Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Cupcakes

 After much debate as to how to decorate my Christmas themed cupcakes I finally settled on using vanilla cupcakes with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. I didn't do anything fancy with the frosting I just spread it on. To top the frosting I dipped some in coconut and some in white sanding sugar. I then used candy spearmint leaves and little shortbread I had baked and cut into tiny snowmen to top them. The amazing reindeer pulling the sleigh were a gift to me from a family member at thanksgiving. I love them and think they are just adorable, they came in a little kit with pretty cupcake liners too.  The cupcakes are made of my favorite vanilla cake from the book More from Magnolia by Allysa Torrey. Her cupcakes are some of the most reliable and I use her vanilla and chocolate all the time. I also used an amazing shortbread recipe that I've been using for years, especially around Christmas time. Every year in my neighborhood we bake cookies for all of the neighbors and my shortbread are always a hit!
Here's the recipe from The Family Baker by Susan G. Purdy:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp.(not soft), cut up
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
2. in a large mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and confectioner's sugar until smooth and well blended.  Sift on flour and salt just until the dough forms large clumps.
3. Turn the dough out onto a counter (not floured). And use your lightly floured hands to gather into a ball. To keep  shortbread tender, it's important not to overhandle it.
4.  Using a rolling pin roll out dough until about 1/4- 3/4 inch thick(depending on your personal preference, I usually make them about 1/2 inch thick)  and using cookie cutters of your choice shape and place on a cookie sheet. (I like to use simple shapes like stars and hearts).
5. Dust with sanding sugar if desired and bake for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie cutter, cookies should be lightly golden so keep an eye on them as they bake.
6. Cool 2-3 minutes un pan before removing them with a spatula onto a cooling rack to cool completely ( cookies should be totally cooled before eating
The Family Baker: 150 Never-Let-You-Down Basic Recipes

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen

A long, hot summer... That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy's father.
But sometimes unexpected things can happen- things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes a boy with a past, a taste for truth telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl's workd upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to wonder, Is it really better to be safe than sorry
I find it hard to describe my opinions about The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen, as it is one of my most beloved books. The Truth about Forever is the first book that I read by Sarah Dessen and it will always be the book that started it all.  After reading it I immediately went out and read all of her other books and I anxiously await the releases of her new ones. The Truth about Forever is the first book that I read by Sarah Dessen  and it will always be the book that started it all. After reading it I immediately went out and read all of her other books and I anxiously await all of her new releases. The Truth about Forever is one of those rare books that I enjoy reading and have read multiple times and have not tired of it. It's a book that reminds me of why I love to read and write about reading, which makes it so hard to put my thoughts into words that express this. 
The Truth about Forever is about Macy Queen after she loses her father suddenly and how her family grows apart at a time when they need each other more than the ever have. Macy and her mother are maintaining a relationship of minimal substance, in that they both have their feelings locked up inside and cannot talk about anything of true importance. I found the dynamic between Macy and her mother to be very sad and frustrating because I cannot imagine what either of them are attempting to deal with and it is seemingly impossible that they are doing it nearly alone. 
I will probably always regard The Truth about Forever  as a favorite book of mine even though as a teenager it is likely most relevant to me now, but because I read it at a time when I was just beginning to realize that I have a love for books and it helped me realize this. 
5 Cupcakes!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coffee Cake Streusel Cupcake Muffins

 I made these muffins for our new neighbors and they loved them.  I kept some for my family and they vanished in record time!  These muffins have a cinnamon and dark brown sugar streusel baked in a yummy cake topped with a milk glaze drizzle. They are perfect for brunch as they may be too sweet for some (definitely not me!) to have for breakfast. These cupcake muffins (I decided they are somewhere between the two, which is why I use the two names interchangeably throughout this recipe) are everyone's favorite because muffin-lovers and cupcake-lovers alike enjoy these tasty treats!  I love giving them to people and watching as they take a bite into the moist cake dotted with cinnamon streusel pieces. The milk glaze to me is key because it makes it special because not only does it taste good but it makes the cupcakes look so amazing and cute! I love that this recipe from Cupcakes by Martha Stewart is so quick and easy, you can make the streusel and then use it when you need it. I personally like to make it the night before and chill it over night. I lay out my ingredients and then in the morning just mix them up and throw them in the oven and you've got fresh baked muffins!

Recipe for Coffee Cake Streusel Muffins:

Streusel Ingredients:
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup all-purpous flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter cut in small pieces
Cake Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpous flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Milk Glaze Ingredients:
1-1/2 confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons milk

1. To Make the Streusel: In a medium bowl stir together brown sugar, flour and salt.  With a pastry blender or your finger tips (or two small knives) knead the butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Refrigerate at least a half hour before using.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the muffin tins with butter. To Make the Muffins: Whisk together four, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Stir in vanilla by hand.
4. Add flour mixture and sour cream and stir until just combined.
5. Divide the batter evenly among cups. Sprinkle with half of the streusel and lightly press it into the batter. Sprinkle the remaining streusel over the cupcakes and bake for about 20 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean, rotating half way through.
6. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Whisk together the milk and confectioner's sugar, making sure that there are no clumps, use immediately. Once completely cooled drizzle the milk glaze over the cupcakes. These muffins will keep for 3-4 days after being glazed at room temperature in an airtight container. They can be frozen in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks before being glazed.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I have never made Red Velvet cupcakes, but I have tried them and I much prefer a regular chocolate cupcake. I was recently prompted by a friend for a recipe to make them and I was ashamed to say that I didn't have one because I haven't made them! (thus this photo is by Con Poulos and not mine like all of the others and I'll add mine when I've made them) In an attempt to limit the amount of red dye commonly used in these classic treats I decided on Martha Stewart's version. However if the fire truck red color is desired these would need a lot more dye! I also found that beets are a great way to get the color naturally and is how Red Velvet were originally made. Cream cheese frosting is the traditional topping, but I plan to experiment with both cream cheese and a creamy vanilla frosting I found in More from Magnolia by Allysa Torey that does not use cream cheese. As an after note I was in William Sonoma and they were giving samples of their red velvet box mix. I'm usually biased to cake mixes and veer as far a way from possible, but it was pretty good and would be quick and easy in a pinch!
Red Velvet Cake Recipe:
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon red gel paste (or a 1.5 oz. bottle of liquid coloring)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tins with paper liners
2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa powder, and salt together and set aside
3. With an electric mixer on medium- high speed whisk sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs one at a time mixing until blended after each addition. Mix in vanilla and food color.
4.  Reduce mixer speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 batches alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar seperately (it will foam!) and add to batter mixing for exactly 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter evenly among cups (3/4 full) and bake rotating half way through. Bake until tester comes out clean about 20 minutes. Cupcakes only keep at room temperature for a few days and will keep in a freezer for 2 weeks  (I recommend taking any that you don't use right away and freezing for later)
6. To finish use a small spatula to spread the frosting across the top. They will keep in frosted in the refrigerator for a few days. Serve room temperature.

Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter room temperature
12 ounces plain cream cheese room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Beat butter and cream cheese together on an electric mixer until fluffy. (2-3 minutes)
2. Reduce speed to low and add confectioners' sugar a 1/2 cup at a time beating until combined after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting Recipe:
(I cut this recipe in half because in full it makes enough for a 3 layer 9 inch cake) I recommend making the cake or cupcakes in advance as this frosting requires time and planning.
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat whisk flour and milk until smooth and stir over heat until it becomes thick and begins to bubble (10-15 minutes). Cover with wax paper and cool to room temperature for 30 minutes
2.  Beat butter in a large mixing bowl for 3 minutes at high speed gradually add sugar and beat for an additional 3 minutes. Add vanilla, beat well.
3. Add cooled milk mixture and beat on medium high for 5 minutes until very smooth. Mixture should be noticeably whiter in color. Cover and refrigerate for exactly 15 minutes. (No more, no less- set a timer!) Use immediately.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Candor by Pam Bachorz

Everything is perfect in the town of Candor, Florida. Teens respect their elders, do their chores, and enjoy their homework...because they're controlled by subliminal messages. 
Oscar Banks, the son of the town's founder, is the model of perfection: class president, top student, shining example. But it's only a disguise. Unlike the other Candor teens, he knows about the Messages, and he fights them with his own counterprogramming. 
Only Oscar knows how to get kids out of Candor- for a price. Nobody suspects that he smuggles the richest new kids out of town before they change. It's risky: if Oscar were caught, he'd be sent straight to the Listening Room, where the most resistant minds are wiped clean.
When Nia moves into town, Oscar is smitten by her tart attitude and ability to see through his perfect-boy front. He can't stand to see her changed by the Messages. Now he must decide to help Nia escape Candor and lose her forever, or keep her close and risk exposure. 
Candor by Pam Bachorz has a storyline that is very unique and is not at all tired or boring.  The town of Candor that Pam Bachorz creates is inhabited by citizens who are all alike because they are all following the Messages instructions.  The Messages tell them to be perfect model citizens like Oscar Banks is. Oscar Banks however has been able to counter his personal Messages to keep himself real.  I enjoyed reading Candor because the premise of the story and the idea of living in a town with mass brainwashing kept me intrigued and on the edge of my seat. I think if you can suspend your disbelief and accept that the Messages are possible the story is very real. Bachorz does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture of the town of Candor and the drones that live there. Oscar's voice in the novel fits the story perfectly. I enjoyed reading about him as he tries to remain his perfect act and let Nia into his real self and personality. Oscar's relationship with Nia as he tries to save her from the messages is the closest thing to anything real in Candor. Nia is also a great character because she gives Oscar the chance to prove that he isn't selfish when he tries to save her from the Messages. Oscar's relationship with his dad however, is anything but real even if Oscar's dad thinks it is. Oscar's dad is the town creator and he thinks he has Oscar under his thumb, but Oscar knows better than to let him do this. I would have liked to see some advancement in their relationship throughout, especially with Oscar's dad who continues to use Messages and control Oscar. I realize that change would be difficult to achieve for Oscar's dad, but even to show that he has feelings and thoughts of his own and show his humanity would have sufficed. While I enjoyed reading the book and learning about life in Candor I also am left frustrated and unsatisfied by the way it ended. It isn't just about the way that it ended but that the story just stopped. I should have predicted this because as I read in the back of my mind I kept thinking of the impossibility of the predicament Oscar is faced with. I tried to think of possible ways for it to end and nothing seemed to do the story justice. 3 Cupcakes!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

As children Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything that "Jennifer" couldn't be--- but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend.
When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken.
From the National Book Award nominated author of Story of a Girl, Sweethearts is a story about the power of memory, the bond of friendship, and the quiet resilience of our childhood hearts. 
 Sara Zarr writes in Sweethearts expertly as I would expect after reading Story of a Girl another wonderful read. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr is darker and has more substance than a lot of other Young Adult Literature. Jenna is a great character that is very relatable.  Her problems are very real and not the typical angsty teen drama because her issues are not just skin deep.
As a child Jennifer was tormented because she was overweight so when her mom remarried and they moved to a new town she seized the opportunity to reinvent herself as pretty, popular Jenna Vaughn. Jenna Vaughn is in control of her life and has plenty of friends to support her who don't even know of her dark troubling past that has stayed with her. Jenna is a great character because she successfully recreated herself and put her past behind her. Jenna is so collected until Cameron reappears dredging up memories Jenna worked so hard to toss aside. A crack seems to appear on the surface for Jenna as she tries to reconnect with Cameron and remain her "Jenna" self  and she begins to unravel.
Jenna has been through things that although are not tragic, it is heartbreaking to read about her and Cameron's shared past. Jenna and Cameron's story slowly unfolds after they are reconnected. Sweethearts tugs at your heartstrings and I truly felt for Jenna as a little girl and then as a teenager haunts her still. It is a compelling read that is in one sense of moving on and letting go and in another how our pasts can shape us.  5 Cupcakes!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Peach Tart with Almond Crust

This peach tart has a delicious buttery almond crust topped with toasted almonds. It is easy to make and doesn't take too long but there is some planning ahead of time required. I learned that the best peaches to buy are Southern and not those from California when eating them plain, but this tart is perfect to use up any unwanted peaches. The almonds are used all over the tart, in the crust, with the peaches and on top. The almonds give the tart a unique flavor beyond sweet peaches and buttery crust as well as adding a bit of a crunch! When I served the tart I topped it off with a dollop of vanilla ice cream from my favorite place, Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Cape Cod.  I baked this tart last night for a dinner party for my parents and it's so good they asked me to bake another for the World Cup barbecue tonight!
Peach Tart with Almond Crust Recipe:
Serves 6 to 8 people
Read through entire recipe and instructions before starting.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons peach preserves
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 tablespoons lemon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 table spoons unsalted butter, diced
1 pint vanilla ice cream (optional- but I definitely recommend it!)
1. Butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom (I used a spring form pan and it worked just as well)
2. Coarsely grind almonds in food processor, add flour and sugar and process until nuts are finely ground
3. Add butter and pulse until combined.
4. Pour egg yolk and vanilla and mix until large clumps are formed
5. Press dough evenly onto bottom and cover and freeze for 30 minutes
6. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown about 15- 20 minutes and pierce bottom with a fork if crust bubbles. Remove from oven and cool crust 5- 10 minutes
1. Spread preserves evenly over bottom once crust has cooled for 5 minutes.
2. Coarsely chop 4 tablespoons of the almonds and sprinkle across bottom of tart
3. Arrange peaches in an overlapping spiral pattern in shell, and sprinkle them with sugar and then lemon zest
4. Dot with butter and sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons almonds over top
5. Bake until peaches are tender, about 35 minutes.
6. Tart is best served warm or room temperature (my preference is warm) with ice cream, if desired.
Recipe from The Big Book of Backyard Cooking by Betty Rosbottom

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lemon Cupcakes with Buttercream and Fresh Raspberries

I baked lemon cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and topped them with fresh raspberries and blueberries, the perfect red white and blue! I made them for a Fourth of July celebration and they were a HUGE hit! Everyone loved them and they all got eaten. I love their lemony flavor and the cake is moist with a golden top. Raspberries are the perfect addition because they look cute and taste delicious with lemon cake. I used a simple vanilla buttercream that is nice and stiff so it's great for piping, but easy and quick to make. Everyone had one (or more) because they are simply too good to resist! I even tried baking in raspberries in two of them so that made for a fun (and yummy) surprise for the lucky ones who picked them!

The Lemon Cupcake Recipe
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp.
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temp.
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line standard muffin tins with papers
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. With an electric mixer cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Beat in zest and vanilla.
4. Add flour mixture in 3 batches alternating with lemon juice and buttermilk until each is combined.
5. Divide batter evenly among cups.
6. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown and a tester comes out clean when inserted. About 25 minutes.
7. Cool cupcakes on wire rack and decorate them however you like!
Recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes by Martha Stewart.- This book is a must for any lover of cupcake baking!

Vanilla Buttercream Recipe
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1. Cream butter and shortening with an electric hand mixer (or bowl with whisk attachment) and add vanilla.
2. Gradually add sugar one cup at a time while beating.
3. Add milk and beat until light and fluffy on medium speed.
4. Cover with a damp paper towel until used. Buttercream can be saved in a freezer for up to two weeks.
www.wiltons.com is a great website for frosting recipes!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Privilege by Kate Brian

Most girls would die for a life of privilege.... Some would even kill for it. 
Ariana Osgood ruled exclusive Easton Academy- until she was arrested for murdering Thomas Pearson. She's spent the past two years at the Brenda T. Trumbull Correctional Facility for Women plotting her escape and is determined to get a second chance at the glamorous life she left behind. Ariana will do anything to get her way... 

Let me start off by saying that I have been a fan of Kate Brian's Private series for quite some time and I decided that the spinoff series Privilege must be just as good. Privilege starts out with Ariana escaping Brenda T. and appears to be just as exciting and dramatic as the Private. The storyline however only went downhill from after that. I continued to find that unlike Private which tends to be full of scandal and thrill Privilege is about Ariana who truly belongs in a correctional facility due to her immoral and for lack of a better word psychotic behavior. I could not justify Ariana escaping from the correctional facility because she proves that she still has the same issues and ways as she did when she first arrived. I was shocked to see this and Ariana's character, along with a large portion of the plot to be unrealistic. The  idea of an escapee of prison starting a new life is a really interesting plot and could have been really good if Ariana was more stable. Kate Brian took Ariana too far into really extreme scenarios that became disturbing.  I am very disappointed by Privilege because for years I have read and enjoyed Private novels! 1 Cupcake!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating, so she vows: No more. She's had one too many bad dates, and has been hurt by one too many bad boys. 
It's a personal choice... and soon everybody wants to know about it. It seems that Penny's not the only girl who's tired of the way girls change themselves (most of the time for the worse) in order to get their guys... or the way their guys don't really care. 
Girls are soon thronging to The Lonely Hearts Club, and Penny finds herself near legendary for her nondating ways - which is too bad, since the leader of The Lonely Hearts club has a certain boy she can't help but like.... 

I read The Lonely Hearts Club in nearly one sitting. It is a perfect, fast paced, beach read. It is light and made me laugh at times and is very relatable to most any teen girl.
Penny Lane Bloom was named  her for parents passion for The Beatles. Elizabeth Eulberg cleverly weaves song titles and lyrics showing how Penny has grown up and embraces her parents love for The Beatles and how they are a part of her personality in a way. The Beatles being threaded into the novel is just one of the subtleties that make Eulberg's writing imaginative and creative
Penny is kind and inclusive, which sparks the interest in The Lonely Hearts Club with her peers at school and leads to a much bigger group of girls than she ever could have anticipated. I found while reading that all of the girls in The Club are so kind and supportive of each other and never catty or mean. They are the type of girls I would want as my friends because they look out for each other and have fun together. The Lonely Hearts Club grows to become a support system for high school girls just as Penny grows up and matures as a person. Eulberg creates characters in The Lonely Hearts Club that are very relatable and friendly I felt like I was a part of The Lonely Hearts Club at McKinley High School following Penny, the fearless leader! 4 Cupcakes!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Devilish by Maureen Johnson

Jane Jarvis and Allison Concord, seniors at Saint Teresa's Preparatory School for Girls, have always been too quirky to be popular, but at least they'll always have each other, right? Not so much. After a hideously embarrassing disaster, Allison comes to school transformed. Suddenly she has cute hair and clothes, speaks fluent Latin, and won't even look at Jane. With the help of a strangely wise freshman boy, Jane discovers the incredible truth: Allison has sold her soul to the devil. Now Jane will have to save Allison before the bizarrely exclusive Poodle Prom, a party of biblical proportions that just might blow apart the world as Jane knows it. 

I realize this is the second post in a row that is about a novel by Maureen Johnson, so I apologize but be sure that Suite Scarlett and Devilish are nothing alike.
Devilish by Maureen Johnson is an exciting and thrilling read and was not at all the girly teen read I had expected. At the start of Devilish Jane appears to be a one note character that is boring and in need of a serious attitude adjustment, but as the novel progresses Jane proves that she isn't quite as cold and cynical as she might like for you to believe. Jane is incredibly smart and gifted as a student and never has had to work hard for anything especially in the academic world; this all changes when she finds herself trying desperately to save Allison.
I enjoyed reading from Jane's perspective because she is engaging and interesting, but for the most part the novel's plot fell through. Although Devilish is exciting it became a bit too creepy and intense at times. Maureen Johnson creates a setting in Portsmouth, Rhode Island at a Catholic girls school where Jane's rebellious ways are barely tolerated.  Jane never fails to find countless funny and mischievous  tricks to play and she shows a sassy and brazen attitude towards teachers, which is quite humorous.
 I am very conflicted by this book because I really enjoyed most of the characters and the plot was different from my usual taste (or any other books), but the ending did not match the quality of rest of the novel. 3.5 Cupcakes! 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett Martin has grown up in a most unusual way. Her family owns the Hopewell, a small hotel in the heart of New York City. Her nineteen-year-old brother, Spencer, is an out of work actor facing a family deadline to get his career in order. Eighteen-year-old Lola has the delicate looks of a model, the practical nature of a nurse, and a wealthy society boyfriend. Eleven-year-old Marlene is the family terror with a tragic past. 
When the Martins turn fifteen, they are each expected to take over the care of a suite in the once elegant, now shabby Art Deco hotel. For Scarlett's fifteenth birthday, she gets both a room called the Empire Suite, and a permanent guest named Mrs. Amberson. Scarlett doesn't quite know what to make of this C-list starlet, world traveler, and aspiring autobiographer who wants to take over her life. And when she meets Eric, an astonishingly gorgeous actor who has just moved to the city, her summer takes a second unexpected turn. 
With Mrs. Amberson calling the shots, Spencer's career to save, Lola's love life to navigate around, and Marlene's prying eyes everywhere, things won't be easy. Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery, Broadway glamour, romantic missteps, and theatrical deception.
The show, as they say, must always go on...

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson is a compelling and amusing read. The plot is creative and unique and I love the fact that it is set in New York City (one of my personal favorite places). Suite Scarlett is not just about Scarlett herself it also is about her family and the hardships that they face. The novel illustrates the relationships within her family beautifully and perfectly portrays the interactions between her siblings. The Martins remain a typical and believable family that lives at and runs the Hopewell Hotel, which brings them closer and makes for a humorous setting. I love the idea because the Hopewell Hotel is a true family business and not corporation so the whole family is really hands-on while running it.
Scarlett meets Mrs. Amberson on her fifteenth birthday when she moves into the Hopewell for the summer. Mrs. Amberson is flamboyant fun, but also full of mystery in a way that is very intriguing. I love Mrs. Amberson as a character she's a strong and independent woman who knows exactly what she wants and is also devious and clever because she knows how to get it. When Mrs. Amberson checks in at the Hopewell she is a nuisance for Scarlett to care for. Mrs. Amberson although incredibly high maintenance she puts her own needs aside to help Scarlett sort out her problems and help Spencer kick off his acting career. 
Scarlett Martin, the center of it all,  is a well realized character that ties together the novel. Scarlett is a typical 15-year-old girl, but she is forced to become much more mature than many girls her age. Scarlett's maturity comes from having to work at the hotel from a young age and care for her younger sister Marlene. I found Scarlett to be incredibly endearing and sweet and also very relevant to many youth her age because she faces may of the same issues. My only issue with the novel is that I would have loved it even more had it been narrated from Scarlett's view instead of third person. I think this would have made it a little more personal and I prefer (usually) a first person narrative. That being said I don't think I could find anything else to dislike if I tried!
 I finished Suite Scarlett quickly knowing that I could not wait to read the sequel Scarlett Fever!
5 Cupcakes!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old- including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire- Will and Will begin building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan is not what I had expected and I was delightfully surprised by how clever and different from many young adult novels it is. The story follows two different people both named Will Grayson and shows how their lives intertwine and overlap. The novel is narrated from the perspective of both boys alternating chapters and this shows the individual personalities and outlooks separately, which I found fun and insightful. The two boys meet in an unlikely and comical situation, which marks the start of their friendship. At first it seems that the only thing that the two Wills share is their name, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that this is not the case. I really enjoyed this novel, but compared to John Green's other works the story was not nearly as engaging. Perhaps after reading Looking for Alaska and Papertowns it is difficult to meet my high expectations from John Green as those are two of my favorite novels. Will Grayson, Will Grayson's storyline may not have been my favorite, but it still left me wanting to hear more from the characters when I finished. This novel's fresh take on high school is original and the portrayal friendship is in a new and contemporary way. I recommend Will Grayson, Will Graysonand and I think after reading this you will be looking to read John Greens other works as each is better than the next. 2.5 Cupcakes!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I made chocolate cupcakes with swiss meringue buttercream. The swiss meringue is tricky but worth it because it looks cute and is nice and stiff for different frosting piping designs. I have some pictures of these absolutely amazing chocolate cupcakes with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream and decorated and piped in peaks. These chocolate cupcakes are definitely a must try, so light and fluffy and tasty!
Recipe for the cake:
Ingredients: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup light brown sugar, 4 large eggs, 6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup buttermilk( 1 tablespoon lemon and a cup milk will make the buttermilk just allow it to set for at least 15 minutes before use), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer cream butter and then add sugars and mix for about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time beating after each addition. Add the chocolate (I find using a double boiler the best way to melt the chocolate. Melt for about 5-10 minutes until completely melted and hen allow to cool for 5 minutes). Add the dry ingredients in three parts alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. Put into lined cupcake tins makes about 2 dozen. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Recipe from More from Magnolia by Allysa Torey.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

It is the summer of 1950- and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp is bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is Alan Bradley's first of hopefully many Flavia de Luce Mysteries. I loved it! This mystery novel is an absolute must read. This novel takes place in 1950 England on the Buckshaw estate and is about an 11 year old girl, Flavia de Luce. My first instinct was to believe that an 11 year old character was going to be immature; I felt too old to be reading this novel but I quickly found that Alan Bradley's brilliant writing is applicable to all ages. Flavia is a curious and precocious character, who loves chemistry and uses it to torture her two older sisters. Flavia is such an incredible heroine that I can't wait to start reading The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, the sequel to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Through out the novel Flavia proves to be incredibly clever as she works to uncover the mystery on a quest through the quaint town of Bishop's Lacey. Alan Bradley brings this story alive with witty and entertaining writing that kept me engaged until the end. This is a great summer read and a book you'll be sure to share with your friends! 4.5 Cupcakes!