An Easy, Yummy, Low-Calorie Summer Dessert

I had somehow never heard of this before the July 2012 O, the Oprah Magazine, but boy, is it easy and delicious:

1.  Peel and cut a banana up into one- or two-inch chunks. (You'll want at least one banana for each of the people as you plan to serve, and maybe two for yourself.)

2. Put the chunks in the freezer for at least three hours.

3. Place the frozen banana in a food processor and process it until it's smooth, thick, and creamy.  (It will take several minutes.)

Voila! All-banana ice cream! You can mix in chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, nuts, frozen strawberries . . . I bet a little milk or vanilla yogurt would make it even creamier. And the article says this also works fabulously with mango.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

One more for my personal-blog-recipe file. . . . There are surely other recipes for this, but I love this one for its extra tang of cocoa and lime. Note:  The recipe is very black bean-heavy as written, so you could easily drop a can or double the sweet potatoes and red peppers to even out the proportions.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 28-can diced tomatoes
4 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or 6 cups freshly cooked)
1 jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves, washed and dried
  1. Warm the oil in a large pan over medium heat and add the onion, red pepper, garlic, and salt. Saute until soft, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add the sweet potato and lime zest, and cook 10 to 15 minutes more, continuing to stir occasionally.
  3. Add the tomatoes, black beans, jalapeno, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and cocoa, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Serve over brown rice, if desired, with lime wedges and cilantro, or with corn bread, biscuits, or taco chips alongside.
Serves 6.

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili

A confession:  I occasionally use this blog as my private recipe file for dishes I fix and love, but whose recipes I found on the Internet and fear losing. To that end, I'm pasting this in now -- courtesy of The Splendid Table the first time I made it and this site today. It's a perfect mild fall chili, with many of my favorite ingredients, and it reheats deliciously.

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili (serves 6) 


2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeño chile, minced
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
One 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
1 cup apple juice
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups cooked or canned black beans, rinsed and drained if canned
  1. Cut the pumpkin or squash into 1/2-inch chunks and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the reserved pumpkin (squash), diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, water, apple juice, chili powder, salt, and cayenne, and stir well. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add the beans, and more water if the chili is too thick for your taste. Cover, and continue to simmer about 15 minutes to blend flavors. Serve hot.

Would You Rather . . .

. . . have brunch with Daniel Craig or dinner with Daniel Day-Lewis?
. . . stay at this resort in Fiji or this resort in the Alps?
. . . attend an author-editor Twitterchat or go to a Kidlit Drinks Night with cake?

Fantastic news: At least for the last, you can do both! Sara Lewis Holmes, the author of the fabulous, John-Peters-in-Booklist-starred novel Operation Yes, and I will be chatting live on Twitter about her book, the writing and editing process, our favorite Southern foods (North Carolina vs. Kansas City BBQ smackdown!), and sundry other topics. This conversation will take place on Wednesday, September 30, starting at noon EST, live on, via our Twitter feeds @saralewisholmes and @chavelaque. If you'd like to follow the conversation easily, look for the hashtag #YESchat in; if you'd like to skip it entirely, block us for the day on We'll compile a transcript and post it on one of our blogs afterward.

And before then -- tomorrow night, in fact, September 21 -- we are having the aforementioned Kidlit Drink Night, now with cake! Betsy's reportedly making a Boston Cream Pie in honor of our friends in Boston, who are having a Kidlit Pie Night. I'm bringing this Chocolate Cherry Cake. Free homemade cake, people. How can you not come? 6 p.m.-ish in the downstairs room of the Houndstooth Pub on 8th Ave.

Two Easy-Peasy Recipesies and Some Church Announcements

I baked both this yellow cake and these brownies for the soup kitchen at my church today, and they were both remarkably easy (one bowl each, with v. common ingredients) and quite delicious. We served the yellow cake with fruit compote and it made a yummy quasi-shortcake.

Also: My church runs a soup kitchen every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Should you or someone you know be in need of a good meal and company, please do stop by: Park Slope United Methodist, at the corner of 6th Ave. and 8th St. in Brooklyn.

Finally: I will be speaking again (that is, giving a lay sermon) at said church in two weeks. I don't think the talk will have anything to do with writing this time (unlike last time), but I was thinking today about sign-signified relations in religion, so you never know. (And if you actually think I know anything more about deconstructionism than sign-signified relations . . . well, I will allow you to continue to think that.) Services are at 10 a.m. if you'd like to come.

A Hypothesis of Sweets

In the course of my Christmas baking, I formalized an until-then casual Hypothesis of Sweets that I have advanced several times over the years. This hypothesis is:

A. There are three kinds of sweet tastes.
  • 1. The Dry Sweet. That is, dry in texture, with little internal moisture (and often hard), but still sweet in taste. Examples: sugar cookies, shortbread, vanilla wafers, the chocolate part of an Oreo, gingerbread men, the crust of a pie or crumble, brownies, the plain digestive biscuit.
  • 2. The Creamy Sweet. Creamy in texture; the sugar level can vary. Examples: the creamy filling of an Oreo, the chocolate on a chocolate-covered graham cracker or digestive biscuit, the marshmallow in a Mallomar (also the outside), the peanut butter in Little Debbie's Nutty Bars, whipped cream or ice cream, caramel, pudding.
  • 3. The Fruity Sweet. AKA the tangy sweet, sharper in taste, but still with a sweet takeaway. Examples: the raspberry filling of a rugelach, the fruit in a crisp, pie, or cobbler.
  • 3a. The Banana Exception: Because of its texture and relative blandness, Banana shall be regarded as a creamy sweet, not a fruity one.
B. The most delicious desserts involve two, but no more than two, of these sweet tastes (but see also point C).
  • 1. Proof: Oreos, linzer tarts, Mallomars, s'mores, Moon Pies, oatmeal cream pies, McVitie's Plain Choc digestive biscuits, tiramisu, chocolate-dipped strawberries, cheesecake, caramel-covered apples, Twix, Thin Mints, those Girl Scout peanut butter sandwiches, pain au chocolate, black and white cookies, rugelach . . .
  • 2. Many desserts involving only one type of sweet can be improved by adding another: chocolate-dipped graham crackers, for instance, or the cheesecake brownie, or the brownie a la mode, or ice cream with fruit sauce, or banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
  • 3. The Jaffa Cake Exception: Jaffa Cakes are the only known dessert to successfully integrate all three sweets.
C. The Add-On Exception: Many desserts involving two of the three sweets can be improved by adding the third on top.
  • 1. This exception should be invoked with care, however, as the third can also be disastrous.
  • 1a. Examples of Positive Add-Ons: Whipped cream or ice cream on a fruit pie or crumble; strawberry shortcake; cherry cheesecake; cherries or strawberries on a hot fudge sundae; chocolate-dipping a linzer tart.
  • 1b. Examples of Negative Add-Ons: Anything fruity ever added to an Oreo.
D. Taken as a whole, the most satisfying dessert spreads will invoke all three types of sweet, and allow the diners to construct their own combinations of tastes.
  • 1. Proof: One can construct a perfectly good dessert table with berries, chocolate pastilles, and shortbread cookies. Or fondue!
The floor is now open for discussion and debate of this hypothesis. Evidence (e.g. recipe links) welcome.

HP, Jane Austen, Twilight, Recipes, LOST, Movie Pitches, Baseball, Cassons, Words, and Old Ladies/Politics.

In other words, everything ever in the history of the world! AND the results of the great Socks vs. Underwear debate.
  • I had the great pleasure of being a guest on PotterCast this week for a live discussion of The Tales of Beedle the Bard at Books of Wonder. You can listen to the audio here. Thanks as always to the PotterCasters for having me on the show!
  • During the discussion, I start to articulate a theory of what I think might be a personality test based upon which tale you like the best. "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot": You are cheerful and enjoy seeing justice done. "The Fountain of Fair Fortune": You're something of a romantic and probably supported Barack Obama (since we are the change we've been waiting for). "The Warlock's Hairy Heart": You have an unexpected Gothic streak. "Babbitty Rabbitty": You also enjoy seeing justice done, but by rabbits. "The Three Brothers": You like contemplating the big questions of life. (This is only the start of a theory, mind you . . .)
  • A must-read if you're an Austen lover and/or Facebook member: AustenBook. (Thanks to Christina and Suzi for posting this on FB in the first place.)
  • A very smart review of Twilight from the British newspaper The Guardian. I'm trying to read the novel this month (after not being captured by it back when it first came out), and so far this review seems spot-on. Do people who genuinely love the book and think it's good (as opposed to the legions who know it's bad but read it anyway) actually find Bella and Edward interesting as people? Hmm. (via child_lit)
  • If you're having a holiday party, I highly recommend both this Hot Spiked Cider and the Caroling Wine.
  • LOST fans, the videos posted beneath the comic here are hilarious, and for you.
  • A list of Endangered Words (via Judith Ridge on child_lit). The voting on this is now closed, but the words are excellent: embrangle, nitid, skirr, fubsy . . .
  • A seven-year-old plots Jurassic Park IV -- this time with Nazis!
  • A fascinating essay about George Steinbrenner by my favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski.
  • If you love the Casson books by Hilary McKay -- Rose has a blog! (via GraceAnne DeCandido on child_lit, which is where I evidently get everything)
  • But this one is via Andrew Sullivan: Two old ladies, best friends for sixty years, blog about politics, Sarah Palin, family Christmas letters, and breastfeeding. Meet Margaret and Helen.
  • Finally, I am very pleased to see that Underwear trumped Socks for both women and men in our highly scientific poll. Thank you for confirming my faith in humanity.

Pumpkin Pie Crumble Cake

I posted a link to this recipe two years ago now, but it was so easy and good (and it's currently so timely) that I thought I'd post the recipe itself here too. It combines the sweet, firm base of a yellow cake with the spicy smoothness of pumpkin pie, plus the pecans for crunch, and makes a great alternative to the traditional pie.

1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter or margarine, at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 cans (15 ounces each) pumpkin
1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, chilled
1 cup chopped pecans
Whipped cream for garnish

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 13- by 9-inch baking pan with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

Measure out 1 cup of the cake mix and reserve for the topping. Place the remaining cake mix, the butter, and 1 egg in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until well combined, 1 minute. Using your fingertips, press the batter over the bottom of the prepared pan so that it reaches the sides of the pan. Set the pan aside.

For the filling, place the pumpkin, evaporated milk, 1 cup sugar, remaining 3 eggs, and cinnamon in the same large mixing bowl used to prepare the batter and with the same beaters (no need to clean either). Blend on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture lightens in color and texture, 1 to 2 minutes more. Pour the filling over the crust in the pan, spreading to the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula. Set the pan aside.

For the topping, place the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the chilled butter, and the reserved cake mix in a clean medium-size mixing bowl. Rinse and dry the beaters. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until just combined and crumbly, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stop the machine and stir in the pecans. Use your fingers to thoroughly knead the pecans into the topping mixture. Distribute the topping evenly over the filling mixture. Place the pan in the oven.

Bake the cake until the center no longer jiggles when you shake the pan and the pecans on top have browned, 70 to 75 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack, 20 minutes. Cut the cake into squares and serve with whipped cream on top. Store covered in aluminum foil or plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Yield: 18 - 20 servings.

Announcements, Admonitions, and Happinesses for the Past Two Weeks

  • The next Kidlit Drink Night will be Monday, April 14, at Sweet & Vicious in Soho, starting at 6:30 p.m. It's been a while since we've gotten together, so I hope you'll all come out and chat.
  • Love YA lit? Want to share the love? Then you should participate in the Readergirlz' Operation Teen Book Drop.
  • Also, most of the late February/March/early April SQUIDs have now been answered. For those of you interested in statistics, I had 53 submissions, of which 37 are being returned now (some with notes); I'll reread the remaining 16 this week and also probably return the majority of them, I must say. (No offense, simply the way it goes.) I didn't notice any dominant trend or recurring plot motifs this month, but I did receive one submission that I am going to use as an object lesson: a didactic picture-book manuscript against nose-picking, written in not-very-good rhyme. First of all, this reminded me that I need to change my "no scatology" policy in my guidelines to "no bodily humor," because ewww -- not my thing. Second, if you're tempted to write a bodily-humor picture-book manuscript, think about what would have to go on the cover. This one would have required us to show a little kid with his finger up his nose. That is not attractive to book buyers. Third, if you write in rhyme (and it's a good guideline even if you don't), ALWAYS, ALWAYS, have a person who is not you and who has never read the manuscript before read it aloud to you, and listen carefully to how the meter runs and the beats fall. If the manuscript does not sound the same as when you heard it in your head, take it back and revise further before you submit it anywhere. Fourth, if you have to include the word "did" to make a line work, as in "The squid swam the current / The squid swam the shore / The squid hit the beach / And up that squid did soar!" -- you're cheating, forcing your rhyme, and you can't do that more than once a manuscript. Go forth and sin no more.
  • I just recently re-found these wonderful Zadie Smith essays I've mentioned before, and they are 900% worth reading if you love thinking theoretically about reading and writing: "Love, Actually," about E. M. Forster, reading for love, and ethics in literature (the guiding light of my talk "Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through"); and "Fail Better" and "Read Better," a two-part essay on the responsibilities of writers and of critics.
  • The Happiness of the Past Week: It's true that I've never met a carb that I didn't like, but recently I've been spending a lot of time with a carb I love. Rice? It takes too long. Potatoes? Feh. No, my new pure-grain passion is quick-cooking, sweet-tasting, low in fat, and fun to say. It is

It's wonderful with mix-ins, like my favorite Curried Couscous Salad, but I even like it nearly plain -- one night I made up a cup, sprinkled lemon-pepper seasoning on it, and ate it as a late-night snack. (Hint for New Yorkers: You can buy big bags of it cheap at the Indian grocery on 1st Avenue between 5th and 6th Sts.) Yay couscous!
  • It does not involve couscous, but I'm also very fond of this recipe for acorn squash. (Actually, as you might be able to tell, what I'm really fond of is any recipe involving apples and dried cranberries.) Yum.
  • The Happiness of Two Weeks Ago: I don't talk about my family very much, beyond our kookiness with the Frog, because (1) it's not really the Internet's business and (2) much of what I could say might sound like bragging. But to go ahead and brag -- dang, I have a great family, from my cousins in Ithaca who came down a couple weeks ago, to everyone I saw in Missouri when I went home for Easter (especially my parents and sister and brother-in-law and grandfather), to those cousins and aunts and uncles scattered around the Midwest who I don't see often enough. . . . They're all funny and smart and affectionate and great conversationalists; not perfect, as no family is, but good people who are always there for me. So the Happiness of that past week and many weeks is

My Family!!!

  • Many of my fond family memories revolve around sporting events -- attending Ray-Pec sporting events, watching Chiefs games while reading the Star on Sunday afternoons -- and we've been KU basketball fans since the start of the Roy Williams era. So go Jayhawks! Defeat Memphis!
  • And in more hometown sports news, the usually hapless Royals are on top of the AL Central. Go Royals! Defeat those smug bastard Yankees!

Wordly Wonderfulness & Graham Cracker Goodness

I am just back from Kindling Words, and already missing the crisp Vermont air, the copious food, the constant talk about writing, editing, narrative, the Business, and books we love (and loathe), and of course the excellent company. However, there is one thing I do not have to miss, and that is Andrea Tompa's Graham Cracker Goodness (as I am hereby naming it). For non-KW attendees, Andrea is an associate editor at Candlewick; for KW attendees, this was the stuff that was at the back of the baked goods table in the round Tupperware, which you may not have had a chance to eat because I personally ate about a quarter pound of it, with no regrets. It's that damn good.

Andrea Tompa's Graham Cracker Goodness

1 sleeve graham crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 pkg chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 10" x 15" cookie sheet with tinfoil. Place crackers flat on the cookie sheet so that they're all touching each other and so that they extend right to the edges. (Use pieces of crackers if necessary to make it work out.)

Melt butter and sugar and boil 3 minutes. Pour over crackers. Put in the oven for 5 minutes, or until bubbles form all over.

Pull out the cookie sheet and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Put in the oven for an additional minute, then take it out and spread the chocolate for the edges.

Let it cool. Put in the freezer for 3 hours (or more), then take out the frozen sheet and peel off the tinfoil. Break the bark into pieces. Can be frozen or stored in a tin.

The lone way I believe this ambrosia can be improved is through the addition of marshmallow, thus turning it into a s'more -- any ideas on how to try it? And some writing notes from the wonderful talks this weekend coming soon.

Picture-Book Talk Now Online, and Contest Winners Announced

Though the layouts for my picture book are not yet online, the text of the picture-book talk is now up at Read it to:
  • See a text evolve from a very, very bad picture book to an okay picture book
  • Learn what makes a story "slice of life"
  • Discover the basic plot structure of almost all story picture books
  • Hear a funny but entirely typical story about me and my friend Katy (it involves food)
  • Figure out whose story you're telling
  • Find out if you're qualified to write in rhyme
  • Acquire techniques for visualizing your picture-book text as an illustrated book, which is immensely helpful in revising said text
  • And finally, get a really good recipe for banana oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, which are precisely as delicious as they sound (nuts optional).

Click here to go to the talk: "Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie." I hope to have the illustrations up in the next week or two. And if you find it useful, do please e-mail me and let me know!


And the winners of the caption contest for my terrible photo below:

  • de_scribes, for "For the last time, no! I didn't take your blue scarf!", and
  • i.p., for "The day she read, 'Newberry Committea' on her call display was the day a telephone company hired an editor."

both of which I liked for the subtlety of their narrative and humor. They get to choose among the following novels on the Arthur A. Levine Books Fall 2007 list:

  • The Book of Time, by Guillaume Prevost, translated by William Rodarmor -- After discovering a mysterious statue hidden in his basement, Sam embarks on a time-travel adventure through 9th-century Ireland, WWI France, ancient Egypt, and beyond -- a fun, smart, fast-paced adventure.
  • The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, by Jaclyn Moriarty -- The lives of five women -- and one Spell Book -- intertwine in unexpected and marvelous ways in this novel by the author of The Year of Secret Assignments
  • Wilderness by Roddy Doyle -- A mother and her two sons travel by dog into the Arctic -- and danger -- in what Arthur describes as a Gary Paulsen novel with Irish flavor and wit.
  • Click by Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, Deborah Ellis, Tim Wynne-Jones, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan, and Gregory Maguire -- This book is so freakin' cool. Ten different authors each wrote one chapter illuminating the life of George Keane, photojournalist, or the stories of his grandchildren Maggie and Jason, who inherit both his gifts and a mission. Proceeds benefit Amnesty International.
  • Ten Ways to Make My Sister Disappear by Norma Fox Mazer -- A younger sister plots revenge. AALB is having its tenth anniversary this fall, and this is a companion of sorts (though not in any way narratively related) to the book that launched our imprint, When She Was Good, which is likewise about two sisters with a difficult relationship.
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan -- a wordless graphic novel that's already one of the most acclaimed titles of the year, we're delighted to say.

E-mail me your choices and addresses, i.p. and de_scribes, and I'll get 'em out to you ASAP.

Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries

This is one of my favorite recipes because it tastes fantastic, it's low-fat, even a half-batch is enough for three or four lunches (the recipe below was designed for parties and serves 10-12), it keeps well, and it is absurdly easy and quick to fix (maybe 15 minutes tops from beginning to end, including the time spent boiling water). If you're fixing dinner, serve it with grilled chicken breasts and steamed broccoli; if you're invited to a Memorial Day picnic, it's a delightful change-up from the usual summer salad.

Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries
From Young and Hungry by Dave Lieberman*

3 cups couscous
1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on an angle (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts (optional; to toast the walnuts, spread them on a baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven, shaking once or twice, until they turn a shade darker, about 8 minutes)

Stir the couscous, cranberries, curry powder, salt, and sugar together in a heatproof bowl. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and pour it over the couscous. Add the OJ, give it a big stir, cover the bowl with a dish, and let stand. Stir it again once or twice until the liquid has been absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 5 minutes.

Fluff the couscous with a fork. Add the oil, scallions, parsley, lemon juice, and toasted walnuts if using them. (CK notes: You can also add other seasonings to taste; I like adding a tablespoon of cumin and a tablespoon of cinnamon for extra sweetness and kick.) Stir until everything is distributed evenly through the couscous.

That's it.

Yup, really.

* Random endorsement: This is the perfect cookbook to give a recent college or high school grad -- especially a guy -- as the food is classy, the recipes are all fairly straightforward, and it includes a wide array of basics or good variations on them.

Coca-Cola Cake

This cake is precisely as good as you'd expect a cake containing Coca-Cola, marshmallows, cocoa, buttermilk, and two sticks of butter to be . . . which is so good it may actually be EVIL. I know recipes for this have been floating around for ages; I got this one from
  • 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour + 3 tsp baking powder + 1 tsp salt)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 cup Coca-Cola
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch pan and set aside. In a large bowl combine flour and sugar. In a saucpan combine the cocoa, Coca-Cola, butter, and marshmallows; bring to a boil. Combine the boiled mixture with the flour and sugar mixture. In a separate bowl mix eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, and vanilla; add to the first mixture. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, until cake tests done. Serves about 16.


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons Coca-Cola
  • 1 pound confectioner's sugar (1 box)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a saucepan, bring butter, cocoa, and Coca-Cola to a boil. Stir in the sugar and mix well. Stir in nuts. Spread over the cake while both cake and frosting are still warm.

* Cheryl's note: I just sprinkled confectioner's sugar and pecans over the finished cake, which looked pretty and tasted just as good.


How long has this week been? So long I can't even come up with a clever title for a blog post.
  • I had some friends over for chili earlier this week and made two of the recipes from the comments here -- both ones that involve chocolate, which I couldn't resist: Mrs. Pilkington's vegetarian variety, and the meaty "Laura's Chili" from facelesswords. They were both terrific, so thanks very much to those commenters and to all of you who left recipes.
  • I also made my mother's signature Ramen Noodle Salad, which we Kleins break out for pretty much every potluck and picnic we attend, thanks to its ease and deliciousness:

Becky Klein's Ramen Noodle Salad

  • 1 package precut cole-slaw mix
  • 2 packages ramen-noodle soup mix, beef or Oriental flavor
  • 2 bunches green onion, chopped
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Slivered almonds as desired (optional)

Mix the slaw mix, ramen noodles (crushed), onions, and almonds. Separately combine the liquid ingredients, sugar, and seasoning from the ramen-noodle packets. Toss salad with dressing and serve immediately. Yum!

  • I finally saw "Casino Royale" last night -- also yum. I went in thinking I wasn't going to like Daniel Craig as Bond -- too lined, too thuggish -- but his smile and the intensity of both his performance and the movie won me over.
  • And last week I saw "Pan's Labyrinth." It's definitely not for children, even though it's partly about children's stories, and I recommend it if you can stand bloody, sometimes gratuitous violence. More commentary, but also spoilers, if you highlight what follows: What most impressed and depressed me was the ending, because it isn't often that writers/filmmakers/fantasists of whatever sort are willing to admit that sometimes stories are only stories, no matter how beautiful they are, and they can't heal and comfort and fix everything -- that sometimes they're just escape, not rescue, and escape isn't enough. It's a gutsy move on Guillermo del Toro's part, considering his audience would be primarily aesthetes like him and me, and it left me feeling, "Well, my job is pointless . . ."
  • Also thinking about my job: I don't often watch "American Idol," but I like the audition shows for the sheer range of characters they display, and my heart hurt this week for poor Nicholas of Salt Lake City. After he gave a truly awful rendition of "Unchained Melody," Simon barked, "What the bloody hell was that?" and Nick answered, in a tiny voice, "That was me." It wasn't a put-on line -- Nick was speaking from his heart, just as he sang from his heart -- and I wish Simon had tempered his criticism a little more after that, as he seemed to do for the overweight man toward the end of the show (sorry, but I can't remember his name). . . . Actually, Simon's critiques reminded a lot of Jane Austen, in that the fools and villains in Austen's novels are people with either no self-awareness or no humility or both; and while Simon, like Austen, always called things exactly as he saw them, the degree of vitriol in both creators' judgements felt generally in proportion to their subject's arrogance or lack of talent. Though also sometimes neither one of them can resist getting in a good line. . . .
  • Finally, for any of you who think editors are slackers: I am now going to work, and I'm planning to work tomorrow too. From home, granted, but.

Three Joys of Apartment Living

1. The guy in the apartment below me is apparently blasting an AK-47, swinging a lightsaber, driving a motorcycle, knocking down and sanding walls, and occasionally speaking in an echoing, soulless female voice. I am not sure what video game he's playing, but it sounds like a good time.

2. I made this very good spaghettini with blue cheese for dinner tonight. It's insanely easy and intensely flavorful -- so flavorful that indeed my mouth is numb. Recipe courtesy of the cookbook Vegetarian Pleasures via Ted; serves four.
  • Cook 1 pound spaghettini (or any long, thin pasta) until al dente in a large pot of boiling water.
  • Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter with 1/4 cup olive oil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup minced fresh parsley.
  • Drain the spaghettini, pour on the parsley sauce, and toss well. Sprinkle with 1 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese and toss again. (Option: Add pine nuts or diced cooked chicken for texture and taste.) Serve immediately.

3. Wireless DSL. God bless it, everyone.

Cranberry Chicken Delight

I've made this cranberry chicken dish for two friends in the last two weeks and it's been greeted with ecstatic delight each time -- as well it should be, not because of my cooking prowess, but because it's easy, fast (especially if you have someone to help you with the chopping), low-fat (only 5g per serving), and delicious. The leftovers also reheat well for lunches later.

2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup shallots or onions, minced
2 pounds boned and skinned chicken breasts (eight 4-ounce halves)
2 Tbsp vinegar, balsamic or raspberry
16 ounces (1 can) whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 cups green apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
4 Tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 tsp curry powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray large shallow baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Add oil and shallots/onions to baking dish and bake uncovered for 5 minutes.

Pour vinegar into the baking dish and stir. Add chicken breasts, basting tops with vinegar/shallot mixture. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes.

Mix together cranberry sauce, apples, dried cranberries, walnuts and curry. Cover chicken with sauce and bake an additional 15–20 minutes until the chicken is cooked and the sauce bubbles. Serve with white rice and white wine. Serves four.