Let's talk books. We'll talk shortbread and chocolate and everything, too; don't worry. But let's start with books.
I was telling Mike this story the other day and thought you might like to hear it. When I was a child, I was a voracious reader. I read a minimum of 3 books at a time, putting one down and picking another up for a "break," scrawling the time it took me to finish each book inside the front cover. No one ever informed me there wasn't an ongoing competition for who could read the most books the fastest.
Sometimes my parents would drop me off at the bookstore in the mall while they shopped, but it was risky: when they came back, I'd have a list of a dozen or so books I'd want them to buy me. Other times they'd just bring home a stack of young adult novels. It's funny that no matter what books they brought home, I always loved them. I guess they just knew the section of the bookstore I liked.
I particularly loved horror novels. I didn't realize at the time that I had an anxiety disorder (I used to have panic attacks, but I didn't know what they were and never told anyone! Oops.) and that horror probably wasn't the best genre. I'd devour R.L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, Christopher Pike, and eventually Steven King novels, and then lie awake in bed for hours afterward, too terrified to even walk the hallway to the bathroom. If I finally did manage it, I'd have to run and jump back into bed like a ninja to avoid the murderer who was doubtlessly hiding under my dust ruffle.
Photo from my Instagram feed.
One day when I was probably around 10, I decided that I was no longer a kid. Young adult novels were for kids, so it was obviously time for me to graduate to grown-up novels. I bravely walked to the hallway bookshelf and selected one of my mom's books -- a slim one with a red cover and a title that had something to do with Christmas. I settled in to embark on my new reading life as a non-kid.
IT WAS TERRIBLE.
IS THIS THE KIND OF CRAP ADULTS READ? It was sappy, clichéd, boring, and decidedly devoid of serial killers. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ADULTS.
After struggling for an hour or so, I shoved the book back on the shelf. I was apparently too immature to enjoy adult's literature. The only conclusion, in my mind, was that I only loved reading because I was a kid, and that as I got older, I would have to stop loving it altogether. My heart was slightly broken, but I couldn't imagine ever liking a book like that.
It didn't even occur to me that I'd picked out a stupid book -- that there were stupid books! Mike has talked about this same phenomenon with video games. For some reason as kids, we didn't realize that if we didn't like books or games, it wasn't that something was wrong with us. Sometimes writers (and game designers) just weren't that great, or weren't our style.
This hiccup interrupted my reading groove for a bit, but soon I was right back at it. I realized that I might have to shop around as my taste evolved. I don't read quite as much now as when I was a kid (I don't know how or why, for instance, I ever juggled 3 books at once) but my love for books is still strong. I like a little bit of everything, but my favorite thing to read is... young adult lit. Take that, growing up.
One lovely thing my experience taught me is that kids who don't love reading are probably trying to read the wrong things. That's why I maintain a huge, kid-created list of book suggestions on my class website, and why I consider it my duty as an English teacher to help each kid find something they love to read.
What books do you love? I recently read Brunelleschi's Dome after my trip to Florence and loved it. It offers a broad view of Florence at the beginning of the Renaissance and tells the fascinating story of Il Duomo (the largest brick dome ever constructed.) Now I'm reading Christian theology. Before these, I read and loved Dune, a sci-fi novel from the 1965. Want more reading suggestions? Cup of Jo just published a book review of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? which looks great, and my friend Kristen does a regular book review post on her blog, Dine & Dish. You can also follow me on Goodreads.
While you're reading, you'll need a snack -- a buttery one with the fudgiest, best chocolate frosting EVER, perhaps? I've got you covered.
One year ago: Cherry Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Two years ago: Lemon Raspberry Squares
Three years ago: Straw-Raspberry Basil Fruit Leather
Four years ago: Angelic Cherry Mousse Cloud Cake with Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Shortbreads with Dark Chocolate Frosting
Recipe by: Adapted from the shortbreads recipe by Baking Bites
Yield: 25 bars
What's better than buttery, thick shortbread bars? Buttery, thick shortbread bars with rich dark chocolate frosting, of course!
3 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (I use Plugrá), chilled
7 tablespoons cocoa powder
7 tablespoons warm water
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips), melted and cooled
Make the shortbreads: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8-inch square baking pan with a a foil sling (just fold 4 long sheets of aluminum foil in half and arrange them so two line the pan one way and two line the pan the other way. They'll overlap and hang over the sides of the pan, which helps you pull the bars out at the end.)
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, and salt. Add the chilled butter and process on low speed for a full minute. You want the butter to be very tiny and the dough to start to clump together. Pour this into your prepared pan and use the bottom of a glass or ramekin to press it firmly into the pan, creating a smooth top to your bars. Use a sharp knife to score the dough (5 rows in one direction, 5 in the other, making 25 bars) and a fork to dock the dough. Bake it for 30-35 minutes until it's lightly browned. When you pull it out of the oven, use your sharp knife to cut the shortbread all the way through. Allow it to cool completely before gently lifting it out of the pan and breaking the pieces apart.
Make the frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and warm water. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, powdered sugar, and a pinch of salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted, cooled chocolate and the cocoa mixture. Let this sit for exactly 30 minutes (no really, exactly 30!) before you use it to obtain the perfect texture. You can just slather a big dollop of frosting on top of each bar if you'd like, but I thought it was cute to stuff the frosting in a piping bag and pipe a squiggle onto each bar with a 1M star tip. Store in an airtight container.