Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How Fantasy Becomes Reality

Has a book every shaped how you feel about or behave in society?

In How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence social psychologist Karen E. Dill argues just this. She claims that people chose to believe, instead of critically examining, what they read. She suggests that people often get lost in a storyline and acquire the beliefs of its main characters.

As an avid reader, I too have been caught up in a storyline and have invented my own similarities with a main character. For example, when I was young I used to read The X-Files books non-stop... and then I decided I wanted to be a pathologist just like Scully. Well, that didn't turn out.

There are larger implications with reading, too. Past psychological studies purport that a positive correlation exists between reading romance novels and not using condoms - thus increasing your chances of STDs and a whole host of other problems (Dill, 13).

Reading a book on a new-to-you culture can leave you with either negative or positive opinions on a group of people... which can lead to the formation of stereotypes and impact how you behave towards others. It is imperative to read multiple viewpoints and to always think critically.

Dill argues that we have a tendency to believe what we read, even when it is near impossible for what we read to be true. Remember the hype for the release of the last Harry Potter book? I'm sure it is near impossible for any of us to forget. Dill claims that the massive turnouts the for release of Harry Potter books occurred because Harry is real to readers. I'll let Dill explain:

[Readers] know he's not sitting in a castle somewhere in England. Yes, they know people can't really shoot lightening bolts out of a magic wand... But J.K. Rowling is one of the richest women in the world because she's made characters and situations that are so human and meaningful to us that we choose to hold them in our mind's eye as real, even though part of us knows they are not real in the mundane sense. I guarantee you, for many people in the world, Harry Potter is more real than their own next-door neighbor (Dill 84).
The sad thing is that Harry Potter, and other literary figures at that, are a lot more real than some of the people I bump into on a regular basis. Perhaps I read too much?

Dill's work is very broad. Here are just a few more interesting points:
- On average, Americans spend 2/3 of their waking lives consuming mass media (I think this would apply to Canadians as well).
- Media capitalizes on how our minds function - people are unaware of the effects of exposure to media as the mind is largely unconscious.
- The results from eating food high in fat are not immediate - eat a piece of cheesecake and you don't automatically gain 10 pounds. How people consume and are affected by media works in a similar fashion. After playing a violent video game you don't immediately go outside and punch that annoying neighbor of yours square on the nose... but add up a decent amount of exposure to media that portrays violence and you'll be more prone to act aggressively.
- Exposure to degrading music (ie - violent, racist, or sexist lyrics) is correlated to individuals engaging in sexual activity at a younger age.
- Video games are highly stereotypical. Currently the overwhelming majority of victims in games, or the bad guys the gamer is sent out to kill, are Muslim.
- Female bodies are disproportionately presented in both video games and films for children. For example, if "Lara Croft were real, she couldn't do the athletic tricks she does in the game - she'd be lucky to be able to stand up with those huge breasts! And if Disney's Princess Jasmine were real, we'd probably find her alarming because her eyes are bigger than her waist." (Dill, 134-135).
- Media can be helpful - journalists have brought attention to domestic violence which has led to increasing amounts of attendance at shelters.

Overall, Dill argues that we need to be critical of what we view in the media. Media is created by big businesses who wish to sell products, not to entertain people. We need to be aware of the impact of exposure to the media. We can still watch our films and television, play video games, and surf the Internet... just be sure to incorporate real-life activities into your life like sports, arts and crafts, or even picking up a book.

The bottom line?
Awareness of what you consume is key.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Blog Tag

The wonderful CurlyJ of Running From Cupcakes put me into a game of blog tag last night.

The rules are quite simple - each blogger who is tagged must answer 8 questions and then tag their favourite bloggers who will preferably do the same.

However, please don't feel obliged to follow suit if you don't feel up to sharing personal information... just take it as face value that I really like your work :)

So, onto those questions...

1. Milk or dark chocolate?
I grew up with milk chocolate. Over the last few years I've switched to dark chocolate but it doesn't taste nearly as good as the milk variety... dang being health conscious.

2. What's your favourite colour?
Deep, vibrant, and royal purple. It's gorgeous and somehow looks both sophisticated and quirky... and it brings out my green eyes haha.

3. Do you have any creative hobbies?
I have many! My first love is writing (both fiction and non-fiction). Photography. Pottery and painting - I even won an award for it in highschool. I like to think that baking is a creative hobby as well... especially when I make my own cookies without the help of a recipe.

4. What was your favourite subject in school?
History. I have loved learning about other cultures, global issues, and the past ever since I was young. I also had an amazing teacher who sparked my interest in the subject.

5. What is your favourite season? Why?
I always have a hard time answering this question. Summer is nice - it's warm, bright, and there's so much more free time during that time of the year. I love winter because of the Canadian snow and that festive holiday feeling that is hard to escape... not that I would want to! And then there's the fall... nothing makes me happier than walking home from a day at university with beautiful, bright red maple leaves scattered along the lane.

6. Who inspires you to sing like crazy when nobody is around?
I have a few. Michael Buble, Jason Mraz, Colbie Caillat...

Back in June I had the good fortune of being introduced to Ellie Goulding's work through E, my favourite Englishman. I'm addicted to her CD, just hearing her music makes me smile. I've recently been listening to a lot of A Fine Frenzy. Carley Rae Jepsen is probably my number one artist though.

Actually, here's some of my favourites... just a click away :)
- Carley Rae Jepsen's Tug of War, Heavy Lifting & Hotel Shampoo
- A Fine Frenzy's What I Wouldn't Do
- Ellie Goulding's The Writer

7. What is your favourite dessert? Can you make it?
Probably bread and butter pudding, English style. The family recipe we have for it is so unbelievably good. I've helped to make it before but can't say that I've done it independently.

8. How did you learn to cook?
Specifically to cook? That would be my mom... and I guess those old home economic classes from highschool.
Baking, on the other hand, has been a combined effort of books, my mom, and my aunt.

Now, my favourite bloggers, in no particular order...
The Household Goddess
What Red Reads
The Window Seat Reader
Rantings of a Single Girl
Running From Cupcakes

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Black and White Hearts

Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review:
Black and White Hearts

Every once in a while there comes a time when only a heart shaped cookie will do. This past Thursday, the day that marks my parents wedding anniversary, was one of those times in my household.

A combination of low funds and my love for baking led me to give the creative gift of freshly baked cookies. I told my parents to put down a request for any kind of cookie they desired - chocolate, nut, toffee, peanut butter, coconut... anything. Instead, they gave me free reign. Stating that whatever I made tastes great (besides those meringues from a few weeks ago), I was told to come up with something on my own.

After reading through many recipe books, websites, and blogs I came across this recipe for Black and White Hearts. The ingredients looked scary... cream cheese, shortening... the kind of stuff that leads to bad health. But it's not every day your parents hit 32 years of matrimony. With this in mind I felt fully justified to try out this yummy looking concoction.

Here's the recipe from The Cookie Bible (2004, p 118):

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening

1. Combine butter, sugar, cream cheese, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat with electric mixer at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until light and fluffy. Add flour; beat until well mixed. Divide dough in half; w rap each half in waxed paper. Refrigerate 2 hours or until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness on lightly floured surface. Cut dough with lightly floured 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

3. Bake 7-10 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned. Remove immediately to wire racks to cool completely.

4. Melt chocolate chips and shortening in small saucepan over very low heat 4 to 6 minutes or until melted. Dip half of each heart into melted chocolate. Refrigerate on cookie sheets or trays lined with waxed paper until chocolate is firm. Store, covered, in refrigerator.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

I have used The Cookie Bible many times before and I've never gone wrong. Black and White Hearts are no exception. The recipe was easy to follow. With the help of the internet I was able to convert ounces into grams. And during the "2 hour refrigerate the dough" downtime I was able to create a second batch of cookies which will be featured in next week's Sweet Sunday Yummy Lit Review.

However, there is one catch to this recipe... and a warning for those who set out to create these cookies.

Do NOT dip the entire half of a heart into melted chocolate. I did this for a full tray of cookies... and after I took them out of the refrigerator I was left with 12 cookies glued onto a cookie tray.

It seems like a simple concept really - of course the chocolate was going to dry hard and stick to whatever it is near... be it a baked cookie or a cookie tray. Thankfully I caught onto this predicament before putting the chocolate coating onto the second tray of cookies.

In the end I was left with four dozen delicious cookies. Cream cheese and shortening, two ingredients I have always avoided to include in my cookie baking sessions, lend these treats a distinct and rich taste. And there's something so refreshing about getting a cold cookie out of the fridge on a warm summer's day.

Hope you all have a sweet Sunday!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

After Looking through some blogs on the Hop I discovered a new-to-me meme going on in the book blogger world.

Book Beginnings on Friday, hosted by Becky at Page Turners, is another Mr. Linky method to get us bloggers to connect. All that is required? Just the first sentence of the latest book you are reading.

I'm currently reading a non-fiction book titled How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence. Written by Karen E. Dill, a social psychologist, this book analyzes how the media (tv, music, movies, and even reading material) shapes western culture and one's perception of themselves.

How Fantasy Becomes Reality begins by stating "right now, at this moment in history, Americans are having a love affair with mass media."

I admit, this does sound dry, to the point, and something that we all knew... but the book is really interesting. I'm only 46 pages in (just started reading last night) but I can't wait to do a real review of Dill's work.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

The Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer of Crazy-for-Books, is back up for the last weekend of August.

The Hop, for those who don't know, is a way for book bloggers to connect with each other during the weekends. Every week Jennifer asks book bloggers a question to facilitate the community's discussion.

This week's question: Do you use a rating system for your reviews and if so, what is it and why?

A - I don't use a rating system. I've been blogging for just over a month and I have considered using one... especially after visiting some truly awesome book blogs that do.

However, I began blogging with the intention of not hierarchically arranging books but to critically examine the positive and negative elements of what I read. I do not particularly want to say that one book is better than another, but to engage in an argument and question its premises. Recently I've taken to reviewing a book and then posing a question. I believe that reading should be an active experience, and thus my reviews often lead to discussion questions.

Happy book blogging and I hope you all enjoy the last few days of August. I can't believe its almost September! This month has flown by... and I personally can't wait for the next one to start :)

Matters of the Heart

One of my friends recently recommended reading Danielle Steel's Matters of the Heart. She claimed that it was the best Steel book she had ever read. According to her it was a page turner, suspenseful, and a novel she couldn't stop reading even on her honeymoon this past June. With that kind of acclaim I had to give the book a shot.

Taking my friend's word, I began to read the book on an early flight out of Vancouver. I did manage to finish the book yesterday though I read the majority during my flights.

I must admit that at first I was a bit skeptical of this novel. I am an avid reader of Steel but I find her work repetitive. How many times does she have to reword the same sentence, allude to certain plot twists, or repeatedly mention a character's wealth? To me a Steel book has always been a source of cheap entertainment. Her work can be engaging, fun, and romantic... but it is not a ground shattering, award-winning piece of fiction by any means.

Matters of the Heart did live up to my friends praises. Steel expertly creates a love story between an isolated, but intelligent and well-balanced, woman and a sociopathic man. She illustrates the traumas of being in a physically and psychologically abusive relationship. Her descriptions are vivid, intense, and original. And, most importantly, she creates a fast paced and non-repetitive tale. This book manages to escape the downfall of many Steel novels, that being repetitive descriptions and dialogue.

Interestingly, the sociopathic man in Steel's work is portrayed as an acclaimed writer. Steel links the man's unbalanced behaviour to his writing by stating "it was why he wrote the books he did, all those dark characters lived in his head, and were different sides of him, the ones that didn't show" (Steel, p 275).

This reminded me of our previous discussion on how a library relates to one's personality.
Just how personal is a work of fiction?

Having written a little bit of fiction myself, I do believe that writing style and theme are more intricately connected to someone's personality than the books they store on a shelf. Writing comes from within a person and is a direct expression of their thoughts, censored or uncensored.

But even the notion that what someone writes reflects their own character is troublesome. Does that mean Steel is prone to affairs or Stephen King has murderous tendencies? The psychology behind writing is an interesting topic that I would like to explore.

Overall, Steel's novel is enthralling. Though a significantly darker tale, Steel maintains her tradition of captivating the audience and producing a quick read despite its many pages. I would recommend Matters of the Heart to those who are already familiar with Steel's work... and those, who like me, had become tired of her repetitive writing style.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pink Think

How was Eastern America? Amazing. Great. It went by far too fast and by the end of my stay I really didn't want to leave. After 7 hours of flying westward I'm once again surrounded by BC's mountains and the pacific shoreline... and a fairly decent amount of August readings.

Lynn Peril's Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons marks the end of my just-over-a-week hiatus from CTR.

Peril writes a compelling analysis of how the colour pink has been historically linked to notions of femininity. It is argued that pink think, defined as a "set of ideas and attitudes about what constitutes proper female behaviour; a groupthink that was consciously or not adhered to by advice writers, manufacturers of toys and other consumer products," has been in existence since the 20th century (Peril 6). Pink think suggests that women should be utmost concerned with fashion, beauty, marriage, and procreation.

Peril does an adequate job in illustrating the prevalence of pink think during the 1940s to the late 1960s. She describes the differences in children's toys (fire trucks for boys, dolls and dating games for girls), college education (academics for males, home economics for females), the differing perceptions of unmarried men and women, and the notion that men enter the work force to support a family while women begin working in order to find a husband. She illustrates western consumerism's preoccupation with pink in advertisements of female products. And she stresses that females are socialized at a young age to be timid and subservient to males.

At the end of her work Peril suggests that pink think is still prevalent in our society... children's toys continue to be highly divided by gender stereotypes, women's magazines continue to stress the importance of cosmetics, fashion, and body image for attracting a mate.

Much of what Peril discusses is similar to Valenti's He's a Stud, She's a Slut (previously reviewed) only in a more historical context. Though I am a self-professed lover of history and gender studies, I recommend reading Valenti's version. Valenti portrays similar information in a much more engaging and entertaining fashion.

While I was reading Peril's work I did begin to wonder just how strong the association between the colour pink and women's products are today. Peril's work contains excerpts of old 1900s advertisements to illustrate her point... so I went out to search through my own belongings to see just how prevalent pink is... I believed my obsession with the colour purple would make a dominance of the colour pink near impossible.

A first glance at my possessions proved my assumption correct... if only for a short time. I really have nothing, save a Maid of Honour dress, that screams of pink. But then I looked more closely. Many pink book spines shouted out from my book collection... pink CD covers for female pop musicians stood out violently against the typical black and white album artwork. The text on my romantic comedy DVD cases were bright bright pink. My collection of Sex and the City seasons 1-6 DVDs? Yes, those are bright pink, too. My Mini Mouse key chain is even pink.

Pink and femininity are intrinsically linked through consumerism. Pink is warm, flirty, fun, bright, passionate, and perhaps even a colour that suggests the shyness of a blushing individual. But can this typify an entire gender? I beg to differ.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Duo

Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review:
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Duo

You know those friends who are absolutely inspiring? They're the people who seem to have their lives together - they know what they want, how to get it, and are well on the way of getting it. They even manage to praise your accomplishments, help you through the consequences of your bad decisions without saying "I told you so," convince you to challenge yourself for the better, and find a good laugh in the random events that comprise life.

Well, let me introduce you to Curly J, the creator of Running From Cupcakes.

Curly J and I, with a friendship that has lasted over eight years, share a strong passion for baking. Last July Curly J tried out a recipe at Picky Palate for these peanut butter/chocolate cookies that looked divine. I decided to try my hand at the same recipe before catching my flight to eastern America.

Here's the nuts and bolts of the cookie:

Peanut Butter Cookie part
1 cup creamy peanut butter -- I used the chunky kind
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg

1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.

Chocolate Chip Cookie part
2 sticks softened butter (1 cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugars until well combined. Slowly beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined. Place flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl; mix with fork or sift. Add to wet ingredients along with chocolate chips until just combined.

2. Take a tablespoon of peanut butter cookie dough and a tablespoon of chocolate cookie dough and gently press together forming a "not so perfect" ball. Don't press and roll too much, just stick them together and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until cookies are cooked through to your liking. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

I'll start off by saying I loved making these cookies. I was warned that they might not turn out and that there would probably be too little chocolate cookie dough. Throughout the entire procedure I was dubious - a peanut butter cookie composed of just peanut butter, sugar, and an egg? And the chocolate cookie portion seemed a bit too heavy on the dry ingredient list. However, I followed the ingredients and their stipulated amount word for word. In the end I had the perfect amount of dough.

There is one thing I didn't follow in Picky Palate's recipe... When it came time to combine the peanut butter and chocolate together I definitely wasn't gentle. I varied between placing peanut butter cookie dough directly into the center of a mainly chocolate cookie (with just a bit of peanut butter sticking out to be seen)... to being more creative and forming the peanut butter dough into shapes of the alphabet... I'm particularly fond of my 'W.' I also mashed the peanut butter and chocolate together, rolled it into a tight ball, and let it do its thing in the oven.

The cookies came out of the oven after 10 minutes in perfect shape... and they tasted pretty darn good, too! The flavors of chocolate and peanut butter support each other just as a sound friendship should. This is definitely a recipe I'll be keeping on file.

Hope you all have a sweet Sunday!
Bye for now :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

... And the Award Goes to...

The Book Bee, another book review blog, was kind enough to award me with The Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks Book Bee!

There are 4 rules that come with the award:
1 - thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them when creating the award post
2 - share seven things about yourself
3 - pass the award on to 15 recently discovered blogs
4 - contact the bloggers to let them know about the award

Ms. C's Random Facts:
1 - My perfect morning consists of a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and a big mug of black coffee.
2 - I read and watched Disney's books and films on The Little Mermaid way too often as a child... I like to think it's why I just can't seem to eat seafood without feeling remorse.
3 - I grew up wanting to be a writer but left my dreams behind when I decided I didn't want to be one of those 'struggling and starving' artists... My current stance on the issue? Struggling and starving or not, I'm going for it.
4 - I absolutely love Europe. It is so rich in history, culturally diverse, and absolutely beautiful... sigh
5 - I recently cleaned out one of my cupboards full of the books I read as a teenager. I forgot just how popular Chicken Soup for the (insert pretty much anything here) Soul was in the 1990s and early 2000s until I saw my copies. Looking through my old books brought a bit of nostalgia but they'll soon be put to good use at a local charity.
6 - The thought of spending an entire afternoon at a bookstore or library excites me... and I can never leave without acquiring at least one new book.
7 - I love the colour purple... deep, rich, royal looking purple. I'll go out of my way to purchase anything in this shade - purses, jewelery, tops, dresses, scarves, my ipod... even my dog's collar.

I've chosen 7 of my old favourites or new-to-me book and writing themed blogs for this award. For those I have listed, please don't feel obligated to follow up on the rules of the award. I just wanted to share with you all some great bloggers and pass on the good vibes. As the saying goes, quality over quantity.

And, the awards go to....

Claudia Del Balso, Writer
Media Molly
The Sharilyn Review
The Displaced English Major
The Window Seat Reader
As I turn the pages
Love is

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blog Hopping 3

Well... it's the weekend again! Time for another Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books.

This week's been a little bit busier for me than normal -- I've been writing out applications for Graduate schools, looking for a new car, changing the layout of CTR, and getting ready for this Saturday when I fly off to eastern America (NYC included!) for a little vacation. I'm super excited! Though CTR will be quieter next week, I will have a Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review as scheduled on the 15th... and not to toot my own horn, but they are really really good cookies.

Also... CTR will officially become one month old on August 16th. I'm so happy I started this little site, it's been a lot of fun getting to know other book bloggers and bouncing ideas off one another. I'm looking forward to many more months of blogging and getting to know those in the community :)

Jennifer's Book Blogger Hop question of the week:
How many books do you have on your 'to be read' shelf?

A: I don't really have a shelf... I do have a stack of 9 books in the corner of my room. I've been getting a lot of reading material from the library lately which has limited my books 'to be read' pile considerably. The fact that summer is winding down and university is just around the corner also hinders my 'to be read' stack... I think it's a sign my reviews are soon to include more scholastic readings... good thing I'm in an interesting program!

Hope you all have a good weekend... it's time to pack my bags and head east!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hitler's Private Library

Just how much does a book reflect on its reader?

Timothy W. Ryback addresses this question in Hitler's Private Library: The Books that Shaped his Life. Ryback explores Hitler's private library composed of works on military history, the occult, religion, and artistic endeavors such as architecture, theatre, and painting in an attempt to understand his personal character. Hitler signed and dated the inside covers of the (literally) thousands of books he collected and read. Events in Hitler's personal life and the lead-up, commencement, and close of World War II have become associated to these dated works.

Ryback proposes that "we collect books in the belief that we are preserving them when in fact it is the books that preserve their collector" (xv). What people read may reflect their character traits. For example, Ryback argues that Hitler's strong anti-Semitic beliefs are reflected in his library's copious collection of material on racial hierarchy. If books reflect our interests, Hitler was a man highly concerned with German nationalism, war, racism, supernatural events, and the formation of cities... it sounds oddly correct.

While this does make sense, I find it close minded. People read for many reasons: enjoyment, knowledge, in order to understand a different perspective from one's own, or to better understand the opposition, just to name a few. I personally would hate to think the books I have collected throughout the years reflect my thought processes and personality... if that was the case I'd be a living oxymoron.

And it leads me to think... if we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover... how can we judge a person by a book?

Hitler's Private Library was interesting... but dense and dry. I would recommend it for readers who are deeply interested in history, thought processes, and are accustomed to academic style writing.

Interesting tidbits:
- Hitler adored Henry Ford and not because he was a car enthusiast... Apparently Ford was a major anti-Semite who helped inspire Hitler's own tendencies.
- Hitler had a passionate desire to be a writer. However, his writing style, spelling, and grammar were so atrocious that many contemporaries could not read through all of Mein Kampf. If they had read the book many more people would have been aware of Hitler's intentions.
- Hitler's books are currently scattered throughout the world. They can be located in Germany's archives, American libraries, personal collections, and on the black market.

And, oddly enough...

- Ryback found an inch long, thick, and slightly curly hair between the pages of one of Hitler's books... he claims this is one of the few remaining hairs from Hitler's mustache... nice stretch, Ryback.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Free Sakineh

The first book I reviewed for CTR was Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir by Marina Nemat (you can read it here). Nemat's work is extremely powerful and has made a lasting impression on me. Sadly, experiences like to Nemat's continue on today. So when I heard an advertisement on the radio tonight requesting support for an Iranian woman wrongly imprisoned in Tehran I felt compelled to write out a quick note.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is being tried for adultery and faces stoning. This 5 August 2010 Sakineh's lawyer was arrested... sometime this upcoming week it is presumed she will be executed.

For those who are interested, please visit http://freesakineh.org/ to read through all of the information, view links to news articles throughout the globe, and perhaps sign a petition. I feel it pertinent that we continue to spread Sakineh's story.

Thank you.

Mocha-Chip Meringues

Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review:
Mocha-Chip Meringues

After the success of last week's Apricot Blueberry Bundles I decided to go back to Martha Stewart's website to tackle another one of her recipes. This time I tried my hand at a meringue cookie - my very first!

Here are the ingredients and methods:

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch; set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium speed until frothy. Beating constantly, add sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time; beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, 6 to 8 minutes total (scrape down the bowl halfway through). Add espresso powder and cocoa; beat until well blended. With a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate chips.

Drop batter by level tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until crisp, about 40 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Cool completely on sheets, about 20 minutes.

How did it go?

Before starting the baking process I noticed that I was all out of cornstarch. I was determined to make these cookies so I turned to the internet for guidance. Searching Google I discovered that all-purpose flour can be used as a replacement for cornstarch. With the flour in hand I set out to make scrumptious meringues.

Unfortunately they didn't turn out scrumptious. In fact, they didn't turn out at all. I could not get the egg-white mixture to get hard, stiff, and glossy peaks no matter how hard I tried. I like to think it's because I used flour instead of cornstarch... but in hindsight I'm not really sure. I ended up throwing away this runny mixture and, luckily, I found some cornstarch buried in the bottom of one of the kitchen drawers (if only I had found this sooner!).

I was determined to create those 'stiff and glossy peaks' during my second attempt. Thus, when the mixture finally did turn into a texture that resembled meringue I happily yelled out "I finally got it hard!" My neighbors may have heard me, and there may have been a bit of awkwardness in the air after my exclamation, but I was dang proud to have finally created those peaks and crests in my egg-white/salt/sugar/cornstarch mix.

When the meringues came out of the oven 40 minutes later I couldn't help but laugh. They looked deplorable. Comments from others ranged from: "they look like potato-skins," "crematorium cookies," and "it's like gum but then it disappears." After a hour of cooling, however, I was told they tasted as a meringue cookie should. I personally do not know... but I won't be trying these again. I think I'll keep my meringue in pies, thank you very much Ms. Stewart.


As a side note, I discovered that if you beat meringue for too long it will lose its characteristic stiff peaks. I guess I got a little carried away once I noticed the mixture was acquiring a harder consistency. Perhaps too much beating combined with a lack of cornstarch ruined my first batch.

So my lesson?

Don't beat it too much or the hardness will go away and you'll be left with a liquid-y mess... sounds like sound and simple advice to me haha.

Hope you all have a sweet Sunday! :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Cellist of Sarajevo

For the past few months I have been contemplating reading Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo. I've seen it at the local bookstore many times, read its cover, leafed through its pages, and always placed it back on the shelf. A book about the killing of civilians in Sarajevo, Bosnia? It just sounded too depressing.

I finally decided the time had come to give Galloway's work a shot when I noticed his book sitting on the shelf during my latest trip to the library. When I saw The Cellist of Sarajevo advertised as local literature - Galloway is from a suburb in BC's Lower Mainland - I felt I had no choice but to sit down with a coffee and digest his work word for word.

Galloway portrays a country's experience of civil war and its tendency to dehumanize society. He describes intense scenes of disparity and hope: a country's army murders its civilians who merely wish to cross a street; a cellist plays Albinoni Adiago in G minor on war torn streets for 22 consecutive days as an act of deviance; counter-snipers attempt to protect the people of Sarajevo; and parents struggle to stay optimistic in the presence of their children.

Galloway's work is graphic. A poignant part of the novel is his suggestion that the news media's presentation of war stories distances the audience from events. It was a powerful scene and I feel the only way to give it justice is to provide an excerpt.

After witnessing the bombing of one of Sarajevo's streets, Dragan, one of the main characters, disagrees with a journalist videotaping the resulting carnage:

"It's not that he doesn't want the world to know what's happening here. He does, or at least he agrees with the argument that the world is more likely to intervene if it is forced to see the suffering of innocents. It's just that the scene the cameraman will capture is in no way representative of what's happened here today. It's the aftermath.
A dead body won't both anyone. It will be a curiosity, but unless some viewer knew the hatless man it will mean nothing. There's nothing in a dead body that suggests what it was like to be alive. No one will know if the man had unusually large feet, what his friends used to tease him about when he was a child. No on will know about the scar on his back he got from falling out of a tree, or that his favourite food was chocolate cake...
None of this will ever be said again, has simply vanished from existence. But these are the things that make a death something to be mourned. It's not just a disappearance of flesh. This, in and of itself, is easily shrugged off. When the body of the hatless man is shown on the evening news to people all over the world, they will do exactly that. They may remark on the horror, but they will, most likely, think nothing of it at all." (Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo, p 232-233).

It's sad, but this happens all too frequently. Most of us in the western world are accustomed to having dinner with the news playing in the background providing footage of death and war. It is almost as if the dehumanization that occurs in countries at war continues into the living rooms of those in the west.

Galloway also proposes that music is a powerful form of communication and allows people to express joy or recall happier times. When homes in Sarajevo do have power, people turn on radios and CD players in the hopes of listening to music and dancing. And the cellist, the grounding focal point of the novel, is able to stop civilians, soldiers, and counter-snipers from action by merely playing his music. Galloway seems to suggest that music is a way to regain humanity, emotional connections, and sensitivity to others in a world ravaged by war.

It wasn't until I was finished reading The Cellist of Sarajevo that I looked up Albinoni Adiago in G minor (you can listen to it here). This is the song that was performed by the fictional cellist... and the song that was played by Vedran Smailovic, the actual cellist who played in Sarajevo's streets in 1992. The novel is premised on Smailovic, who defied imminent danger in order to honour those who were murdered during the Siege of Sarajevo. Needless to say it is a beautiful and moving piece of music.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Blogger Hop 2

The Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy-For-Books, is back again!

This is my second time participating in these blogging festivities. It was fun last week and I got to see some interesting sites that I probably wouldn't have encountered without this activity... So I thought I'd give it another shot. You can get all the pertinent details about participation here.

This week's Book Blogger Hop question: Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favourite tunes?

A: Both yes and no. I like silence when I'm reading something full of historical facts or theories. I find it easier to digest information without a song's lyrics interfering with my thoughts. I think it also stems to my educational experiences. I've been told that you will more easily recall information if you are in a similar setting as to when you learned the information. So, for example: I study in a quiet room so that I will be able to recall the information I studied more accurately when I am in a quiet exam room. Many years of studying has made it second nature for me to seek out quiet places to read in my spare time. However, classical music is sometimes incorporated into my reading experience - I'll put on some of Andre Rieu's symphony music, Mozart, Bach, and things of that nature when the silence gets too much.

Hope you all have a good weekend and enjoy the Hop.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Can't Stand the Heat

Louisa Edwards knows how to write an enjoyable, addictive, and modern romance... with a twist.

I don't think I have ever read a book like this one. It was definitely a good read but I reckon a reader needs to have an open mind to fully enjoy Edwards' work. While Edwards writes an engaging love story between a male chef and a female journalist in New York City, she also meaningfully portrays a male homosexual relationship. The characters are well formed, the plot twists (though, admittedly, the twists are sometimes expected), and there's even a madman with a gun. I couldn't help thinking of Mathew McConaughey and Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Aaron Eckhart and Catherine Zeta Jones in No Reservations as I read through the book - Edwards creates a literary equivalent of these films.

When I was reading Can't Stand the Heat I began to think back to the last time I read a work of fiction that involved a homosexual relationship of some form. I'm pretty sure that there must have been a homosexual relationship in at least one of the many many books I have read over the years. But as I search through my memory I can't think of any examples. Even homosexual secondary characters in books, characters that were hardly mentioned in a plotline, are hard for me to recall (probably because they were minor characters themselves). I do remember Bridget Jones' Diary mentioning a homosexual male best friend... but I only remember this because of the Hollywood film. I suppose Brokeback Mountain exists in fictive form as well.

On the other hand, or maybe just because I'm an optimist, I reckon that these books do exist... I just haven't encountered one while in the local libraries or bookstores (and, admittedly, I haven't searched for them). Now, after thinking about it, I wonder if it is one of those elusive book genres where you have to know specific titles and put in pre-orders?

The thought that the public is exposed to reading material that is heterosexist and does not reflect diverse experiences is troublesome for me. In fact, while I have thought about representations of gender I have never really considered how sexual orientations are portrayed in novels until now. Reading Can't Stand the Heat made me ponder how popular fiction portrays sexual orientations and reflects societal ideals.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Apricot Blueberry Bundles

Sweet Sunday's Yummy Lit Review:
Apricot Blueberry Bundles

This week I tackled Martha Stewart's Oatmeal-Apricot Cookies recipe.

It is a good recipe, don't get me wrong... but I had to change it around. It was a Friday afternoon, it was beautifully sunny and warm, and I had the hugest craving for a blueberry apricot treat. I searched all of my baking books, baking blogs, baking websites, and still could not find a recipe that combined both of these yummy fruits. And then I found it - there on Martha's website was stated "These treats are a variation on classic oatmeal-raisin cookies. You could also try baking them with other dried fruits, such as cherries, cranberries, or chopped dates." I had found an oatmeal-apricot home for my blueberries!

Martha also gave me some pretty solid steps to follow:

1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup roughly chopped dried apricots
3/4 cup slivered almonds.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars on medium speed until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add oat mixture, and mix until just combined. Stir in apricots and almonds by hand.
Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Place balls 3 to 4 inches apart on baking sheet. Using your fingers, flatten balls to about a 3/4 inch thickness. Bake cookies until edges begin to brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

I follow the recipe for the most part... well, besides the addition of 1/2 cup fresh blueberries from BC's interior. I mean, it is Martha Stewart after all. I did not think it was appropriate to mess with a good thing... no pun intended.

These cookies were really fun to make. The batter is sticky, and once you get to the ball stage you'll be covered in the yummy dough. I saved some blueberries to place on top of the cookies for decoration before going into the oven.

However, I do think the cookies were meant to be larger... She states a 25-30 minute baking time and the creation of only 12 cookies.

I ended up with 2 dozen Apricot Blueberry Bundles (as I've aptly named them). They only took 14 minutes in the oven... I hate to think what would have happened to them if they were to be left in for 30 minutes.

Oh, and how do they taste? AMAZING. I thought my favourite oatmeal cookies were from Betty Crocker (last week's Yummy Lit Review). But Apricot Blueberry Bundles are indescribable. The apricots bring a refreshing flavour, the blueberries add richness, and the oats are moist and soft. I love these cookies. I'll definitely be going back to Martha for more recipes.

The perfect cookie to ring in August 2010!
Hope you all have a Sweet Sunday.
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