Baking Challenge: Pecan Shortbread Melts

August 18, 2011

I didn’t get around to baking last week since I was too busy simultaneously developing a sinus infection and working overtime, but I’m on the mend now, and I believe cookies will help keep me on the path to good health.  After all, a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.  A friend of mine slaps his forehead in exasperation whenever I say that, but I still maintain it’s true.

I went rummaging on one of Mom’s cookbook shelves not long ago, and I came across two intriguing and heretofore unused cookie books:  Cookies (formerly titled The Great Big Cookie Book; not sure why they changed that) and The Ultimate Cookie Book.  I asked for, and received, permission to appropriate these books, and found dozens of recipes I want to try, starting with this one from the “Ultimate” book.

The aroma wafting out of the oven while these baked was unlike anything I’d ever smelled.  It was so rich and delectable I liked this recipe before I’d even tried one, and they did not disappoint once I had.  This is a very crumbly melt-in-your-mouth kind of cookie.  Think Keebler Pecan Sandies, only lighter, not as hard and slightly less sweet.

Pecan Shortbread Melts

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
superfine sugar (I once again ignored this and used granulated; seemed fine [har!])

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream butter in a large bowl.  Blend in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Sift flour and salt into creamed mixture.  Blend using wooden spoon.  Fold in pecans.

Shape dough into small balls the size (and shape; more like logs than balls per the picture in my book) of dates, and dredge in superfine sugar.  Arrange on ungreased cookie sheets.  You can put these pretty close together on the sheet.  They spread out slightly, but not much.  I got most of them on one large cookie sheet.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes.  Mine browned lightly on the bottom in 20-25 minutes.  If desired, broil 2 minutes or until lightly browned.  As far as I can tell, this is just for looks.  I didn’t broil most of mine, though I tried it on the last few.  There was no discernible difference in taste.  When done, transfer to wire racks and let cool.

Pecan Shortbread Melts

Uncle Paul evaluates the result of my efforts

So that’s it for this week’s challenge.  Time & health permitting, I’ve got something ambitious in mind for next week.  See you then!

 

Baking Challenge: Lemon Drizzle Squares

August 8, 2011

Okay, so I am baking every week.  I’m just not blogging quite as promptly.  I’ll try to work on that.  Last week’s recipe was number 174 in the “1001” book.  It was a sticky, lemony “upside down” kind of cake, and it was yummy.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Three of my co-workers tried these flavorful little squares yesterday, and when asked how they liked them, they all nodded blissfully with full mouths and wide eyes, making muffled but enthusiastic  “MMMmmmMMM” sorts of sounds.  And once they’d swallowed, they all asked for the recipe, so I’m going to go ahead and say this one’s a keeper.

Lemon Drizzle Squares

heaping 2/3 cup softened butter or margarine, plus extra for greasing
1 cup superfine sugar (again, granulated is just fine, no pun intended)
2 eggs
finely grated rind of 1 lemon (I cannot stress enough how much I love the microplane)
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour  (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup milk
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Syrup

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 7 inch square cake pan and line with parchment paper.  I questioned the necessity of doing both, but I understood the reasoning once I turned out the cake.  It is extremely sticky.  The paper makes cleanup much simpler, and the greasing keeps the paper from sticking.

Place the butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.  Stir in the lemon rind, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Stir in the milk.  Spoon the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  I found this baking time to be accurate.  Even if it’s already browning, don’t poke the cake halfway through to see if it’s firm like I did.  It wasn’t, and it fell and made a sinkhole in the middle.  It still tasted fine though.  Leave the pan on a wire rack.

To make the syrup, place the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Do not boil.  I never went over simmer on my knob; keep it low.  Prick the warm cake all over with a fork, and spoon the hot syrup evenly over the top, allowing it to be absorbed.

Let cool completely in the pan, then turn out the cake, cut into 12 pieces, and dust with sifted confectioners’ sugar.  Enjoy!

Lemon Drizzle Squares

I found a couple of new cookie books on mom’s shelves, and I’ll be trying out a delicious-sounding new recipe this week (assuming I can narrow it down to just one out of all the recipes I’ve marked), so stay tuned!

No-Bake Challenge: Not to be trifled with!

August 1, 2011

This week’s recipe is brought to you by my Aunt Paula.  I first tried this dessert while visiting her a few years ago, and it was yummy.  Technically it’s not baking since it just involved mixing and layering prepared items, but since I’m the one who set myself the baking challenge, I’m just going to feel free to make up the rules as I go along.  I suppose if you wanted to bake you could make your own ladyfingers, but I suspect that’s not worth the trouble.  I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for quite a while, and given the kind of heat we’ve been having this past week, a cool and refreshing treat that didn’t involve heating up the oven seemed timely.  It is simple and delicious, plus it looks very pretty, so it’s a great dessert to make for company.  Thanks, Aunt Paula!

Aunt Paula’s English Trifle

3 packages ladyfingers
1 jar raspberry preserves
1 package frozen raspberries with syrup
1/2 package frozen whole raspberries
1 large instant vanilla pudding
1 large container Cool Whip
slivered almonds for top

Mix preserves, frozen raspberries (thawed) and frozen whole berries (thawed) together.  Layer the ladyfingers in the bowl, alternating with the raspberry mixture.  Continue layering until all the ladyfingers and all of the raspberry mixture have been used.  Mix the pudding according to the directions on the box.  Pour pudding over the layers, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate.  Before serving, top with Cool Whip and sprinkle with almonds.

Raspberry Trifle

Baking Challenge: Sour Cream Cookies

July 21, 2011

There is a wondrous place in the mall where I work.  It’s a bakery stand.  It opens every Friday and Saturday.  I patronize this business much more often than I should, and I’ve gotten friendly with the man who runs it because I’m there so much (and because he’s so nice).  He sells pies, cakes and cookies of all sorts, but the one treat I always come back to is sour cream cookies.  They are delicious.  But they’re also a bit on the pricey side:  $4.50 for a bag of six.  I’m usually willing to spring for them since I love them so much, but I’m trying to watch my spending, so I decided to see if I could recreate them at home.  What I turned out today was by no means an exact replica.  I was going to tinker with it a bit to try and get it closer, but my sister and my boss claim they’re better than the ones from the bakery, so who am I to argue?  They were pretty good, if I do say so myself.  The cookie recipe is from my Betty Crocker book, but it did not call for icing, and since the best thing about those cookies is the icing, I tried to reverse engineer it using the ingredients from the label on the last bag I bought.  I just had to guess at the amounts.  The consistency of my icing was slightly thicker and a bit more creamy.  Thinning it with just a bit more water would probably make it run and harden, which would be more consistent with the original I was trying to duplicate.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies

1/2 cup shortening (part butter or margarine)
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup granulated and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (Fresh grated nutmeg intensifies the flavor.  Microplane!)
1/2 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix shortening, sugar, egg and vanilla thoroughly.  Blend dry ingredients; add to sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Divide dough; roll out to 1/4″ thick on well-floured pastry cloth.  A lightly floured board works fine, too.  The purpose of the cloth is to keep the dough from picking up too much extra flour, or so my mother tells me.  Cut with a 2″ cutter; place on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar.  I omitted this step, because I wanted to ice them and sprinkle them with sugar afterward, as the bakery does.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Mine browned within 5 or 6 minutes.  Watch them closely.

My Icing

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted  (you can skip sifting, but you’ll just have to use more elbow grease to get out the lumps later)
1 1/2 tbsp. margarine
1/4 tsp. butter flavoring
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. water

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Icing is not an exact science.  You can do whatever you want with it.  For a thicker icing, add more powdered sugar.  For a thinner icing, add more water.  If you want it richer, use cream or milk instead of water.  For more intense flavor, add another splash of vanilla.  Make it to suit your tastes.  And always taste it!

Add a small dollop of icing to the center of each cookie, and spread it outward towards the edges in a circular motion with a spoon.  Sift granulated sugar (colored, if desired:  just a few drops of food coloring and a lot of mushing in a Ziploc bag will do it) over the iced cookies.  Allow icing to set.

And now, an anecdote about nutmeg graters, since it sprung to mind as I was grating my nutmeg this afternoon.  When I was young, I went on a trip with my parents, and for some reason we were driving two vehicles.  I was riding with dad, and someone else was riding with mom.  As we drove down the highway, I remarked on all the thistles growing wild along the roads, and dad recited a little ditty for me:

Tender handed touch a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains,
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.
So it is with common natures,
Treat them gently they rebel,
But be rough as nutmeg-graters,
And the rogues obey you well.

This verse was printed in a dictionary by Samuel Johnson under the entry for “Grater,” and was attributed to A. Hill.  Dad had read it there and remembered it.  In due course we arrived at our destination, dad’s vehicle leading.  He bypassed a choice parking spot to allow mom to park there, but she overlooked this and followed him through the lot.  He exclaimed in frustration, whereupon I grinned at him and said, “Treat them gently, they rebel.”  And he grinned back, his temper for once neatly defused by his youngest daughter.

And so I leave you to contemplate what treat I may concoct next week.  Happy baking!

Baking Challenge: Margarita Cookies!

July 14, 2011

Number 312 from my “1001” cookbook turned out to be a delightfully refreshing summer treat.  These shortbread-like cookies are just bursting with citrus flavor, and are so quick and easy to make!  Everyone in the house liked them a lot, and we’re a finicky bunch.  My nephew, who is a big fan of Guy Fieri and his show “Triple D” on Food Network, took one taste and said they were “killer.”  But no worries; you won’t die.  In fact, they were so good I’m going to bake another batch.  I recommend you double this recipe, because it isn’t going to make nearly as many as you’ll want.  There are two variations:  one with alcohol, one without.  I did the latter since I’ve got a 7-year-old under my roof, but I’ll post both for the more adventurous palates among you.

Margarita Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (again, I used regular granulated; works fine)
finely grated rind of 1 lime (a microplane is handy for this)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange liqueur or 1 tsp orange extract (I used the latter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place the butter, sugar, and lime rind in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and orange liqueur.  Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until combined.  Scoop up tablespoons of the dough, place them on the baking sheets, and flatten gently.  The bottom of a glass dipped in sugar is a simple, non-sticky way to do this.  However, make sure said glass has a flat bottom and is not even slightly concave.  I chose a beer glass I thought to be flat once, but I realized later it was slightly inset after it yielded cookies with a sort of hollow in their bottoms.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Let cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then carefully transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Icing

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp white tequila OR two tbsp fresh lime juice (again, I used the latter)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, and stir in enough tequila or lime juice to give the mixture the consistency of thick cream.  Leave the cookies on the wire racks and drizzle the icing over them with a teaspoon.  Let set.

Join me again next week, when I’ll attempt to unravel the secret of sour cream cookies!

Baking Challenge!

July 12, 2011

I love baking.  It appeals not only to my sweet tooth,  but to my O/C tendencies.  Baking is very precise.  You follow the recipe, add exactly the right amount of each ingredient in the right order, and voila!  Tasty treat.  The only trick is learning when to take things out of the oven.  Baking times in recipes (much like yields) are almost never accurate, so you’ve got to watch things and learn to recognize when they’re done.  But once you’ve got that down, you’re golden.  A light golden brown, to be exact.  I haven’t found general cooking to be the same.  Cooking is more intuitive.  You can leave this out, throw that in and play with your recipes a little.  I’m not good at improvisation.  I like to know exactly what I’m doing, step by step.  So though I’m making an effort to learn basic cooking, I prefer to bake.

I was given two very nice recipe books this year:  “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” (a re-print of the original from 1963) and “1001 Cupcakes, Cookies & Other Tempting Treats.”  Both of them are excellent.  They have many unique recipes, and it’s fun just thumbing through them.  I’ve experimented with some recipes over the last few months, but there are still many I want to try!  So, like my good friend over at The Kelly Kitchen, I’ve decided to set a baking challenge for myself.  My goal is to try one new recipe each week, and post it here with my own notes.  I’m a terrible procrastinator, so if I actually meet my challenge, I’ll probably wind up baking every Sunday night.  If you know where I live, feel free to drop by of an evening for some sweets and a glass of milk!

I started off gung-ho, and actually did two recipes in one night, but then I stalled out and didn’t bake for two weeks, so I guess that evens out.  We’ll see how I do this week.  The first recipe is a variation on a traditional peanut butter cookie from the Betty Crocker book.  It substitutes honey for the brown sugar, and eliminates half the shortening.  I found they browned much quicker than the peanut butter cookies I usually make, and they had a more chewy texture.  They got kind of stiff after they’d been in Gladware for a week, but I microwaved them for 10 seconds, and they tasted perfect.  So here’s the recipe, as printed in the book.  My own notes are in italic.  The Betty Crocker book sometimes has amusing little commentaries and anecdotes under the recipe titles, and I’m including them just because I get a kick out of them.

Peanut Butter Cookies
So rich, good with anything; a favorite with men and children.  Many homemakers double the recipe since these cookies disappear quickly.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix shortening, peanut butter, sugars, and egg thoroughly.  Blend all dry ingredients; stir into shortening mixture.  Chill dough.  Skipping the chilling step makes it very sticky to work with, especially if you do the honey variation, but I’m impatient, so I did it anyway.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough in 1 1/4″ balls.  Place 3″ apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten crisscross style with fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes.  I don’t do the fork thing.  I roll the dough into balls, and flatten them with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.  It makes the cookies more uniform, and gives them a nice sugar-crystallized top.  Dip the glass in a bowl of sugar between cookies.  Otherwise they’ll stick.  Also, they don’t take nearly that long to bake.  Mine took 6-8 minutes.  Watch them closely, and when they begin to brown on the edges, take them out!  They are easier to remove from the pan if you let them cool for a few seconds first.

Honey Peanut Butter Cookies

Make Peanut Butter Cookies (above) except use only 1/4 cup shortening and use 1/2 cup honey in place of brown sugar.

The second recipe I baked that night was simple vanilla cupcakes with basic buttercream icing.  I hadn’t made cupcakes from scratch until I got the “1001” cookbook for my birthday.  I’d always used a cake mix and had good results.  I tried one recipe in the book before doing these vanilla cupcakes (peanut butter cupcakes with cream cheese icing) and they didn’t turn out particularly well because I misread the recipe and divided it into 24 cupcakes instead of 16.  They were too small, so they baked too quickly, overcooked, and dried out.  So I made sure to fill each cupcake paper 1/2 to 3/4 full for the vanilla ones so they were big enough.  These recipes yield a more dense type of cake than I’m used to from cake mixes.  They aren’t as light and fluffy.  They’re almost more muffin-like, but they’re still tasty.  Here’s the recipe:

Vanilla Cupcakes

generous 8 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (I used regular granulated; it was fine)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
scant 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour (if you don’t have self-rising, sift 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder into every 1 2/3 cups regular flour)

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two 12-hole muffin pans with 18 paper liners.  I only did 13 or 14, but some of them were big; you could probably stretch to 18.  Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.  Spoon the batter into the paper liners.  Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden and springy to the touch.  Mine took a few minutes more since I only did 13 or 14.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Top with buttercream icing.

Buttercream

1 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp cream or milk (Cream is richer, but milk works just fine.)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Place the butter and cream in a bowl and beat together.  Gradually sift in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.  I also added a teaspoon of vanilla to give it more flavor.

Stay tuned for this week’s challenge:  margarita cookies!  I’ve got limes chilling out in the fridge; should be quite a party!

“Batty! Quite batty.”

June 8, 2011

Well, I’ve had my fill of excitement for the evening.  After I turned out my light, I heard a noise in the hall.  It sounded like someone banging into things.  At first I thought it was my imagination.  I’ve had several nightmares this week, and I haven’t been sleeping well.  So I just thought it was in my head.  Then I heard the noise again.  I flipped on a light, donned my robe, and peeked into the hall.

And then I saw it.  A shadow swooping across the ceiling.  Oh.  Crap.  I knew immediately what it was.  They’ve gotten into our house many times before.  A bat.  A tiny, cute little brown bat.  They live in our attic.  I have no idea how they manage to actually get into the house, but it happens.  Normally it happens when mom is here to deal with them.  Unfortunately it was all up to me this time.  I couldn’t let the little thing stay trapped inside to die.

I flipped on the hall light, and went looking for something with a long handle.  I found a metal mop with a clip-on base about 8 inches long in mom’s room.  I did a careful survey of her room to make sure he hadn’t flown in there, and then I went back into the hall to look for him.  He wasn’t in the stairwell or on the landing.  Apparently he fled those areas after I turned on the light.  So I poked my head into dad’s room, the last place he could have gone.  There he was hanging on the wall, his little bat chest heaving with exertion and fear.  I wanted to try to trap him in something while he was stationary (mom caught one in a basket once), but as soon as I flipped on the light, he started flying around the room in panicked circles.

I shut the doors to the bedroom and bathroom, and opened the door out onto the deck as wide as it would go (mentally thanking mom and dad for having had the foresight to build a deck off that room).  Then I started trying to direct him out with my mop handle.  It wasn’t particularly effective, but after he’d circled a few times, he started swooping lower, and eventually he must have recognized the refuge of darkness or felt the cool night air coming in the door, because he flew out on his own.

Thank heavens for small blessings.  I’m going back to bed now.

Astute Observations…

June 4, 2011

…from a four-year-old:

“Sometimes boys are just bad and do things girls don’t like.”

Amen, sweetie.

Bibliomania

June 2, 2011

I has it.  It is defined as an “excessive fondness for acquiring and possessing books.”  I’ve had this condition since childhood.  I suppose it started with book orders.  Remember those?  The onion-skin paper booklets elementary school teachers pass out?  I pored over them and pointed out anything I was remotely interested in to mom, who, bless her soul, always indulged me since it was all for my edification (with the possible exception of a few R.L. Stein books).  The teachers loved it, because the more we ordered, the more credit they got to order.  Before I moved on to 6th grade, my 5th grade teacher actually told me wistfully that I could come back and order from her if I wanted.  But by then I was moving on from The Boxcar Children and Ramona to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and the Little House books, which weren’t to be found on the pages of the 5th grade book orders.  6th grade was also the year I discovered the Harper Hall trilogy, launching my lifelong love of the Dragonriders of Pern series.

So to sum up, I read.  A lot.  And I buy books.  Waaaaay too many books.  After counting the books on the top shelf of my largest bookcase and doing some quick arithmetic, taking into account the big shelf, the small shelf, the bookcase bed and the bottom of the nightstand (some of which are packed and stacked two deep), plus the three sizeable cardboard boxes at the foot of my bed, I would estimate (conservatively) that I have about 500 books, about 400-450 of which have been read.  I know, I know.  I should get a Kindle.  But I was dragged kicking and screaming into the age of cell phones, iPods and digital cameras.  I eventually gave in to all those technologies, but I’m not ready to give up my books yet.

So Half Price Books is one of my favorite places to wander.  I always find a good deal on something that interests me, and walk away $20-$30 poorer with a sack of books in my hand.  I don’t think I’ve ever left that store without buying.  So it’s a good thing that the nearest location is 1.5 hours away from me.  Otherwise I’d go broke.

But tomorrow I’m meeting a friend in Indy.  We needed to choose a central meeting place close to our ultimate destination, and we finally settled on, you guessed it, Half Price Books.  Because I have a coupon.  I thought about how much I buy there, and then it occurred to me that one can also sell books there.  I don’t think I’ve ever sold a book in my life.  Most of them are precious to me, even if it’s likely I’ll never read them again.  But I got to thinking about how much I spend, and wondering if I could offset this by selling some books.

So I started taking a serious look at my shelves, and I wound up with 32 books I believe I can live without.  Most of them (I’m ashamed to admit) are pre-teen fiction in the form of the Full House series, and a thick stack of Garfield comic collections (though I’m keeping Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side).  I also included three novels I never want to see again, a couple of duplicates which I bought accidentally  (that’s how out of control this habit is), and a very pedantic textbook IUK wouldn’t buy back called The Spectrum of Responsibility.  As cheaply as Half Price Books sells, I doubt they’ll pay much for them, but even if I only got $.50-$1.00 for each of them, that still might be enough to break even.  So I’m going to be brave and get rid of some books.  I may cry!

Update:  Selling books is sooooo not worth it.  It was heartbreaking.  I probably had upwards of $150 invested in those 32 books.  Know what they offered me for them all?  $13.  I ended up selling 31 of them for $12.  I just couldn’t bear to see a beautifully illustrated hardcover edition of Anne of Avonlea go for $1.  I know they’re a dime a dozen; I checked it out on Abebooks last night.  But I couldn’t stand it.  I’m pretty sure it was a gift.  I’d scrawled my name in it at some point in my childhood.  So I pulled that one from the fire.  But I sold the rest.  The lady justified it by saying the Full House books would go directly to clearance or be donated.  But there were at least 10 Garfield collections in that stack, and they were going for $3 in the same store.  There was also a brand-new hardcover novel.  They sell books like that for $7-$10.  Seems like they could’ve done a little better than that.  They must be making a killing.  They’re certainly getting their money’s worth out of me.  I wound up with about $35 worth of merchandise, so I spent just over $20.  Didn’t even come close to breaking even.  Life is so disillusioning.  *sigh*

Latest Read: Nectar in a Sieve

May 28, 2011

I gave it four out of five stars on Goodreads.  It is simply written, making for a fast read, but it is also beautifully and poignantly written, giving it a quiet intensity.  The author is a keen observer of human nature and the world around her, and these observations are reflected in the very real personalities of her characters, and her vivid use of descriptive language.  Your heart is drawn to the main character throughout her story.  Set in rural India in the 1950s, it begins with her arranged marriage at age 12, and follows the struggles she and her family face to in order to survive.  The simple wisdom by which she lives has the ring of truth to it, despite being constantly juxtaposed against her utter innocence of the harsh realities in the world around her.

When I first started reading it, I couldn’t put it down all night, but after a while the constant stream of tragedy & catastrophe started to get me down, and I went a little slower.  It’s a good book, but don’t expect to be heartened by it.  If you want a laugh, grab something by Dave Barry.  This one’s more likely to bring you to tears.