Birchbox Book Club: December 2014

JoyTheBakerThis month’s book was holiday-appropriate: a baking cookbook!  This one is Homemade Decadence: Irresistably Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats by Joy Wilson.

I don’t know exactly how one reviews a cookbook.  My writing classes did not cover this as a skill.  However, here is what I can tell you:

I got the Kindle version.  Yes, of a cookbook, which will necessitate having an electronic device with me in the kitchen while I bake.  It won’t be the first time almost all my devices have served me in this capacity at some point.

I didn’t find the cover to be breathtaking, but that’s ok.  It’s fun and imparts a feeling of low-key, low-stress, fun desserts.  Interestingly, this is a fair indicator of the style of writing regarding the recipes themselves.  The blurbs included with each recipe are fun to read and lighthearted.

As I turn to a random page in this book, I find a recipe for Breakfast Cobbler with Oatmeal Drop Biscuits.  I’m trying very hard to convince myself that oatmeal is a breakfast food, right?  And cobblers are made with fruit, right?! So this would be a brilliant idea!  The author’s written description says:

“In my family, cobbler is a big deal.  It’s a big deal when my dad starts to root through the kitchen cabinets looking for the large cobbler pan.  This dessert is usually reserved for the big Easter arty, the all-family cookout, or Christmas.  You know there’s going to be a lot of happy gathering when that special pan emerges.

Leave it to me to find a way to turn cobbler into breakfast.

Breakfast is totally a special occasion, right? In this cobbler incarnation, we’re combining juicy berries and drop biscuit batter.  It’s sweet and juicy, hearty and special.”

This is what I love about cookbooks. The power of food and descriptions of the origins of those foods, their stories.

Since I randomly chose this recipe (location 542 of the Kindle ed.), this will be the recipe I test this month for the book club review!  The only things I don’t keep on hand: 4 cups of fruit (frozen, thawed and drained is ok) and buttermilk.  I need to hit the grocery store.

BreakfastCobblerAuthorPhoto
Doesn’t this look divine?

I woke up grumpy and not really wanting to cook breakfast.  That is normal.  I do not like breakfast.  The recipe looked more daunting than I remembered: “16 ingredients? How many bowls and dishes am I dirtying?! Really?!  This early in the morning…”  Despite my internal grumbling, the recipe was really easy to follow and assemble.  I used a frozen fruit blend with cherries, blackberries, and blueberries.  I also (mistakenly) grabbed the fat-free buttermilk at the grocery store.  It did not take very long to prepare (the longest part was probably finding the cardamom in my spice cabinet).  Interestingly, this recipe had you pre-bake the fruit, then add the drop-biscuit topping, and bake again.  The drop-biscuit dough alone was yummy.  After the second baking, it needed to cool for 20 minutes.  This is a form of torture, but is a really good time to go do some yoga or something.  If you’re a morning person, clean up after your cooking.

I’m not as good at staging food photos as I’d like to be.  Maybe I’ll take a class.

This was very tasty, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I wanted a scoop of vanilla ice cream with it and that it was dessert.  It was also a little too sweet.  If I were to make this again, I would reduce the amount of sugar and probably eliminate the salt.

Calculated by MyFitnessPal based on ingredients list
Calculated by MyFitnessPal based on ingredients list

My one complaint about this cookbook is that it does not have nutritional information, even a basic calorie count.  Granted, if you’re eating cobbler for breakfast, calories probably aren’t something you’re worried about, but I prefer to know.  So here is the nutrition facts label for this recipe (courtesy of MyFitnessPal): And holy geez!  I knew with a stick of butter that this was not a healthy dish.  The most shocking thing in this dish was the sodium level–half a day’s worth!  That’s why I would reduce or eliminate the salt next time around. It’s also half a day’s worth of fat, so that’s pretty high too, but I expected that with a stick of butter and buttermilk in the ingredients list.  This was calculated with low-fat buttermilk, and your choice of fresh/frozen fruit may also cause the calorie content to vary.  For the love of your blood pressure, make sure you use unsalted butter.

Would I make this again?  For dessert, sure, with less sugar and sodium.  And half a serving.

How does this reflect on the book?  Good question.  A randomly-chosen recipe turned out tasty and was easy to make and follow.  The dish looked just as good as the picture promised, but required no creativity on my part.  The calories etc. put this dish firmly in the “rare treat” category for me.  I couldn’t help but think of the story while I made and ate this dish, so that too was a success.  I like the book, but I think it will be used rarely since these are self-described Decadent Treats.

 

 

Birchbox Book Club: November 2014

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

I’m a member of the Birchbox book club.  Why?  I don’t know!  I keep asking myself that question.  So far, most of the books we’ve had have not been “up my alley” and this month’s read is not an exception.  This is my first blog post about any of them, though.

For November, we read Amy Poehler’s new book “Yes, Please.”  I purchased mine in Kindle format.

In all honesty, I know who Amy Poehler IS, but I haven’t really watched her comedy.  I don’t know if her humor is the type that I would particularly enjoy.  I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live in ages, and I may have seen one episode of Parks and Recreation (maybe).  Thus, this book is really an autobiography of a random stranger to me.  As such, the paths that people’s lives take are often interesting–we rarely end up following our planned routes–but biographies (or autobiographies) aren’t my favorite genre either.

Do I love the book? No.  Do I dislike the book? No.  I just can’t really relate to the story or the person particularly, and that may be because I’m a science geek, or perhaps due to a mismatch between humor styles (I find British comedies to be much more my preference, in terms of television).

In the continuing saga, on Tuesday I heard a story on NPR that actually mentioned the audiobook version and played a brief clip.  Nope.  Still not in love.  Didn’t laugh uproariously.  Didn’t even chuckle.  And I had read that part in the book, so no spoiler(s)…

In fairness, I finished the book on November 28.  I’m just now finishing this review because it was the end of the semester and as a teacher I had GRADING.

There was one chapter in this whole book that resonated with me: time travel.  There were some lines in this chapter that I could relate to: “Change is the only constant.  Your ability to navigate and tolerate change and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being.”  Truth.  Change is the nature of the universe.  Human nature may not change, but relationships form and dissolve, break apart and burn, start and grow and deepen.  All of these happen throughout our lives.  I am not the same person that I was a decade ago.  I can recognize my high school self, but I doubt that self would recognize me.

In this chapter, Amy says she’s found a way to time travel, or to control time, with people, places, and things.  Her discussion of this is subtle in some ways: she is not as direct as I am.   Her perspective of this is also heavily influenced by our current understanding of happiness deriving from being “present”; from being “in the moment” and paying attention to the now rather than worrying about the past or the future.  This is a difficult thing to learn and perhaps an impossible way to live, as it only makes sense to reflect on and learn from the past and to plan for the future.

“…life is not fair or safe or even ours to own.” Also truth.  I frequently hear about “fair” and today the term seems to have become synonymous with “how I want things to be.”  That’s not how life works.  It will beat you down and kick you while you’re down and kick you while you’re up too.  It’s not fair, as some people never experience those things: some never experience rape, or murder, or love.  That’s life.  We have little choice but to accept it and move on.

 

Do these really enable us to time travel?  In a sense, yes.  Those people, places, things, can transport us back in time and enable us to relive moments or events.  To treasure those memories.  To view things from another perspective and adjust our idea of reality now.  Sometimes, we may be able to briefly glimpse and inhabit a potential future, live in it for a while.  But it doesn’t last, you see.  Any more than books do.

 

Birchbox, November 2014

This is actually my first beauty blog post in a very long time.  I don’t usually write about my beauty sample subscription obsession, but I realized I actually wanted to start.  I enjoy it!

Birchbox is probably my favorite beauty subscription box of the three that I get, and this month was an interesting one in support of HIV awareness (#shaRED).

Fact No.3: Medication can reduce the risk of a mother passing HIV on to her baby to less than 5%. @birchbox #shaRED

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Printed on the outside of the boxes was a factoid about HIV.  Mine said “Fact No. 3: Medication can reduce the risk of a mother passing HIV on to her baby to less than 5%.”  That’s a tremendous reduction in risk, and it represents a huge advance in our knowledge and understanding about HIV.  When I was a kid, people were afraid to shake hands with someone who was HIV positive.  Today, thanks to medical research, we understand a lot more about how to treat and manage HIV.  It has become a chronic illness that is manageable.

On to what’s in the box:

 

Product Reviews

@Birchbox November goodies from my #shaRED box!

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  1. MAKE dual-phase eye makeup remover:  I’ve used this several times because I’m lazy and it’s still in my bedroom.  I saturate a cotton wipe, press to my eyes for 15 seconds, and start wiping off my eye makeup.  This does a good job, but I’m not sure it’s any better than my Neutrogena eye makeup remover.
  2. Laura Mercier eyeliner in violet.  I love Laura Mercier’s products, so I was really excited to get this sample, and it will probably last me years at the rate I use eyeliner.  Violet isn’t my normal color, but I have honestly worn it once and will be wearing it again today.  It applies well–requires a little more force than some I have, but prewarming it with your hand should eliminate that.
  3. Toni & Guy shine serum: I’ve tried this once.  I honestly couldn’t tell any difference, but I will probably try it again.
  4. Juice Beauty green apple peel:  Did it do anything?  I followed the directions and my skin felt tacky-sticky while it was on.  When I rinsed it off, I couldn’t tell any difference.  It’s supposed to be formulated for sensitive skin, and that’s definitely a good description of my skin, but this was perhaps TOO gentle.
  5. Platinumé Gold Hand Therapy: I find the name to be ostentatious.  I find the lotion to be very citrusy and it disappears into my skin pretty much instantly.  Feels wonderful.  Maybe it earned the name!
  6. Chuao chocolatier maple bacon: this was interesting!  It did not have a strip of bacon in it.  The bacon flavor was actually rather subtle; it came through as a sort of smoky saltiness.  Good, actually!

That’s a wrap for this month’s Birchbox products!