Another entry in my series of posts dedicated to the Tiptree Award, which is given to works of speculative fiction that explore themes of gender.  Funds for the Tiptree are raised through a variety of ways, one of which is the Bake Sale.

Bites

Alright, it’s the last minute and you need to throw something together for a bake sale or a picnic or a potluck.  Some possibilities that require no baking or chilling:

Bites ready to go out the door in 30 minutes or less:

Bourbon Balls. This depends on whether or not your gathering is alcohol-friendly, but made as described these are heavenly.  They’re also all the better for sitting out for a few days (or in the fridge), so feel free to make them days ahead of time (or weeks, and freeze them) and pull out as needed.

Turtles. Super-basic – make a base of a few pecans, squash a slightly warmed caramel on top (you can make your own or buy a bag of them), and cover with melted chocolate.  Pop in the fridge for a few minutes, and you’re good to go!

No-cook cookies*. This was a genre of item I had never heard about until I was asking my mother-in-law for ideas.  There is, in fact, some cooking involved, but it’s all stovetop. You can change around the add-ins to suit yourself and what you have in your pantry.  Jeff loves these.

*No Cook Cookies

– 2 cups sugar
– 4TB cocoa
– 1/2 cup milk
– 1/2 stick butter

Boil one minute.

Stir in:

– 1 c peanut butter
– 1tsp vanilla
– 3 cups oats.  Can make up amount with coconut.

Drop by spoonful on waxed paper, cool for a few minutes.

Any other recipes you love to throw together at the last minute?

Books

Daughters of the North, by Sarah Hall (Tiptree winner, 2007)

This falls in the camp of the ‘bleak future dystopian’ novels, which of course means I was excited to read it.  🙂  It’s been compared to Children of Men, and The Handmaid’s Tale, because of its portrayal of a future England that has been slowly (or rapidly) losing environmental integrity of some kind or another, and because it deals with the way that women’s choices and fertility are affected in a society under stress.

In Daughters (originally published as The Carhullan Army), environmental disaster has resulted in most of Britain’s people living in very close quarters (to conserve resources).  Fertility is strictly limited; women are forced to be fitted with contraceptive coils, and police do random ‘spot checks’ of women in the population to make sure they’re compliant.  Women are also forced to prove compliance (ie, strip naked and display the trailing strings) when starting new jobs, applying for housing, etc.  The government is engaged in a ten-year reconstruction project which of course gets nothing done.

The frame for the story is that the narrative is a transcript from a prisoner in a penal colony, known only as Sister, which gives the entire story an air of hopelessness – you know it isn’t going to end well even before it begins.

Sister (whose real name we never learn) has been living in one of the crowded towns, with a husband who has increasingly become more and more distant and accepting of the indignities forced upon the populace by the authorities.  Sister plans her escape from the town to a place she’s only known through early news reports – an all-female homestead colony up in the hills north of her city.  The book is her story of life at this homestead, among the women.

Some of the questions the book addresses are: in what ways are the differences between men and women a result of biology, or of society?  What would a woman’s society look like (especially in a dystopian future)?  What might it take, personally and societally, to create individuals willing to consider using violence to achieve their goals?

Did I enjoy it?  Well, I’m always one for a good post-apocalyptic dystopia. This was a bit light on the actual apocalyptic events (widespread flooding due to environmental change, basically), being more concerned with the story and experiences of Sister.  It’s well-written, definitely, but I felt a distance from the narrator.  She undergoes some really awful experiences, but although her state during them is described, it lacks.. .empathy, perhaps?  Some of that can be due to the frame – one hardly expects her interrogators/interviewers to be empathetic to her story.  Or it could be that telling it as history blunts the emotional force.  Or it could be that I, as an American reader, am missing the subtleties of emotion that would be easily picked up on by a British reader.

There isn’t a single strong male in the entire book – one presumes that there are still decent men somewhere, not just bullies and lackeys, but they’re not seen here.  The women are more richly characterized; although almost all are strong (one presumes that the weak wouldn’t make it to Carhullan to begin with), there are a wide variety of temperaments and attitudes portrayed.

It didn’t quite scratch my dystopian itch; the frame limited the story to a very brief period of time, and a specific focus of attention.  I generally prefer more thorough world-building, and of course want to know what happened afterwards…  but that’s like life, I suppose.  It was definitely a thought-provoking read, and one that I think stands strongly among its other ‘family members’.

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Bourbon Balls

Bourbon Balls

One of the things I love about food and desserts is that they can so strongly link us to certain places and times.  Pumpkin pie is Thanksgiving, as is Green Bean Casserole, at least the Thanksgiving of my childhood.  Nowadays I’m spending Thanksgivings in the South, and there seems to be a lack of appreciation for this traditional dish down here.  It’s alright; I’ve come to appreciate the sweet potato casserole that my mother-in-law makes, with the pralined pecan topping (utterly delicious), even if I still don’t really get it about cornbread.

One of the desserts that I’ve come to associate with Christmas is these Bourbon Balls.  They’re something my mother-in-law also usually makes, and they’re little spheres of heaven.  Crunchy on the outside from the demerara sugar, dense and sugary and boozy on the inside.  One can last you for ten minutes, at least.  They’re not really something you just pop into your mouth.  You take nibbles.  You savor.

Making them is a very simple process, at least it is with a food processor.  I spent years and years without one, or the past few years with a very small (2-3 cup) processor, doing crumbs in batches.  This year, the bourbon balls took all of about ten minutes to put together, and another 10-15 to scoop and roll in sugar.  The payoff, though?  A whole lotta tasty bourbon goodness. Yum.

Bourbon Balls

Adapted from the Williamsburg Cookbook

8 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
60 Nilla Wafers (about 8 oz)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
1/4 cup light corn syrup

Raw or Demerara Sugar for rolling

Melt chocolate over boiler or nuke it.

Grind nilla wafers in food processor.  Add pecans and sugar, pulse several times.  Pour into large bowl.  Add chocolate, bourbon, corn syrup, and stir to mix thoroughly.

All mixed together, waiting to be made into balls

All mixed together, waiting to be made into balls

Form into balls (I used a #50 scoop), roll in sugar, chill to set.  Makes zillions (about 60)

Not quite halfway through rolling...

Not quite halfway through rolling…

These, along with Vanilla Sugar‘s Spicy Chocolate Fudge with Pecans (which, while not terribly spicy, was very tasty nonetheless) and some leftover caramels, made up my holiday boxes this year. Yum!

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

The other day, Zoe of Zoebakes made this scrumptious Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake, and I knew I had to have one for my very own (plus, that it would make a very pretty addition to the Thanksgiving spread).

It was (is) DELICIOUS.  I can’t taste the bourbon, nor could anyone else, but I’m sure it’s in there doing something – the flavor is just wonderfully complex and smooth, the texture soft and silky.

The recipe went fairly straight-forwardly, although I decided early on to skip the sugared cranberries and just go with pomegranate seeds instead for the garnish – still pretty and elegant. I also went for the easy way out and made a graham cracker crust, which I think went fabulously with the cheese cake – just the right richness of flavors to complement the pumpkin.

I didn’t use a foil tent to bake it, and ended up with the double prophylaxis of cake strips and water bath, which might be why it took well over an hour to set up enough to do the sour cream layer – but it didn’t crack!  🙂

The biggest gap, I think, was in the removal of the cake.  “Refrigerate for a couple of hours” does not get me from cake in pan (non-springform, mind you) to cake on plate.  I wasn’t falling for that one.  After giving it some thought, I stuck the cake in the freezer for a couple of hours, then rested the bottom in a pan of very hot water for about half a minute, and then carefully upended the cake onto a layer of parchment paper.  Came out smoothly – go me!  Only lost a little bit of the edge to the paper, too.  Thawed beautifully, transported without any fuss, and was enjoyed by many.

Is still being enjoyed by us – there weren’t enough people at Thanksgiving to eat it, the carrot cake, and the chocolate tarts, so we have leftovers.  Time for another party!

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheese Cake
By ZoeBakes

Batter

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups [4] roasted pumpkin or canned
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon (corn or potato starch)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake topping:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 graham cracker crust

Preheat oven to 325° and prepare an 8 by 3-Inch Round cake pan with parchment and the graham cracker crust. [I prebaked the crust for 10 minutes] Set aside.

To prepare cheese cake batter:

Mix together in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment the soft cream cheese and brown sugar, until smooth.
In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin puree, eggs, sour cream, vanilla and bourbon. Slowly add to the cream cheese mixture, scraping down the sides often.
In another bowl whisk together the sugar, starch, spices and salt. Add this to the cream cheese and pumpkin mixture. Beat on medium/low speed until well combined, scraping down the sides often.

Pour into prepared pan. Gently tap the cake pan several times on the counter to bring any air bubbles to the surface.

Bake in a water bath and with a foil tent [as I said, I skipped this step], for about 45-55 minutes or until
set, slightly puffy and no longer wet looking. [It took me more like 70 minutes]

While the cake is baking mix together all the ingredients for the topping, set aside.

Once the cake is fully cooked very gently spread the on the sour cream topping with an Offset Spatula .

Bake uncovered with the topping for an additional 5 minutes.

Remove the cake and allow to cool slowly still in the water bath. Carefully run a thin blade knife around the edge of the warm cake so that it won’t crack.

Put in the refrigerator to cool for at least a couple of hours.  For absolute safety, freeze for a couple of hours before removing from the pan.  After freezing, warm the bottom of the pan briefly to re-melt some of the butter in the crust, and then up-end onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or something else nonstick, and reverse onto your platter or serving dish of choice.

Decorate with pomegranate seeds, cranberries, etc.

Pomegranate seeds on cheese cake

Pomegranate seeds on cheese cake