April 26, 2017

Strawberry Cake

I made this cake twice in one week and each time, it was a hit. Simple to make, moist, and look at all those gorgeous strawberries. This is a cake to herald spring days, lush green hills and blue skies. Pardon me if I wax poetic - this cake has that effect on me.



1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 8-inch cake pan. Place parchment paper on top, taking care to press on every surface until the paper has adhered.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer) cream the butter and sugar together on medium high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until blended, about 1 minute.

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a rubber spatula, incorporate any ingredients hiding at the bottom of the bowl, making sure the batter is completely mixed. Scrape half the batter into the prepared cake pan and gently smooth the top with a spatula. Tap the pan firmly on the counter to remove any air bubbles from the batter. Arrange half the strawberries in a concentric ring on top of the batter, cut side down.

Gently pour the rest of the batter on top of the strawberries, again smoothing the top with a spatula and tapping the pan firm on the counter. Arrange the rest of the strawberries in a concentric ring on top of the batter, cut side down. Do not press too firmly on the batter, or else as you bake the batter will cover the top strawberry layer. 

Bake the cake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack. 

April 24, 2017

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys — a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface — changing everything in its wake.

I downloaded The Dream Thieves before I was even halfway finished with The Raven Boys. I loved it so much, I wanted to be sure the sequel was ready to go once I read the last page.

As the synopsis indicates, Ronan figures prominently in the sequel, having dropped a bomb on the very last page:  that he is able to take things - sometimes live creatures - out of his dreams. Here we find out about why he's so angry all the time and terrible family secrets. "Secret" is the key word here, as Stiefvater emphatically linked it with Ronan in the first book, then again as the second book starts:

"A secret is a strange thing.

"There are three kinds of secrets. One is the sort everyone knows about, the sort you need at least two people for. One to keep it.  One to never know. The second is a harder kind of secret: one you keep from yourself."

The significance of secrets becomes clearer as Dream Thieves progresses. Ronan has every kind of secret, including *SPOILER* the one of his sexuality. If you've noticed the homoerotic tension in the first book, it's addressed in the sequel. Night horrors and dragons and dreamscapes are literal and metaphorical in The Dream Thieves. Metaphorical because Ronan keeps his truth from not only his friends but from himself.  Unrequited love and jealousy lead to a fiery, tragic end.

Besides Ronan, new characters appear such as The Gray Man - a deadly, shadowy figure who has turned up in Henrietta looking for the Greywaren, a mysterious object of great power. The Gray Man's storyline echoes the theme of brothers and terrible childhoods but I like how even though this is a young adult novel, Stiefvater gives the adults complex stories of their own, rather than banishing them to oblivious and ineffectual windowdressing. The adults are just as fascinating as the young ones.

Everything I said for the first book is just as true for the second, with an added bonus of a laugh out loud kissing scene, where I assure you, no one dies. 

April 21, 2017

Best Egg Coffee in Hanoi

Cafe Giang
39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street , Hoan Kiem - Hanoi

I first heard about coffee when I was planning my trip to Vietnam. The story goes that during a milk shortage of World War II, an enterprising bartender substituted a brew containing egg yolk, butter, and cheese for milk, giving birth to a culinary legend.  Intrigued, I knew I had to taste it for myself.  Although there are multitudes of imitators, I preferred to visit the original cafe, Cafe Giang, which operates in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, making egg coffee from the same highly-guarded secret recipe.
Because it is a popular destination, I made sure to visit early in the morning and was rewarded with sharing the cosy cafe with few customers. As is typical of true Vietnamese cafes and eateries, the tables and chairs are small - the size you would typically associate with a preschool. Vietnam has a huge coffee culture and at all times of the day, you will find the Vietnamese gathering around small tables like these all over the city, having a cup of coffee.
Egg coffee, once I finally tasted it, absolutely lived up to the hype. It comes in a small espresso cup cradled in a bowl of hot water to keep it the right temperature as you sip it.  The top is a thick, rich layer of the marvelous egg yolk concoction - no doubt whipped and blended until it resembled the creamiest cream; and below is strong Vietnamese filter coffee.  By itself, the egg cream is sweet and decadent - almost like a chantilly cream. Mixed with the coffee, you have a drink resembling a French cafe viennoise, espresso with whipped cream.  It's a dessert and coffee all in one and should not be rushed, but slowly savored.

April 19, 2017

Triple Coffee Cake

You read that right - why not put coffee in your coffee cake? Coffee liqueur, brewed coffee and espresso powder are what makes this moist, scrumptious breakfast pastry extra-caffeinated.  Add the thick chocolate swirl and you have the cake of my dreams.  



For the chocolate swirl:

6 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tbs unsalted butter
4 oz pecans (about 3/4 cup), lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tbsp coffee liqueur
1 tbsp granulated sugar

For the cake:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp baking powder
tsp baking soda
tsp ground cinnamon
tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee, room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature

For the glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
1 tablespoon heavy cream


Make the chocolate swirl:

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water (water should not touch bowl) or in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in pecans, coffee, and granulated sugar.

Make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour bundt pan, tapping out excess flour. Whisk 2 1/2 cups flour, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cardamom in a medium bowl. Whisk coffee, sour cream, and vanilla in another medium bowl.
2. Beat granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs and egg yolk one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with coffee mixture in 2 additions, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition.
3.Scrape one-third of the batter into prepared pan; smooth the surface. Drizzle half of the chocolate swirl mixture over. Add another one-third of the batter; smooth the surface. 
4. Drizzle the remaining chocolate swirl mixture over, then scrape in the remaining batter; smooth the surface. Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and cake springs back when pressed, 40–50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
5. Run a butter knife around the perimeter of pan to loosen cake. Gently invert cake onto a large plate, then return cake to rack.

Glaze the cake:

When cake is cool, prepare the glaze. Whisk powdered sugar, coffee liqueur, and heavy cream in a medium bowl. Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled cake, holding the spoon a few inches above the cake.

April 17, 2017

Book Review: Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

Source: Vine

Love has no boundaries...

Jubilee Jenkins has a rare condition: she’s allergic to human touch. After a nearly fatal accident, she became reclusive, living in the confines of her home for nine years. But after her mother dies, Jubilee is forced to face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from.

Jubilee finds safe haven at her local library where she gets a job. It’s there she meets Eric Keegan, a divorced man who recently moved to town with his brilliant, troubled, adopted son. Eric is struggling to figure out how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Jubilee is unlike anyone he has ever met, yet he can't understand why she keeps him at arm's length. So Eric sets out to convince Jubilee to open herself and her heart to everything life can offer, setting into motion the most unlikely love story of the year.

“One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…”

Ok, with a first line like that, who wouldn’t want to read on?  As the novel begins, Jubilee has not stepped foot outside her house in nine years, the reasons mostly stemming from the incident referred to in the first line. After almost dying because of a kiss, Jubilee withdrew from the world and survived alone in her house, depending upon the Internet for social interaction and to tend to practical needs (food, books, etc.). Until the day when her savings account run out and she is forced to venture beyond her front door.

Jubilee is a quirky but loveable character whose every trial (walking out the door, talking to someone, anyone face-to-face for the first time, riding a bike) made me hold my breath in sympathetic panic, then cheer on when she emerged victorious.  Things happen fast for Jubilee as soon as she emerges from her seclusion – she makes a friend determined to help her, gets a job at the library, and then meets Eric and Aja, a father and son with a shaky relationship. Aja has trouble fitting in at school but somehow he and Jubilee connect in a sweet and touching way that brought me close to tears.

Oakley explores the theme of “touch” in both its literal and metaphorical meanings. Jubilee can’t be physically touched or else she might go into anaphylactic shock, which leads to her emotional isolation from society and genuine human interaction. Joining the world after so many years alone, with its inconvenient messes of human drama, forces her to make a choice – whether to stay isolated, yet protected or connected but vulnerable to a broken heart.