Art of Baking Blind

“The Art of Baking Blind” by Sarah Vaughan

It’s no secret to my family and friends that I love to cook and bake. I have done since standing in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen, “helping” her to make pastry for her perfect pies.  This was followed by many hours of fun using an Easy Bake Oven, under my Mum’s supervision, of course. And then finally being allowed to use a real stove and oven, on my own, to create a variety of masterpieces.

Cooking and baking relaxes me. It’s something I enjoy from planning meals in my head to grocery shopping (in a large retail store, farmers market or my favourite gourmet store in UpTown Waterloo) to cooking in my small kitchen. Whether I am sharing a meal with my husband, my whole family, or bringing in treats to my colleagues, it’s all good.

However, no matter how much I enjoy food and cooking, I have never been interested in working in the culinary world or competing in the food world.  This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading about these aspects of the foodie universe, it’s just not for me.

I recently read “The Art of Baking Blind” by Sarah Vaughan. The book follows five very different individuals as they compete to be the new “Mrs Eaden”.  Kathleen Eaden was the Nigella of the baking world.  An accomplished baker who wrote a book which became the bible of all those interested in creating the best cakes, cookies, breads and pastries. Her empire included a chain of gourmet grocery stores.  It is these stores that are in need of a new “face” for their brand.

The story unfolds through the view of the four female competitors.  The fifth, a kindly man named Mike, seems a bit out of place at times. A “token male”, in a way.  As the contestants work their way through the challenges posed in the kitchen, it’s obvious that the challenges in their personal lives will prove the most difficult. Cakes may rise and there is the sweet taste of success in the kitchen but in life, there isn’t such a guaranteed sunny outcome.

This is the first novel by journalist Vaughan and I hope it won’t be the last. From mouth-watering descriptions of airy meringues and decadent cakes, to handling the challenges of relationships, it all made for good reading. I have to admit I was disappointed that the author didn’t share a recipe or two.  So, I will!

Visit the author’s official website or follower her on Twitter @SVaughanAuthor

In the book, gingerbread cookies are referred to repeatedly.  They hold special meaning for Kathleen Eaden.  As I am somewhat known for my gingerbread cookies plus the fact that Christmas is coming, I’ve decided to share my recipe with you.

Gingerbread Cookies

1 c. shortening
1 c. white sugar
1 egg
1 c. molasses
2 tblsp. White vinegar
3 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves

Cream shortening and sugar in large bowl until fluffy and light. Add in egg, molasses and vinegar. Stir well.  Gradually add dry ingredients. Stir to blend.

Cover bowl and refrigerate dough for 1 ½ hours minimum.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Flour a wooden baking board. Roll out ¼ of the dough until 1/8” thickness.  Cut cookies into desired shapes.

Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet for 8 minutes (this is for medium-sized cookies; reduce time for smaller cookies). Watch carefully to avoid burning.

When cooled, store in an air tight container or tin in a cool location. Stored in this manner, these will keep fresh and moist for 4 weeks.

This is Where You Belong


This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

My interest is always piqued by the “New this Week” section on the library’s website and usually I get excited, add it to my ever growing to-be-read list and then promptly forget about it. When I saw This is Where You Belong: the Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live featured, I decided to start a new pattern, so I went straight to the shelf and borrowed this book from the library. This book turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read this year, because it was so relevant to my life and the life of our community.

This book follows the author, Melody Warnick, and her mission to learn to love the place she lives. Warnick begins the book by admitting that she uses cross-country moves as a way to refresh her life when things aren’t quite working out the way she had planned. Warnick writes with an incredible honesty as she realizes that her and her husband’s grass-is-always-greener attitude is starting to have a negative impact on her children, robbing them of a long-term childhood home. This realization leads to her decision to learn to love Blacksburg, Virginia, her newest home town.

Warnick carries out a series of “experiments” to help increase her place-attachment to Blacksburg. Reading about how much effort Warnick put in to loving her home was inspiring. There were was one experiment that I found particularly relevant to our community in Waterloo. Warnick made a concentrated effort to start buying local. This is something that I’ve always felt I should do, especially in light of the Uptown Open campaign, but frankly, I’ve always found it intimidating. Warnick breaks it down into easy, budget friendly steps. Warnick recommends making an effort to set a monthly amount that you can commit to spending locally. Even if it’s only twenty dollars or fifteen percent of your monthly grocery bill, she notes that it will be the first step in helping local businesses stay open (even if there’s construction) and promoting community spirit.

Warnick explains each of her experiments in ways that are just as readable and easy to apply, making this book an excellent read for people who want to find meaning in the place they live.

Five out of five stars.

Jenna H.

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

Wild Tales by Graham Nash

I love autobiographies.

It’s fascinating to get a glimpse into other people’s lives: the things they did and thought, the choices they made. And I found this one, Wild Tales by Graham Nash, to be so interesting. (In case the name doesn’t mean anything to you, Graham Nash was a founder of the 60’s band the Hollies and later became part of the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.)

I liked hearing about Graham Nash’s childhood, as it was so different than mine. He grew up poor in the north of England. When he was just a kid, his dad went to prison for a year and then things were really, really tough.

I especially loved Nash’s stories about his time with the Hollies and CSN&Y. Did you know he met his future Hollies bandmate, Allan Clarke, at the age of 6 and they became instant best friends as they bonded over their love of singing and harmonizing together. How cool is that?

After leaving the Hollies in a less than classy way (told the record producer, didn’t tell his bandmates), Nash joined CS&N. What a crazy time that was! With rampant drug use and huge egos and clashes of all kinds, it’s a wonder they were able to record so much music and give so many concerts. Actually, it’s a wonder they are all alive and (so far as I know) fully functioning.

And then there is the music.

I had such fun rediscovering the Hollies. They made some great music!  Unfortunately none is available at WPL. I inquired why not and apparently their music is no longer available to purchase.

I’ve also been listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for the first time. Is it me, or are these guys maybe a little over-rated? I found some of the music to be pretty sleep-inducing. Gorgeous harmonies, yes, but I’d say the music needs more bite to it. I’m sure there are people who would disagree, maybe vehemently. If so, you can check out the library’s selection of CSN&Y CDs, as well as individual albums by David Crosby and Neil Young.

– Penny D.

December Book Club titles

Oh . . . the weather outside is delightful and the snow is so invisible and if you’ve no place to go . . . . come to Book Club . . . come to Book Club . . . come to Book Club.

Of course the “lyrics” must be sung to the music of the song Let it Snow but I am sure you get the idea. . . .

The Waterloo Public Library hosts two monthly book clubs – a Monday Evening Book Club and a Thursday Afternoon Book Club.  You are welcome to attend either or both!  No need to register or be invited. Just Here is what we are reading in December:

December 12th @ 7 p.m.  Main Library, Auditorium

aplaceA Place Called Here by Cecila Ahern

Sandy Shortt has been obsessed about where missing things, and people, end up ever since the disappearance of a childhood friend 20 years ago. It has even motivated her to become a private investigator, attempting to track down missing loved ones and offering devastated families a flicker of hope



December 15th @ 1:30 p.m.  Main Library, Board Room

mybrilliantMy Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The story of Elena (Lenu) Greco and Raffaella (Lila) Cerullo’s childhood and adolescence in the 1950s, two best friends who live in a destitute neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. The novel opens with Lenu in her 60s, now a successful writer, trying to take possession of her fraught shared history with Lila. The girls embody two different types of intelligence: Elena is able to memorise large swaths of information which she can mould into new forms, whilst Lila’s mind is innovative and lethal in its capacities. Elena and Lila’s friendship moves from competition to collaboration as they navigate the parameters of their neighbourhood, their burgeoning sexualities, and their expanding intellects. Whilst Elena’s parents are finagled into paying for their daughter’s education, tragically Lila is withdrawn before middle school, and subsequently becomes obsessed with finding a way out of the meagre potential of the neighbourhood. The girls’ stories are told against the backdrop of Italy’s changing political landscape: from fascism and Camorra Mafioso to the flowering Communist movement, Elena and Lila’s fate is tied to the development of their country.

Hope to see you at a meeting!


About the Election . . . sort of

In the days following the election booksellers have reported that customers were coming     in to choose books that might help them to make sense of what had just happened.  Amazon’s sales rankings (always a fun barometer of what the reading public is buying) indicated that books about Donald Trump were rising in popularity as were recent books published about issues that had been prominent during the election like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: a memoir of family and a culture in crisis, Truevine: two brothers, a kidnapping, a mother’s quest: a true story of the Jim Crow soutdreamsh by Beth Macy and Barack Obama’s excellent memoir Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance.  Whether you are pleased by the results of the election or not books are always an important source of comfort and clarity for people in times of uncertainty and we have so many here at the library that will suit your mood post-November 8th.

I was thinking, as I listened to the ongoing commentary, that we don’t hear very much about the impact that an election has on an incoming president’s family.  Only one of the pundits
(and I was watching them for hours on that long night – the day after the election my eyes were dry from the late night and screen watching – exactly what I tell my kids not to do) even mentioned Donald Trump’s young son Barron.  It’s such a massive change for a kid to move at any time in their life but to the White House and he is only ten-years old!  With the incredible scrutiny that this boy has on him every day?  It’s just going to get harder for him.  Just imagine.

Well, we dohillbillyn’t really have to imagine as there are two tremendous books right here in our collection by Kate Anderson Brower that have provided that fly on the wall  experience of what life is really like inside the White House.  The author of these books worked for CBS and Fox News before she covered the Obama White House for Bloomberg so she has a solid idea of what the pressures are from outside those walls and she uses all of her journalistic skills to encourage her interview subjects to spill the beans on the details of what it is really like to live and work inside the walls.  I found both of the books she wrote to be a treat to read when they were published and might re-read them again to help me get a better understanding of what the president-elect and his family are going through as they try to sort out their personal lives in the days before the inauguration.

Oh, and the inauguration!  Both of Kate Anderson Brower’s books provide wonderful nuggets about what that all feels like for families and staff.  Her first book, in 2015, with the title The Residence: inside the private world of the White House is a terrific look at the intricaresidencete machinery of moving one family out and one family in on a very delicate day.  The author was able to interview staff who had not previously agreed to share their stories and I loved hearing all about what it is like to get those personal items packed away in time for the incoming First Family to arrive and feel welcomed in a home that has held so much history.  There are poignant stories shared here – about J.F.K.’s children running through the halls, intricate meals prepared for state dinners, birthday parties celebrated for all and the most horrible moments supported by a staff who knew them so well that they found the right things to say when needed.  I adored the tidbits about flower arrangements, how individual presidents would make odd requests like having special shower heads installed and how the staff would have to adjust their style to suit each family.  It’s a chance to glimpse wfirst-womenhat the White House might be like beyond what we see on tv.  It’s not all just like Aaron Sorkin imagined it to be.  Although, how I wish it were so.

In her second book, First women: the grace and power of America’s modern first ladies she expands on earlier interviews she had done for the first book.   It covers the time period from Jackie Kennedy up to Michelle Obama and within that list of women we see a wide range of approaches to the role of First Lady.  Some chose a path that involved personal political crusades others preferred to chart a course which involved a less public role but all of the women shared the unique position of being first in line for support when things in the Oval Office became heated.  Some of the women she profiles in this book suffered so much very publicly and it would have been possible for the author to take a tabloid-like style in her writing but she never does.  She is respectful of the work that each First Lady does in the unique situations they have as wife and mother, as the one who is expected to host international events (in earlier times there were far less staff around for the first lady to call upon), and do all of this under constant scrutiny.  With the recent election so fresh in our minds it is particularly interesting to read the chapters where she focuses on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s time in the White House and consider her memoires of those years.

I have always loved books that give a behind-the-scenes look at anything and books like these are a mix of biography, history lesson and poignant reminder of how lucky we all are.  No one is watching to see what we choose to wear, how we might parent our children, host a party or ask us our opinion on something so that they can write about it.  It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with the results of the U.S. election but I will use the shelves of the library to help me find a way to relate to the new First Family and to think some things through.  I might even use some of our books and movies to escape once in a while.  The library is always here to support us.

– Penny M.


Dinner With Edward

Sometimes a little book, trapped between much bigger tomes on the library shelves, catches your eye.  The spine was plain and the title simple.  I read the blurb, took a flick through and decided to check it out. And am I glad I did.

I love stumbling across a new book in the library. Of course I have my many favourite authors who I count the days (well, months or years at least) until they release their new book.  And, if they take too long, I may re-read some of the titles which are really dear to my heart.

25810609However, there’s something wonderful about discovering a new author (or new to you), a book you’ve never heard of, and having it turn into a new favourite. It doesn’t have to be a deep book, classic or contemporary literature, intense or full of themes and theories. It can be simple. Easy to read. A pleasure. An indulgence.  And that’s how I found Dinner with Edward.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I spend a lot of time in Stratford and a favourite way to start my Saturday off is at Balzac’s with a hot drink, one of their raspberry muffins, a window seat (or on the back deck, in the right weather of course) and a new book.

Dinner With Edward fit easily in my purse. I took my seat, a sip of my cappuccino, and began to read. And read. And read. I was halfway through the book before I even noticed. And that’s a good thing, right readers?

Isabel Vincent, investigative journalist and former foreign correspondent, was born and raised in Toronto but moved with her husband and daughter to New York in an effort to help save her marriage. It didn’t.  Isabel stayed in New York, working for the Post, and spending time with her books and her friends.  One friend, who lives in Europe and was on her way back home, asked Isabel to keep any eye on her elderly father, Edward, who was grieving after the loss of his wife of 60 years.

What is at first simply a gesture of kindness, helping a friend out, monitoring the life of an aged parent, has unexpected results.  Isabel’s and Edward’s shared passion for food, wine and perfect icy cold martinis becomes the cornerstone for a special, more deep and lasting friendship.

Edward and Isabel get together once a week, for a meal lovingly and expertly prepared by 90 year old self-taught amateur chef Edward at his apartment on Roosevelt Island .  Through Edward’s sharing of memories of life with the love of his life, Paula, and recipes, Isabel is able to see her way forward in life after a difficult divorce.

The book is charming and warm, difficult to put down, and with descriptions of meals that even the non-foodies will find mouthwatering. This book is a treat as well as a hint to, as Edward professed and followed for his 95 years, remember that every day we have with our loved ones is a gift.

In honour of Edward’s love of martinis, I will share a recipe for a delightful summer martini of my own. It does require a little advanced preparation but the end result is worth it.

Frozen Watermelon Martinis

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
5 cups watermelon, seeds removed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 cups ice cold vodka
Lemon slices (garnish)

Set 8 martini glasses plus the bottle of vodka into the freezer.

Create a simple syrup by combining sugar and water in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Puree watermelon in a food processor or blender.  Add a little of the cooled simple syrup.  Taste.  Add more if needed.  Pour watermelon mixture into ice cube trays and chill until frozen (minimum of 4 hours).

When ready to serve, put frozen watermelon cubes into blender with more simple syrup, lemon juice, and vodka.  Blend until smooth.

Pour into martini glasses.  Garnish with a slice of lemon.

– Sandi H.