Friday, March 11, 2011

Two Good Reads

A Discovery of Witches: A NovelA Discovery of Witches


A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism
I loved this book and think the review above does a great job of summing it up, although I usually cringe when anything is compared to the Twilight series. I am an unabashed Twilight fan, but the whole new "vampire/werewolf" genre that is trying to ride on its success is full of absolute trash. This book is not in the same category at all, despite 'vampiric' characters and a brief reference to werewolves.
Anyway...this book was a recommendation from a friend who has tossed other great books my way, so I bought it immediately and didn't put it down. Six hundred pages later I was hankering for more and tantalized by the hook at the end which clearly pointed to an upcoming sequel. I will definately be looking out for it!
After finsishing A Discovery of Witches, I felt the need to supplement my diet of fantasy fiction with a little biography/literary criticism. I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I've read several biographies on her and I have one of those neat folio books from Barnes & Noble with maps, pictures, paintings, copies of letters and drawings, among other interesting facts and things about Jane Austen and her life. I've even read Jane Bites Back (in which Jane is actually a vampire and still living today), although I did refrain from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies...

I'm now reading Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman. Isn't the cover great!?
I'm only a few chapters into it, but the preface was fascinating. Harman goes into the different ways that Austen's work (plots, titles, and quotations like the intro to Pride and Prejudice) have been used in everything from major news headlines to commercials to movies to operas to Facebook quizzes.

" 'All the reading world is now at Miss Austen's feet,' and a hundred years on, Austen is the only author who is instantly recognizable by her first name." (Preface xx)
That's true, you know! If it's an uncommon name, you could make some guesses. Charlotte. Ernest., wait?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Brownies of my Dreams...

For the past couple of months I've been searching for a really fantastic brownie recipe. I don't like box brownies. Put them in front of me and I'll eat potato chips instead- even though I'm a huge chocolate fan. I don't like crisp edges, chewiness, icing, chocolate chunks, or cake-like texture. I love dense, dark chocolatey, not too sweet, European style brownies. After trying many recipes and reading many more, here are the things you need to look for in a good brownie recipe then I'll share mine with you!

-Not too much flour. If the recipe calls for a ratio of more than 1 cup of flour to
5-7 oz. chocolate, then it's going to be cakey. Cakey = not good.
-Lots of chocolate. Calls for melted chocolate, not just cocoa powder.
-Calls for eggs but NOT baking powder or soda. Powder or soda makes them too fluffy and cake-like.
-Calls for butter, not oil.

Now for...

Duh, duh-duh, duuuuuuhhhh!!!

The Brownies of My Dreams:
1 stick of butter
2 T. of strong, brewed coffee
6-7 oz. of bittersweet chocolate
      (this is preference, ok to use semi-sweet or a combination)
2 T. cocoa powder
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350, grease a piece of parchment paper to fit an 8x8 or small rectangular baking dish.

Melt butter and chocolate in a small saucepan, add cocoa powder, sugar and vanilla. Continue stirring over low heat until sugar mostly dissolved. Lightly beat 3 eggs in a separate small bowl or cup, stir about a cup of the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs while mixing then add eggs back into the saucepan. Add flour and salt, mix well.

Pour a bit of batter onto the parchment (helps weigh it down while you fold corners like wrapping a package so that you'll end up with a nice square edge). Add the rest of the batter. The good thing about baking with parchment is you can just lift the whole pan of brownies out and onto a cutting board. It would be great for cakes and things too!

Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with crumbs stuck to it. This is a trick I'd never heard before. If the stick comes out clean, then they are overdone.

Ok,  happy baking, I'll try to post some pictures later!