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Baking the Books

December 2, 2013

The holidays are not, as a rule, a great time for me.  I’ve got a fair amount of trauma in my family history that is centered in the holiday season, so there are lots of sad anniversaries from early November through to New Years.  On the other hand, I love sending mail, buying and wrapping presents for people, and baking.  The holidays are a fantastic time to get your bake on and make lots of tasty treats.
In honor of that, I thought I would share some of my favorite books associated with baking.  And yes, two of these are fiction.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
sunshineSunshine by Robin McKinley
But Sara, you’re saying to the screen, isn’t that a book about vampires?
Well, yes.  Yes it is.  But, it’s also about a young woman named Sunshine who bakes things at a coffee shop.  She bakes amazing things like Death of Marat and cinnamon rolls as big as your head.  She gets up at 4:00 a.m. to go to work in the dark, which is dangerous because… vampires!  But she does it anyway, to go make cinnamon rolls, and muffins, and fiddly things with cherries, and chocolate towers that ooze molten chocolate when you cut into them.
Sunshine likes to feed people.  Feeding people can be important.  It’s a way to take care and to gather together after the bad times, the witch wars that have left most of North America still struggling to put itself back together.  There are areas, even entire towns, that you don’t go to anymore because they’ve been too altered by what happened during the wars.
The Others, the vampires and nasty things are gaining ground.  There are wards you can put on to protect yourself.  Some people, including Sunshine’s boyfriend, even tattoo the wards onto themselves.  Everyone knows someone who has some Other blood, a waitress who never pours cold coffee, a schoolmate who had to have that second set of teeth removed.  There are wereanimals who try to be discrete, and people who have to work telemarketing jobs because of their slightly blue skin tone.  Everyone can cope with that.  But no one tries to to say that you can coexist with the Darkest Others, the vampires.
Sunshine doesn’t think much about the vampires.  Until the day she goes out to the lake and the vampires find her.  Nothing can every be the same after that day.

I love this book.  It’s not for everyone.  The vampires don’t sparkle.  They’re much more Nosferatu than Interview With the Vampire.  Sunshine is a very flawed heroine, but I love her all the more for it.  And every time I read this book I go on a baking binge of at least a week or two.  I just can’t help myself.

fistfulA Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
I’ve referenced this book before in my Confessions post.  It’s one I go back to over and over.  I’ve probably read it 14 or 15 times since it came out in 2002.
The LaZelle family is unusual.  They all have the ability to do magic, except Gypsum and her father.  Her father is just a normal guy who married a glamourous woman and got grafted on to her family.  The kids all go through Transition around their 13th birthday, falling ill with a severe fever.  When they come through it they’ve gained their power.  Gypsum, however, never Transitioned and she’s fine with that.  Really.  Just fine.  So what if her brother can cast a spell on her to keep her quiet about him sneaking into the house late at night?  So what if her mother can force her to exercise until she passes out?  She’s fine.  She’s just fine.  She’s not angry at all.
Then, while her family goes out of town Gypsum gets dangerously ill and when she comes out of it she has the power of curses.  Gypsum has to navigate her new power and all of the pent up anger from years of being at the mercy of the rest of her family.So, why am I putting it here, in a baking post?  Because!  First Gypsum does the family Christmas cookie baking.  And there is an awesome scene in the kitchen with all the different types of cookies.  Later, there is are some amazing scenes where Gypsum uses her power to make brownies and breads and the front lawn ends up covered in little bread beehives.  I can’t tell you how much I have wanted to bake enough bread to make a beehive out of ever since I read that for the first time.
A Fistful of Sky re-read usually sparks about a 6-week baking binge for me.

goddessHow to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
An actual cookbook!  How novel?
I love The Joy of Cooking and I use it fairly often, but when I really want to do some serious baking, I break out my hardcover of How to Be a Domestic Goddess and go to town.  I adore Nigella Lawson.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because she’s British.  But I also love her recipes.  They’re all delicious, most of them don’t require crazy ingredients that I can’t get.  One of my favorite recipes is the Guinness Chocolate Cake.  I typically leave the Irish Cream icing off, because the cake is already so rich.  I usually substitute a simple dusting of powdered sugar.  It’s one of my favorite go-to cakes if I need something in a hurry.  The only special equipment you need is a springform pan.

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