward to returning to this novel, as I’ve heard so much about it over the past year. But it took this novel becoming a book club pick for me to finally grab a copy (book club is next weekend). Sometimes it seems that when you hear a lot about a book, it just can’t live up to the hype, and that might be why I sometimes take my time getting to those ones (or never getting to them). I’m trying to manage my expectations. In any case, it’s always fun to hear about the experiences of others with a book, so no matter how I end up feeling about The Vanishing Half, I’m sure our book club discussion will be interesting.

Books and bakes #11: The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story and lemon squares

The bake

In my last post, I mentioned I loved to bake with the flavour combination of blueberry and lemon to welcome spring. Well, the truth is, I also think lemon does just fine as a flavour on its own. For many years, I’d gotten into a habit of making lemon squares for our family Easter get-together. That get-together didn’t happen this year (just like it didn’t happen last year, either) thanks to the pandemic, but, as the holiday came and went, I realized there was no reason I couldn’t make some lemony treats anyway.

In the past, I’ve made lemon squares using various recipes I’ve found online or in magazines. But this time I used a recipe a friend sent me a little earlier this year. She’d mentioned that she’d been baking a lot of lemon squares during the pandemic, and I figured she must have a tried-and-true recipe if she kept making them. She sent it over to me in Word document. I made them for the first time this weekend, and they turned out great! Both the crust and filling were a wonderful texture and the flavour was tangy and not too sweet. I will be adding the recipe into my regular baking rotation.

The book

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but, when I do, my favourite books are those true stories that are stranger than fiction. I heard about The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale several months ago and have been eagerly awaiting its release. And now I’ve got my hands on a copy. This book centres around Alma Fielding, a woman in living with her husband, son, and a lodger in suburban London in the 1930s. When Alma and the others start to notice china, eggs, and other items start flying off the shelves and tables, Alma calls the newspaper because she knows the cops are going to help. After the story makes headlines, a ghost hunter arrives to investigate. This has all happened within the first couple of chapters. The book jacket says the ghost hunter uncovers the case is stranger than it seems. I mean, it seems pretty damn strange right now, doesn’t it? I cannot wait to see how it gets stranger. I love a good ghost story. Good thing I’ve got those lemon squares; I think I’ll need them and a cup of tea to provide some comfort as I read on.

Books and bakes #10: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 and blueberry crumb bars

The bake

Sometimes you just feel like baking. And since I have enough chocolate for now (I picked up some early Easter chocolate last weekend), this week I felt like making something fruity. Blueberries don’t come into season until the summer in Ontario, but something about the lemon-blueberry flavour combination always says “spring” to me. Thankfully frozen fruit makes it possible to bake with this combo at any time of year. I found this recipe for blueberry crumb bars from My Baking Addiction that have just a hint of lemon with the addition of lemon zest to the crust/crumble. The bars were easy to make, and had a tasty crumble on top, with a good balance of crumb to fruit. My only complaint is that in just 24 hours, some of the bars became quite soggy sitting in a sealed container. I’m not sure if there was a better way to store them, as the recipe didn’t include any notes. But it’s not a real bother. The bars still taste great. The soggier ones just have to be eaten with a fork rather than with fingers.

The book

I’ve had Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo on hold at the library since before it was released in Canada. I think it’s been over a year now. If my memory serves me right, it was released when everything first closed due to the pandemic. I couldn’t get anything from the library at that point, and I think they had paused on receiving books, too. There may have been some other reasons for the delay, but I am unaware of the details. Anyway, the fact that it was taking so long just made me want to read it more. And, a few days ago, I was finally able to pick it up.

Kim-Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a short novel (160 pages) that opens with 33-year-old Kim Jiyoung displaying increasingly unusual behaviour that concerns her husband. The book then goes back in time with a section devoted to a different period of Jiyoung’s life, starting with her childhood, then her adolescence, her early adulthood, and then her marriage (outlined in the table of contents). The opening of the book grabbed me. Right away I wanted to know what was happening with Jiyoung. I’ve just finished the adolescence section, and now I’m finding it fascinating going back to look at Jiyoung’s life, seeing how her family and culture have affected and shaped her. So far, this book is proving to have been worth the wait.