All posts by Pepper

Listen Up!

Do you listen much to audiobooks? I don't really, though it's not because I have something against the format.

But I do listen to audio stories (a.k.a. podcasts) with the jalapeño as he's falling asleep, and that's not all that different from an audiobook. The first podcast we tried was Little Stories for Tiny People, and I really like it--the stories are engaging and Rhea's voice is lovely and soothing. We've also listened to a lot of What If World?, and those stories tend to be wackier and not always relaxing as I'd ideally like at bedtime (though to be fair, it's not intended as a strictly bedtime podcast).

Just this weekend, we started on Circle Round, which is hosted by NPR affiliate WBUR, and...wow! There are stories from all over the world, and they're told by professional actors. So far it's keeping mother and son equally engaged, which isn't always easy.

Do you listen to audiobooks or other story-like things in audio form? Any recommendations?

The Best Hot Cocoa Mix

So what do you do with that leftover fancy cocoa powder you bought to make that delicious, Nutella-esque chocolate and peanut concoction? You make your own cocoa mix! And trust me, this is waaaaaaaay tastier than that stuff you buy at the grocery store.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) Valrhona cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until thoroughly pulverized.

Before pulverization:

After pulverization:

To use (stovetop version): Heat one cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to steam. Add 3 tablespoons cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. (Obviously you can make more than one cup at a time, depending on how many people you're serving.)

To use (microwave version): This mixes together better if you heat the cocoa mix with the milk rather than mixing it after the milk has been heated. Measure 3 tablespoons cocoa mix into one cup of milk but don't bother stirring it. Heat for 90 seconds and then stir vigorously. Then heat for 20 more seconds or until cocoa is at desired temperature. (Aside: my microwave is pretty wimpy, so you may want to reduce these times if you are using a more powerful model.)

Bonus tip--I store my cocoa mix in a container with the measurements noted on it to make life easy:

Recipe source: Smitten Kitchen

Pepper Butter

If I make peanut butter, it should logically be called Pepper Butter, yes?

With that important matter taken care of, here's what you need to know: assuming you own a food processor, this is insanely easy and also delicious. Roasting the peanuts is key to getting fantastic flavor, and I love that you can tweak the amount of salt and honey to get exactly the flavor YOU like best.

Ingredients
15 ounces shelled and skinned raw peanuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread peanuts on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes.

Place the peanuts, salt, and honey into the bowl of a food processor. Process for about 5 minutes. The mixture will look dry and rather dough-like for the first few minutes, but keep going. Eventually, like magic, it’ll liquefy. Scrape down sides of the food processor. Place the lid back on and continue to process while slowly drizzling in the oil and process for another minute or so. Taste and adjust salt, honey, or oil if needed. (A little extra oil helps if it’s not quite as smooth as you’d like.) In my first attempt, I added a little more honey and oil.

Place the peanut butter in an airtight container (I used a mason jar) and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Adapted from here.

A Book So Nice I Read It Twice

I don't often reread books these days. There are just so many others I want to read, so I tend not to revisit even books I liked very much.

Last week while on vacation, I finished a book during a day trip to lovely Houston, Minnesota, and I was kicking myself for not having my next book along. While watching my boys play with their cousin at a lovely playground, it occurred to me that I'd really enjoyed the book I just finished, and perhaps I could try reading it again while I sat in the shade.

Convenience Store Woman is a fascinating little read by Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata, and I first heard about it from this article in the New York Times. The main character, Keiko, has had a part-time job at a konbini for the past eighteen years and has never had a romantic relationship, and these two things make her decidedly not normal according to her parents, her younger sister, and her peers. She relishes her defined role at the convenience store; within that environment (unlike the rest of the world), she knows exactly what is expected of her.

The prose is simple and easy to follow, and Keiko is an enjoyable enigma. As Katy Waldman wrote in the New Yorker, "For the most part, her manner is that of a friendly alien scientist, but, at times, she swerves toward the psychopathic."

What does it all mean? What exactly is the novel a commentary on? Would a Japanese reader interpret it differently than an American reader? I don't know, but I'm at the halfway point of my second read, and I'm enjoying picking up on little bits I'd overlooked the first time through.

So what have you been reading?

Books without Borders

One of the things I love about travel is that it reminds me how big and how varied the world really is. I don't expect I'll ever travel as much as I wish I could, but at least reading books set in other places makes a pretty good consolation prize.

The book I really want to get my hands on this summer is set in Japan: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. A single article about it in the New York Times was enough to pique my interest.

I'd also like to find a book that covers some New Orleans history. Spending a few days there made me well aware of just how little of the region's history I know. One of the most striking things I saw there was an empty pedestal. It was only when I consulted a map and saw the name "Lee Circle" did I realize what had been there. I'd known in the abstract about statues being removed last year, but somehow it felt different when the evidence of it was right there in front of me.

So . . . what are your favorite books set in places far from your home? And more generally, what have you been reading?

photo source

First (1st) Monday Book Day

Spooky was spookily on the ball with today's CoC topic. I have read a few decent books recently, but nothing I absolutely love. And I'm ready for one of those books--a summer read that sucks me in and compels me to sneak in a few pages anywhere I can. I have a distinct memory of taking the peperoncino to the playground one summer day a couple years ago so he could play with some trucks in a sandbox while I perched on the side with Sweetbitter in hand. (A prize to anyone who can dig up the LTE where I talked about that book; the search function is failing me.)

Have you read anything lately that you loved? That you hated? That you found maddeningly mediocre?

image source