Thursday, June 30, 2016

Literary Friday: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake *plus* a recipe



Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  So how's your summer reading coming along?  I have been lucky so far: I've read several fantastic books, and I really need to get caught-up writing my posts. I'm posting this a day early because tomorrow I won't be able to respond to any comments.

This week I read The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert.  I enjoyed it so much, and the book includes a wonderful recipe for coconut cake.  You can see the results above!






According to Goodreads:

YOU'VE GOT MAIL meets HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancĂ©…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.


I must admit that I love situational comedies, and The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is just that.  Al and Lou's agreement not to discuss the office while they go on dates enjoying Milwaukee's best foodie destinations lead both into making false assumptions about the other's work.  Without these assumptions the narrative would have fallen apart earlier because Al truly did ruin Lou's chance at running a successful French restaurant.  Needless to say, she loathes the restaurant critic who's destroyed her business.  

I enjoyed Al's transformation from a stiff, arrogant malcontent to an approachable, grateful Milwaukee resident.  At first, Al was only using his position at the paper to further his own career. He wanted to move on as soon as possible....until he started seeing Milwaukee through Lou's eyes. The more he falls for Lou, the more he falls for Milwaukee.  Lou is so persuasive that I want to visit the city!

I also liked how Lou and Al's romance progresses within the story arc.  Their "non-dates" quickly morph into dates and fun summer outings until the truth comes out.  The ending of the book is pure genius because I didn't see how in the world Al could win back Lou, but Reichert is a wonderful writer, and I was especially satisfied with the ending.  This is a fun must-read and perfect for your summer beach trip!



This is a fun quote from the book


I love discovering new writers, and I can't wait to buy Amy's second book:


Luck, Love & Lemon Pie hits the bookstore shelves on July 12th!



Here is the recipe for coconut cake:




Grandma Luella's Coconut Cake

Ingredients:
5 large egg whites (save the yolks to make homemade pudding)
3/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup coconut milk—make sure to stir the contents very well to recombine before measuring. Save leftovers for Thai food or your coffee
1 large egg
1 tsp. coconut extract
2 tsp. vanilla extract (I’ve been known to use more—make sure it’s REAL vanilla. I prefer Mexican vanilla, but use what you like)
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. table salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, cut into 12 pieces
1 recipe Coconut Frosting (see below)

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brush or rub melted butter onto two 9-inch cake pans (you can use cooking spray, but the butter will taste better), then line the pan bottoms with parchment paper (trust me, this makes cake removal so much easier).

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites, cream of coconut, coconut milk, whole egg, and extracts together until combined and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a mixer on low speed, beat in the butter, one piece at a time, until the mixture resembles course crumbs, 2 to 5 minutes (about two minutes for a stand mixer, closer to 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer).

Increase the speed to medium-high and add 1 cup of the egg mixture. Beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds (a little longer with a hand mixer). Add the remaining egg mixture in a steady stream and continue to beat until the batter is combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and beaters as needed.

Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cakes comes out with a few crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. All ovens vary, so be careful not to over bake. Rotate the pans halfway through baking.

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes on wire racks. Run a knife around the edge, then flip out onto the racks. Remove the parchment paper, flip the cakes upright, and let them cool completely before frosting.

Coconut Frosting

You can toast the coconut however you like: oven, microwave, or stovetop. I like to do it in a non-stick skillet on medium-low, stirring every few minutes. Careful once it starts to brown as it can go from toasty goodness to burnt crud very quickly. I spread it out on paper towels to cool and save any leftovers to put on ice cream.

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. coconut milk
1 tsp. coconut extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of table salt
16 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup cream of coconut
3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups toasted coconut

Procedure:
Stir the coconut milk, extracts, and salt together until the salt dissolves.

Beat the butter and cream of coconut in a large bowl at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly add the powdered sugar. Beat until smooth, about 2-5 minutes. Beat in the extract mixture. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 to 8 minutes.

Set one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate; you can use a daub of frosting to keep it in place. Take one cup of frosting and spread over the bottom layer (an offset spatula works well for this). Sprinkle with toasted coconut. This gives a nice crunch in the middle of the cake.

Set the second layer on top of the first. Scoop out the remaining frosting onto the top of the cake. Spread the frosting to the edge of the cake, working it over the sides and down, spinning the stand or plate as needed to frost all sides of the cake. Don’t worry about making it too pretty, the toasted coconut will help hide the flaws.

Press the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake, and sprinkle it over the top.


You can find this recipe HERE on Simon & Schuster's Tips on Life & Love blog.  It's a fun blog and I highly recommend you sign-up for it!

This cake is fantastic!  I hope y'all will try it!



Yummy!



Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Random Tuesday: Evening Gardening and Mac n Cheese Fries

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  Is it hot where you are?  It sure is hot here in Central Alabama.  I'm staying inside except in the early AM and evening, where it is cool up here on the mountain (we had to turn on our space heater last night).

I've been getting up extra early to sweep our patio and garden.  I really need to stay out of the sun right now anyway.


Our potted roses are growing and blooming like mad!




I can sit in the shade late in the afternoon.




This MacKenzie-Childs fish chair planter is my Mother's Day present.  




This giant planter contains roses, plumbago, petunias, and a sweet potato vine.




Shelley saw a video on Facebook for Mac n Cheese Fries, and she begged me to make them for her, so I did.



This is how you make it.  It's a fun treat for leftover Mac n Cheese.  I started with the Southern Living recipe for baked Mac n Cheese that can be found here.  Or you can use your favorite mac n cheese recipe.

Mac n Cheese Fries

Ingredients:
Leftover Mac n Cheese
1 cup four
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups panko bread crumbs (I used The Fresh Market's Italian flavored panko bread crumbs)
Crisco oi for frying

Procedure:
Slice the mac n cheese into strips.  Roll in flour, then dip in eggs.  Next, roll in panko bread crumbs and place in hot oil and fry until golden brown.

You need a good fry sauce for dipping.  I suggest Freddy's Fry Sauce or Sir Kensington's Sriracha Mayonnaise.  






Surprisingly, the mac n cheese gets really gooey on the inside.  I didn't think it would melt that well!



I've been reading design books and magazines like mad looking for fun projects to tackle later in the summer and autumn.  In the meantime, I'm filling the house with grocery store flowers for no reason other than I want to do it.  I guess that our backyard, patio, and deck looks nice, and the inside looks sad without flowers!









What projects are you currently working on?  Let me know how you're spending your summer by leaving a comment!


Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Friday, June 17, 2016

Literary Friday: Crescent City Creatures Book Two *plus* a Goodreads Giveaway for a Signed Copy of Book One!

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Do you need some good lake and or beach reading?  Well you've come to the right place!!!

My daughter Samantha Stone is hosting a Goodreads giveaway for a signed copy of Punished, Book One in the Crescent City Creatures series.





According to Goodreads:

Raphael Saar is an exiled werewolf, a convict on the direct path to a death sentence—for a crime he didn’t commit. He doesn’t care, so long as he can end the human trafficking ring kidnapping women across New Orleans.

Recovering from a horrific tragedy, one particularly bad day for Mary Newman has stretched into months. A nanny for a wealthy family in New Orleans, she can’t understand why she’s being constantly humiliated by her boss until the night she learns that he’s not human—and neither is she.

Only Raphael can save her from the monster feeding from her misery, but will Mary be able to stop his execution?

Punished teams up werewolves, banshees, a wompus cat and a haint in order to rid New Orleans of a group of immortals determined to hurt the city’s women and kill Raphael’s pack.



You can win a copy by following THIS LINK to GOODREADS.  Good luck in the giveaway!


Recently I read Book Two in the Crescent City Creatures Series, Hunted.



I love the cover art of Stone's books!


According to Goodreads:

Heath Frasier knew he made no friends the day he broke werewolf law—but he’s not prepared for the creature lying in wait for him.

Sophia Anderson has an enemy in a particularly powerful faery, one who will stop at nothing to ensure her death.

Only Heath and Sophia can keep each other safe, but their pairing could bring a fate worse than death. If they escape those hunting them, will they risk staying together, or go their separate ways?

Hunted continues the story of a delinquent werewolf pack in New Orleans, where the Fey control more than meets the eye, a witch can change a life, and one female werewolf’s powers are put to the ultimate test.

My Review:

As a reminder for full disclosure, Samantha Stone is my daughter.  I hear about these characters almost on a daily basis, so I feel like I know them.  Sophia is one of the strongest heroines in the genre:  I.  Love.  Her!  She's courageous, and she's willing to try anything to save her relationship with Heath while ensuring their safety.  I enjoyed Heath's character, too, and it's fun reading when an alpha male is secure enough with his masculinity to support his mate even when she places herself in harm's way.

As with Book One, the reader still gets glimpses of other characters whose books are in the works. The series also has a definite sense of place: New Orleans.  Add relentless villains, sweet romance, witty dialogue, and engaging characters and you get the perfect recipe for an exciting paranormal, urban fantasy series.  Stay tuned for my review of Book Three, Enspelled, in a few weeks.

What's on your summer reading list?  Please share in comments.

Since I will not have access to a computer much this weekend, there will be no link party.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Birthday Prezzies

Good evening, My Lovelies!  I'm still trying to ease back into blogging, so I thought I'd write a quick little post about a few of my favorites.  I celebrated a birthday last month, and I wanted to share with you presents from my family, all from Shabby Chic.


Happy Birthday to *me*



I love how the receipt was attached to pretty postcards with a beribboned paperclip, of course!







One of my surprises was inside this pretty stamped bag.







Rachel Ashwell has a collection of pretty paints.  The chart is above.  (Sorry it's upside down!)




What could be inside?




Floral napkins!




The key fob matches my duffle bag.




Paisley journal




Ceramic vase







I decided to fill the squat little vase with these adorable daisies.  I had my heart set on pink peonies, but when I saw the fluffy petals on these daisies, I had to bring them home!



I had a big birthday.  I think I got sympathy points due to my surgery.  ;P

It has been a long time since I've fluffed the house, so it was nice to actually iron a table runner and place something pretty on top.

Have you been fluffing your nest this summer?  Any projects?  Please share in the comments section below!

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill

Friday, June 3, 2016

Literary Friday: The View from the Cheap Seats




Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  This week I read The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman.  I must disclose first and foremost that I am a tremendous fan of Gaiman's.  He has written a couple of my top ten favorite books of all time, has created two of the most frighteningly sinister villains I've ever read, and he wrote The Graveyard Book, one of my youngest daughter's favorite books.  I read it aloud to her when she was in sixth grade (the year it was published).   I also took her and her big sister who was an eleventh grader at the time (big sis is also a Gaiman fan) to see him speak and read stories in Tuscaloosa.  Yes, he is considered a rockstar in this household.


The View From the Cheap Seats cover

About The View From the Cheap Seats

• Hardcover: 544 pages • Publisher: William Morrow (May 31, 2016)
An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his fiction. Now, for the first time in print, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together more than sixty works of his outstanding nonfiction on topics and people close to his heart.
As Neil explains, “This book is not ‘the complete nonfiction of Neil Gaiman.’ It is, instead, a motley bunch of speeches and articles, introductions and essays. Some of them are serious and some of them are frivolous and some of them are earnest and some of them I wrote to try and make people listen.”


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Neil GaimanAbout Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains; the Sandman series of graphic novels; and the story collections Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, and Trigger Warning. He is the winner of numerous literary honors, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Originally from England, he now lives in the United States. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College. Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, and his blog.


My Review:

I enjoyed reading this selection of Gaiman's nonfiction.  The pieces that discussed his childhood and his early affinity for reading, libraries, and books are among my favorites.  In his Newberry Medal Speech entitled "Telling Lives for a Living...and Why We Do It" Gaiman had me laughing out loud:

"I should mention here that librarians tell me never to tell this story, and especially never to paint myself as a feral child who was raised in libraries by patient librarians; they tell me they are worried that people will misinterpret my story and use it as an excuse to use their libraries as free day care for their children."

Like me, Neil spent a lot of his time at the library when he wasn't in school.  I can so relate: I walked to the library after school because my mother couldn't pick me up immediately, and I loved the time I spent waiting at our local library.  (Gaiman won the Newberry Medal for The Graveyard Book.)

Another selection I enjoyed is "All Books Have Genders."  It is a piece originally published on Powells.com in 2001 to accompany the launch of American Gods.  I enjoyed it because it basically discusses his writing process, and I found it interesting.

My favorite section in the book is Section VI: Introductions and Contradictions.  In this section he shares introductions to the works of Poe, Kipling, Wells and Thurber among others.  I'm definitely voyeuristic when it comes to what others read.  When I visit people's homes, I usually make a beeline for their bookshelves to see what they read, and to see if we've read any of the same books. This section includes authors who've influenced and delighted Neil Gaiman, and now I want to find these editions with his introductions.  Not quite as good as perusing his bookshelves, but definitely a close second!

"So Many Ways to Die in Syria Now: 2014" made me cry.  This should be required reading for all Americans because our government's interference in the destabilization of the Middle East has caused so much death and destruction of lives.  Gaiman's observations of a Jordanian refugee camp and his interactions with the displaced Syrians is truly heartbreaking.  He was so brave in making the trip, and this selection was first published in The Guardian in May 2014.

If you love reading, books, and libraries, you'll enjoy The View from the Cheap Seats.  Having read Gaiman's fiction isn't necessarily a prerequisite for enjoying this book, but if you haven't read any of his fiction before now you really should.  :)  (Give me a stack of his short stories and I'm entertained for days!)

You may read my review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane here.

I received a copy of The View from the Cheap Seats from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.



Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Healing




This has been one of the prettiest springs here in Central Alabama.  Our hydrangeas are so pretty!

June!  I can't believe that it's June already.  I haven't been around much because life has been getting in the way of blogging.  Let me explain...

In February, I became ill with a nasty flu, which led to some other awful discoveries that entailed surgery.  But our eldest daughter had to have surgery first, so I helped her once she finished her first year of grad school in early May.  Then it was my turn for surgery last week.  I'm so happy that so far all my pathology has come back negative for cancer.  It has been a scary time around here!


Most of you know that I've been homeschooling Shelley for the past couple of years, and this is her senior year of high school.  Her favorite subject this year has been art history, so I decided to take her and the rest of the family on a field trip to Chicago to see the van Gogh bedrooms exhibit.  We had an amazing time, and I hope to share our trip with you soon in a future post.



We're Cubbies fans so one of the highlights of our trip to Chicago was watching the Cubs play in Wrigley Field.  

We went on a second field trip to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to see my favorite comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Shelley studied many of his tragedies and sonnets this semester, and she was a real trooper to add another play not included in her curriculum.  We had a great time, and I'm always blown away by the talent in Montgomery at the festival.





The young man who played Puck was amazing!


We worked very hard to finish her schooling by May 20th because I had surgery the following Wednesday.  I am proud of Shelley's hard work in school, by the way.  She also had to complete paperwork and a tryout video for her college's equestrian team.  She mailed everything in before May 20th, and I completed all of her academic paperwork on the 20th.  We celebrated that night with a barbecue with family and friends.



Just a quick photo of prepping for Shelley's graduation party


I need time to heal, and I think for the first time in many years I actually have the time to take care of myself.  I have no other plans outside of art classes:  Take.  Care.  Of.  Me.......


But....I might also tackle a few small projects, like this one:



I love how these bookshelves are styled with the art and mirror hanging on the outside.  I found this project on the One King's Lane blog.


I will return Friday with a special Literary Friday post, but I probably won't host a link party until I'm better.

Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill