Introducing Terrible Teapot Tuesday!

ttt1Steeper Melissa and I got into an interesting conversation about ugly teapots which then turned into sending each other images of some of the terrible teapots we could find on the interwebs.  This then turned into my decision to introduce Terrible Teapot Tuesday.  I’ll be offering a new Terrible Teapot on the first Tuesday of each month!
Our first entry is this beauty that I personally own.  I don’t think it’s ugly at all, but my husband hates it.  He thinks it’s tacky.  I use it as our centerpiece for Christmas and found it at Christmas Tree Shops a few years back.

A Delicious Christmas Carol

gingerbread bitesFor December, I considered making things like figgy pudding or some other traditional Victorian dessert.  Really what it came down to was time and palates.  I made these fantastic gingerbread bites.  They’re super easy (especially if you buy the premade gingerbread cookie mix, which I did) and they turned out so delicious.  This recipe also made almost 50 bites so it was plenty for book club and for some other events that week.  I served one of my favorite teas along with it, White Christmas from Stash teas.
Steepers were treated with a small package of “Novel Teas” (get it?!) and a candy cane.  The novel teas said, “Read ’em and steep!” on the packages!  They’ve stolen my phrase!

A Christmas Carol

christmas carolThis month, Read It & Steep met to discuss the Christmas classic A Christmas Carol.  This was the first time that we’ve chosen a book without it ever having graced the insides of the teapot.  We considered reading another Jane Austen title (probably Persuasion) because we were meeting on the 16th and that happens to have been Ms. Austen’s 239th birthday (thanks to our visiting member Mary for doing the math, I’m not so good at the math).  When it came down to making the decision though, we realized that we had only read Pride & Prejudice a few scant months ago and I had the idea about A Christmas Carol.
Full disclosure, the group also decided that this book would be the one due to the fact that our January book is about 600 pages long.  We decided that since A Christmas Carol comes in right around 80 pages, it would be perfect for a hectic holiday season.  We were missing some of our regulars (Happy Hanukkah!) but we still had a good turn out with two visitors who ended up being very knowledgeable about Dickens and his most famous holiday work.

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December 2014: A Christmas Carol

christmas carol1For December, we’ve decided to read the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Maybe it was because we had a tea from Fezziwigs when we picked our selections in October.  Maybe, it was because it’s a classic.  Maybe, it’s because we’ve all seen a million different versions and wanted to see just how Dickens originally told it. Maybe, it was because at 80ish pages we thought it would give us more time to read the 700+ page book we picked for January. Possibilities all.
Look at this stunning cover that I found by illustrator Wayne Dorrington.  He describes himself as a ginger-bearded geek . . . I may have a crush on this dude.  I know I have a crush on his art.  Check his blogging out.
“I have always thought of Christmas time . . . as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”
So wrote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol, his tale of miserable miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation into a kind and caring benefactor after visits on one Christmas Eve from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Dickens’s short novel is one of the most-loved works in the English language and the best-known celebration of the Yuletide season.
I’m looking forward to rereading this one.  Also, I’m looking forward to making terrible Scrooged puns all night long when we meet to discuss it.  “Scared the dickens out of ’em! . . . . Nobody gets that!”

A Monstrous Cookie Fail

Oh heavens, what a failure my November treats turned out to be!  I was planning on making adorable sugar cookies in the shape of leaves to represent when Conor finds his room strewn with leaves from the yew tree monster in A Monster Calls.  I have had some issues with sugar cookies spreading like crazy before (see the funny finger cookies from Under the Skin) so I made sure I found a no-spread recipe to try this time around.  I found one (which I’m not going to share since it was such a tremendous fail) that sounded pretty tasty.  A touch of almond extract?  Yes, please!
So, I thought that the dough looked too dry, but then I thought, errr, if I add water to it, it might be too sticky to roll out.  Did I mention that I have a hatred for roll out cookies?  The recipe actually said that I might need more flour even after I put in the required amount.  I knew it certainly didn’t require more flour, so I tried to make sure that it was all together and put it in the fridge to chill.  The recipe told me that I had to chill the dough for at least an hour, but that I could chill it for up to 24 hours.  I let it go for more than two and thought, okay, that should do it!

massive fail

Not so much, the dough was terribly crumbly and I could not get it to work.  So then, I thought, okay, well, I’ll put them into little dough balls.  Of course, they didn’t spread at all, and what I ended up with was some not-great-tasting dense balls of cookie . . . my trash can ate every single one of them.

I thought about trying again, but a few things stopped me:
  1. I was out of eggs.
  2. I had a training to attend about 45 minutes away from my home.
  3. I really really didn’t want to start over.
So, I decided to break down and just buy some cookies.  Meh, they weren’t great, but neither were mine.
I did serve a lovely Maple Walnut green tea (from now defunct Royal Tea House) and that, at least, was enjoyable!

Hello?! A Monster Calls

monstercalls1Our November 2014 book was A Monster Calls and a small group of our steepers met to discuss the book. This one was chosen by Steeper Terri, who unfortunately couldn’t make it to our meeting.  Notice this cool cover for “adults” that I found on the interwebz.  I don’t know that I understand the need to have different covers for YA and adult readers, but I always do enjoy looking at them.  The sad thing about this cover, however, is that it doesn’t have the artwork of Jim Kay.  While The Hangman’s Daughter had a few images here or there in the book, this was our first book that had a lot of illustrations and let me tell you, they are amazing!  I even told our group, this was the first time I felt cheated when reading an ebook version of a novel, because, while some of the illustrations were included, the print version has so much more.  So much so that I put down my trusty ereader, and borrowed a print copy from the library.

A Monster Calls is the story of Conor O’Malley, a young boy whose mother is ill with cancer.  Each night Conor is visited by a monster in the form of a giant yew tree in this back yard.  The monster informs Conor that he will be told 3 stories and then will be expected to tell his story to the monster.  Conor’s fear is that he’ll have to tell the monster about a recurring nightmare he’s been having.  The book follows not only Conor’s visits with his yew monster, but also with his interactions at school with bullies, his former friend Lily, his absentee father, and his unaffectionate grandmother.  The book was written by Patrick Ness, but inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd before her death from Cancer.  It’s never really told how full the idea was from Dowd before Ness started writing the book.
One of the things that struck me specifically about this book was how Ness (and I guess Dowd) wrote the book or developed the idea around what was already popular for teens.  The last several years has shown that not too many YA books are firmly planted in a realistic setting.  Of course, with one of the most popular books this year (also dealing with cancer) being The Fault in Our Stars, we may see this trend shift, but ever since the popularity of magical series like Harry Potter, supernatural series like Twilight, and dystopian series like The Hunger Games, it was difficult to find a YA title that had no touch of supernaturalism to it.  This book came out a while before The Fault in Our Stars and I felt that the style in which this heavy subject matter was approached, blended with the supernatural was very smart.
The book raised many questions for us, including whether or not the monster was real.  Conor struggles with this too, believing that he’s dreaming initially, but upon finding leaves, berries, and a sapling in his room when he awakes, starts to think that his visitor is all too real.  We then questioned just who is the monster?  Some of us felt that the monster was God, telling morality tales to Conor to help prepare him for his mother’s death.  Others of us felt that the monster was quite possibly Conor’s anger, guilt, and fear manifesting itself in a way he could handle.  We all felt that the stories the monster told (mostly ending in ways that Conor had not expected) were a powerful way to remind the character and the reader that there are all kinds of people in the world and very few are all good or all bad.
All of us have had experience with illness or the death of a loved one, whether from cancer or not.  We ended up having a conversation about anger and blame and our shared belief that no one should have to bury their child.  I had a very personal connection to Conor, because much of his behavior and feelings I felt reflected my own experiences when my father was dying from cancer.  I was especially struck when Conor mentally voices his irritation with his school mates and teachers who constantly either avoid him or ask him inane questions.  I shared with the group how I nearly lost my temper with the nun who was my teacher when my dad was sick. Every morning she’d ask me how my dad was doing.  Of course, now, as an adult, I understand that it was partly because she just didn’t know what else to say, it was a way of letting me know she was thinking about my family.  My nine-year-old self, however, was just pissed off.  How was he?  He was dying.  The next day he’d still be dying, and so on and so forth until the answer would be that he was dead.  I don’t know what Patrick Ness’s experiences have been, but I felt he really hit the nail on the head with Conor’s emotions (not to mention his grandmother).
We all had some anectdotes to share about our own Grandmother’s in response to Conor’s detatched grandmother.  Those of us who had the joyful grandparents who are positive constants in our lives, felt that Conor’s grandmother was cold and unrealistic.  Those of us who’ve had a more aloof grandparent felt that she was a very realistic character.  Once we reminded ourselves that this character’s daughter is dying, all bets about personality are off.  She and Conor can come to an understanding that they both love a woman who is very ill and need to deal with it separately and together.
Read It & Steep thought that A Monster Calls turned out to be a very powerful read with a touch of whimsy and stunning imagery.  It’s also a super quick and easy read that inspired lots of deep conversation.
We collectively gave it 4 teacups.

November 2014: A Monster Calls

monstercallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor. At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.