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Listen You! + Women and Ambition Series

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Women's History Month before I had a bookstore. Growing up, the official "Women's History Month" seemed like a national apology - from the powers that were because they hadn't valued women's contributions to important stuff. It also seemed like the Month's focus was on super-amazing women like Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt. So at the store, of course, we have plenty of righteous biographies celebrating amazing females, all collected in our non-fiction nook, ready to inspire. But I've come to know that ordinary women are busy making history every day by changing the world all around us. 

So, we are offering two events in the next few weeks—one a celebration (literally, I'm throwing a party for) everyday wisdom, called "Listen, You" - where you write a letter to your younger, less-wise self. And a series celebrating our ambitious women-selves, through the lens of life's transitions.

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Listen, you!  Wisdom Exchange Party
Celebrating National Women's History Month

Thursday, March 29 at 6:30 p.m.

Have you ever wished the you you are now could give advice to younger you? Maybe you can remember a time you were at a crossroads — whether you knew it of not – wouldn’t it be cool to be able to say “Listen, You!” to your younger, less-wise self? Of course we can’t, not really, but I think it’s cool to take a moment to reflect, and to applaud ourselves for the wisdom we’ve earned. So let’s have a “Listen, You” party where we write a letter to our younger selves. Maybe you could have used advice at a certain specific juncture, or maybe there are more general things that could have helped guide younger you (assuming you’d have listened)*!

No matter your age or stage it will be a great experience, and I bet your “Listen, You” letter will be one you’ll want to share with loved ones. Here’s how it will work:

  • I cook yummy snacks and provide bevs (and pencil and paper) and we chat and meet new people and then,
  • We sit down and write our “Listen, You” letter (or bring yours, finished), and then,
  • We read our letters aloud if we like, or I can read yours if you prefer anonymity

*If it helps, mine will include “Sandy, why are you going to law school? Let’s think this through more – oh and stop hating your curly hair, and wishing you looked like Marcia Brady -- it’s such a waste of energy.”

Hope you can join us! 

Can’t come but want to take part? Or want to invite someone far from Wheaton to take part? Send your Listen, You letters along to me at read@prairiepathbooks.com.

Let’s learn from each other. Call the store to say you can come, (630) 764-7455! $10

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Women & Ambition Series

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” -Unknown

Sundays, April 8 and 15 at 2:00 p.m.

If you’ve ever tolerated my “origin story” for Prairie Path Books, you’ll know that I really struggled to align my ambitious lawyer self with my mother of three reality. First I transitioned to part-time legal professional and then when my youngest was two, I decided to leave the paid workplace and stay at home with Hannah, Emma and Tom. Twelve years later I started Prairie Path Books. My 25-year friend Betsy and I met when I was a lawyer for McDonald’s Corporation and she was part-time in their Marketing Department; she had been full-time and decided to shorten her hours when her sons were born. She stayed ambitious all throughout our friendship and has collected many experiences - of her own and from her zabillion friends. For years we’ve talked about a series examining women and ambition during the decades of their working years, through the lens of life changes. Spring seems like the perfect opportunity to gather women and discuss ambition so we are reading up on the latest literature re what women can do to anticipate and even embrace transition while holding tight to our ambitious selves. Please join us as we share our experiences and all we’ve read and learned in an interactive series designed to enlighten and inspire. 

$35 for the series, Snacks and Bevs provided

Call the store to say you can come, (630) 765-7455!

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High School to Hale Street

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High School to Hale Street

I was a senior in high school in February 1983 when I reached out to a boy I'd dated a bit there, Dave Koropp. He was by then a freshman at the University of Illinois, and imagine - I wrote him a letter addressed to his dorm and I had to walk all the way over to Student Resources to buy a stamp!  Ya see, when Dave left for college, he'd given me the idea that he might enjoy hearing from me ... so long story short a few days after his receipt of my letter we began dating and now we're married.  

My sorority roommate Christine had a gushy lovey constant flower-sending boyfriend one time who we called "Hallmark." That is not a nickname I'd give my beloved even though he's been my Valentine for 35 years now. I've told you all before that he's the greatest, of course (which explains the three and a half decades thing) but he's not one to gush. (Christine dumped Hallmark, so maybe it all works out as it should.) 

So naturally I took note one morning last August when Dave looked up from his part of the Sunday paper and said "this woman reminds me of you." He was reading a New York Times article on a cookbook author named Erin French and he said something like "she found a way to open this great restaurant in the middle of nowhere Maine and runs it exactly like she wants and is really happy doing it." Naturally, I grabbed the paper soon's he put it down and read about Erin and her new cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, because this had all the earmarks of a GUSH! It was; in fact, for all of us it is a hugely inspiring story about a woman who:

  • loved to cook and started a hugely successful dinner club in her apartment (she made food, and friends donated to cover her costs), so then she;
  • started a little restaurant she called "The Lost Kitchen" in her building with her husband, even though she had no chef training, and that was packed and popular too, but then;
  • she had a horrible divorce that left her penniless and without a restaurant so she acquired a very vintage Airstream trailer and tore it apart inside so she;
  • could create a mobile home + kitchen and be a sort of traveling restaurant, which also went really well.

This woman was going to find a way.  

So next she settled in her tiny hometown of Freedom, Maine and got up the courage to lease space there for The Lost Kitchen restaurant in a gorgeous renovated 1830's mill. That’s where you will find her now, four days a week, eight months per year, but she offers only one sitting and only a prix fixe menu, to 40 people and that's all—because she likes it that way. She rejected restaurant norms to be open all hours and create a large menu because she wanted her guests to feel like they were in her home for a 3-hour dinner party: click on the video (below) about her and you’ll get right away why:   

The Lost Kitchen sells out for the entire year—all 5,000+ seats —in minutes—YES, minutes—after she opens the phones— yes phones for—reservations! 

(thus the New York Times attention, etc.

Thursday the 15th we offered one of our lovely cozy, casual cookbook demonstrations featuring Erin and The Lost Kitchen and I thought about that August Valentine morning gush every step of the way, doing the things I love for me and PPB, reading the book, planning the menu, editing the menu, working with my lovey co-chef Cathy, shopping for and making the food and talking to a full house about it. So what Dave said about Erin is indeed true about me and PPB, an off the beaten path bookstore with a kitchen: "she is really happy doing it her way." Who needs a Hallmark when your high school sweetheart knows you better than anyone and still likes you??  

Speaking of happy doing it her way, I've something to tell you: 

I'm opening a Prairie Path Books Annex* at 102 N. Hale Street, Wheaton in July!

It’s a wee 750 square feet, which is perfect and cozy because while we will sell books of course, and cards AND lovelies like candles and blankets and glassware because we know what you need when you read:  

the Erin French aspect is that just as she wanted an intimate dinner party feel for her "restaurant," I want to build at 102 N. Hale a lovely, furnished space that mimics how readers live and gather, and invite you in for very frequent, well... gatherings.  

Gatherings to inspire curiosity and conversation, those designed to appeal to anyone with ideas and an open mind— no matter in what format you read. 

Ya know? I’m excited! More later, friends.

*FAQ - are we closing PPB Wesley street? NO, we are adding an Annex on Hale Street. Huzzah!

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A Wintry Morning, Awake to its Still Reality

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A Wintry Morning, Awake to its Still Reality

But while the earth has slumbered, all the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending, as if some northern Ceres reigned, showering her silvery grain over all the fields.

We sleep, and at length awake to the still reality of a winter morning. The snow lies warm as cotton or down upon the window-sill; the broadened sash and frosted panes admit a dim and private light, which enhances the snug cheer within.

—Henry David Thoreau

Enjoy this snow-quiet morning and your snug cheer within. How lucky we are to live in a land of feathery flakes, and some time (sometimes) to reflect on beautiful words. 

Your PPB readers were under blankets last night turning pages with every snowflake. We can’t wait to share our favorite winter reads on Saturday, February 3d so call to sign up for Champagne & Snowflakes (630-765-7455). 

If you are home this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with little ones, and seek some of Thoreau’s “snug cheer within” — stop over today and see our lovingly curated selections, and make plans to spend meaningful time together.

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The Art of Conversation

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The Art of Conversation

For a long, long time Jenny and I have wanted to offer a conversation series at Prairie Path Books and this winter seems like the perfect opportunity.  Both of us feel strongly that gathering and interacting with those in our social circles and broader community is the most interesting way to live and learn.  So let’s do that, ok?  Call the store to register for our free three-part, interactive series we are calling “The Art of Conversation.”  We are reading up on the latest literature about what makes for the best conversations and we will talk about that with you, but then we hope you all will put what we learn into action. Or should we say, INTERACTION.  

We are inspired by this quote from American professor William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943):

“The happiest people are those who think the most interesting thoughts. Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good company, good conversation, are the happiest people in the world. And they are not only happy in themselves, they are the cause of happiness in others.”

Three Sundays- January 21st, 28th, and February 4 at 3:00 p.m.
Free series, attendance at all three strongly encouraged. Snacks and Bevs provided.

Don’t miss this! Call the store to say you can come, (630) 765-7455.

This series is generously sponsored by:

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📖 Where do you sit and read?

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📖 Where do you sit and read?

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All my friends have a "spot" or several for their adored reading time, so I asked what they need when they read. I know you'll believe me when I say that the universal component among readers surveyed was: COMFY PANTS! So funny. Here is where I often read when I’m home. My need/read combo: great book and chair (Toms Price of course) + candles and reading glasses. Oh and a blanket for my bod or a shawl for my shoulders, but one that leaves my hands free for page-turning. (If you’re my age you may shrug off the shawl from time to time, but still you’ll want it close by). And gosh, after 15 minutes what reader doesn’t need a nosh, so let’s add in a tidbit plate and wine glass or coffee mug full of something soothing. Oh, and comfy pants to be sure. Me, I like to have a lovely tote to pack up up all my "reading condiments" for a neater look if I must finish up my story-time to get up and go, or to take with me when I move to another spot to read s'more - maybe by the fireplace if there's a chill in the air. 

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I’ve been knocking around ideas for a Prairie Path Books Lifestyle section for a while now. Meaning PPB sells the yummy stuffs we need when we read — you know, the softest blankets that encourage you to linger for one more chapter, plus all of the above. So I built one! Come see our "How Readers Live - PPB Lifestyle" section this weekend — we are plumping it up every day with more and more reading-nook necessities for you or that beloved reader in your life. Pick for them or get 'em a gift card so they can shop for their own holiday gift. 

OH - and here's a fun idea - $50 PPB gift card goes to the most inspiring photo one of you sends of your own "What I Need to Read" nook ... we will pick a winner Friday the 15th at noon. Send yours to read@prairiepathbooks.com!

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Dorie's Cookies!

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Dorie's Cookies!

Enjoy our favorite cookie-book blogs from our December 2016 baking binge!

 

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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Jenny's "Joy of Cookies" Blog!

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Jenny's "Joy of Cookies" Blog!

Growing up, there was only one kind of chocolate chip cookie in our house--Toll House.  When my mom made them, she always let us eat the dough.  Oh, joy, the good old days when we never gave salmonella a second thought.  I can still remember digging my spoon into that mound of dough dotted with chocolate chips.  I would almost make myself sick eating the dough--but it was worth it! 

By the time I was in fourth or fifth grade, I could whip up a Toll House batch by heart.  No need to even look at the back of the yellow and black crinkly package.  

Now, with my own family, I am considered the queen of chocolate chip cookies, and, yes, we still eat the dough.  I’ve tinkered with the recipe over the years, but just a smidge--one stick salted and one stick unsalted butter and a little more brown sugar than white--but that’s it because the Toll House recipe is kind of inviolable.  My chocolate chip cookies are a tradition in my family. So much so that when my youngest daughter Julia wants to make them, her older sister tells her: “No. Only mom can make them because hers are the best.”  

So when I was looking through Dorie Greenspan’s Cookie book, and I saw she had a recipe called Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies, my immediate reaction was “UH-UH!” It called for whole wheat flour, nutmeg, and coriander. I said to myself, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  But then I got a little adventuresome and thought...okay, I’ll try it.

I was skeptical as I sifted the coriander and nutmeg into the flour mixture with one part whole wheat.  Sheesh!  I turned on my Mixmaster and Voila!  Dorie’s chocolate chip cookie dough was ready.  My husband was working in the other room and heard the familiar sounds of baking.  He sauntered into the kitchen asking “Is that chocolate-chip cookie dough?”  “Yes,” I told him.  “But I just want to warn you that these are not my usual...”  Before I could finish my sentence he had plunged his spoon into the dough and popped it into his mouth.  “Mmmm,” he said.  “Delicious!”  He got out a new spoon--I had trained him well--and went for seconds.  

I said to him, “You mean, you really like it?  It doesn’t bother you that it’s ‘different’?”

His mouth was too full of dough to answer.  Moments later Julia tumbled into the house and made a beeline for the bowl.  “Yum, chocolate chip cookie dough.”  Before I could warn her, she grabbed a spoon and dove in.  Her eyes got big and she smiled through her mouth full of dough.  No words needed.  While our stomachs digested the dough, I chilled what was left and then later popped a batch into the oven.  The aroma from the cookies, with their infusion of nutmeg and coriander, filled the house with a hint of Christmas.  And how did they taste?  Well, let’s just say the three of us finished off the first batch hot out of the oven.  Yep, the entire cookie sheet.  Julia summed it up perfectly: “These are GOOD!”  Check out the picture of her below.

Now there’s a little “tiny tip” hidden in this story.  How often do we find ourselves glued to doing things a certain way?  Yes, traditions are good, but sometimes it’s ok to change things up a bit, to add a little “nutmeg” or “coriander” to your life.  To say “yes” to something new.

Dorie Greenspan herself knows the value of continually putting herself out there and experimenting with new ideas.  This wonderful baker/chef actually started out working on a doctorate in gerontology but never wrote her dissertation. After her son was born, she didn’t go back to it and didn’t know what she wanted to do.  She did know she loved food and writing, and eventually ended up with her dream job--baking, cooking, writing cookbooks, and sharing her expertise online.   

Dorie says she’s lucky she gets to do what she loves, but I would argue that her “luck” came from her openness to new ideas.  She told Epicurious, “Every time something looked like an opportunity, I always said, ‘Yes.’ I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted it to be food.”  

Not everything we try always works out.  But that’s okay.  There’s always another recipe, another batch, and who knows what you might discover along the way when you add a little spice to your life.

 

Karen's "Joy of Cookies" Blog

I love a good sugar cookie, especially around the holidays. A rolled sugar cookie lends itself to many occasions, depending on what shape cutter you use, but the Lemon Sugar cookies in Dorie's Cookies will become a year-round favorite as well. The ingredients came together nicely. Rubbing the lemon peel with the sugar and then adding fresh lemon juice really packed a nice flavor into this cookie dough. I used a mini cookie scoop and tried baking with parchment paper as well as on an ungreased sheet with similar results. Dorie suggests a baking time of anywhere from 8-14 minutes. I found that turning the pans after 8 minutes and then baking for another 3-4 yielded a nice crunch with a semi-soft center. I also refrigerated some dough for a couple of days later and it came in handy when I realized I needed some cookies for an event and had hot, fresh cookies in no time at all. Please beware: It is very hard to stop eating these cookies! Don't say I didn't warn you. They are delicious!


Kandy's "Joy of Cookies" Blog

I'm a "guest baker" this week and a good friend of Karen's. We've baked together for different events and she thought it would be fun for me to contribute by making Coconut Lime Sablés this week. Dorie's Cookies has an entire section of the book dedicated to variations of Sablés, a French butter cookie. The name refers to the sandy texture of this delicate cookie. I now understand why Dorie says these cookies have a committed cult following. The ingredients seem too simple to be so delicious. The coconut and lime add an incredible depth of texture and taste. I usually make cookies with lots of nuts, raisins or chocolate but this coconut-lime combination is unique and lovely, perfect for an afternoon tea, cookie exchange, or really any occasion!

 

Wendy and Maggie's "Joy of Cookies" Blog

Chocolate and coffee. Two things Maggie and I crave daily. So we were excited to make the Espresso Chocolate Sablés. These cookies were more work-intensive than our other cookie endeavors thus far, but it was fun work. Maggie loved chopping the bittersweet chocolate into small bits. And rolling out the dough between parchment paper and using cookie cutters to cut the rounds to fit into cupcake tins got us both reminiscing about our earlier years “cooking” with Play Doh! The espresso extract was quick and easy to make – and it’s so good! I know I’ll be making it to add to my next batch of Two Bite, One Chip cookies for an extra zing!  And these cookies were worth the effort. Made with only confectioners’ sugar, they come out much like shortbread, only softer and flakier. The espresso perfectly complements the bittersweet chocolate for a melt in your mouth savory taste. Whether dunked in a mocha latte (Maggie’s choice) or paired with a tawny port (my personal favorite),  these cookies make for a delicious mouthful of goodness heaven.

My daughter, Maggie, started off our cookie baking by trying the Two Bite One Chip Cookies, because who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies. They are described in the book as “adorable” and “delicious” – and they don’t disappoint. These are bite-size comfort food – the perfect nibble when you just want a taste of something sweet. And due to their size, they are all the goodness of a chocolate chip cookie in half the baking time. They are fabulous right out of the oven – and just as good 3 days later (if they last that long!). I popped a couple in the microwave the next day for a few seconds – and it was just enough to make the chocolate center warm and “fresh out of the oven” melty again. Dorie suggests they would make a great sidekick to ice cream, and I agree. We will have a bowl of these to add to ice cream sundaes at our New Year’s Eve dinner!   

Cathy's "Joy of Cookies" Blog

Just finished watching “The Great American Baking Show” and tonight it was all cookies, so of course I had to watch.  I had a nervous stomach watching these contestants have their cookie houses fall apart and not finish their challenges in time. I'm so glad I could make my cookies at my leisure and they turned out beautifully.

I made Cocoa Cayenne cookies and I do love a shortbread cookie, and with this variation we have a wonderful savory chocolate shortbread with a touch of heat.

Dorie's recipes come together beautifully and are easy to follow.  What I love is that I'm learning new techniques.  Rolling the dough between parchment and then freezing rolled out dough before cutting out cookies.  These are things I've never done, but will definitely do from now on.  Always good to learn something new.

The cookie came out great and the flavor is wonderful.  It's a delicate cookie.  I love the chocolate with that touch of heat and then to top it off with the Maldon salt, just a perfect bite.
Because I am planning to serve these at a Christmas party next week, I cut the cookies out and then froze them. Once frozen, I put them in a plastic bag and then I'll bake them off on the day of the party.  They will be wonderful served along with wine and cheese, just perfect!

 

Sandy's "Joy of Cookies" Blog

I think it's unanimous - this is an amazing and surprising cookbook.  One thing we all have said is "the dough comes together nicely." Isn't that so true?  I've been serving up the Salt and Pepper, Sugar and Spice cookies at PPB and that dough was so easy to roll out and cut and get on the dang cookie sheet it WAS like Play-Doh.  These almost savory but buttery cookies are surprising and it's been fun to watch people's expressions as the many tastes (ooh, cinnamon + ginger, and wait is that salt on top!!?) tumble around on their tongues.  Highest recommend for this cookie - note refrigeration time of two hours for the dough though; naughty me was too lazy to go in the basement and haul out the muffin tins she calls for so I did without and mine were fine.  

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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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2 new Jenny + Sandy events!

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2 new Jenny + Sandy events!

If you've ever been with me and Jen in a room discussing a book or some such, you may have noticed that we interact quite energetically, especially when we disagree. 

There's nothing better than finding a common space, and a person you can really chew things over with, and we cherish our sit-downs because of that. In fact both of us have raised our kids to consider getting up and moving to another table (figuratively) when everyone at that table is nodding in agreement. How can we nuance our notions if we don't reach out on conversational occasion and prompt, "that's so interesting, tell me more about that?" 

Me and Jenny and PPB have some new events we think you'll like if you like interacting as much as we do; in fact, we think it's the most important thing to be able to "Get Their Point While Making Yours." First, you can't miss Jenny's new show a week from Thursday. She will talk all about how we communicate: how we invite others to share ideas, and how we in turn can be authentic and interesting and persuasive— at home, at work and even at holiday parties. This new show is based on new books you'll want to read for sure. 

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Second, me and Jen are offering two private events in my home to sort of get back to our "pre-PPB" book-selling selves - when we offered all events out of my home. We're calling it a "Return To Our Roots." Before we had a store we had book-based, candle-lit, intimate gatherings that were very personal. Now we are bringing the vibe back in a package of two events. You will join us not only in heartfelt conversation as we cook from a new and favorite cookbook, but also as we circle 'round a few weeks later in a private discussion of new books and ideas. This event package is extremely limited in seating, as it's in my home, so tickets are going fast — plus a significant portion of the proceeds from this ticket will go to our annual holiday book drive for the children visiting the People's Resource Center between November 15 and December 24. 

Last, me and J are planning a series of mid-winter events based on the "Art of Conversation." 

Look for information on New Year gatherings under this banner in the coming weeks. Energetic exchange of ideas—it's our most important thing.

—Sandy


Upcoming events

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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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