Hey, everyone! Over the last few weeks my non-writerly self has been preparing for a small farm stand bakery business over here on the farm, called the NovelTea Kitchen (neat name, am I right?) It’s happening weekly on Fridays, and yesterday was my first day! I think it went fairly well, too.

Today I’m sharing a recipe that’s super quick and easy to make: nutty orange marmalade cookies. Reading the ingredients, you’ll notice that there’s no sugar, but I assure you that’s no typo ─ the marmalade in the mix adds its own sweetness! Isn’t that awesome? And I’m using my very own homemade marmalade, too! These cookies are lighter and fluffier than regular cookies (kind of like wee cakes, actually) with a nice orange flavor, a hint of spice, and a satisfying nutty crunch. Great for snaking (with a cup of tea!) or a simple dessert after supper (with a cup of tea!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:

  • Firstly, you’ll want to measure out all your ingredients and set them on your workspace (mise en place, people, get your mess in order). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease/parchment a baking sheet.
  • Secondly, cream the butter, egg yolk, and marmalade until light and fluffy, which might take a couple of minutes. Once you’re looking at an orange flavored pseudo-cloud, add the vanilla. Then combine all the dry ingredients (except the pecans) in a bowl and sift together, then add to the creamed mixture and beat until incorporated. Stir in the pecans.
  • Drop 2 tablespoon mounds onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart or so (I got 8 cookies this way) and bake for 13 to 15 minutes until edges are golden. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Thinking about it, I bet you could make these with any kind of preserves — can you imagine raspberry? The cookies would certainly be an interesting color! I might have to give that a try . . . once I make more raspberry jam this summer; we’ve just finished off the last jar. But we’ve still got blackcap and peach, so there are still options! Oh, cherry and pecan (or chocolate chip) sounds good, or blueberry and walnut, maybe even strawberry and almond . . .

If you try this recipe, let me know what you thought of it, and if you switched it up I’d love to hear about it!

Hey, all! This weekend’s been fairly busy so far already (but then, most of them tend to be, around here!) Recently I was glancing through my (growing) bookshelf at some of the picture books that I’ve loved while growing up, and it got me thinking. These pieces of art don’t seem to be as appreciated as other books of larger word counts, but they’re precious treasures all the same.

These are the kinds of stories we’re introduced to as children, the ones that inspired us to keep reading and feeding our imaginations and developing a love for words and the images they create. I have a fairly long list of my favorites from back in the day, and there are more that I’ve come across in later years that I can really get into (like Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Jack Frost by William Joyce), but for now I’ll just focus on a few of the oldest ones I can remember.


Bamboozled

by David Legge

This is a fun little story about a girl going to see her grandfather, and they go all over his topsy-turvy house trying to figure out just what seems odd about this particular visit. As is turns out ─ his socks don’t match! I love to just look at the pictures and take in all the crazy things going on in each page.


Chicken Soup with Rice

by Maurice Sendak

This book has been in the family pretty close to if not before I was. Each page has a month of the year and a little poem that describes just how amazing chicken soup with rice is all year round.

Reading once, reading twice, reading Chicken Soup with Rice!


Green Eggs and Ham

by Dr. Seuss

Arguably the best Dr. Seuss book ever. Seriously. I don’t know why, but this one beats them all. I’m told that when I was really small I would make my dad read it to me just about every day.


If You Give a Pig a Pancake

by Laura Numeroff

Beware the dangers of giving a pig a pancake. Just beware. You know what happened when you gave a mouse a cookie, or the moose a muffin? Yeah. Save yourself from a day of exhaustion and messes and DON’T FEED THE PIG.


The Princess and the Pizza

by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

I honestly can’t tell you when or where I came across this book, but it has to be one of the best ever. Here’s an origin story of pizza for the record books ─ an act of desperation by a paupered princess trying to prove her royal blood! You go, Paulina, show them who’s boss.


The Tale of Three Trees

retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

This is a folktale about the lives of three trees as they dream about their future on a hilltop to what fates actually befall them, and each one marks an important event that took place throughout the life of Christ: His birth, the calming of the sea, and crucifixion. A powerful story for both children and adults.


Thunder Cake

by Patricia Polacco

If you know any wee ones who are afraid of thunder, this might be a good book to read them. It tells of a little girl and how her grandmother helped her get over her fear of thunder by going about the farm gathering ingredients to back thunder cake before the storm comes. The best part? The cake recipe is in the back.


Now you’re up! What are some of your own favorite picture books from growing up? Or maybe you have some that you’ve only just discovered ─ I’d love to hear about them!

Reynwood’s Reviews: Tales of the Otori

Series: Tales of the Otori Trilogy

Titles: Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon

Author: Lian Hearn

My rating:    


In his black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the murderous warlord, Iida Sadamu, surveys his famous nightingale floor. Constructed with exquisite skill, it sings at the tread of each human foot. No assassin can cross it unheard. Brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people, Takeo has learned only the ways of peace. Why, then, does he possess the deadly skills that make him so valuable to the sinister Tribe? These supernatural powers will lead him to his violent destiny within the walls of Inuyama – and to an impossible love for a girl who can never be his… Set amid the savage blood feuds of medieval Japan, ‘Tales of the Otori’ is an epic saga of revenge and treachery, honour and loyalty, magic and unconquerable love.


My thoughts:

Okay . . . Well, to begin with, overall I can’t say this was an entirely bad story. The characters were fairly solid and presentation vivid. Thinking on it, my biggest issues are abstract concepts. The culture of the Three Countries and its people are closely related to feudal Japan, and simply put: I just don’t like it. The lack of respect the people have for women (which is historically accurate for a lot of ancient (and not so ancient) cultures) and the inflexible adherence to a faulty code of nobility over commoner just rub me the wrong way. If you’re born poor, you’re somehow less of a human than if you’re born into an higher class. Justice and honor, as they really are, is skewed in favor of the higher class, vengeance is given far too much value, and bloodshed too little consequence.

On one side, it’s interesting, how these different beliefs influence the personalities and behavior of the people, and on the other side it’s remarkably frustrating. I felt for Kaede’s plight while in the clutches of Lord Fijiwara, particularly. I wanted to strangle that fink, and no two ways about it. The term ‘gentleman’ doesn’t exist here, no picturesque knights to be found ─ but that’s not really the aim of this game. Life isn’t always a pretty fantasy, and I dare say this trilogy fits into that category.

Takeo’s story throughout the trilogy is very much like a rollercoaster, getting pulled into so many conflicting directions. He was raised among the Hidden (a people who believe in the taboo secret god), taught that all men were created equal, that everyone met the same judgment after death, and that killing was wrong ─ vastly contrary concepts to the current system. He father was an assassin, a master of poisons, who renounced his clan for a life of peace, but the Kikuta of the Tribe wanted Takeo to join their clan again and use his inherent skills for death, teaching him violence and ruthlessness.  These, along with his loyalty to his uncle and adoptive father Shigeru Otori, are the driving forces of the story. He is already set on taking the Otori lands back from his corrupt uncles, and then he receives a prophecy stating him as the one who will bring peace to the entire land, coast to coast, under his rule.

But jealousies, vendettas, and the power hungry are all determined to prevent that from happening. The path he walks is hard, unforgiving, and bloody, testing his faith and his fortitude. He falters and makes mistakes (like a real person), he gets some things wrong (also like a real person), but he nevertheless presses forward through the bleak and desperate times to accomplish what he believes to be right. He’s kind, but not wishy-washy, harsh at times, but not brutal or barbaric, and despite the fact that he associates with outcasts (pretty much the most vile thing around) people still flock to him for the promise his fight brings of freedom from oppression.

His genuine love and devotion to Kaede is also refreshing in its divergence from the cultural status quo, where a wife was generally for producing heirs and political alliances, and every other woman was for pleasure. The consideration he gave for her and the power and trust they shared was unprecedented, his fury at her ill treatment, his lengths to rescue her, and his unfaded love for her despite her scars is heartwarming.

But Takeo isn’t the only one who goes on a journey. Many, particularly from the Tribe, are confronted with the corrupt, cruel, and rigid ways of their clans, finding them no longer tolerable. The rule of ‘absolute obedience’ is tested in the face of wavering loyalties and bitter treachery. The Kikuta, the head family, are losing their humanity and becoming monsters, seeking Takeo’s death because he would not become one of them. Those of the Tribe who’ve come to love and respect Takeo, influenced by him and Kaede, begin to think that the ancient ways of their people are no longer acceptable.

Though being a single drop in a pool, his influence brings those around him to ripple with his movement, which spreads wide, instigating a lot of change in the Three Countries.

The ending of the story was well done, I was pleased with the tied up ends and happy reunions, along with the hint of more to come. The tale is ended but the story goes on. Those are the best kinds of endings, in my opinion. There is a sequel to this trilogy, as well as a prequel, but I’ll hold off reading them, because despite all good notes, the story didn’t engage me. I was never hungering to read more, never completely taken in. I had to force myself to read it, and I want to go back to that all-consuming kind of reading that made me fall in love with books in the first place.


Currently reading:

A Green and Ancient Light

A Green and Ancient Light, by Frederic S. Durbin. So far I’m really enjoying this one! It’s fun, magical, and easy to read.

Falconsbane Featurette: Zuar

Can you believe it’s already the end of May? It feels like it just started yesterday! I know they say time moves faster the older you get, but this is ridiculous! So much is going on with cleaning up the farm and planting fields and gardens. The flower beds are all spruced up, seeds are sprouting, and my water trough herb garden has survived the transplant. I’m hoping it’ll yield enough for canning sauce later, and pesto, and basil jelly, and I want to try that strawberry-basil combination . . .

In any event, progress on Falconsbane is being made (although perhaps not as single-mindedly as it probably ought), and today I’m going to tell you a bit about the region of Zuar (I know you’ve all been waiting for this post since last month’s Kedash feature!), so here’s another sneak peek into the world of Falconsbane.

Zuar is the largest region in Phen, and located smack-dab in the middle it is the only region to have a border with all six of its neighbors. Its northern half is heavily forested while toward the south it has a steppe (there’s a legend about how that is, but it’s mentioned in the book and I won’t spoil it for you). The people congregate in the towns and villages surrounding this steppe, leaving the wild flatland to the dragons and jackals. While it might not necessarily be true, there’s a common saying that ‘the brightest thing about Zuar is its colors’ ─ and really, looking at them, one can see where people got the idea. Groovy, am I right? However, the people are practical and hard working, and their military branch is a sight.

As one might imagine from their coat of arms, the Zuarians specialize in combat with spears and shields, much like the Romans of our own history. They fight in ‘packs’, creating shield walls that act like battering rams, breaking through enemy lines. Each shield has a notch in all four sides, and when they’re linked up with their neighbors they create gaps just large enough to fit a spearhead through, making a prickly battering ram.

Their motto, Jun’kurr ēn Avin’El, denotes the idea of ‘fierce fighting dogs’ or ‘wild jackals’, and they do like to liken themselves to the red jackals that roam the steppe of their homecountry. They rarely fight in single combat, almost always in groups, and their war cry is more of a howl than anything else. When you have ranks of them shouting like that it gets pretty unnerving.

(Super groovy, huh?)

Unlike Nyan and Kedash (and others), who incorporate an aspect of their coat of arms into their crest, which is painted on their battle standards, the Zuarians opted for the paw print of a jackal, just to drive home their nature and tactics. They are fierce and indomitable, capable of using their shields as a weapon as effectively as their spears, and they don’t back down in the face of the enemy.These warriors have proven highly effective in the front lines, wildly enthusiastic but simultaneously precise, and there hasn’t yet been a foe the Zuarian jackals haven’t been eager to challenge.

Hello! Happy Armed Forces Day! It’s really starting to feel like summer now, right? It’s wonderful. I’ve been able to go on some great bike rides these past few weeks, and I’m loving the fresh air and sunshine. Pretty soon it’ll be time to cut and bale hay, which reminds me, I need to replace those work pants . . .

Anywho, this month’s recipe I’m sharing isn’t so much a dish as a condiment (although there are people out there who have wanted to eat it as one): Caramel sauce. I’ve made caramel candies before, which don’t last long, but this is a sauce that’s really great for drizzling over apple pie or dumplings (and don’t forget the hunk of cheddar), as an ice cream topping, I used some on a batch of turtle brownies I made for Mother’s Day last week, and there have been times when I’ve taken a scoop cold from the fridge and had it as a dip for apple slices instead of peanut butter. It’s really versatile in the ways you can dip, drizzle, and dollop this amazingly buttery-caramely sauce, and it’s a breeze to whip up, too!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. butter*
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond, or rum, or . . .)

Instructions

  • Gather all the ingredients and tools you’ll be using, because this is a quick process and once you get going you don’t want to stop, or you’ll burn the sugar, and that would be sad. As a heads-up for the tools you’ll be needing: heavy bottomed 2 or 3 quart saucepan, wooden spoon, whisk, glass jar (for the finished sauce).
  • Cook the sugar in the saucepan over medium-high heat until melted and golden/dark amber in color. Stir at the beginning, but as it liquefies you can just swirl the pan. Once all the sugar is dissolved add the butter and stir with a whisk until melted and smooth. The sugar and butter will foam up some, hence the big pot, we don’t want overflow. That’s a hot mess.
  • Once butter is melted and mixture is smooth, remove pot from heat and wait a couple of seconds (a slow count to three should work) before slowly adding the cream, whisking as you do. It’ll foam up again, but keep whisking until it’s smooth. Add the extract, stir, and then pour into the jar. Handle with care, please, this stuff is hot. Let it cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge.

*To switch it up a little, use salted butter, and switch out the extract for salt, making salted caramel. It’s pretty good.

 

Hey, all! With the weather being so nice it certainly feels like a holiday, doesn’t it? A holiday every day. And as it happens, that’s actually true. On a whim I was looking up different ‘appreciation’ weeks/days for this month, and was gobsmacked by the absolutely ridiculous number of National (insert here) Days. Really. There’s a day for literally everything, and if I listed them all here, for only the month of May, we would be here a while ─ but I’d love to throw a couple at you.

May is a pretty big month, with sunny days and daydreams of weekend picnics and Memorial Day barbeques, so it’s no wonder that May is both National Barbeque and National Hamburger Month. It’s also the national month for eggs, strawberries (although that seems like it ought to be June, at least here in Upstate), and Mediterranean diets. Of course, one of my favorites on the list is National Bike Month. It didn’t specify if it was motorcycles or bicycles, but I’m going with bicycles because I like them more. Go bikes!

But of course, for us bookworms, May is National Get Caught Reading Month, and who can argue with that?

And then we have a whole bunch of national weeks in the month of May, but really, Reading is Fun week is the biggest one here, am I right? It kicks off tomorrow (the 13th, which is also Mother’s Day *reminder*) and goes all the way to Saturday the 19th. Celebrate by reading a book, because reading is fun!

Ahem.

And then there are a whole bunch of national days, a handful for every day of the month, really. To finish off here I’ll add a (meager) list of the appreciation going on this very day of May 12:

  • Limerick Day
  • Archery Day (oh, yeah. Love my archers.)
  • Odometer Day (well, if it’s National Bike Month, then of course . . .)
  • Nutty Fudge Day (but only the nutty fudge, all other fudge must wait their turn)

What do you think? Ridiculous? Funny? An awesome excuse to break out the celebratory wine and paint the town red? They say that every day is worth celebrating, and now it seems to be quite literal. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I suggest a Google search for national days, because it really is quite hilarious the things we’ve come up with.

Reynwood’s Reviews: Rowan of Rin

Hello! Spring’s finally arrived, people! We’re on our second lawn mowing, prepping gardens, and venturing forth on bike rides (almost got lost the other day . . .) With so much to do, it’s a wonder we have time for everything. But then, all we can do is one thing at a time and just keep plugging along, right? Like Dori says: “Just keep swimming . . . just keep swimming . . .”

But don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, or you’ll find that they’ve faded and you missed them altogether, and that would be sad.

I know that in my last review I said I would be reading volume two of the Tales of the Otori: Grass for His Pillow. Well, I did. I’m glad I did, because I liked this one better than the first ─ enough to encourage me to keep on (I’m currently working through volume three, Brilliance of the Moon). The story develops more and so do the characters. Takeo finally gets some insight and direction about who he is and what he wants, with a dash of foretelling thrown in ─ which was a good call. I suppose I’m in for the long haul with this one, so I’ll be back with an overall review when I’m finished.

As for this week, I’m sharing some thoughts about another book/series on my shelf ─ the shelf of Ultimate All-Time Favorites. Seriously people, this story is so good. You know those books where you can just keep rereading them without ever getting bored? (They do exist) This is one of them.

Title: Rowan of Rin

Series: Rowan of Rin

Author: Emily Rodda

My rating: 5 of 5


Bravest heart will carry on when sleep is death, and hope is gone.

Rowan doesn’t believe he has a brave heart. But when the river that supports his village of Rin runs dry, he must join a dangerous journey to its source in the forbidden Mountain. To save Rin, Rowan and his companions must conquer not only the Mountain’s many tricks, but also the fierce dragon that lives at its peak.


My Thoughts:

I can’t remember when I discovered these Rowan of Rin books, but it was ages ago, and I am so very glad I did, because they’re all beautiful. Yes, they’re directed toward a younger audience, and perhaps a bit more ‘simplistic’ than the longer storylines and convoluted plots of other novels, but there is a beauty in that simplicity. This series is one of my all-time favorites, and I picked this first book up after finishing a longer novel while waiting for the next to come in at the library. It only took me a couple hours, but once again I was transported back to that wonderful place called Rin and the characters I’d come to love.

In this first book we’re introduced to young Rowan, our hero throughout all five books in the series. He’s the ‘small and timid’ type of protagonist, unaccepted by the bigger and stronger people around him and struggling with finding his place and worth. The story provides a test of courage for Rowan that will prove to everyone ─ including himself ─ that even skinny rabbits can have brave hearts, too.

I have to say, it was a good time for me to read this, in light of the challenges I’m facing with writing this next book of mine. My own protagonist is struggling with many of the same issues as Rowan, so reading this has actually offered some insight and redirection about how to handle the problems facing my own characters. It’s amazing, how things work together like that.

So, not only is this test of courage a worthy tale, and Rowan a sympathetic a likeable guy, but there are other aspects that I loved about this story, such as the implied history, giving depth to the world we’re in but not going into lengthy and unnecessary expositions. There’s also the wise woman, Sheba (who for ages I kept getting confused with Shelob of Lord of the Rings . . . both are pretty creepy). She’s an enigma even to the villagers, with somewhat strange, uncanny powers of foresight and prophecy. The quests that Rowan undergoes always are accompanied by lyrical oracles instigated by her, providing warning and direction as he and his companions move forward along their way.

These books are an inspiration for my own writing and a reminder of why I love the fantasy genre so much. I highly suggest you give this story a try; it’s a quick read but wholesome in heart and cleverness, a definite ‘job well done’.