chestnut book blog

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Christmas Reading Reviews

Over my Christmas holiday (14 blissful days off although a while ago now!) I read quite a few books and I thought I’d share my thoughts on them with you now in a big collective review.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

As you may already know, I’m a bit fan of Gilbert’s style in books like Committed and The First American Man, but this was the first novel of hers that I had read. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was immaculately researched. I can’t say botanics and mosses in particular is something that particular interests me, but Gilbert manages to enthuse me almost against my will! I particularly admired two things about this books; the descriptions of the dinner table discussions and the exploration of the tragic misunderstandings and miscommunications between the heroine, Alma and her sister. The ending is also brilliant, but I won’t say anymore about that in case I spoil it! This is not a perfect book. Aspects of it made me cringe slightly, such as the relationship between Alma and her husband; it felt flawed and false somehow. However, it is an interesting and enjoyable read. It is also one of the most original novels of 2013 because of the research, the spotlight on a female scientist and the many themes it explores. I would definitely recommend you give it a go!

The Emily of New Moon trilogy by L.M Montgomery

The Anne of Green Gables series was one of my favourite childhood books. I’m not quite sure how the Emily of New Moon series passed me by when I was smaller, but it did. I put that right this Christmas as I read all three books back to back. It was charming, but it didn’t quite hold the same magic Anne did for me. I’m not quite sure why, because in some ways this series is more accomplished and was the author’s favourite. Perhaps it was just because some of the characters felt like pale copies of my favourites, Marilla, Matthew, Diana and Anne herself.  I also found Emily’s involvement with the much older ‘Jarback’ Priest uncomfortable and some of the attitudes to women felt less progressive than in Anne somehow. All that said though, it was still lovely and no fan of Anne should miss it.

Mary Berry, The Autobiography: Recipe for Life

Mary Berry, Recipe for Life

Mary Berry, Recipe for Life

Oh how I love Mary Berry! Elegant, kind, successful, inspiring and her recipes never fail! This is her autobiography, but it also peppered with her favourite recipes which is perfect. I don’t read autobiographies that much but when I do, I usually really enjoy the insight into someone else’s life. Mary has led a fascinating one. This was a joy to read and I enjoyed getting to know her better. This was probably my favourite book I read over Christmas.

Stoner by John Williams

This book intrigued me. Quite slight and forgotten in the author’s life time, it is now enjoying a renaissance thanks to Ian McEwan’s patronage. It is exceedingly well-written and an accomplished meditation on a disappointed life. In some ways, it was a sad read, but I took hope from the fact that Stoner, despite his failed marriage and career, did once experience true love and intellectual inspiration. I am glad I have read Stoner; it certainly makes you think, but whether I would recommend it to friends?…I am unsure.

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The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Bake Off is back on our screens here in the UK now and I’m gleeful! All spring and summer I have missed the calming, cosy Bake Off, so now 8pm on a Tuesday night is a sacred time. I settle down, cup of tea in hand, and join Paul, Mary, Mel and Sue for an hour of loveliness. I watch as the amateur bakers struggle with timings, deal with soggy bottoms and ultimately achieve baking triumph.

Inspired by the return of the Bake Off, I did some of my own baking this weekend as we had guests. Last winter, I was on the search for the perfect cookie recipe after noticing a decline in the quality of my favourite bought cookies (Ben’s). I needed a recipe that could let my homemade efforts compete with Ben’s, saving my pennies and satisfying my weakness for gooey cookies.

Thanks to the lovely Anna at Vivianna Does Makeup, I found it and have been revelling in gooey cookie goodness ever since (including this weekend!)! You can see the original recipe on Anna’s blog, but below is my version.

Cookie Monster Cookies

Make 10

200g unsalted butter / 300g caster sugar, 1 large egg, 275g self-raising flour / 75g cocoa powder / two big bars of chocolate of your choice (dairy milk and dairy milk crunchie are my preference) / splash of milk

Preheat the over to 220 degrees celsius (fan). Whisk the softened butter and sugar until creamy. Add the egg, mix, then add all the dry ingredients including the chocolate (broken into chunks). Add a splash or two of milk to loosen the mixture. Now get your hands dirty forming ten lovely balls and putting them on baking trays (lined with grease proof paper ideally). Throw in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. They will still be very sloppy, but harden up after cooling for around 30 minutes. If you wait until the next day to eat these, they are even better I think.

Enjoy in moderation if you can!