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About Robin A. Rothman

Robin "Don't forget the A." Rothman spent more than a decade as a rock critic before dabbling in TV & Radio journalism and eventually dropping the byline altogether to be an entertainment & features editor. Now turning her full attention to books, she's drawn to quirky fiction, funny Sci-Fi, big fantasy, cult classics, pop culture nonfiction, and anything that will help her survive the zombie apocalypse.

Posts by Robin

A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus Walk Into a...Conversation with Renee Erickson

BoatWhaleWalrusRenee Erickson has earned local and national accolades for her Seattle restaurants over the last couple of years and this fall penned her first cookbook which we promptly chose as a Best Cookbook of October and recently a Best Cookbook of 2014

A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus--named for three of her restaurants: Boat Street Cafe, The Whale Wins, and The Walrus and the Carpenter--is a collection of seasonal menus with personal stories, lots of extras (how-to make a nice cheese plate, favorite holiday wines, intros to local purveyors and family, etc.,), and absolutely gorgeous photographs. It's a cookbook you want to own yourself and also give to your favorite people.

Like the restaurants that inspired it, A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus is relaxed, friendly, and strikingly elegant.   I met up with Erickson a little while ago at The Whale Wins to talk about cooking, restaurants, and what's next.


Seira Wilson:  You own four restaurants and a food truck now, was it easier/less stressful to open the third and fourth restaurant vs. the first?

Renee Erickson: My life’s changed so dramatically since we opened Boat Street, even four years ago when we opened Walrus, that was the big push.  I think more mentally and emotionally because the business itself is packed with stress. 

It was hard to not be at Boat Street all the time, that was the biggest challenge, it was hard to let other people make decisions and be creative and do stuff, but at the end of the day it’s your name and reputation and so that was challenging. 

IMG_2329Then you get really emotionally attached to your guests and you miss them and want to see them and for a long time it was hard, I felt like I was disappointing everyone a little bit because I couldn’t be everywhere. But I think you just kind of get used to it over time. 

Opening two was hard, opening this one [Whale Wins] was much  harder--it’s easy to split your time between two places, but having a third was..for all of us, Jeremy (my business partner), Chad and I, we all were like "whoa" [laughs].  We opened up thinking we could do things the same as the other two but we couldn't so we've been building our infrastructure. With two [restaurants] one of us could be there all the time, but now we need to have people available to do all the things we did and help manage the behind the scenes stuff.

SW: What's a typical day for you?  Do you go to certain restaurants on certain days or..?

RE:  Historically I sort of had a schedule, but now with the book...and with Whale and Walrus there have been lots of photo shoots, stuff for magazines, and that takes priority over my schedule and kind of dictates where I am right now.   It's good, it's exciting, it's always different.  Now it's more that I feel like I'm letting my staff down if I'm not there enough.  We did a photo shoot for Art Culinaire, that was super exciting and stressful because it's sort of a fancy food magazine that I was like, "really? you want me in it?"  because the one that's out right now is all full of Thomas Keller, so I was really nervous and spent two long days getting everything ready and right but it was great, everything turned out really well.

SW: When does that come out? 

RE: April, their 114th issue, it’s all about oysters, so we did a lot of cool dishes. 

SW: It's been so amazing, Bon Appetit Best Restaurant...

RE: I know, two years in a row, it sort of blew my mind. I'm definitely surprised by it all. I've sort of been doing the same thing all along, but I think the timing, all the food mania, is now.

SW: Where do you go, or what do you make at home, at the end of a long night when you’re starving?

RE: If I go out after a long night it's Delancey.  At home, sardines--canned sardines.  Historically, probably cheese and crackers--whatever cheese is in the fridge, glass of wine. Or really plain pasta--something simple.  If it’s in the summer, tomato and basil, or whatever’s around.  Anchovies and chilies.  Love canned sardines.

ClamsSW: Do you have a favorite recipe from A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus?

RE: That’s hard--it’s like your favorite kid or something. It was so much fun. Things I eat the most?  The clams, something I crave and want to eat all the time [Manila Clams from the Sunday at Home chapter]. I love rice pudding, this one’s crazy delicious [Honeyed Rice Pudding Pots from the Lummi Island Spot Prawn Dinner chapter].  Doesn’t photograph well but…  And probably the Messy Spot Prawns.  Sort of last meal food would be the Spot Prawns and...the Côte de Bœuf with Anchovy Butter, which I love. 

SW: Was there anything you had to leave out, the hard cut?

RE: I feel like this was just scratching the surface of what I love, but when we made the outline for the book it was just super easy.  I thought about it for so long that eventually when I sat down with Jess and we thought about it organized by season then it became really obvious which recipes, or events, or menus had been important enough to not let anything else compete with them.  So that part  was really satisfying, to have it come together as a full plan.  It felt really satisfying and comfortable to know it came together easily, without a lot of torture over whether to include this or that.

SW: Do you want to write another cookbook?

RE: Yeah, I would want to do another one.  I think I’d probably like to do more seafood focused, a lot of oyster stuff, I think would be really fun.  Seafood and maybe more preserving stuff because we spend a lot of time doing that too.  Not together, but...you know [laughs]. 

Photos from The Whale Wins

Wine at The Whale Wins
Renee Erickson with A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus
Danny Clinch
Renee with parents Jim and Shirlee
Wine at The Whale Wins
Wine at The Whale Wins
Danny Clinch

Sara Says: All I Want for Christmas Is...

BlumeAll I want for Christmas, as usual, is a big fat novel I can curl up with, all the better to get some quiet time amid the usual family hubbub.  

But even though I’m going to have to wait a bit to read one of the ones I’m most excited about, at least we got an early look at the jacket for Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event.

Blume might be best known as a children’s author--many’s the woman who can quote verbatim from Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret--the fact is that her last adult novel, Summer Sisters, was a huge hit a while back. And this one--about a series of plane crashes that changed the lives of a whole town--will surely be one, too.
 
And while we’re talking about the future, let me also mention that I expect to hide out with Jami Attenberg’s Saint Maizie, which is coming next summer. Her The Middlesteins was one of my favorite books of 2012.

What else? Oh, right--there’s that adorable new Funny Girl from Nick Hornby, which so far has me thinking back to the joy of discovering one of my alltime favorites, High Fidelity.

FidelityAll that said, there are plenty of things we all can get our hands on RIGHT NOW--and for once, one of my most wished for books is not fiction. Instead it’s a gorgeous photography book about the making of the movie Boyhood, complete with pictures of the characters from the movie as they aged during the 12 years of filming. I’m never good at predicting movie awards, but as a book-about-a-film, this one is a prizewinner.

And last but not least, I’m going to catch up with the pseudonymous Italian author, Elena Ferrante, whose Days of Abandonment is one of my favorite dark-books-about-love of all time. Ferrante’s popularity is growing, and I’m sorry I missed My Brilliant Friend, which is the third in her Neapolitan trilogy. The holiday  seems the perfect time to right that wrong. I’m clearly going to have a happy reading holiday. Hope you do, too!
 

The Wilderness Within: Author Diane Cook on "Man V. Nature"

Man V. NatureClaire Cameron and I have something in common: we both like books about the struggle between humans and the natural world, especially when nature has the upper hand (see her list of "The Best Books About Getting Eaten" as proof). Her 2014 novel, The Bear, is the tale of camping trip gone wrong: a 300-pound black bear orphans five-year-old Anna and her younger brother, sending them on a terrifying flight for survival through the Canadian wilderness. Told through the voice of the young girl, it made the longlist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, which you may know by its former name, the Orange Prize.

So when I saw Man V. Nature--a collection of short stories about humans in peril, and particularly the ways they deal with it--passing it along to Claire seemed the obvious choice. And she liked it, enough to suggest an interview with author Diane Cook. Their conversation follows.


I was immediately intrigued by the title of Diane Cook’s new collection of stories, Man V. Nature. My intrigue doubled when I found that the title story is set on a raft.

I make a grand claim that I’ve read every "stranded on a raft" story in print. It’s probably not true, but maybe I’m close? Life of Pi by Yann Martel is an introduction to another Richard Parker in Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. From there I’ve spent 76 days lost at sea in Adrift with Steven Callahan and 117 days Staying Alive with Maurice and Maralyn Bailey.

I won’t go on forever, but my point is that "stranded on a raft" is almost like its own established genre. There is pressure on the writer who takes it on. She must bring something new.

When I saw that Cook had her own "stranded on a raft" story all I could think was, "Oh yeah? Surprise me." She did so, in spades. The title story in Man V. Nature seethes with heat, rejection and twisted perception. Like the very best raft stories, it pinpoints that moment where being lost in the wild brings out the wild in us.

I found myself enthralled by all of the stories in this collection. Not only are they surprising, but also fresh, funny, sad, often surreal and oddly true.

When I finished, I knew this was a writer I wanted to know more about. Cook, just back from the wilderness of her book tour, answered my questions by email.

--Claire Cameron

 

Claire Cameron: Your stories place characters in survival situations, like the three friends lost on a dinghy, co-workers in an office disaster, a woman in a shelter who is waiting for a placement with a new husband, and feral boys struggling to live through winter. All this hardship and I found myself cracking up. Why am I laughing?

Diane Cook: I’m glad you’re laughing. In general, I’m a funny person and my worldview, even when sad, is still rueful. Also, I think that as unreal as the situations in the stories are they aren’t at all unrealistic. There is the feeling (to me and I hope to other readers) that these are situations entirely possible even if they wouldn’t actually ever come to fruition. That they are things people ultimately are capable of. Which is uncomfortable.

Man V. NatureHumanity has come up with the most awful ideas and has rationalized them so successfully. And so there is the lightest dusting of satire and/or cynicism over the stories. This knowing wink is a bit of a relief in situations that would otherwise make us squirm. It’s comic. The knowing wink also leads us to some hope too. We recognize what’s wrong in these worlds. That’s half the battle.

CC: At the beginning of the collection you quote Emily Dickinson: "The Wilderness is new--to you. / Master let me lead you." I kept coming back to this and thinking about it. My idea: In your stories it is often a character's instinctive response to the unknown that leads to something new. What does the quote mean to you?

DC: In an abstract way, the quote says something to me about the characters and the worlds they are inhabiting. The characters are often bewildered by something their world is presenting them. They are new to it and need some kind of guidance. As the stories go on, who and what offers relief is unexpected and surprising. But I think leaders and guiding philosophies exist in the stories.

And the wilderness as an idea is very important to me, be it a wild wood, a bewildering society, or a wilderness of the mind. But the quote actually comes from a letter Emily Dickinson wrote to her longtime publisher and editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I believe she is writing about the recent death of his wife. And so the Wilderness is the grief after death and she is offering help as he navigates this new terrain, the landscape of grief and loss, a landscape she knows.

This is important to me too. My mother died just before I began writing in earnest and I know that many of these stories are grappling with loss in some sense. I began to work out some of my feelings of loss by watching my characters go through their paces with grief of all kinds.

CC: A few of the stories are set in worlds where civilization has collapsed in some way, yet the collection as a whole feels hopeful. Like in 'Moving On', a widowed woman in a shelter is placed with a new husband and manages to find good. Are people inherently hopeful?

DC: I’m glad you see the hope in here. I definitely do. I think people must be hopeful otherwise, why go on?

Each breath into the next is an affirming step toward more life. I really think of it coming down to each moment. Each breath is an inherently hopeful thing. In this next instant anything is possible, isn’t it?

Even when my characters hit a wall or find themselves far from where they’d hoped to end up, they are still making the effort to survive, whether in a world-ending flood, or just survive the ending of some relationship. The book is about this yearning to survive, an almost desperate one. And to me that is the same as hope.

CC: Some of your stories are a refreshing take on social norms, like the teacher in "Meteorologist Dave Santana" who has sex for pleasure. She is also somewhat of a misfit because the other teachers don't know how to be around someone with "no secret shame, guilt, trauma or self-hatred." Why do we suppress our instincts?

DC: This is one of my main fascinations in life, which must be why I end up writing about it so much in the book. All the characters grapple with this tension between how they want to behave and how they must behave. Some give in to impulses, others don’t.

In my own life I tend to catalogue these moments myself and wonder why I act how I act, and wonder how different I am from others when it comes to my impulses. I think we suppress our impulses as an overture of peace. I do what is expected of me in certain situations because someone, usually someone I love or someone who has influence over me, expects it. Or because I know that to not behave in a certain way causes problems for everyone else.

I’m the kind of person who tries to avoid making more work or hardship for others. I am, however, endlessly fascinated by people who don’t live like this. Fascinated and perhaps a little jealous sometimes. I write about these people sometimes, and other times I write the characters who are more like me.

In this way I end up stringing together a kind of portrait of how complicated it can feel to be a regular person in the world.

CC: The wilderness looms everywhere in your book, sometimes in the center of the story, sometimes in the edges and sometimes inside a character. What is the wild to your writing?

DC: I get most of my inspiration from the natural world. Many of the situations in these stories came from my observations of the lives of wild things and asking myself how humans would deal with a similar situation.

Like, with the story "Somebody’s Baby," I was thinking about how precarious the lives of newborn animals are in the wild and how there are always predators waiting to strike when a mother isn’t looking. Danger is just a way of life. And survival is a daily thought. I wondered how mothers in a suburb might react to a threat that is unavoidable and constant. Loss in the wild is a stark and common thing. I love thinking of humans as wild things just farther along a spectrum of being.

And I try to keep that sense of wildness in my characters. For me it is the only way the actions of people can begin to make sense. I think we’d be so much more comfortable in our skin as people or as a society if we didn’t deny our wild lineage. It’s always been my belief that the world makes more sense when we acknowledge that sometimes our rationality is at odds with our instincts.

"Nine Questions for Jim Shepard" by Andrew Eisenman

Shepard9 QUESTIONS FOR JIM SHEPARD

By Andrew Eisenman

 

“What the hell am I doing here?” says Air Force Captain Gordon Phelan, the first time he sets foot on Texas Tower 4, the Cold War-era offshore platform at the center of Jim Shepard’s heart-crushing new Kindle Single. Tower No. 4—or “old shaky,” as one of the servicemen has painted over the mess hall door—was one of the Air Force’s “most unlikely achievements and most lethal peacetime disasters.” In “Safety Tips for Living Alone,” Shepard mines this forgotten piece of American history not only for its page-turning drama, but for what it says about us now—a nation suspended in the wobbly space between achievement and disaster.

One of America’s best living writers, Shepard is the author of six novels—with one on the way—and four collections, including most recently You Think That’s Bad (Knopf, 2011). “Safety Tips for Living Alone” (Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading) is a selection for Amazon’s Best Books of the Month. It’s on sale now.

Over email, Shepard answered questions about the real-life events that inspired the story, his research process, government surveillance and his own recommended reading.

 

AE: What is “Safety Tips for Living Alone” about?

JS: The triumph of the human spirit. No: actually, I suppose it’s more about the way we turn our lives over to others—in the case of the servicemen, over to the military, and in the case of their wives back in the 50’s and early 60’s, over to their husbands—and the way that that trust can then be so devastatingly betrayed.   Reading about the disaster, I was moved by the servicemen’s trust in the Air Force, and their wives’ trust in them. Especially in the face of what happened.  

 

AE: In his introduction, Joshua Ferris calls Texas Tower 4 a “forgotten, misbegotten episode in American history.” What about the story of “old shaky” captured your imagination? 

JS: See above. Also, it was precisely that forgotten and misbegotten aspect of the episode that struck me. Not only had these guys all been killed—and their families devastated—but the whole thing was now so lost to history. And it seemed like such classic military episode: one of those maddening disasters that’s so eminently avoidable. There’s a reason SNAFU is a military acronym.  

 

AE: What kind of research goes into writing a story like this?

JS: A dispiriting amount. The record of the congressional hearings on the collapse of the Tower—which ran to nearly 300 pages—was a particularly bottomless source of information for a sad-eyed nerd like me. I also read memoirs of women from the 50’s and 60’s who suffered stoically (and usually proudly) in various ways as the wives of service members. Those were hugely helpful about the kinds of complicated emotional dilemmas that interested me. 

 

AE:  How do you know when you’ve done enough research and it’s time to start writing? 

JS: Writers are geniuses at procrastination, and you can always tell yourself there’s more research you have to do, so I usually start writing once I’m sufficiently excited about what I’m doing that the anticipation overcomes the sense of hubris involved. I usually begin by writing about one small corner of the world I’m researching, so that I can sort of nose outward from that. And by writing, I also discover what else it is I have to learn. 

 

AE: Before “Safety Tips,” I was reading Ron Hansen’s astonishing, gorgeous novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford—also historical fiction. You both find ways to inhabit history through language. Does the constraint of authenticity make the writing easier or harder? 

JS: I love Ron’s work.  In fact, "Safety Tips" was hugely inspired by one of my favorite of his short stories, “Wickedness,” about the Nebraska blizzard of 1888.   If you haven’t read it yet, boy, do you have a treat ahead. The constraint of authenticity makes the writing both easier and harder, as you would probably expect. On the one hand, you’re provided with all sorts of elements to work with, and a kind of a box. On the other, all of those elements are constraints.   

 

AE: The story is told from the perspective of the wives of four men who go to work on the platform. What about the experience of the wives resonated with you? Why did you choose to tell the story from their vantage?

JS: I was struck, reading the memoirs of military wives, by how violently they found themselves in their own accounts whipsawed between feeling absolutely powerless and complicitous in whatever disaster happened to be going on. That seemed to me a paradox that a lot of us as Americans can relate to at this point, as we feel our political system becoming increasingly unresponsive to the public will.

  

AE: You were three years old when the bulk of this story takes place—in 1961, at the height of the Cold War. What did you discover about the America of your early childhood?

JS: Well, for one thing, I discovered that lethal fuckups like this took place, made headlines, caused no change whatsoever, and then were swept under the rug.   

 

AE: Texas Tower 4 was a surveillance radar station built in part to give the U.S. extra warning in case of a Soviet bomber attack. A different kind of government surveillance is in the headlines these days. Was any of that on your mind while writing? 

JS: It was. Speaking of the story’s relevance to our current political position as an utterly surveilled population. This mania that our government has to know all, a mania justified by its—and our—apparent inability to live with or tolerate any sort of fear of an outside threat: that hasn’t gone away. And a lot of people want to make sure it doesn’t. 

 

AE: The story was published by Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading series. What books do you recommend?   

JS: Well, I just gave a shout-out to Ron, but of course there are a lot of newer books out there I’d recommend as well. If someone’s looking for non-fiction, I’d recommend without reservation Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, or Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve. If they’re looking for fiction, I’d be equally enthusiastic about Jim Crace’s Quarantine, or Hilary Mantel’s The Giant O’Brien. That’s a start, anyway.   

 

 

 

 

 

Danny Clinch & the Majesty of Rock

If you love music, you've probably seen Danny Clinch's work. Over decades of work, he has photographed the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Tupac, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Jay-Z, and... the list goes on. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Spin, Rolling Stone, and the New Yorker, as well as on hundreds of album covers.

His new monograph, Danny Clinch: Still Moving, collectes more than 200 iconic photographs, personal anecdotes, and a foreword by Bruce Springsteen. Enjoy these images from the book, a selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of 2014 in Arts & Photography.

Danny Clinch also plays harmonica. See more at www.dannyclinch.com.

 


Images from Danny Clinch: Still Moving

 

Danny Clinch

Radiohead, 1994

 

Danny Clinch

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2010

 

Danny Clinch

Nas, 1993

 

Danny Clinch

Gregg Allman, 2010

 

Danny Clinch

Eddie Vedder & Neil Young, 2006

 

Danny Clinch

Bruce Springsteen, 2003

 

Danny Clinch

Chuck Berry, 2011

 

Danny Clinch

The Roots, 2011

 

Danny Clinch

Lucinda Williams, 2008

 

Danny Clinch

Arcade Fire, 2010

 

Danny Clinch

Amazon's Best Books of December: Part One

This is the time of year at Amazon when The Best Book of the Year program takes center stage, which is as it should be. But we're still reading and choosing the Best Books of the Month during this time, and there are some very good books coming out in December. Here are our Top 5 books of the month for December:

MoriartySpotlight: Our top pick is Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. Endorsed by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle, Horowitz "begins where Conan Doyle left off,"Senior Editor Neal Thompson informs us, "with Holmes and his evil nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, having tussled right off the edge of Reichenbach Falls." Thompson continues: "The action begins when Pinkerton detective Frederick Chase and Scotland Yard inspector Athelney Jones meet in a Swiss village days after Holmes and Moriarty have disappeared. The two collaborate in their search for the ruthless Clarence Devereaux, a depraved criminal mastermind seeking to fill the void left by Moriarty’s drowning. But, as with all good Holmes tales, things are not always what they seem. Horowitz proves himself a worthy successor, packing this violent, energized tale with foot chases through Victorian London, clever disguises, encoded messages, feints and fakes, plus buckets of blood and a platter of red herrings.

BooksandwarPick #2: Here's a fascinating story about the power of books. Amazon's Amy Huff describes Molly Guptill Manning's When Books Went to War as follows: "The image of the Berlin book burning in May of 1933 is a common photo in history books. What’s less common is how books became a strategy to undermine the Nazi propaganda that had been proving surprisingly effective throughout Europe. While re-telling the history of the war, Manning threads through the impact that books had in fighting the Nazis, providing a narrative of their influence on the war that has previously been left out of most history books. Book lovers and history buffs should enjoy this new perspective."

 

HerePick #3: Here is probably the book that surprised and charmed us the most this month. It's a graphic novel, which would lead many readers to think it's not for them; but many readers should reconsider. Amazon Editor Erin Kodicek describes Richard McGuire's work as "slyly clever and unexpectedly moving." The entire book, first envisioned in 1989, is the record of what takes place in one room—"visualizing," as Kodicek explains, "the goings-on in a specific corner of a specific room over the course of hundreds of thousands of years (past, present, and future)." It's a trip through time, one page at a time, told in nonchronological order (the form allows McGuire to show different events from different time periods on the same page). This is surprisingly powerful stuff that will alter how you think about time and the room you are sitting in right now. 

StrangePick #4: When did Haruki Murakami become as prolific as Stephen King? Maybe that's an overstatement, but The Strange Library is Murakami's second book this year. It's shorter than his usual fair, and it's not easy to decribe—so I'll make full use of Amazon Senior Editor Neal Thompson's review (slightly edited for space): "What an odd and oddly beautiful little book. A little boy enters a quiet library where he meets a creepy old librarian who leads him deep into a maze of dark catacombs beneath the library. There, we learn of the librarian’s ghoulish designs and the boy encounters a small man wearing the skin of a sheep and a pretty young girl pushing a teacart, their worlds now 'all jumbled together.' The Strange Library was designed and illustrated by famed book jacket designer (and frequent Murakami collaborator) Chip Kidd, whose moody and mysterious depictions of a child’s (and a parent’s) darkest dream match Murakami’s surreal imagination. This is vintage Murakami and, at the same time, something entirely fresh. No one puts animal skins on humans like Murakami. No one would dare."

SparepartsPick #5: Joshua Davis' Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream is a timely book that reads like a movie script. That's a  good thing, because there's a movie based on the book comoing out next month. Amazon's Amy Huff fell in love with this "fantastic story of four Mexican-American teenagers struggling to find their place." Brought together by a robot competition, these teens learn about a lot more than robots. Huff says, "by describing how these teens came together, author Joshua Davis gives us a succinct history of immigration and a micro-lesson in Arizona politics. It all leads to the a scene in a pool in Santa Barbara, CA—with each team member realizing how they fit on the team, and in their adopted homeland." Our feel-good read of the month.

You can find all of our Best of the Month picks here.

Guest Post by Iris Johansen, Author of "The Perfect Witness"

IrisJohansenIris Johansen, New York Times bestselling author of "The Perfect Witness," shares with us her top five favorite mystery and thriller reads.

KILLER by Jonathan Kellerman. For psychological suspense, you can't go wrong with Kellerman's Alex Delaware, a brilliant psychologist who frequently consults with the Los Angeles Police Department. In "Killer", a bitter child custody battle between two sisters escalates in a most lethal and surprising way.

DIRTY MARTINI by J.A. Konrath. Chicago police detective Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels will keep you laughing even as you navigate the twists and turns of her homicide  investigations.

"Dirty Martini" finds her on the trail of a psychopath who's poisoning the city's food supply.

BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE by Lee Child. I'm a huge fan of Child's Jack Reacher series, which follows the adventures of a former military police officer who now lives off the grid, drifting from town to town. He's tough as nails, but appealingly sympathetic. In this book he squares off against a killer who is targeting members of his former elite military unit.

THE COVE by Catherine Coulter. It seems like everyone now reads the Catherine Coulter's riveting FBI series, but this is where it all began. Sally Brainerd is hiding from her father's killers in a small Oregon town, but when FBI agent James Quinlan arrived to try and bring her in, sparks fly and people start dropping dead. Romantic Suspense at its best.

BEYOND BELIEF by Roy Johansen. You didn't think I'd leave my son off this list, did you? Roy was an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer long before we started writing the Kendra Michaels books together. BEYOND BELIEF introduces paranormal debunker Joe Bailey, a police detective (and former magician) who exposes phony spiritualists and fortune tellers. But he begins to question his skeptical beliefs when he investigates a murder caused by possibly-supernatural means.

 

He's Your Man: Leonard Cohen on Tour

On Tour with Leonard CohenBeing a Leonard Cohen fan is hard work, because there are so many Leonard Cohens. There's Sad Balladeer Leonard Cohen, the one who sings ruefully nostalgic love dirges about seedy hipster hotels. There's Dark Pop Leonard Cohen, the one who drapes classics like "Everybody Knows" in mid-tempo synthesizers and surrounds them what I have described elsewhere as Canadian Disco, a somewhat pat  designation since there's probably no such thing. Don't forget Transgressive Novelist Leonard Cohen, author of Beautiful Losers, a post-Beatnik phenomenon of a book that pushed the boundaries of acceptable subject matter even in 1966, the year it was published. And then there's Your Favorite Uncle Leonard Cohen, because that's what he looks like.

It's hard work being a Leonard Cohen fan, because many men are hard to know. That's what makes On Tour with Leonard Cohen so compelling. Sharon Robinson--a collaborator of Cohen's for more than 30 years--has collected hundreds of images from over six years of nearly constant touring, an odyssey that began when Cohen was forced back onto the road after being bilked of his savings. Here we witness the full experience of life on tour, from the mundanity of planes and hotel rooms to the warmth and camraderie of a group of like-minded artists. And many cool hats.

Enjoy these images from On Tour with Leonard Cohen.

 


Words and Pictures from On Tour with Leonard Cohen by Sharon Robinson

“Life on the road is a strange reality. Traveling with a group of 50 professionals from city to city, sometimes having to check the itinerary to see where you are, the next concert almost always in the back of your mind, dictating every choice leading up to it. It’s an exercise in adaptation to changes in weather, environment, concert halls, food, language, latitude. Inside the bubble, we were anchored by our welcome rituals: the anointment with essential oils from LC himself, the round sung in Latin every night on the way to the stage, the hour-long sound check before every show - led by Leonard and conducted with discipline and professionalism by all, the friends and family, the before-the-show bonding in the green room, the passes, the protein drinks, the personal immersion in the music. There was a strong sense of family as a result of the music, the time spent together, and the singularity of purpose. There was the sheer majestic beauty of so many of the places we went, and the heartfelt words from fans after the show, evidence that we had all made contact with something greater than ourselves.

The concerts were transcendent. For many, it was a profound and spiritual experience. This was not surprising, given that it was a detailed snapshot of Leonard Cohen’s life’s work. Being part of something so meticulously put together, and delivered with such heart and commitment, was a privilege not lost on any of us....”

--Sharon Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camille Styles Holiday Party Idea: Cookies and Cocktails May Be Consumed

CamilleStylesEntertaining'Tis the season for holiday parties and who better than Camille Styles to offer some smart ideas for keeping it festive.  Styles has a very popular lifestyle blog and the author of a new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style (one of our Best of 2014 in Crafts, Home & Design).  

The book has party ideas for every season so we asked her to share one for the holidays.  As it happens, she wrote about hosting a Holiday Cookie Swap Party just as we finished 12 days of cookie recipes. Cookies and cocktails--I'm so there.


This cookie swap party is one of my favorite gatherings in my new book, Camille Styles Entertaining: Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style. The book features fresh, inspirational party ideas for every season. Brimming with creative hors d'oeuvres and cocktail recipes, floral design tips, and inspiring table designs—it’s a guide to the simple details and creative shortcuts that make everyday moments feel special.

CamilleStylesCookieSwapIEvery December, my dear friend Myra throws an all-girls cookie swap (with strict instructions to leave the kids and husbands at home!), and we all gather at her house for an afternoon of great company, glasses of bubbly and, of course, way too many sweets! It’s a holiday tradition that all her guests have come to look forward to each holiday season, and this year, I decided to host my own sugar-fueled version.

Here’s the way my cookie swap works: each guest brings a big batch of their favorite homemade holiday cookies with recipe cards to pass around, and at the party, are given a “to-go” box in which they collect a sampling of everyone else’s signature treats. After a couple hours of mixing and mingling, the ladies leave with a box of two dozen or so different kinds of cookies to sample, and (if they’re feeling generous) share with family and friends! It’s a delicious, and slightly dangerous, way to kick off the holidays, and guests are guaranteed to discover a few new recipes that are destined to become family traditions. CamilleStylesCookieSwapIII

The Menu
This party is all about indulging: taste-testing lots of different cookies and saving healthy eating resolutions for the new year! Before everyone showed up, I set up a cookie buffet with a few of my family’s favorite cookies, then let guests add to the mix as they arrived with their creations. One of the great things about a display like this is that it can be completely prepared and set out before the party, allowing me to be hands-off and sip prosecco with my girl friends!

Get the look.
One of my favorite things about having a party around the holidays is that my house is already all decked out! Candles flickering on the mantle and greenery garlands in the entranceway already set the tone for a festive gathering, so all that’s left for me to do is setup the cookie buffet and adorn the table with pinecones and evergreen branches.

I approach designing the buffet just as I would any other focal decor element, considering the colors and proportions of the serving pieces, and using natural elements to add interest and fullness. When choosing serving pieces, I always look for ways to vary the levels of the different pieces — it gives a balanced feel, and it’s much easier for guests to reach the different platters on the table when they’re not all at the same height. For this display, I incorporated a beautiful mix of cake stands and tiered pieces — some new and some collected from thrift stores through the years — that literally elevate the cookies to an artistic display.

Copper and evergreen.
For the simplest, classic holiday look, we filled a vintage copper pitcher with loads of red Ilex berry branches and placed it on the center of the cookie buffet. Change the water and snip the bottom of the branches once a week, and this arrangement can last all the way through the holiday season!

When creating a vignette with flowers and natural elements, think in terms of three’s for the most pleasing arrangement. We combined a single stem peony, a cluster of festival bush branches in an aged copper vessel and a little grouping of pine cones that filled in any gaps. To finish the look, we laid down a “runner” made from cedar branches interspersed with pine.

CamilleStylesCookieSwapII

Better with Cocktails.
Create a festive atmosphere with a bubbly bar — champagne, prosecco or cava will do the trick just fine! Set out glasses so guests can help themselves, and place skewers of sugared cranberries nearby for the ultimate seasonal stir stick. To make them, boil equal parts sugar and water until sugar dissolves, then submerge cranberries in the simple syrup. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a cooling rack, and allow to dry for an hour. Roll cranberries in a shallow bowl filled with sugar to coat, then allow to dry completely.

Packing it all up.
It’s crucial that your guests have the right-sized vessel for toting home all their cookies… and it’s nice if it’s cuter than a ziploc baggie! I love to collect vintage Christmas tins at antiques stores throughout the year; they make a really special party favor that guests can use to pack up all their cookies. You can also find sturdy cardboard “to-go” boxes at restaurant supply stores - just line them with tissue paper and seal with a sticker or tie with twine. Give guests a couple sheets each of parchment paper to be used as liners between layers, protecting the more delicate cookies.

 

These Are the STAR WARS Books You're Looking For

So did you hear that there's a new Star Wars movie on the way? Chances are you know someone who's a little excited about it, if you're not excited about it enough yourself (soccer droids notwithstanding). If you can't wait till the A.D. 2015 premiere, a pair of titles released this fall will delight even the most fanatical devotees. Star Wars Costumes presents the original costumes of episodes IV, V, and VI, as well as previously unreleased sketches and photos (watch the book trailer and see this PDF for sample pages), while Star Wars Art: Posters collects artwork from all six Star Wars films, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and limited-edition prints.

Enjoy the forward to Star Wars Art: Posters and these sample images from the book.


Star Wars Art: PostersFOREWORD TO STAR WARS ART: POSTERS

by Drew Struzan

Something new and exciting entered our world with the release of Star Wars in 1977. Star Wars moved the world. It changed not only movies, but also how we view ourselves, our world, our future, our language, our fantasies, our dreams, and, yes, our art. It gave us catchphrases, such as “May the Force be with you,” “Let the Wookiee win,” “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” and (the ultimate) “Use the Force, Luke.”

For me, Star Wars was not only a grand subject to paint; it also brought me into association with George Lucas. It was the turning point in my career. I went from relative obscurity to being a real part of a phenomenon. At the time, films generally enjoyed an opening-weekend release, saw a short run of a week or so, and were gone. But Star Wars kept drawing crowds. The interest did not wane for months. As a result, Lucasfilm decided to refresh the look of its marketing with a new poster.

Here’s where I came in—well, not exactly.

Charles White III was commissioned to create this new poster. He was not, however, a portrait artist. Charlie had seen my work and decided to call me in as a collaborator. I painted the portraits, while he painted the hardware. Lucasfilm liked the artwork, but there was not enough space left open for the “billing block” (credits). Necessity being the mother of invention, we decided to enlarge the dimensions of the art to increase the open space and give the work an early-twentieth-century, wild-posted circus-style look. Charlie made the edges of the painting appear torn and aged. I painted a portrait of Obi-Wan that was layered “under” the edge. So it came about that it took the two of us to paint what would come to be known as the “Circus” poster for its throwback style. The poster also became the favorite of the Master, George Lucas, whom I still had not met.

It was not until 1991 that I finally encountered the Star Wars originator. At the time, I was working on the cover of his filmography The Creative Impulse. I had just finished the poster for Steven Spielberg’s movie Hook, which had recently wrapped, and the production department was throwing a huge party. The entire parking lot of Sony Pictures was covered with three giant tents and was loaded with bands, restaurants, arcade games, cookie carts, and all manner of distractions. It seemed as if everyone who was any¬one in Hollywood had been invited.

My wife and I, being pretty much out of our element, stood far to the back, watching the parade of stars pass by. Standing on the opposite side of the parade was another lone figure taking in the hoopla. My wife, Dylan, thought she recognized him from the portrait I was painting and urged me to go introduce myself. Reluctantly, I waded toward him through the crowd. “Hi, I’m Drew,” I said at the top of my lungs. “Hi, I’m George,” he replied at full volume, barely audible. That was all we could hear through the din. Smiling, I fought my way back to my wife. “Yup, it is George,” I said. My excitement was palpable.

Later we ran into some friends who screamed, “You’ll never guess who was just here, excited that he had finally met Drew Struzan.” So there you have it. We had met at last, and from that day forward we have spoken and collaborated on numerous occasions. Two quiet guys. Pleased to know and be known by each other.

How can I think about or recall Star Wars without thinking of George? Star Wars is George. His mind, imagination, drive, creativity, heart, and soul are best understood by knowing his work. He is a good man, always loyal and supportive. My grand blessing in life has been the opportunity to be a part of the Star Wars “family” and to have been known by this good fellow, George Lucas.

Skip to December 1997.

It is the holiday season. The phone rings. George is on the line. He says something to the effect that he is releasing Special Editions of the three Star Wars movies. He asks me to create one work of art for the poster. Am I astonished? Uh, well, yes. “I’d be honored,” I say. Well, maybe I didn’t say it just that way, but that’s what I felt—and then I stuck my presumptuous foot in my mouth: “Hold on... You have a grand opportunity here to do a triptych, three posters that will work together as one.” He says, “Good idea. How do you see it?”

I began to talk off the top of my head, describing what I imagined. As I recall, six designers from Lucasfilm were listening in on the conversation. They began sketching as I was explaining. Then they sent a fax that asked, “Something like these?” Yes. Good. OK. And from there, “it” began.

Good design is simple and to the point, not rendered or flourished. The movie renders the idea. My job is to summarize and simplify a film’s essence. I was given one week each to design, draw, and paint these three posters for three different films. Normally, this process takes at least a month per poster and involves comprehensive drawings that are subject to criticism, changes, and approvals even before the work goes to finish. Then the labor of love—brush to canvas. This was different.

The first piece had to be done by Christmas. The second piece was completed by New Year’s. The third piece, a week into the New Year. No holidays. No weekends. Little rest for a month. Add to that the fact that I was not able to paint the images side-by-side to match and balance them. As I finished one painting, it was delivered immediately to Lucasfilm. I had to work from memory to complete the next in the series. This is the life of an illustrator. Everything is always a big rush. Everything is always a deadline. The posters all hit their openings on schedule.

Voilà! And then there were three. I could finally rest. And then, a few years later, there were six. And all along the way, dozens of book covers, post¬age stamps, and special projects—thirty-five years’ worth of association with Star Wars.

When you look at my Star Wars works, you see my take on George’s creation. When I begin a project, I look for the thing that drove the creator to make his sacrifice. People spend years of their time and power trying to bring these worlds to fruition. For my part, I think hard on their expression. I feel my way through their heart and soul and try to capture that in a single image.

One thing I’ve learned recently is that we think we are beings of reason and that reason is our power, but we have to admit the heart is stronger than the mind. Our hearts are at the center of our power. We can be more than what we are if we just let the Force flow within us so that we are present in every waking hour. All you have to do is choose.

George’s vision has lasted nearly forty years. Star Wars is preparing to go for another round, offering a new generation of artists an opportunity to express their creative insight. I count it as an honor to have been granted the autonomy to circulate in the Star Wars orbit by its creator, to bring my talents to bear on this grand vision. I am not alone. This book is a testimony to the adage that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Though I write of my experiences in the Star Wars universe, I know that all the artists represented in this volume are stars in the fantastic universe of George Lucas. I believe their experiences are all much the same as mine. Enjoy their art, their hearts, and their dreams, and get carried away with me in their wonder and visions.

God bless you my friend, George Lucas. Thirty-seven years a blessing and counting.

“May the Force be with you.”

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

Star Wars Art: Posters

 

(C) 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. And TM. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Giada, Ina, Ree, Dorie and More

Now that we've shared the favorite holiday cookie from 10 different popular cookbook authors and 2 amazing bakeries, the only question is what to make first? 

All are mouth-watering and alone or collectively will be a hit this holiday season.  In case you missed a day somewhere along the line, here are all 12 days:12DaysCookiesCollage

The Art of Science: Gifts from Outer, Inner Space

So, are you an innie or an outtie? That is, are you fascinated by the wonders of earth, or is it outer space that churns your imagination? Either way, several new books will have you (or possibly a hard-to-shop-for giftee) covered.

Inner space first. For seven years, Susan Middleton explored the Pacific Ocean on a mission to photograph marine invertebrates, using techniques of her own devising to capture the shapes, textures, and colors of these otherworldly creatures, which make up 98% of known ocean species. The result is simply stunning: Spineless is a gorgeous fusion of art and natural history, combining over 250 images and descriptions with short, illuminating essays describing the breadth and variety of these animals' existences.

For a microcosmic view of the world, Theodore Gray's Molecules: The Elements and Architecture of Everything --his follow-up to the popular The Elements--explodes the building blocks of the universe. Through the marriage of his edifying, engaging text and Nick Mann's crisp, vivid photographs, ordinary materials are broken down into their core constituents, becoming seemingly alien architectures. It's an ideal gift for chemists (or just curious people) of all ages.

Speaking of the universe. For those who spend more time gazing heavenward, Michael Benson's Cosmigraphics is a different sort of fusion from Middleton's: science, art, and history. Benson embarked on his own exploration of science libraries and other collections, seeking out unique maps and illustrations demonstrating a thousand years of humankind's fascination with (and ever-deepening understanding of) the universe and its phenomena.

Enjoy these images from Spineless, Molecules, and Cosmigraphics. Click the images for larger versions, which will open in a new browser window.

 

Images from Spineless by Susan Middleton

Spineless Spineless Spineless
Spineless Spineless Spineless
Spineless Spineless Spineless

 

 

Images from Molecules by by Theodore Gray and Nick Mann

Molecules Molecules Molecules
Molecules Molecules Molecules
Molecules Molecules Molecules

 

Images from Cosmigraphics by Michael Benson

Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics
Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics
Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics Cosmigraphics

 

The Books

Spineless Molecules Cosmigraphics

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Ladurée's Quintessentially Christmas Macaron

LadureeMacarons For the last of our 12 Days of Cookie Recipes we've chosen the much lauded macaron from Ladurée Macarons .  Here's why this is the book for such a recipe: in the middle of the twentieth century, Pierre Desfontaines, cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée, created the first Ladurée macaron by having the genius to stick two macaron cookies together and fill them with a flavorful ganache.  Since that pivotal patisserie moment, Ladurée has created a new flavor of macaron every year, and in this beautiful book you can see the recipes for 80 of them.  

When this package landed on my desk I had to show it to everyone around me because it's so gorgeous. The book itself comes in a square box (with the cover you see here) folded into tissue paper just like a box of chocolates.  Except instead of chocolates it's a lavishly photographed, gilt-edged book of Parisian bakery goodness.  As the final cookie for our 12 Days of Cookie Recipes, what could be better than Ladurée's Quintessentially Christmas Macaron?

Quintessentially Christmas Macarons
Makes approx. 50 macarons
QunitessentiallyChristmasMacarons
Prepare: 1 h 10 min
Cook: 14 min
Refrigerate: 1 h + 12 h minimum
 
Chocolate Ganache

  • 10¼ oz (290 g) dark chocolate (70% cacao)
  • 4½ tbsp (70 ml) heavy (whipping) cream
  • 7 tbsp (100 ml) orange juice
  • 7 tbsp (100 ml) tangerine (clementine) juice
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise

Macaron Shells
Basic recipe: Chocolate Macaron Shells (see below)
 
Equipment
Small saucepan
Piping bag fitted with a ½ inch (10 mm) plain tip
 
1. Prepare the chocolate ganache filling.  Use a knife to finely chop the chocolate; place in a bowl.  Put the cream, juice and spices into a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.  Heat again until simmering then, strain.  Add the hot cream-juice preparation to the chocolate in three parts. Stir well with a wooden spoon after each addition until the ingredients are well blended.  Cover with plastic wrap (cling film) placing it directly on the ganache.
 
2. Cool the ganache at room temperature.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm enough to be piped.
 
3. Make the chocolate macaron shells (step by step photos p. 294).
 
4. Spoon the chocolate ganache into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip.  Pipe a small mound of filling on the flat side of half the shells, and cover with the remaining shells.
Refrigerate the macarons for a minimum of 12 hours before serving.

Chocolate Macaron Shells
Makes approx. 100 shells
Prepare: 50 min
Cook: 14 min
 

  • 2½ cups + 1 tbsp (260 g) ground almonds (flour)
  • 2 cups + 1 tbsp (250 g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
  • 2½ tbsp (15 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2¼ oz (65 g) dark chocolate (70% cacao)
  • 6½ egg whites at room temp.
  • 1 cup + 1 tbsp (210 g) castor sugar

Equipment
Food processor
Digital candy thermometer
Whisk + flexible spatula
Piping bag fitted with a ½ inch (10 mm) plain tip
 
1. Combine the ground almonds, confectioner’s (icing) sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor. Pulse to a fine powder then, sift. Melt the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl, placed overa slowly simmering bain-marie (or in a microwave) until warm, about 95 °F (35 °C)
 
2. In a clean dry bowl, gently whisk the 6 egg whites until foamy. Add a third of the sugar; whisk for about 1 minute until dissolved. Add half the remaining sugar; continue whisking for 1 minute. Add the rest of the sugar, whisking for about a minute until firm, glossy peaks form. Pour the melted chocolate into the egg whites. Use a spatula to roughly incorporate it then, gently fold in the sifted almond-sugar-cocoa mixture. In a small bowl, whisk the ½ egg white until frothy; stir into the chocolate macaron shell batter to moisten and soften it.
 
3. Spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe small, well spaced 1½ inch (3-4 cm) rounds of batter onto it. Lightly tap the baking sheet on the work surface to spread the rounds. Set aside uncovered for 10 minutes to allow a crust to form. Preheat the oven to 300 °F, 150 °C, or gas mark 2. Bake the shells for 14-15 minutes.
 
4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, carefully lift the corners of the parchment paper, and using a small glass, pour a little water between the paper and the hot baking sheet. Do not use too much water or the shells will become soggy – the humidity and the steam produced will help remove the shells more easily when cold. Carefully lift half the cold shells off the parchment paper and place, flat side up, on a plate.

 

Macarons_Pkg

Ladurée Macarons was chosen as one of our editors' picks for the Best Cookbooks of December.

In case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Gina Homolka's Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts

Gina Homolka singlehandedly changed how I feel about low-calorie food with The Skinnytaste Cookbook.  Now Homolka is really blowing my mind with her cookie recipe below (also from the cookbook), that contains avocado instead of butter.  Shut the front door! you might say--or something like it--but it's true.  And if this cookie is anywhere near as good as her other lightened up recipes, it's going to be the best guilt-free holiday cookie around.

These Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts are rich, chewy and chocolatey –everything I love in a cookie!  But what I love most about them is I swapped the butter for healthy fats (mashed avocado) but I swear you would never know!! --Gina Homolka


Double Chocolate Chunk Walnut Cookies
Makes 24 cookies

I’ve done some crazy, unconventional things in baking, but using avocados in place of butter may just be the craziest. Believe it or not, it works! For these chewy cookies made with chunks of chocolate and walnuts in every bite, I use absolutely no butter. They taste too good to be light—and you can’t detect the taste of avocados at all. I tested these out on many unsuspecting adults, children, and teens, and everyone loved them. Karina, my college-age daughter, was the ultimate test—she’s a true chocoholic. She thinks they’re pretty awesome!
DoubleChocolateChipWalnutCookies_Homolka

  • Cooking spray or oil mister (optional)
  • 1⁄2 cup raw sugar
  • 1⁄3 cup unpacked dark brown sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup mashed avocado
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1⁄2 cup (65 grams) white whole wheat unbleached flour (I recommend King Arthur)
  • 1⁄3 cup (50 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Trader Joe’s)
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄3 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
  • 1⁄2 cup finely chopped walnuts


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 regular baking sheets with silicone baking mats (such as Silpats) or lightly spray nonstick baking sheets with oil.

In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, whisk together the sugars, avocado, applesauce, egg white, and vanilla until the sugar dissolves, about 2 to 3 minutes.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula in two additions. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 15 minutes.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto the prepared baking sheets and smooth the tops. Bake until almost set, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Per serving (2 cookies)
calories 152
fat 5.5 g
saturated fat 1.5 g
cholesterol 0 mg
carbohydrate 25 g
fiber 2 g
protein 3 g
sugars 15 g
sodium 48 mg


Gina Homolka is the author of The Skinnytaste Cookbook, one of our Best Cookbooks of 2014.

Skinnytaste GinaHomolkaIn case you missed it, here are our previous 12 Days of Cookies posts:

Anita Diamant on Her Latest Book, "The Boston Girl"

The Boston GirlAnita Diamant is the best-selling author of The Red Tent, now a Lifetime miniseries. In The Boston Girl--one of our Best of the Month picks for December--Diamant traces the life of Addie Baum, a Jewish woman coming of age in the early twentieth century.

The ideas/sparks/inspirations for my novels come to me randomly. I picked up a booklet in a Gloucester bookstore and discovered the history of the oldest settlement on Cape Ann and The Last Days of Dogtown followed. On my first visit to Israel, a tour took me to a living history museum called Atlit, where Jewish settlers were interned by the British authorities after the end of World War 2, and that was the source of Day After Night.

The working title for The Boston Girl was Rockport Lodge.

I’ve been vacationing in Rockport, Massachusetts since the early 1990s and must have driven past the place hundreds of times. A three-story white clapboard farmhouse with a sign out front, “Rockport Lodge” looked like many bed-and-breakfasts in town.

But one morning, I spotted a friend walking out the front door and pulled over. Pattie was working as Rockport Lodge’s cook that summer and she told me it was nothing like the other inns. It had been founded in the early 1900s (1906 in fact) to provide inexpensive chaperoned holidays to city girls of modest means. The policy remained “women only” and the prices ridiculously low. In 1990 it was $35 a day with free meals for women earning less than $12,400. Turned out, I had friends who stayed there. “Rustic” is how they described it.

During the 1990s, I watched the Lodge fall apart. The paint peeled, the shutters broke and the lawn got shaggy. In 2002, the windows stayed dark and weeds sprouted in the gutters. The wooden annex – a long, shotgun arrangement of guest rooms behind the big house--sagged and sank and looked like it might blow down in the next Nor’easter.  

The main building, built as a farmhouse in the 1750s, was much sturdier, but it was in bad shape, too. I peered through windows and shredded curtains into dusty common rooms. A set of Blue Willow china was displayed in the dining room. There were puzzles and books stacked on shelves and magazines open the occasional tables in the front parlor, where an old upright piano enjoyed pride of place. Hand-lettered signs were tacked up beside an old black wall telephone near the front door. The place was like one of those old steamer trunks full of secrets.

The perfect setting for a novel, right?

I tracked down the Rockport Lodge archives, which are housed at the Schlesinger Library on the History of American Women at Harvard University: forty- seven boxes filled with fundraising letters, brochures, housekeeping minutia, newspaper clippings, board meeting agendas and scrapbooks. The scrapbooks are yellowed and brittle, scrawled with spidery signatures, inside jokes and pledges of undying friendship. There are also pictures of girls lined up in ankle-length skirts, girls lounging on Good Harbor Beach in daring 1920s swimsuits, girls wearing boxy shorts and bobby socks. The clothes are a fashion timeline and tell a story about profound changes in American women’s lives.

In 2006, Rockport Lodge was sold and the land subdivided. The original farmhouse is back in private hands and has an open floor plan and a kitchen with granite countertops. The only clue to its history is a small sign over the front door, which being is slowly erased by the seasons.

And now, The Boston Girl.

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Ina Garten's Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I love Ina Garten's cookies--one of my favorites is her ginger molasses cookie that uses chunks of candied ginger.  Of all the cookies in her repertoire I was really curious to see which one she would pick as her holiday favorite so I was pretty delighted when it turned out to be a cookie inspired by a beloved Seattle confectioner.  Garten's Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk cookie below also shows up in her new cookbook, Make It Ahead.  A stash of these cookies in my freezer sounds like a brilliant idea...

This may be my favorite cookie of all time; ever since I tasted Fran’s Salted Caramels from Seattle, I’ve been obsessed with the combination of sweet and salty.  This cookie has it all – the texture of a great oatmeal cookie with sweet chocolate chunks, tart dried cranberries, lots of good vanilla, and the sea salt sprinkled on top wakes up all the flavors.  This is a cookie that both adults and kids will love for the holidays! -- Ina Garten


Salty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes 28 to 32 Cookies

Oatmeal cookies or chocolate chunk cookies—which would my friends like best? How about both together? Some dried cranberries for tartness and a sprinkle of sea salt make these my all-time favorite cookies.

  SaltyOatmealChocolateChunkCookie_InaGarten500H

  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups old-fashioned oats, such as Quaker
  • ¾ pound bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, chopped in chunks
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • Fleur de sel

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: If you prefer cookies thin and crisp, bake them straight from the mixing bowl. If you prefer them chewy in the middle and crisp outside, chill the balls of dough.

MAKE IT AHEAD: Scoop balls of dough, place in sealed containers, and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost and bake before serving. Baked cookies can be stored in plastic bags and reheated for 5 minutes at 350 degrees.


Ina Garten is the author of several best-selling cookbooks, including her most recent, Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook -- one of our editors' picks for the Best Cookbooks of 2014.

MakeItAhead

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Little Humans, Big Humanity

Little HumansBrandon Stanton is a big human. Aside from being just a literally big dude, he's big in spirit: genuinely friendly, enthusiastic, empathetic, and interested in people. All these  characteristics made his Humans of New York blog and subsequent book both poignant and extremely popular--as well as garnering him recognition as one of Time magazine's 30 People Under 30 Changing the World.

This fall, he followed up with Little Humans, 40 pages of his favorite portraits of his younger subjects--both from the blog and previously unseen--that will delight the littlest readers and shutterbugs.

Brandon stopped by our room at Book Expo America to talk about the book, his approach to street photography, and his one essential tip for taking great pictures of kids. And true to his good nature, he was totally cool when the Secret Service shunted us into a stairwell to make way for an appearance by Hillary Clinton next door. 

UPDATE: OMG. Watch the video of the little humans reading Little Humans at the end of this post.

 

 

The Books We Like to Read Again and Again

A friend of mine is in a book club. For the past few years (yes, years) this club has devoted countless hours to reading and analyzing James Joyce's Ulysses. And drinking some wine. I chide him every chance I get, but the truth is I'm a little jealous. For a book lover, being on the Best of the Month selection committee is one of the best gigs, ever. But as soon as we finish one candidate, there is a stack of others waiting and not much time to dally or dwell on any particular one. Still, despite everyone's teetering pile of "to reads" there are always those beloved books we like to revisit on occasion. Here are ours:

Jon: Everyone knows about A River Runs Through It, but for my money (not a lot), it's the Other A River Runs Through ItStories included in this volumeLogging and Pimping and “Your Pal Jim” and USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky--that make great re-reading. Don’t get me wrong: everything everyone says about River is spot on. But the other two pieces, sketching Maclean's experience in logging camps and the Forest Service, offer views of the early 20th century Montana-Idaho wilderness unadorned by Western romanticism, yet are no less grand for it. Funny, raw, and conveniently shorter for the downtime-deprived.

The PassionErin: I read The Passion by Jeanette Winterson every summer, probably because I'd rather be in Venice where much of the book takes place. And Winterson's skilled pen will transport you there, and to the brutal battlefields of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. These settings could not be more different, nor the two main characters—a humble soldier/cook, and the webbed-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman—and yet their destinies are inextricably linked. The Passion explores love in all its forms, and the crushing disappointment that results when you realize the object of your affections doesn't deserve them.

Neal: I'm always impressed by people who re-read books, A Prayer for Owen Meanywhether it's the same book every year (Laura Lippman once told me she reads Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar annually) or simply digging back into the archives for a forgotten favorite. I'm just not built like that. I'm always looking for the next great thing. Same deal with music, restaurants, bourbon, shoes...Still, I do have a few standbys that I'll pluck off the shelf and skim—not cover to cover, but enough to remind me, 'Oh, right...that's how it's done.' These include: John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, and, more recently, John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead.

Pickle Chiffon-PieSeira: As the mother of an almost-eight-year-old, I've done a lot of re-reading--sometimes ad nausea.  But there is one particular children's book that I love to re-read and it's one that I loved as a child.  My sister and I must have checked Pickle Chiffon Pie out of the library a million times and I was so happy when I discovered it’s still in print.  The sweet story of a princess and three suitors each vying to win her hand by way of bringing her father, the king, the most amazing thing they can find in the forest.  It’s about love and compassion and gifts unseen that mean the most.  And every time I read it, it makes me smile. 

Chris, who doesn't sleep, does quite a bit of re-reading, starting with The Great Gatsby: I remember I was in a bus stop in Binghamton, N.Y when I first read this line: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired." It was many years ago, and I didn't really know what it was supposed to mean at the time, but I never forgot it--and it's one of those lines that has shifted in meaning over the years. Just like the line, the whole book changes every time I read it.

A Rage in Harlem: Reading Chester Himes was revelatory for me in that I suddenly realized there were  A Rage in Harlem different ways of doing things--in this case, writing--and although it was different from what I knew, it was equal to or greater than what I considered to be the highest standards. (In other words, there's more than one way to skin a cat.) Also, I just get lost when I read his books.

Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: I have a lot of poetry books. Yeats, Merwin, and Simic are some big ones for me. But these two are the ones I return to the most.

The Information: I read more nonfiction than I used to, and Gleick's book about how information has changed (and how it has changed us) is the book that I’ve reread most recently. I suspect I'll take a look at it again in a decade or so, just to see how much more things have changed.

What are your go-to reads?

12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Dorie Greenspan's Fruit and Nut Croquants

I recently had the chance to attend a cooking demo by Dorie Greenspan as part of her book tour for Baking Chez Moi, and I was struck by how much knowledge and good humor is packed into one tiny woman.  We watched as Greenspan (assisted by an accomplished local chef) made gorgeous Crackle-Top Cream Puffs and a Tarte Tropézienne.  It was an amazing experience and I left truly inspired to bake.  Greenspan has cooked with the best of the best--Julia Child and Daniel Boulud, to name just two.  What's her holiday cookie of choice?  Here's what she picked and why.

Fruit And Nut Croquants, a French cookie, have the good looks and great texture of biscotti, but because they're only baked once, it takes half the time to make a batch, no small thing during the busy cookie-baking season. I love the texture of these cookies: mostly crunchy and then a little chewy when you get to the dried fruit. I love the flavor: not too sweet and just a little spicy, if you'd like. And I love their play-aroundability: you can make these cookies a house special by using whatever combination of fruits and nuts you like and by adding different spices, a little citrus zest or even a little orange-flower water, the way they do in the South of France. Whatever you do, you'll have a cookie that's easy and quick to put together; fun to make (anytime you can get your hands in the dough, it's fun); good with coffee or tea, and just as good with red wine or dessert wine; and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser – I know, because I've been pleasing crowds with this cookie for years chez moi.-- Dorie Greenspan


Fruit and Nut Croquants
Makes about 30 cookies


The word croquant can be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it’s easy: It means “crunchy.” As a noun, it can be confusing: It usually refers to a cookie, but there are bunches of cookies that carry the appellation and, depending on who’s making them and where, the cookies can vary in size, shape, flavor and degree of croquant-ness. Say croquant, and most French cookie lovers think of the ones from the south of France, which are usually studded with whole almonds and flavored with orange-flower water.GreenspanFruitandNutCroquants

However, the croquants that really caught my attention came from a small bakery in Lyon. The Lyonnaise cookies weren’t flavored with orange-flower water—in fact, I didn’t detect any flavoring at all—and in addition to lots of almonds, they had other nuts and dried fruits. They looked similar to biscotti or mandelbrot, the Eastern European version of the double-baked sweet, and while they were called croquant, they didn’t quite live up to their name (or their nickname: casse-dents, which means “tooth breakers”)—they were crunchy on the outside and just a little softer and chewier on the inside.

I’ve flavored these with vanilla, but if a whiff of orange-flower water appeals to you, go ahead and add it. When I’ve got oranges in the house or, better yet, tangerines or clementines, I add some grated zest whether I’m using vanilla or orange-flower water, or a combination of both. As for the nuts and dried fruits, I leave their selection up to you, although I think you should go heavier on the nuts than the fruit. For sure you should have whole almonds (preferably with their skins on), but you can also use cashews, walnuts, (skinned) hazelnuts, macadamias or pistachios. Similarly, while I often add golden raisins, there’s no reason not to consider dried cherries, pieces of dried apricots or even slim wedges of dried figs.

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 tangerine or orange (optional)
  • ¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
  • Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) dried fruits and whole nuts (see above)
  • Sugar, for sprinkling


Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Put the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup, add the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it, and beat the eggs lightly with a fork, just until they’re foamy.

If you’re using grated zest, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Add the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant (or just add the sugar to the bowl). Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, if you’re using them. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set the bowl on the stand and turn the mixer to low, just to blend the ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer, just use a whisk to combine the ingredients.

With the mixer on low, steadily pour in the eggs. Once the dough starts to come together, add the dried fruits and nuts and keep mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; use a flexible spatula to stir them into the sticky dough.

Spoon half the dough onto the lined baking sheet a few inches away from one of the long sides, and use your fingers and the spatula to cajole the dough into a log that’s 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches wide. The log will be rectangular, not domed, and pretty rough and ragged. Shape a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. Leave space between the logs—they will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the logs with sugar.

Bake the logs for 45 to 50 minutes, or until browned and firm to the touch. (If you want the croquants to be softer and chewier, bake them for 40 minutes.) Place each log on a cutting board, wait 5 minutes and then, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut into slices about ½ inch thick. Transfer the slices to a rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

Serving: It’s hard to resist dunking these cookies, so don’t. They’re great with coffee, tea, red wine or dessert wine.

Storing: Moisture and crunch don’t mix, so find a dry place for these. A cookie jar, tin or storage tub works well, but because they’re meant to be hard, I just keep them in an uncovered bowl or basket. Yes, they get firmer, but I’m fine with that. If your cookies lose their crunch, heat them in a 350-degree-F oven for about 10 minutes.

Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan.
Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Dorie Greenspan is the author of numerous cookbooks, including her most recent, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes From My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere--one of our editors' 20 Best Cookbooks of 2014 picks. 

BakingChezMoiDorieGreenspan

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12 Days of Cookie Recipes: Joy the Baker's Melty Chocolate Truffle Cookie

Joy Wilson, a.k.a. Joy the Baker, is a woman who knows how to make life a little sweeter with the help of butter, sugar, chocolate, marshmallow, caramel or...well, you get the picture.  So what cookie does someone who bakes every day want to make for her friends and family?

“The holidays require a bit of decadence. These Melty Chocolate Truffle Cookies are my favorite thing to gift during the holidays because they’re simple, rich, stay moist and tender on a pretty cookie plate, and they look like they’re covered in a light dusting of snow.  Adding a dash of peppermint extract makes them the perfect Winter holiday treat!” --Joy Wilson


Melt-y Chocolate-Truffle Cookies

Let’s be the kind of people who throw dinner parties with matching china. Let’s be the kind of people who don’t knock over their wine glasses during a very animated reenactment of their favorite scenes from Anchorman (because, yeah, we’re still talking about that movie). Let’s be the kind of people who have coffee brewed and little dessert cookies ready for serving. These are them. Good luck with the wine spill.MeltyChocolateTruffleCookies_JoyTheBaker

 

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (about 3 ounces) chopped dark chocolate (I used a 70% cacao chocolate)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

 

 

 

 

1. Put racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder, if using. Add the butter and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be relatively dry and resemble breadcrumbs. Add the chopped chocolate and toss well.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir with a fork until the mixture is slightly moistened. Use your hands to press the dough into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

4. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape it into tablespoon-size balls. Generously coat the balls, one at a time, in the confectioners’ sugar and place on the prepared baking sheets. Leave about 2 inches of space between each cookie. Bake until the cookies are just set, but still slightly undercooked on the inside, about 10 minutes. Let cool on the pans for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Serve warm (preferably right after dinner).

The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Makes about 18 cookies

 


Joy Wilson is the creator of the popular blog, Joy the Baker, and the author of two cookbooks on baking, including Homemade Decadence, where you'll find the cookie above (Homemade Decadence was one of our Best Cookbooks of October).

JoyWilson HomemadeDecadence

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