Reading lap time with your Trick or Treaters

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Reading lap time with your Trick or Treaters

This may sound goofy, but I love things that are exactly the same since before my dad passed away in October, 20 years ago, and one of them is trick or treating. He loved the idea of silly, simply-costumed kiddies eager to be admired, running around for free candy which they’d later sort and barter with friends and family.  

Lucky me, good old dad – now about 45 years ago or so -- offered his lap and love to wee October me and we read dozens and dozens of books during these chilly autumn evenings. You guys lucky enough to have kids and grandkids: October is the perfect time to get our Trick or Treaters READING! If you have a reluctant boy reader like I did, they will be guaranteed perk up at the sight of spooky tales and titles – plus there is the great ghost story tradition of reading books aloud this time of year. You can’t miss with “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” by Alvin Schwartz. My girls were easy readers – and they were all the way in to pumpkin picture books and then the “Worst Witch” series (Jill Murphy), and just about everything else.

Come on by and pick out some titles (I have had the best time picking out books for every age level). Then play it up with your kids: “TONIGHT is spooky story time!" Pop some popcorn, grab a blanket or ten to make a cozy fort – and make some memories.  Why not start a tradition – on the night you carve pumpkins (we still do, dad – same as always), let each child pick a spooky story for read-aloud while the seeds toast in your oven?

It goes fast, folks, these Trick or Treat years. Mine are gone past for now, as my son is 18 and off to college soon. He never met his grandpa, but I know for sure my pop would have made room on his lap and nudged him towards a chapter book like “Nate the Great and the Halloween Haunt.” So set aside some October-reading lap time with your Trick or Treaters, I know for sure you’ll make forever memories.  Prairie Path Books would love you to come by and be inspired by our selection!

Santa and Mrs. Claus – One day only! Sunday, December 17, 1:00–4:30 p.m. Call the store to reserve your spot, (630) 765-7455

Santa and Mrs. Claus – One day only!

Sunday, December 17, 1:00–4:30 p.m.

Call the store to reserve your spot, (630) 765-7455

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Like Audible Books? Go Ahead, Now I Get Paid When You Do.

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Like Audible Books? Go Ahead, Now I Get Paid When You Do.

I’ve found a new way for you and all you know to support my independent bookstore: now, if you listen to Audible books, I get a cut when you make that purchase. That's right, readers - you can support Prairie Path Books whenever you buy an Audible book or try Audible for the first time. 

Some fans of the independent bookstore experience feel terrible admitting it, but prefer reading in newer formats. For example my OWN HUSBAND prefers reading from his iPad, and my bestest pal Mary Kay is all about her earbuds and Audible. And yet today 50 of you came over to hear Jenny perform her new show (“8 Books to Inspire, Intrigue and Maybe Even Change You”) and enjoyed the homemade pecan pie squares her mom brought plus a glass of free bubbly. All the while listening and nodding to the sparkling ideas and connections Jenny made concerning her eight great new book recommendations. I know PPB folk want to support my store however they "read," so I dusted off my lawyer hat and negotiated a partnership with Audible because I love audio books too. The Audible book-buying experience is super easy and they have more than 300,000 titles to choose from; it's hard to find a book Audible doesn't have! I just know that once you try it you too will have an Audible story going in your car, on your walks, or doing chores. 

A quick brag - you can be proud of me and Wheaton because Audible chose Prairie Path Books — we are the first ever independent bookstore to partner with them. We know that this will be a win/win—you will love Audible (or you already do) and now you can support me too.

  1. If you’re already an Audible member (you know who you are), please use the link below (or the link on our home page) every time you purchase a book. THANKS in advance for taking the time for this extra step, it's just a second but it means the world to little old me; and!
  2. If you’re not yet a member – lucky you!! You can take advantage of Audible’s “free book” 30-day trial membership. Use the link below – and then when you set up your account (you just enter your email address and a password), your purchases will automatically benefit PPB. Use the button below to link to Audible through Prairie Path Books!

Thanks guys.

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Finding My Way, Part 2  Building a Backlist

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Finding My Way, Part 2 Building a Backlist

The buzz in BookLand is almost always about new releases or bestsellers. A bookseller gets a bazillion emails from publishers with links to lists of new titles, plus magazines and promotional materials in the mail. New is fun and shiny and pretty and we love to arrange tables with the latest stories and histories, all crisp and fresh looking in their gorgeous covers. When I’m excited about a new release it’s fun for me to tell about it and hope you like it too, and let’s face it — it’s so easy and profitable when I can simply say: “There’s a new David McCullough out!”

Three years into this biz though I’ve come to cherish my “backlist” even more. By backlist I mean our precious rows of paperbacks that in many ways define who we are. Have I ever told you how a beginning bookseller buys her first say, 5,000 books before opening day?? It is one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done, way more so than studying for the Bar exam and almost akin to childbirth. The way we did it, me and Jenny and Lisa and Heather – was we ordered a list of independent booksellers’ best selling books over the most recent 5 month period. The number of books in each section of the list (fiction, picture books, biography, cookbooks etc.) depends on how many titles you want in that section of your store; for example, if I wanted to have 300 cookbooks I’d get a list of 1,500-1,800 or so bestsellers according to the sales of participating indie stores reporting. Then, pen in hand you read every single title on the list and if you don’t know it just from the title, you look up every single one on your laptop.  Or at least we did. Multiply that task by about 35 other sections – the fiction list alone was about 2 inches thick) and you have yourself about five 15-hour days times four people of work. I know, it sounds fun and it was – or it would have been more so if we were at leisure, but we had a deadline. I remember texting each other with fraught comments like “this page of general fiction has taken 2 hours already and I have 10 more books to look up!” or “I’ve decided not to circle any books by authors whose names I can’t pronounce,” then an “only kidding I just needed coffee.”  

All those hours paid off because in those early days we bought many wonderful paperbacks for our first inventory, but really those were other stores’ bestsellers. An excellent start for sure and some have become our bestsellers too. But when you tally up Prairie Path Books' top sellers, they are always books we have read and loved so much that we take them down reverently from the shelf, hold them to our hearts while we describe them, and then hand them over for your admiration. Many of our favorite 2014–2017 hardcover new releases have come out in paperback: it’s our biggest compliment when we continue to carry a title after that. Me and Jenny sometimes remember a title we’ve loved and don’t have yet, plus, very often if one of you gushes to me about a great book I order it on the spot, enriching our shelves all the more. Now that’s a backlist!

Last week I decided our backlist needed a boost so I polled all of our employees (even those gone to college) and PPB readers for their favorite authors. Some shot me back their list in seconds, others had to kanoodle a while. It made me laugh to remember that when I came upon the title “Old Filth” on that long, long list three years ago I scoffed “what a stupid title,” to myself and breezed by. Luckily I felt guilty and went back and read its staggeringly great reviews and bought it for the store. A year or so later I bought it from myself and cherished all three in the Filth series and Jane Gardam is now tops of my author list.  

So, long story short (“TOO LATE” as my husband often says to me), I’ve put our PPB personal favorites at the very front of the store for you. In a while we will nestle them onto our shelves for you to find, or just ask us. See, we‘ve found our own way to our very own personal bookstore backlist. It took some time, and not a few drops of blood sweat and tears, but I’m really proud of it. Come see. We’d love that.

— Sandy Koropp

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Finding my way, Part 1 – A Story Nook

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Finding my way, Part 1 – A Story Nook

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There were times during my first three years running a small business like Prairie Path Books when I’ve wondered whether I in fact should have gotten an actual business degree of some sort. For example, some days it seems like our trays of homemade cookies get more attention than our books – and I wonder to myself, gosh you don’t see other stores giving things away, maybe they don’t teach doing that in business school?  Am I a dummy or something?   

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But I always come back to the fact that I don’t care about “they” or “should. Fact is, I love to bake. And maybe even more I love coming early to my store – hearing the satisfying click of my key in the lock, switching on the lights, putting down my tote bag full of my evenings’ papers and notes and plans for the day, and taking out a Tupperware of treats. I love moving through the store then, turning on for the day all the twinkle and lamp lights we’ve set about, and then moving into our wee kitchen and while my coffee is brewing, setting out the goodies I’ve made (having left at least half at home to feed the boy, 18 now and a high school senior).  

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For sure I bet there’s no MBA lesson plan for creating a twinkle-lighted story nook in our children’s department, but we did that this week*. Wait ‘til you see! See, I was a girl who made blanket forts with her brother and after he’d gone off to whack baseballs or something, I would scootch all the way back into a fort-corner with my flashlight and sit for hours with knees near up to my chin and Little House in the Big Woods wedged between my eyeballs and knees. I know now I’m grown that I’m supposed to sell books mostly, but for me my children’s section mission always has been first about creating a mood – a mood of oooooh. You know, that heart-swell you feel when you are inspired. Makes sense to me to recreate for you the magic and wonder I felt crawling into my fort with my story and nothing but time ‘til dinner. 

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So I think I’m finding my way in business after all, using my memories as a sort of map. A map that includes a stop in “Storyland” – marked with a wee image of a tent and maybe a silhouette of a girl in it, bent over a book, holding a flashlight.  

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All this so I can announce our fall series of children's events! We have added to our Thursday morning 11:00 a.m. Milk & Cookies Storytime, another free storytime series meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays — this one based on our favorite classic picture books. As ever, our storytimes include a snack and a craft or activity. And Kristy's summertime "Kids in the Kitchen" series was such a smash that she's doing an after-school version on Wednesdays - just call to say you can come to these fun gatherings. Check out too our "no school" special events for Columbus Day and Thanksgiving break. See you here!

*If you like our twinkle-lighted story nook, make one of your own at home, for sure. Any corner will do. Me and Laura and Lisa used fabric and twinkle lights and pillows – ask us if you want help – we’d love that.

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  How's the start to your September going?

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How's the start to your September going?

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Saturday 16, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Somehow the school year defines our Septembers even now, doesn’t it? It feels sort of right to sharpen our pencils, strap on our thinking caps and crack open some real reads this time of year. You guys all know that September brings about our annual “Champagne & Maple Leaves” book recommendation bash, and we are reading like crazy so we can highlight the best books out there. As usual, Paula, Jenny, Jen and me have put together a much-varied list, including some of the most thought-provoking new fiction and non-fiction out there. Like The Unwomanly Face of War by Nobel Prize-winning Svetlana Alexievich. I’m listening on Audible books to this ground-breaking oral history of Russian women at the front lines during WWII: it is my book of the year so far, a read made even more impactful by listening to the Russian voices telling these unforgettable stories of combat and camaraderie, strength, loss and survival, and yes -- femininity. Come hear tell too of My Absolute Darling, the debut novel everyone is talking about, and Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green, one person’s take on Steve Bannon’s role in the 2016 election, plus many many others. Today I'm cracking open Hue 1968, A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam by Mark Bowden which has earned top marks by reviewers; I bet you like me and Dave are eagerly awaiting Kens Burns' PBS documentary on that war (it premiers September, 17). 

Don't worry - we will feature some lighter reads too! Speaking of that:  you might want to settle your September self into one or both of the following classic tales set in Scotland:  Outlander by Diana Gabaldon,* and September by Rosamunde Pilcher. We’ve stocked up because (I know you know that) season three of “Outlander” premiers Sunday and there is nothing like Book One, is there ladies? If you haven’t read Outlander – oh my gosh, come on in and pick it up. Next, Pilcher charms in her autumn tale set in the village of Strathcroy, Scotland. Hers is a pleasing saga of 6 or so characters from two large, aristocratic families. They sort through their mostly manageable issues in time for a champagne-soaked September fete. It’s just the thing if you want some simpler but well-written fare before we see you on the 16th. 

If you haven’t already, RSVP for Champagne & Maple Leaves by calling the store, (630) 765-7455 – we are filling up fast.

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Jenny has a new show!

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Jenny has a new show!

Take out your calendars and a pen because you don't want to miss Jenny's new show here at PPB! 

On October 2 she will weave together for us the messages, stories and lessons gleaned from the best books out there. 

Gather with us for snacks, bevs and inspiration, Jenny-style. 

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Time to think about Dinner Again!

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Time to think about Dinner Again!

You know how I adore cooking and cookbooks, plus demonstrating recipes for you live in our PPB kitchen? Well, in a fit of rare planning, I've come up with a September–April calendar of demos (9 events*!) for you. Call today and reserve your place to gather 'round the counter. Our Fall/Winter/Spring events start in September with Jacques Pepin's new cookbook "A Grandfather's Lessons." What could be better for autumn meal inspiration? I can't wait!

First things first though. As I write, I'm getting ready for Thursday's "Canal House" Summer/Farmer's Market demo, simmering five pounds of tomatoes with fresh lemon and ginger, sugar and a cinnamon stick. Soon I will spoon the jewels into jars and voila: Tomato Preserves, all ready to be spread over Serrano ham and tiny toasts. There are still a few spots left, call (630) 765-7455 and join us!

 

*Note that we devoted three events to Vivian Howard's "Deep Run Roots" because we are THAT excited for it—Autumn, Winter, and Spring!

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Sometimes Basic is Best

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Sometimes Basic is Best

Sometimes basic is best.  

I’ve been getting lots of children’s book suggestions from publishers and other book venues in light of Saturday’s events in Charlottesville, and they are good ones too — based on concepts of empathy, goodness and character.  Complicated events are tough to explain to little ones, but there are two pop-up books* having to do with our country’s founding principles that wow me every time, and at times like these it seems right to remind our kids of the basics.  When you gather your wee ones close and open Robert Sabuda’s "America The Beautiful" to the stunning page where the Statue of Liberty literally stands up tall, you have a wow-full moment to tell your kids what you think about liberty.  And when the White House folds out of his book by that name, Sabuda with ingenuity and talent helps you lay some tracks in little hearts for what America means. 

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*I know, I know, many of you are thinking, "Oh noooo, uh uh. Why would I give my kids something I have to say 'don't touch that' about??" Well, because the wonder of taking down a wonder-full book only for "special" makes the book’s message even more impactful even if it does take a little strategic planning. I remember when Hannah, Emma and Tom were wee, I'd keep some books for special — they'd only be taken down with some build-up, tantalization, anticipation and even pageantry: "Boy, I wonder if we will be in our pajamas by 8 so we can look at the snowflake pop-up book ... if you're very very good maybe we'll get the magic Oreo blanket out to read on!" I promise that “for-special” books will spark a flame in their hearts not easily forgotten.

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My summer read roll –  4 irresistibles for you

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My summer read roll – 4 irresistibles for you

Hope you have a frosty bev’g nearby because you’ll want to settle in to read this — my raves about the books that have me on a summer-story spree! Oh and hey: call us to RSVP for our Champagne & Maple Leaves book review bash on September 16th, 11:00 a.m. — we’ll be making a really fun announcement … 

I hope you too are finding spaces in your calendars to READ – between weddings, get-aways, kids and grands underfoot, plus all the other summer (cooking, gardening) things you love to do. Those of you who’ve known me a good long while know that my inclement weather-loving self (sweaters! fireplaces!) struggles with summer because as a child my dear mother, along with all the neighbor mothers in the 1970’s, um … strongly urged us kids outside whenever the weather was anything but a tornado. Meaning that most days I was shooed outside and away from my favorite reading corner; meaning that now I have a rather dread-full relationship with warm weather. Add to this fact that the phrase I remember most from those warm sunny days is “that didn’t hurt,” uttered to stop little me from running home crying and telling tales as I tried to keep up with the older kids in sports and outdoor shenanigans. Like trying to jump straight off the neighbor’s trampoline into their pool. Where were our parents, anyway?? 

40 years on, I face a lovely summer day much conflicted— cozy reading nook or outdoor adventure? I often compromise and bring my book outside to my patio, and nowadays I don’t have to scramble to tie my shoes to avoid getting left behind by the gang — what bliss! Of late, my sunshiney read is “The Improbability of Love” by Hannah Rothschild, and boy has it captured my fancy. Rothschild shines as she introduces us to an ensemble of well-drawn characters, their stories threaded together because of a very valuable piece of art that has gone lost for 300 years. Annie McDee finds the dusty-dark and smudgy painting in a secondhand shop and adventure ensues. She’s a chef (huzzah – great food described) but she’s recovering from a broken relationship and now her damaged but supportive mother has moved in with her. Mom “has a feeling” about Annie’s painting — it reminds her of those in a collection at a nearby museum, so the two head over and meet a pretty cute employee named Jesse. He’s from an art-expert family, and he’s interested in sleuthing the painting. Naturally, there are others – lots – who are very interested in getting their hands on it. It’s a divine summer read: page-turning plot packed with accessible art history, adventure that is too intelligent to devolve into silly caper + whimsy/romance. A great escape from the latest nonfiction newspaper headlines that can bring me down if I let them. 

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The winner for the year’s most gorgeous cover, “The Keeper of Lost Things” by Ruth Hogan is also a winning fairy tale of a book. It’s about Anthony Peardew, a celebrated but lonely British author who has spent a lifetime collecting and cataloging little things left behind by others, hoping somehow to reunite them with their owners. The aging Peardew imagines terrific tales about the objects - writing for example the rest of the story behind a particular jigsaw puzzle piece he’s found, or a lime-green plastic flower-shaped hair bobble. Peardew advertises for a secretary/housekeeper for his Victorian mansion (Hogan really shines when describing surroundings) and our hero, Laura, needs the job quite a bit while she soothes herself after a rotten divorce. Peardew’s enchanting home —restful and lovely — is like balm for her soul and Laura is shocked when he dies and leaves it and everything to her, insisting only that she try to find the owners of his precious lost things. This is just the job she needs to rejoin life and with the help of a (yes) peevish ghost, a girl named Sunshine with Down Syndrome and seemingly mystical powers, and Freddy, the (yes) handsome gardener, she sets about her task. Laura’s story is interwoven with that of the equally charming Eunice, another British assistant who lived 40 years prior. This is good old-fashioned storytelling and besides — it will look great in your beach bag or on your hammock. 

I’ve spoken before about my addiction to Audible books; I love how I can have my stories read to me while I drive about or walk in the woods behind my house. When my mind is futsy and thoughts are popcorning about, nothing compares to popping in my earbuds and letting a tale take over. Listening to “The Heirs” by Susan Rieger this week felt like sitting across from a new friend telling me the story of her life and family, and this friend is really good at telling stories -- complete with well-remembered places and deep conversations between people. See, Eleanor Falkes is New York family-wealthy, elegant, composed and generous and she marries British orphan Rupert who has made very very good in his adopted America. They have five sons and this is their story. While money is never a concern, it does not take center stage — at center is Rupert and his childhood and then Eleanor and hers and then their lives together and then their life with their boys. It’s just so dang interesting! They are a loyal clan, drawn even closer together when a claim is made by an unknown woman that her two sons are Rupert’s heirs as well. Yes, this is a perfect poolside read, but one that is deliciously witty and intelligent. Loved this one! 

“Daddy-Long-Legs” by Jean Webster is often called “one of the great novels of American girlhood” and boy does it deserve that praise. Written in 1912, it begs to be made into a movie — oh wait it was, but there is NO WAY Fred Astaire was a good casting choice to play DLL. Let me explain: our hero, Judy Abbott, is an irreverent and irrepressible 18 year-old just about to be cast out of the orphanage she’s lived in. A wealthy trustee she’s only glimpsed but that she knows is tall with very long legs — decides to bestow upon her a college scholarship as she has shown great promise as a writer and has captured his attention with her strong-minded sass. Making him her only family. The only condition is that she write regularly to him, and so Webster tells this wonderful (and thoroughly modern, even feminist, in many ways) tale through Judy’s witty and spirited letters to her benefactor. Through her writing, we watch Judy grow into a remarkable woman over her four years at college. Here is a favorite of mine from one of her early letters to DLL: 
 

P.S. I know I’m not to expect any letters in return, but tell me, Daddy, are you awfully old or just a little old? ARE YOU BALD? (Is your) mouth a straight line with a tendency to turn down at the corners? Oh, you see, I know! You’re a snappy old thing with a temper.
 

Indeed he is not so very old, or bald, making Fred Astaire a terrible choice for Leslie Caron in the 1955 movie “Daddy-Long-Legs.” I am thinking Orlando Bloom (picture a young David Niven). Read it and let me know who should be cast in the 2017 movie. This is a treasure of a book — maybe even one to read alongside your daughter or granddaughter.

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Hope you come in and pick up these reads — and RSVP for our Champagne & Maple Leaves bash! Call the store today, (630)765-7455!

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It's that time of the summer...

It’s that time of the summer when having a thing or two to do each week (day??) is a really welcome idea! It’s a little cool for the pool this week, so c’mon over tomorrow at 11 for our Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site event and look over all of our events for July and August. Every Thursday at noon, we offer Kids in the Kitchen - a book based exploration of fun ingredients plus lunch making! Our Children’s Program Director, Kristy, creates the most warm and loving welcome for the kids, inspiring a love of reading but also fun and active connections with books and their subject matter. 

Please call the store to reserve your spot(sssss...), (630) 765-7455!

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How fun was Saturday??

How fun was Saturday?? I hosted a bridal shower for my nephew's future wife, and me and my Emma and Hannah cooked everything from Flavors of Summer, the book Tucker and I will be demonstrating on Thursday. If you're not signed up already, you simply must come because I'm over the top about this cookbook. 

The recipes for the shower menu leaped out to me from the Flavors of Summer pages, from the opening drink featuring pureed watermelon + triple sec and a splash of vodka, to the asparagus and smoked salmon frittata, to the strawberry and cream cheesecake (visible in the photo), plus a few others. I shopped* and chopped on Friday, cooked a bit on Saturday morning, and I was ready for a 3 o'clock shower by noon. My Hannah had a flight to DC for her summer internship at 1:30 so I took a while to cry because she is now a college senior and growing up so fast and hates winter and will probably move far away where there is more sunshine and she'll meet someone from that warmer climate and his parents will help to raise her kids and not me .... (SOB!!) 

Enough of that, good thing I had pressing things to attend to - by 1:39 Emma has urged me to stop already and start stringing twinkle lights and find more forks. Here's a photo - we pulled it together and had a wonderful celebration. Hope to see you Thursday so I can share what I learned! (Call the store to RSVP, 630-765-7455). 

*Boy, how lucky we are to live in Wheaton?! For the shower flowers I brought in my Flavors of Summercookbook with its gorgeous "sunshine living" table settings featuring lots o' flowers, and Andrew came through with the most inspired + lovely conversation-height vases. They were the subject of much shower guest-admiration. Shop Andrew's when you host because his flowers make you look like a star. Also, did you know that Wheaton Meats smokes their own salmon? I did, and their work was a critical part of the just-plain GOBBLING up by my guests of the Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Frittata at the shower. I doubled the recipe and STILL it got fully-gobbled; thank you Wheaton Meats!

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One day, I received a real typed letter from a local author...

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One day, I received a real typed letter from a local author...

One day, I received a real typed letter from a local author named Patricia Toht. She had not one but two picture books coming out and wondered if we at PPB might have a launch party. She mentioned that she had owned a children's bookstore in Wheaton years before mine (1988-1995), name of Never Never Land. Well, gosh of course we will, said I: The party for Toht book #1, All Aboard the London Bus, is Sunday at 2:00 p.m. I really want you to come and meet this Patty woman. She is charming and forthrightly friendly, understated but somehow keen in her demeanor. I didn't have a quiet moment to set myself down with her book until a day or so after she dropped it off and we chatted, but when I did — I mean I was gobsmacked. I loved all of it, the energy of the illustrations for sure, but even more so Patty's gentle and frolicsome verse that guides wee tourists to wonder at the wonders of London, including the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, and the making of Big Ben (which is actually a nickname for the giant bell that bongs each day from the Houses of Parliament tower). 

Even more than being pleased with her book, though, I was wowed by this woman in the following ways: 

  1. You know that ping of appreciation we feel when we are affected and impressed with someone or thing? When I'm reading, for me I'm pretty sure a ping prompts me to tilt my head, then shoot my eyebrows up. A particularly impactful ping makes me purse my lips in an "ooooo" and I have to look away from the page for a second to let the ooooo-dea knock around for a bit. Pair that with the appreciation one feels when that impressive someone doesn't pirouette their thing with sparkle and spot-light, but lets you find your own way in your own time - and somehow, a much deeper wow is stamped in your heart;
     
  2. Nearly 30 years ago, Patricia decided to open a bookstore without much experience and loved her adventure. She has equally loved becoming a published children's author, an achievement she achieved just by - well - writing. In her unassuming way, she left her work with someone that said "ooooo" and her books were born. I love me a person who just starts doing the thing they want to do, even if it might mean a clumsy tromp, creating a path armed not with a map but with righteous energy. I loved it when I told her I have notions sometimes of writing myself, and she replied forthrightly: "If you think you'd like to write, jump in and get started!" Perfect. 

Patty lived in London for four years with her family because her hubby's job took them there, and All Aboard the London Bus is the charming result. Come celebrate Wheaton's own Patricia Toht. Bring along your kids or grands or just enjoy meeting this inspiring woman. 

— Sandy

Thank you for being a huge part of our wonderful year! Please come and help us celebrate our 3rd anniversary on Saturday, June 3! We want to celebrate our birthday with a party-full of the sort of events we do best: cooking demos, Jenny shows, and Champagne Book Recommendation parties! 

  • 11:00 a.m. Cooking Demo featuring Short Stack Editions
     
  • 1:00 p.m. Back by popular demand, Jenny Riddle will be performing one of her most popular shows “We Will Survive”!
     
  • 2:30 p.m. Champagne & Raspberries book recommendation followed by our raffle—including Short Stack cookbooklets and kitchen goodies! 

Call the store to let us know which of these 3 offerings we will get to greet you.
(630) 765-7455!

 

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Blue bloomers and Bumble Bees

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Blue bloomers and Bumble Bees

When you pick a card at my store for your mom for Mothers Day, there are many dynamics at play. There is of course, what you want to say. And what your mum wants to hear. Some years, Mothers Day might come at a tender time when things in your family are complicated, so you seek a card that makes some sense of that, others you need a gushy card to try and say all the gratitude you feel. I see many folks lingering a long time over our Mothers Day display before selecting a card. I don't ask, but I'm dying to hear the thoughts, feelings and stories of "mom" zipping through your minds. So I thought I'd share my card-selection process, and if you want, send me yours. I'd love that.

This is the card I picked for me mumser. I like how it looked because it's not all flowery which is not our style, at least not this year, and because it calls her "Mom" and not mother, which is what I call her (when I'm not calling her mumser or "Nanimator", a take on her grandma-honorific, Nani). Mostly, though, I was drawn to the" swinging a hammer" bit, because my mom is pretty much badass — to use my daughters' word for awesome, inspiring, powerful — in her own 1960's stay-at-home mom kind of way. 

Here's an example: when me and my two sibs were born (1959-1964), Dr. Benjamin Spock's book "Baby and Child Care" (1946, and still in print), was second in sales only to the Bible. It's message was "you know more than you think you do", and it was apparently ground-breaking as previous experts advocated rigid schedules and not-too-much affection or the kiddies might be soft and not independent. Spock was more of a trust your instincts, every child is different sort of dude. (I didn't know these things, I looked it up on Wikipedia - where I also learned that Spock was on the 1924 Olympic-gold-medal-winning American rowing team - making my thoughts wander to that great book "Boys in the Boat" except for Spock went to Phillips Andover and Yale, so .... Do you see how hard it is for me to get things done when there are so many other interesting tangents to explore??) 

Anyway back to my mom: she thought Spock presumptuous in soothing her into being more confident. She knew she knew what she was doing, and when she didn't she called her mother. She just didn't care what everyone else did, even when literally everyone else did it. Here's another: I remember, or I think I do, that when we moved to the house I grew up in, the neighbors came over with baked goods to say hello and welcome (those were the days). We kids were busy running through the empty house, rough-housing and finding fun echo-chambers by yelling back and forth. Her main form of discipline was "noses in the corner" and so when her new friends got their first impression of the family that day, each of us had a nose in three of the corners in the dining room which was completely visible from our front door. You might think she would be embarrassed either by the fact that her children were clearly rotten or her odd parenting methods - and let us out of our punishment. So that we could smile politely and make-nice to the neighbors. It's funny that you thought that. NO, SO not her style. They came in and she explained the situation, gesturing at us with her hand, and went on chatting cheerfully with her new friends. See what I mean? Badass. 

One more — remember those blue bloomers we wore in gym class? I'm (only) 52, and we totally wore them all through the early eighties when I was in high school, so yes they are vintage but it wasn't that long ago. Pretty hilarious. When I was I think a junior, York High switched over to shorts and tees for girls' gym, but we were given a grace period to go buy them. I didn't really see the need, so I wore my blue bloomers on and on, until I was the only one in them. Truly blithe in my bloomers, I spent zero time thinking about how quirky I must have looked. Without realizing it, I'd been schooled by my mother already. My husband Dave and I laugh when he remembers seeing the bloomered, 17-year-old me from his side of the gym and thinking "I like that one." 

Maybe my mom is why in 1993 the video for the Blind Melon song "No Rain" made an instant impact on me. You have to watch it now before reading further and you must keep watching until the end. OK, click the link below now. 

If you didn't do as I said, go find a corner and put your nose in it for awhile and then watch it. 

Oh good, you watched it — isn't that the greatest? I connected with bumble bee girl on a visceral level the first time I saw her and she strikes me hard still. You too? At that time in my life I needed reminding of how badass a bumble bee can be and I left one job for another where there were lots of bees like me. 

So that's why I picked the card I did for my mom. Even though she didn't face a corporate glass ceiling, in her own quiet way (she's not an in-your-face badass, just firmly and confidently resolved) she gave me a hammer and showed me how to swing it. Thanks,  - I am truly "grateful to be your daughter," and we will pick you up at 11 on Sunday to have brunch with your badass granddaughter. 

— Sandy

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Coming soon, May flowers and great PPB gatherings

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Coming soon, May flowers and great PPB gatherings

It's May now!! Hooray for May at last, and although we, all of us, are still dodging raindrops, flowers are surely on the way. Our hearts were full and blooming Saturday on Indie Bookstore Day - you shared so many blossomy, happy, supportive things about what PPB has meant to you, and I weighed every word double because you literally blew through the door, dripping wet — to tell me! It's funny how every single one of you had the same exact expression on your face when the door shut behind you ("PHEW!"), and then after a sniff of the air, your smile said "WHAT'S THAT YUMMY COOKING SMELL??" We loved welcoming so many of you to our warm nest of books + good cheer, not to mention S'mores and DIY grilled cheese. 

On to the next: Fun PPB gatherings worth bringing yourself out into the rain this week are:

  • Tomorrow night we get to heap love on, and have a party for, our beloved Wheaton superstar-author Jen Grant because she is launching her new book and can't wait to tell you all about it (free event);
     
  • Our every-Thursday free Milk & Cookies Storytime at 11:00 a.m. (always free);
     
  • Advice for making HUNGRY people HAPPY - you simply must come to our cooking demo featuring Lucinda Scala Quinn's new cookbook "Mad Hungry Family," more on that below: and,
     
  • A perfect way to begin Mother's Day WEEK begins Saturday the 7th ... moms come put your feet up and sip mimosas and enjoy a 15% off your purchase day, while Kristy leads the kids in the perfect mother/child love-story over in the next room! 

The Koropps had a horrible, terrible, no good very bad week so we were not sad to see April go. See, we had 3 cars go down in 3 successive days (a bang, a leak, and some grinding noises, but no injuries) plus both daughters lost track of some expensive laptop-ish technology. Luckily for me — they chose daddy to call up and confess. (All of my acting dim and disoriented about black things that plug in really paid off for me.) Tom kept a low profile by just staying consistent: sweating a lot playing sports, leaving his clothes in a stinky heap, eating 6,000 calories a day, and then collapsing into bed. I have to say, I adore feeding hungry people. His lacrosse team came over recently and ate 8 pounds of pasta plus meatballs and meat sauce, a salad mountain, and bags and boxes of cookies, with a leftover Easter-candy chaser. It was like they were locusts on corn. 

Even if you don't feed MAD HUNGRY teams of boys, Lucinda Scala Quinn's cookbook - and our Thursday cooking demo — is all about getting nourishing food on the table without fuss and bother, but MORE IMPORTANT, using food to connect with others. Especially the sort of others who live with you (Tom, ahem) and say "Good," when you ask about their day and don't utter very much else. Most days I want to slice open his head and twist it like a lemon on a juicer to discover his brain contents, but instead I warm some olive oil and add chopped onions and minced garlic. I know he takes a whiff from inside his room and wonders what will be to eat. Saturday, I was much encouraged that he has maybe-ish noticed his upbringing because he wanted to make chicken soup to bring to a sick friend. I tried to stay cool, but let's face it, I practically leapt from my chair and showed him how to cook diced carrots in broth (I'm going to brag right now and tell you my son knows how to make chicken stock from leftover bones, even though he'd never admit it). 

Any of this sound familiar?? Can warm food help bring together some folks in your life? Come over Thursday and let's cook and connect, a la Lucinda.

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A Whole Lotta Fun is "in store" for Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday the 29th

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A Whole Lotta Fun is "in store" for Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday the 29th

Three years ago, someone in BookLand wisely decided that independent bookstores deserve a DAY! A day to be glad that this ancient, ageless paper-exchange of ideas, beginning when ancient Greek and Roman scribes put stories on to pages — continues today. The printing press in the 15th century helped nudge things along, of course, but the concept has always been the same: ideas travel from the thinker who writes them down, over to the bookmaker who prints them and binds the pages, then to the bookstore (eager to shelve and share them in a welcoming place with candles or twinkle lights), and ultimately to a new reader and thinker, keen to discover a new voice. 

I'm proud that I do something that I could explain my commercial existence to in 3 words, even if it was, say ... Aristotle. I SELL BOOKS

We at PPB are proud to invite you to a day celebrating our independent bookstore! On Saturday, April 29th, from 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. we will all-day-offer lots of the things we do best: 

  • Cooking demonstrations all day long from our two top-selling cookbooks in our almost-3-year history - The Cocktail Party and Ina Garten's Cooking for Jeffrey (including a DIY Donut Bar, Grilled Cheese station, Hot Dog Stand, and fire-pit S'mores; 
  • A' course we will offer personal recommendations on the best new fiction and non-fiction; 
  • FUN discounts in a groovy way only PPB could come up with - this time- ROLL our dice to determine your discount before we'd let you pay for your stack of books; and, 
  • A sale on cards and gifts WHILE you need them - not after — 15% off our section of cards and books for MOMS, DADS AND GRADS. 

We are excited to celebrate with you on Saturday the ancient tradition of idea-exchange — a la Prairie Path Books.

See you here, Sandy

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Happy Valentine's Day!

When I have you all over here at PPB, you know that I love to acknowledge the Price family for making Prairie Path Books possible. But it's not often enough that I applaud my Valentine of 35 years, Dave Koropp, for his PPB support. I'm not sure what other virgin retailers go through in their journey to a grand opening, but I can tell you this of mine - it's a ton about Dave loving me. You see ... he is my York High School sweetheart (1983) and U of I college/law school soulmate (B.A. 1987/JD '90), Wheaton husband + commuting young legal co-professional (circa 1991), then District 200 parent of children (2001 - ), now parent of WWSHS 17 year old + Hyde Park 19 and 20-year-olds — but always sweetheart — Dave. 

Dave. To whom I said "I'm thinking about opening a bookstore," in February 2014. And Dave said "You'd be great, you should." And so I did. And that's a powerful love. 

Yep, him and me been together since I was sixteen - and this photo is of us on one of our first dates - a York High School dance called "SNOWBALL" in February, 1981. See, Dave and I went to a few teen dances, then we were together all through college and law school and then I married him right after I took the Bar Exam (1990), and headed straight (with my nose) onto the grindstone. I have a large capacity for work - for better or worse. I can sit and concentrate (read) for a very very long time. Like most students or bookstore owners I guess. So I worked very very hard until I was 31 and Dave and I looked up from said stone that 'twas grinding and decided it was time for Hannah, Emma and Tom. 

After a rather giant personal transition, I stayed home with those three - leaving my legal career behind. Long story short - when Tom was 14, I began to cast about for a new placement of my stone-grinding energies. And thus was born the idea for Prairie Path Books. I hadn't traditionally earned money for 14 years so retail loans were difficult to negotiate - plus I was damned scared. I had no experience in bookstore retail (other than buying books), but plenty of chutzpah. 

But I had a secret weapon - my Valentine, Dave. When I said "I'm ready to work full-time again, but nawwww - not at a law firm, I want to open a bookstore," he said "if anyone can do it you can." I think that's because he loves me. Plus, because we raised our kids literally chest-deep in books and we two still go at it (two lawyers??!) discussing ideas based on books. Just books. 

So, if you're ever wondering what the business plan for small town retail looks like — know that in my case it's got a big ol' Valentine on the cover page. On this 36th anniversary of the Snowball dance - thanks to my Valentine - and I love you, Dave Koropp.   Happy Valentine's Day!

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It's not yet green outside, but we are GROWING!

Even though it's been bleak and blustery, here at PPB we are green and growing! We've added 400 square feet, and wait 'til you see our two new sunshiny rooms. Have you ever moved things around in your home, and it hasn't gone, well — perfectly at first?? Let me explain ... 

First thing in the morning of the big move-in-to-our-added-space day, Tucker and I had hot morning coffee in hand and we were feeling spry. We took stock of our new space, just east of our former Reading Room, and our initial move was obvious -- we'd simply nudge the Room over! With tremendous confidence and vigor, Tucker and I lifted and shoved our Reading Room sofas and love seats and chairs and tables and rugs over to the new space and then we plumped pillows and hung artwork and added a mini-frig. Phew. Our new Reading Room is ready for you to host your book clubs and for us to host you during ours. Plus, just generally we can host there the very book-based GATHERINGS that I dreamed of having when I opened Prairie Path Books two and a half years ago. We have 65 coming Saturday for our author visit - and we hope to welcome many a'more into this new space.

Our coffee gone cold, Tucker and I wiped our brows and looked around the newly empty space where the Reading Room had been. We set about filling it, and we knew with what because I had decided to expand our children's section. See, y'all love children's books - it's one of our tippity-top-selling sections. And frankly, for a long time the 3 itty-bitty bookshelves in our original children's section were cramping our enthusiasm. We needed more ... well, bookshelves, and so we set our sights on the newly empty (former) Reading Room which had FIFTEEN BOOKSHELVES already in it! "Think what we could do with FIFTEEN bookshelves, Tucker!" says I. Huzzah and exultations!! So she and me feasted on apples and peanut butter (it being noon by now) and then brought ALL the picture books over to their new space and stacked them in stacks! We stepped back and smiled at our piles. 

I'm sure there are bookstore owners who would know in advance how to move a children's bookstore over with no errors, but guess what? I'm not one of them, so amidst the book piles we weren't quite sure where to put yet, me and Tucker dragged in the new colorful kids' rug and the cheery child-like yellow table and chairs and the adorable wee brown bookshelves from my Tom's childhood bedroom. All was a'mess, but it somehow inspired us - and so over the next hours we shelved our books and placed the rugs and like, then stood back and looked. We consulted and laughed and shifted them again. Jenny came in and made a comment that made us re-think — so we all shifted and shoved again. I think what we came up with will delight you and the children - it was created with warmth and love and joy.

One very personal aside - please bear with me: When we created a new children's section, I knew I wanted to rename it so it would stand out as an independent children's bookstore. For a few weeks I cast about for just the right words to convey how I feel about children and books. See, I'm Scottish. My maternal grandparents both came from Scotland in the early 20th century. My grandpa, John MacGregor, was born in 1899 (we think), and he came to Ellis Island alone at 18 years and never lost his brogue or his Gaelic. When he would ask after his three grandkids, he'd ask me mum: "So today, are they wee bairns ... or are they wee beasties?" In the Gaelic, "bairn" meant to him most precious little child. Adored and rosy-cheeked beloveds, so tiny and rare — forgiven in advance for all their naughties. To my grandpa, "beastie" meant — well, the opposite — so it needs no translation. And thus PPB developed a logo for my new children's section based on my grandfather's love for me and my sibs, and featuring a watercolor my mom painted of MY three wee Koropp bairn/beasties, Hannah, Emma and Tom. You know it and I know it - books and lap-time reading tame beasties and soothe them in to bairns, so next time you're in, please visit The Wee Bairns. I'm pretty proud.

Last, now we had a new children's bookstore but an empty room — and it is in fact PRIME real-estate: a sun-splashed, window-lit space that begged for something essential to PPB. The fresh new-seeming room was full of potential, but I needed a few days to think about what to use it for. Once we placed an ocean-blue rug in the room's center, and a peaceful grey shelf near the gorgeous natural light — the room's purpose seemed clear to me: in this welcoming space we must put the books PPB is most passionate about. Books that every person walking into Prairie Path Books simply must see. The ones Jenny and me and our PPB Readers have recently read and vigorously recommend — the fiction and non-fiction that we would love to talk with you about. We call it our "Rec Room", and it features the newest best releases also. 

So c'mon in soon out of the grey and in to the green and growing space of PPB. We can't wait to show you around! 

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Joy of Cookies

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Joy of Cookies

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Cathy

Who would have thought to use Triscuits in a "cookie".......well Dorie Greenspan did, and what a "cookie" it is.  It's savory biscuit, and with a glass of wine, oh my, delightful! I decided to test them out the other night by bringing them to my book club ladies.  Since we always have wine, I thought these would be a great accompaniment.  We'll they went over big time with many ooh's and ahh's about how great they were.  So....I guess they are a keeper!

Now the rest of the story.  After I baked off the first batch I didn't have time to do the rest as I had to go to book club.  So I put the second wrapped disk in the fridge to do the next day and it stayed for two days.  Not good!  Finally baked them off, and in the end realized that they just weren't the same as the first batch. Not as delicate, a little greasier and I used a bit too much salt.  Learning experience! They need to be done all at once, but done correctly, it's a great biscuit and your guests will be impressed.

Biscotti are one of my favorite cookies to make.  I've been making them for years, and I now have a new recipe to add to my collection. Dorie Greenspan has come up with a great combination of ingredients that come together beautifully.  She calls it a Breakfast Biscotti and with the addition of oatmeal, granola, cranberries and almonds, it certainly comes together for a wonderful breakfast treat. I can see them on a beautiful Christmas Brunch table, wrapped up and given as a gift (which I've done many times) or just as an afternoon treat with a cup of coffee or tea.

A wonderful advantage of this cookie is that it will last for weeks when stored properly.  I use metal tins, which keeps them dry. A little foil and cover on top! I always have some on hand, just in case someone drops in.  These will be a great addition to your Christmas festivities!

 

Wendy

My oldest son, Conor, loves all things banana, so Maggie and I decided we would make him the Cabin-Fever Banana Caramel Bars. These are essentially a denser banana bread, but with a twist. Dorie made hers with cardamom, but suggested you could substitute nutmeg, cinnamon or star anise instead. We used nutmeg, which added a warm, nutty flavor to the banana caramel. The caramel was so easy to make – but the flavor was a little less prominent then I would have liked, so next time, I plan to 1-1/2 times the homemade caramel in the recipe. The pièce de résistance was the chocolate glaze and nuts. As some members of the family don’t like nuts, we added them to half the pan (we used cashews as we didn’t have peanuts….just as good!). These bars disappeared within 24 hours. They make great late afternoon snacks or after dinner desserts and are equally fabulous for breakfast with your morning coffee. I plan to try these again with cinnamon replacing the nutmeg – and maybe just a chocolate or caramel drizzle on top! 

Being a big chocolate fan (and I do mean BIG), Maggie eagerly dove into making the dough for World Peace Cookies, a double chocolate cookie. The dough is made with both cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. As these cookies are “all about the chocolate” Dorie recommends splurging on quality “good” stuff (we used Penzey’s Dutch process cocoa and Baker’s bittersweet chocolate squares). Just as with every recipe we have tried, the dough itself is easy to make. We were a little daunted by the log-rolling descriptions, but don’t be discouraged, these cookies are so worth it! Dorie cautions patience as the dough “may be capricious” and not always roll into a log easily on the first, second or third try. She recommends mixing the dough for as long as it takes to make big, moist curds but notes that the dough can be inconsistent from batch to batch. We found this to be a spot-on description. Our dough never did develop into big, moist curds. It remained grainy and wet sand-like. Maggie kneaded the dough by hand for several minutes and rolled it into log shapes; they crumbled. Her second attempt held. We wrapped, put them in the freezer for two hours, and removed. We let the dough sit for 10 minutes at room temperature and then sliced and baked. These cookies are the BEST! When eaten warm, they reminded me of a pot of French hot chocolate I once had (warm, rich cake-batter) but with a hint of sea salt for a savory finish. When cool, they start with a light crisp and finish with melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. They are, hands down, the new favorite at our house.

 

Karen

To cap off a whirlwind of making Dories' Cookies this month, I was so happy to make a batch of cookies with my daughter, Camille, who is home from college. We made Chocolate Sandwich Cookies and had a great time being together in the kitchen. This recipe is similar to the Melody cookies with just a few simple ingredients that are combined, rolled out and then chilled. We decided to use a small circle cutter and the little chocolate disks came out perfectly. Who can resist a yummy buttercream icing in between two chocolate cookies? Not us! Put on some holiday music and make time for some homemade cookies with your family this week! The aroma itself will make you feel wonderful and time spent together will create lasting memories. Enjoy!

 

Sandy T.

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I have had so much fun baking this Christmas season and Dorie’s Cookies has made my baking more interesting. This time I chose Cocoa-Almond Uglies – and they are ugly! I was intrigued not only by the name but also by the simple ingredients. There’s no added fat in this recipe – just lots of cocoa, chocolate chips and almonds, making for a very rich flavor with a crunchy texture. So if you’re in the mood to try something different, make these cookies. You might want to put them with some of your pretty cookies!

 

Paula and her daughter Noa

When I brought Dorie’s Cookies home, it took my daughter Noa turning about four pages before she said “you did buy this cookbook, right?” She loves to bake and invent, as well as cook dinner with her dad (bonus for Mom). She chose Chocolate-Raspberry Thumbprints, made with the Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough. Dorie gives this basic dough recipe and encourages bakers to use it as the base for whatever cookie they invent (but she does provide a handful of recipes). Besides the Chocolate-Raspberry, Noa used some dough and rolled some smashed candy canes into the dough and sprinkled more on top.

The dough yields enough for 80 cookies, so we halved it and it came together quite quickly. We chose the freeze for one hour option and the dough softened very easily as we rolled it into balls, stuck a knuckle into the dough to make an indent and filled it with a hearty jam. We made it with the raspberry jam, as suggested, but Noa made a few with orange marmalade as well (she loves the orange/chocolate combo). The recipe suggests drizzling melted chocolate over the cooled cookie, but we decided it was already sweet enough so we wouldn’t do the melted chocolate next time. Very soft cookie and they turned out so pretty! And how nice to have the dough in the freezer whenever the craving kicks in for a cocoa cookie…

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8th Day of Christmas!

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8th Day of Christmas!

As we near the end of the year, we see Favorites of 2016 lists everywhere and we didn’t want to finish the year without a look back at what we loved. Here is our 8th Day of Christmas and we hope you find a new book or two from your PPB Readers’ favorites from the past 12 months.

 

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Jenny

On Living by Kerry Egan
What does a hospice chaplain do?  In her touching and inspiring new book, On Living, Kerry Egan shares incredible stories of people she has listened to and comforted as they confronted their own deaths. This book reminds us all of the larger story or our lives: to dance more while you still can!  Absolutely loved this book!

The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama
Who knew the Dalai Lama was so wise?  Wow.  I underlined half the book. He and Desmond Tutu share important truths, and both are so full of joy. There's much to glean from these pages!  

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
This is a great story!  Such a fun read.  The characters are unique and memorable, the descriptions scrumptious, and a book that will stay with you long after you close the book.  

The Girls by Emma Cline
Awesome book.  Fascinating and thought-provoking story about a girl who becomes friends with some girls who are part of a cult.  The novel reminds us all of our own adolescent insecurities and vulnerabilities in our journeys to understand ourselves and the world around us.  This book is definitely one you will want to talk about.

Sing for your Life by Daniel Bergner
Fantastic biography.  At the age of 12, Ryan Speedo Green was placed in solitary confinement in one of Virginia's worst juvenile detention centers.   At 24, Ryan won America's most prestigious contest for young opera singers that led to his subsequent career at The Met.  Today he is starring in LaBoheme there.  Such an inspiring story of how he did it and the people who helped him.

Grit by Angela Duckworth
Look, I had everyone in my family read this book. Must read for everyone about the power of passion and perseverance and how anyone can become grittier.


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Jen H

When Dr. Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at the age of 36, it appears that all he has worked for in becoming a neurosurgeon is about to evaporate into thin air. He distills his experiences in When Breath Becomes Air through prose that affirms the profound depth of life, even while he wraps his mind around the undeniable approach of death. Beautiful in every way.    

Hope Jahren weaves the natural order of nature, trees in particular, to the lessons she has learned from her own life as a female scientist navigating through academia in her amazing memoir, Lab Girl. This book breathes life out of every page in a way I never imagined a scientist could explain it to me. Simply put - SUPER! The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben makes a genuine companion to Lab Girl! This book gives you the nitty gritty of how trees communicate, think, feel, and protect one another. Absolutely amazing information that will change the way you look at our leafy shade givers forever!

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli presents an overview of the science behind the natural world we live in through 81 fascinatingly brief pages of pure enlightenment for anyone with a curiosity about physics! No science background required!


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Cathy

Homegoing by Yaa Glass
This novel traces the path of two sisters, (unknown to each other) in Ghana and America over a 300 year span. It is a tale of slavery, sadness, power and redemption. 

Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig
Donal Cameron is living in Montana 1951 with his grandma until she has medical issues. The precocious Donal is sent alone on a bus to Wisconsin.  An adventure, coming of age story and the bonds of family.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A thought -provoking tale of four college buddies through the years.  One in particular is Jude, a survivor, loyal friend and deeply troubled soul.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this is a suspenseful novel of a double agent from Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon, he travels to L.A.  to build a new life. A brutal tale of espionage, love, betrayal and friendship.


Sandy

In Bookland, it’s actually pretty rare that a book is perfect for readers of any age and gender but I am wild for three of them this year. My book of the year is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a 32-year-old Yale Law grad, born and raised in Kentucky and Ohio. In telling his life story, he brings a fresh outlook and rare understanding of the culture and families in the Rust Belt, which was the area that so impacted our recent presidential election. Read it, read it, read it!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and News of the World by Paulette Jiles are books of historical fiction with charming and event delightful male protagonists. The dashing gentleman of Gentleman handles decades of house arrest in the magnificent Hotel Metropol, beginning during the Bolshevik Revolution. In News, a 70-year-old undertakes to return a 10-year-old to her family after Indians kidnapped her four years prior, even those she does not want to go. Set in the 1870’s Texas, this magnificently written, slender novel is my fiction book of the year.


Paula

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet tells the story of four girls named Guinevere, all abandoned by their parents during wartime at a convent-run orphanage. The bonds of friendship, the desire to be adults and how our childhood impacts us – great book club read.  

Last Days of Night by Graham Moore is a historical fiction that both men and women will enjoy. Follow the true story of the fight for the rights to the light bulb, featuring many names we recognized – Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, Morgan. I found it fascinating.

The Queen of the Night by Alexandre Chee focuses on the most sought after opera singer of Europe at the turn of the century. She is approached with an opera written just for her but quickly recognizes that it is the story of her highly guarded past and the reader then follows her on the hunt to see who has sold her story. Rich, deep and well worth the length.

Today will be Different by Maria Semple is a gem. As a huge fan of Where’d You Go Bernadette, I eagerly awaited this book and was not disappointed. Follow the protagonist throughout one day of her life where she vows that “today will be different.” Delightful.

Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is my mystery of the year. Agatha Christie fans will love this book that features a luxury yacht that loses power on the water, the sounds of a murder but no body, and suspicious characters abound. 

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"Joy of Cookies"

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"Joy of Cookies"

Wendy's Blog

My grandmother was one of those people who was absolute fabulousness in the kitchen. Kitchen creativity was a way of life for her. Some of my favorite memories of childhood holidays involve her homemade cookies and pies. Being a chocolate fan, her refrigerator pie was my favorite. This chocolate pie had a hard, crusty outer shell and a chewy, fudge-like center. It was meant to be served cold (hence the “refrigerator” name) with whipped cream, I actually liked it best slightly warmed and served with vanilla ice cream (a much denser and crunchier version of a brownie sundae). Although I’ve never been able to replicate this pie, one bite of the Cocoa-Tahini Cookies with Sesame Crunch brought back a flood of memories. The crunch in this cookie was so easy to make – and along with the tahini adds a nice undercurrent of nut to the chocolate cookie. It also makes for a perfectly crunchy outside and a chewy fudge inside. The only thing this cookie is missing is the vanilla ice cream!

Cathy's Blog

I have to start with..... OMG!! Just took the Tarragon Apricot cookies out of the oven.  Waited till they cooled, and that took some self-control, and then took bite.  And as I said OMG!!! What a flavor.  The combination of tarragon, with its hint of licorice, and the sweetness of the apricot is just amazing.  Again, Dorie Greenspan has come up with another fantastic cookie.

Putting the recipe together was relatively easy. And now after working with a number of Dorie’s recipes I'm feeling much more comfortable and truly enjoying every minute. As for this wonderful cookie, I had to wrap them carefully and place them in the freezer.  Know why?  Because little by little, I would have eaten every one of them.  Now I will serve them Thursday night for my little Christmas party.  I know my friends will love them.

In following the recipe’s procedure, it truly makes you think about how much creativity, technical points and the understanding of flavor combinations goes into creating a cookie recipe.  Dorie has it all and is an amazing chef.

I've got everything ready to go (“mise en place”) for the Blue Cheese Madeleines and it makes everything so easy.  Eggs at room temperature, butter melted, blue cheese crumbled and everything else measured out. It all comes together nicely.  This goes in the refrigerator for an hour, and that's one of the steps I love.  I guess because it gives me time to clean up before putting them in oven.  Most of her recipes require you to chill dough.  This makes cutting out cookies much easier.  It all makes so much sense.

Just took them out of the oven. Only 11 minutes and they were done to perfection, beautifully browned around the edges and golden on top.  Now I guess I have to try one, and after one bite, I don't know what to say.  It was heaven in my mouth!  After savoring this wonderful Madeleine, I started thinking......why not cut it in half, and with a bit of honey mustard and fresh ham, what a beautiful little sandwich it would make.  I think it will be another wonderful morsel I'll be serving at my party.

Guest Baker Adrienne Franceschi
local sales rep for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I’ve made a few recipes from Dorie’s Cookies now: the meringues, Thanksgiving Bars, World Peace Cookies—and now her Chocolate Chip Not-Quite Mandelbrot! One of the things I love most about the recipes in this cookbook (and there’s so much to love!) is that there is a really wide range in terms of difficulty, flavors, textures, etc. There is a good chance that you already have everything you need to make these cookies in your pantry already (except maybe the mini semi-sweet chocolate chips) and the recipe comes together quickly and easily. 

The mandelbrot are basically a biscotti, but with a more cake-like texture, i.e. not as dry as typical biscotti. She explains that traditional mandelbrot incorporates almond, but these actually don’t have any almond; they are quite delicious just using vanilla extract. They’re sprinkled with a cinnamon-sugar mixture before both bakes, which makes the whole house smell good while they’re in the oven! 

The best part is that the mandelbrot will keep at room temperature (covered) for a couple of weeks, or up to two months in the freezer. You can easily whip up a batch this weekend and have a full cookie jar when guests arrive for the holidays! I’m from a big Italian family and Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without dipping biscotti in your morning coffee (or wine…though hopefully not in the morning!). This is a very basic dough that you can easily play around with, too, and try other fillings and flavors. If you’ve never made biscotti before, these are a good place to start!

Adrienne (one of eight sisters) is on the left.

Adrienne (one of eight sisters) is on the left.


Sandy Tucker

Brrr it's cold! The morning weather report said that it would be "the coldest morning "so far this year, so of course when I heard this, I decided it was a good day to bake some cookies. Baking reminds me of my Danish mother, who loved to bake and we loved to eat whatever she made!   

I decided to bake the Pfeffernusse cookie. So easy and tasty!  This cookie is very popular in Europe for the holidays. They taste fresh for days - no worries there though, your family will gobble them up. 

The ingredients include orange peel, nutmeg and white pepper, just to name a few. I rolled mine in powdered sugar because it reminds me of the first snow.   Dorie also has a nice chocolate and espresso bean glaze recipe for her Pfeffernusse – I think I will use that the next time! Happy baking and Merry Christmas. 


Karen

The story behind the recipe for Melody Cookies in Dorie Greenspan's cookie book is that she recreated a Nabisco cookie that held fond memories for her husband. Although I don't remember these cookies from my childhood, I think you can't go wrong with chocolate, butter and sugar! The dough is chilled and then cut out and sprinkled with a coarse sugar to give an extra sweetness and crunch when you bite into the cookie. I ended up with a thicker cookie than the 1/8" Dorie recommends so definitely needed the glass of milk nearby, but I liked the results with the scalloped edge cutter. A couple of days later I made the rest of the dough into star shapes and tried a drizzle of chocolate across the top so use your imagination for shapes and toppings and you will be singing a beautiful melody as you eat these Melody cookies!

A couple special guest bakers this week tried out the Snowy-topped Brownie Drops. My niece, Lauren, and her daughter, Emery, baked up a batch and you can see they had a grand time. Lauren bakes cookies for friends and family and enjoys having Emery in the kitchen with her. The chocolate is melted on the stove and then the rest of the ingredients are added before the dough is chilled. Rolling the chocolate balls in confectioner's sugar gives these cookies an extra special coating that pairs nicely with the chocolate. Invite some friends over for a relaxing evening of cookie making and be sure to include this recipe because it is a winner!

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