Favorite Books of 2018

Since I can remember, I have loved to read. After the lunches have been made and the dirty dishes are cleaned up; I crawl into bed and treat myself to a compelling read. In case you are looking for something new to read, here are my favorites from 2018 (in no particular order).

Americanah – Though fictional, this book holds gallons of insight into life as an African American. The main character is mesmerizing and the whole book is chalk full of characters and relationships. I thought about this book a lot and the different ties that bind as all together.

Educated: A Memoir – I am a sucker for memoirs and this one kept me on the edge of my seat. Having grown up in a small town, conservative environment, I could relate to a bit of it.

Interpreter of Maladies – This is a collection of short stories with main characters from India. I didn’t want it to end.

Little Fires Everywhere – This book starts with the sentence “Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.” Good luck putting this one down once you start!

The Great Passage – Have you ever thought about how dictionaries are made? Me either but found it fascinating to follow the fictional characters as they decide what all these words mean.

You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – I don’t usually read self-help books (is this what everyone says?) but found this one surprisingly lighthearted as well as enjoyable to read. Discussing it in my book club lead to many interesting personal insights.

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – I enjoy all different types of genres and Science Fiction is no exception. I particularly enjoy anything and everything by Ursula K. Le Guin. This book takes place on two alien planets. Though the setting and characters are alien, the complex societies and interpersonal relationships feel very familiar. I found myself looking deeper at my own views about myself and the society in which I live.

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World – With JP in middle school, I found this book really helpful in understanding the group dynamics of boys. There were definitely some good takeaways, including communication techniques.

Let’s Stay In – How could I not mention this one? Recipe testing for this cookbook was a highlight of my year. The food, writing and photography are inspiring and the perfect accompaniment to any gathering, big or small, with friends and family.

Holiday Goodies 2018

Its the time of year where I want to hide in the kitchen all day and make ALL the family favorites. I’m having such a hard time deciding so I decided to make a list of everything on my mind and then choose a few (ha!) from there.

Peanut Brittle – I have never made nor eaten a better brittle so I think this is a must.

Jam Thumbprints – I slightly adapted this recipe for my holiday kids baking class and it was so good! I used only raspberry jam and rolled them in raw sugar for a nice crunch.

Granola – This makes a fantastic teacher gift or housewarming gift. I usually do 1/2 cup walnuts and add raw pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds to make the other 1/2 cup.

Chocolate Covered Pretzels – No recipe needed! Melt good quality chocolate (I use ghirardelli chips). Dip pretzel rods in chocolate and roll in crushed candy canes or sprinkles. Dry on parchment paper.

Mom’s Soft Sugar Cookies – Always my favorite and I included some easy decorating tips if you need any.

Sparkling Molasses Cookies – I’m a sucker for gingersnaps but I like the slightly deeper flavor and chewy texture of these molasses cookies.

Fresh Ginger Cake – If we’re on the topic of ginger, then I have to tell you about this fresh ginger cake. No matter that my batter overflowed the pan – it was still one of my favorite cakes ever.

M&M Cookies – These are Kai’s favorite and maybe I’ll get some red and green M&Ms and go for it.

Bittersweet Almond Toffee – Homemade candy is a staple of Christmas baking and toffee is always a big hit. So easy too!

Ok – what do you guys think? Do you have any favorites? Happy Baking!

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Growing up in Iowa, corn was everywhere. Though sweet corn is beloved by all, it is only available in the summertime. For my family, to get a year round corn fix, we ate popcorn.

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Beautiful creamy colors from multi-colored popcorn kernels

Laying in my bed, I’d hear the shuffle of feet overhead with the whirl of the air popper spitting out hot popped corn. The microwave beeped and the mixing bowl clanked against the counter as the butter knife folded the butter into the hot popcorn. It was my parents’ reward for a job well done. How I loved the smell of the nightly popcorn!  As the years went by, mom and dad’s evening ritual became a family affair. The kernels squeaked when pressed against my teeth as I watched Barbara Walters on 20/20.

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For my wedding, I received my very own air popper. Seventeen years later and it’s still good as new. The popcorn maker and the bag of yellow kernels are brought out after the children have been tucked into bed. We attentively pop the corn, melt the butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt before settling the bowl in between our laps on the couch. It’s earthy aroma grounds me and I feel at home.The perfect reward for a job well done.

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Though I’ve eaten popcorn most of my life, I didn’t know much about it until recently. Did you know that popcorn is a special corn plant that is grown for just this purpose? Mostly grown in the Midwest, it is harvested and dried until the kernels reach the perfect level of hydration. Different varieties abound and each offers a slightly different texture and appearance. The multi colored variety, bought in the grocery store’s bulk bin, produced smaller, creamy colored and slightly sweeter popped corn.

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As the summer turns to fall, I find myself craving a popcorn treat to harold in the new season. As opposed to caramel corn or popcorn balls, This caramel coated popcorn is incredibly quick and easy. Unlike most caramel corn recipes, this one doesn’t require an hour of stirring in the oven. Unlike, popcorn balls, these have a richer flavor and no burnt fingers! The caramel coats the popcorn and creates a crisp shell.

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Though corn syrup seems the perfect accompaniment to caramel corn, I found that Lyle’s Golden Syrup imparted a fuller flavor to this recipe, plus I love the tin it came in. When using a candy thermometer, be sure to read the temperature when the tip is not touching the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Pop corn with whatever method you like best. Pick out and discard all unpopped kernels and pour into large bowl. In a small saucepan, add butter, syrup, water and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil on medium high. Turn down to medium low and clip a candy thermometer to the side. The mixture should stay at a boil. Turn the oven up slightly if not. Cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 300℉, about 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in baking soda and salt. The mixture will foam and bubble. Quickly pour over popcorn and stir with a wooden spoon. The caramel hardens quickly so no daudiling. Pour into greased sheet pan. Let cool slightly and then separate into smaller chunks as desired. Let cool. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 days.