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Gone Girl – Mini Wedding Cakes


Readers of Gone Girl will see the irony of these sweet miniature wedding cakes when served as a book club treat. They are delicious and easy to assemble, with a subtle almond flavoring in both the cake and the petit fours frosting.

Miniature Wedding Cakes

Miniature wedding cakes for Gone GirlThis is a basic white sheet cake, assembled into wedding cake shapes and dolloped with almond flavored frosting.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 15” by 10” by 1” jelly roll pan with Pam or cooking spray.

In a large saucepan, to boil:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup water

Remove from heat. Stir in following ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Once smooth, pour into the baking pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely.

With a greased sharp knife, cut several 3” by 3” squares and an equal number of 1” by 1” squares. For ease of frosting, place the cut squares into the freezer for about an hour while you are preparing the frosting.

Petit Fours Frosting

Mix together all of the following ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream

Add heavy cream, as needed to make a pourable smooth frosting.

Assemble your slightly frozen larger squares on a baking rack. Add a small amount of frosting to each one and place a smaller square on top. Using a large spoon, dollop a liberal amount of frosting over the top of each stacked square, letting it drizzle down the sides.

Let the frosting stiffen before serving. Add small decorations, if you’d like. This could include nonpareils, fresh flowers, frosting accents, etc.

The almond flavoring and sweet frosting is a definite contrast for the dark book, Gone Girl. Serve up some sweetness and light while you discussion Amy and Nick’s disturbed marriage.

 

Gone Girl- Discussion Questions


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is one of the top reads in 2012 and absolutely viral in nature. Anyone who read it was anxious to pull others into its vortex, to share in the delicious, twisted secrets. It’s distinctive cover was seen in airports, on newsstands, in doctor’s offices, and on every subway. It was inescapable—and for good reason.

Book Synopsis

gone-girl-book-cover-medOn a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.

Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Employing her trademark razor-sharp writing and assured psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Discussion Questions

LitLover’s has an excellent reading guide here.

For a deeper conversation, consider these additional questions:

  1. Flynn reveals everyone’s character flaws piece by piece. How were you drawn in, not knowing all the facts right away? Were you anxious to learn more or irritated?
  2. Amy is essentially a child celebrity. In today’s fame-fueled society, do you think children are protected from or exploited for fame? Would Amy be the same person today if she wasn’t featured in her parent’s books?
  3. How does marriage define a spouse’s character? If you are married (or have been married), how have you been bettered by your spouse? What bad habits or character traits have you inherited?
  4. Can you ever truly know the other person? Have you ever been blindsided by someone? What blinds us to seeing a betrayal coming?
  5. Do you need a protagonist to root for? Most the characters are unlikeable. Did this diminish your enjoyment of the book or were you still fascinated?
  6. Was there a moment when you stopped feeling sorry for Amy? When did you start feeling sorry for Nick?
  7. Who would you cast in the movie roles of Nick and Amy?
  8. Treasure hunts are typically considered romantic, yet Amy manages to make it predatory and calculating. How does Amy’s preplanning make her crimes even more disturbing?
  9. Flynn has said about the ending, I wrote the ending that was the most unsettling to me. I am a big fan of the ending of unease. To me it feels real and it feels unnerving. Because you may not know exactly what is going to happen next in Gone Girl World, but you know it’s not good.  What kind of endings do you like best?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn earned its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Because of its twisted and surprising revelations, it is this decade’s Sixth Sense, in literary form. On Wednesday, the Readable Feast will feature Wedding Cake Petit Fours.

Still Alice – Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake


Take a preventative approach and create a book club menu of memory enhancing foods, including:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Salmon
  • Lean beef
  • Rosemary
  • Blueberries
  • Green tea

A delicious dessert choice is a moist but firm Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake. It is perfect with a cup of coffee or green tea. And it’s pretty as well.

Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake

Blueberry buckle bundt cake for Still Alice book clubAdapted from my Aunt Carolyn’s recipe

Directions

Preheat oven at 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan.

Mix:

  • 1-1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup milk

Sift together and stir in:

  • 3 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt

Spoon half the stiff mixture into the base of the bundt pan. Pour 3 cups well drained blueberries into the pan and add the rest of the dough mixture.

Mix:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ stick butter

Add crumble mixture to the top of the bundt pan and press gently. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out.

**You can also use a flat 9 x 13” glass pan instead of the bundt pan.

 

Whether you choose Boston Cream Cupcakes or Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake, you are guaranteed to have a rich conversation when discussing Still Alice.

May words nourish your soul.

Still Alice – Boston Cream Cupcakes


There aren’t many foods mentioned in Still Alice so I took our book club recipes in two directions. First up is Boston Cream Cupcakes, giving homage to Alice’s familiar hometown. Tomorrow, I will post the recipe for Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake which is a top power food which enhances memory.

These cupcakes are delectable, delicious, and to die for. They are pretty as well.

Boston cream cupcake for Still Alice Boston Cream Cupcakes

(Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)

Ingredients

1/2 cup milk
6 Tablespoon butter

1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling

1 packet instant vanilla pudding
1 cup milk

Chocolate Ganache

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 24 cupcake tins with paper cups.

In a microwaveable bowl, combine butter and milk and microwave for 2 minutes.
Add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, mixing until smooth.
Add in eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.
Spoon batter into muffin tins, only filling about half full.
Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Allow to cool completely then cut out the center of each cupcake with a knife, creating a cap.

In a small bowl, mix a packet of vanilla pudding and only one cup of cold milk, stirring until thick. (This is less than the recommended amount on the box.)
Dollop pudding filling in each cupcake hole and top with the cupcake cap. Some cream will remain showing.

In a microwaveable bowl, combine chocolate chips, cream, and corn syrup. Microwave for 2 minutes, stirring gently until combined.
Drizzle the ganache over the top of each cupcake, allowing excess to run over the edges.
Let cool fully and store in the refrigerator.

These are best served after a few hours or overnight, so the chocolate hardens and the pudding moistens the cupcake. Whip these Boston Cream Cupcakes up the night before your book club meeting and wow your fellow readers.

May words nourish your soul.

Still Alice – Discussion Questions


Still Alice is one of my favorite book club reads ever. I have a personal tie to Alzheimer’s, which slowly dissolved away my paternal grandmother, Isabelle. In an atypical disease such as this, many moments are true—even if the experience wasn’t exactly the same as rendered in the book. Telling the truth in a novel is exceeding difficult.

I was deeply touched by the care and research put into this book by Genova. As a neuroscientist, novelist, and activists, the book is equal parts fiction and education. 

Book Synopsis

book2-199x300Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard University.

Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what’s it’s like to literally lose your mind…

From Simon Schuster

Discussion Questions

Lisa Genova’s publishing company, Simon Schuster, has a full Reading Group’s Guide here.

To add more personal questions to the conversation, consider the following discussion questions related to Still Alice.

  • Do you know anyone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s? How did it affect their loved ones and you? How did it affect them?
  • What are the stages of grief family members and the patient must travel through when facing Alzheimer’s? (Five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.) What stage did each family member reach? What about Alice? Can you get stuck in a phase, or repeat a phase?
  • To what extent are we made of our memories? 
  • What are some of your fondest memories? Do you have a memory you would like to completely erase from your memory? Do you think your personality/self would change if a bad memory was removed?
  • It is rare that an Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t consider suicide. Were you relieved she was thwarted or gladdened that Alice survived?
  • Do you empathize with the idea of controlling your own death, when faced with a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s? What about other diseases? What makes the difference for you? Where do you draw the line?
  • If you have children, your children often feel they have a different parent from their siblings. If you have children, due to different circumstances, how are you a different mother to each of your children?
  • Oldest memories are the last to go for those with dementia, along with scent. What scents bring back memories for you? What is your earliest memory?
  • John carries on without Alice, making decisions without her. Does this bother you or do you empathize?  
  • How would this story have changed if told from another perspective beside Alice’s?

On Wednesday, I’ll share the recipe for Boston Cream Cupcakes for your book club, based on Alice’s hometown. On Thursday, I’ll share the recipe for a Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake, an antioxidant food.

Happy reading and discussing.

Book Themed Wine Charms


Keeping track of your wine glass or coffee cup is a challenge when the book club conversation starts. I crafted these simple but adorable book club wine charms in less than hour. They can be used meeting after meeting and create a fun conversation piece.

Book charms 1 edSupplies:

  • Jewelry wire
  • Assorted beads
  • Oval jump ring
  • Silver charm with open insert (I found these at Hobby Lobby)
  • Magnetic closure jewelry finding
  • Jewelry pliers and wire cutter
  • Photo copies of book covers (suggested books with lovely covers: Life of Pi, Still Alice, Night Circus, Alice I Have Been, Room, Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Hunger Games, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Fault in Our Stars, A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, and Water for Elephants)

Directions:

  • I chose a selection of popular book club covers and printed them to fit inside the open charm. I cut them out in ovals and pushed them gently into the open charm.  I added a silver jump ring to the top of the charm so it could be threaded onto the wine charm ring.Book charms 4 ed
  • Cut sections of jewelry wire to 3”. Add one magnetic closure to one end and string various color-coded beads onto the wire, leaving enough room to add the second magnetic closure while twisting the end shut.
  • Center the charm on completed wine charm ring and reclose the silver jump ring.
  • Click open the magnetic closure to add wine charm to your wine glass or coffee cup.

Display on a jewelry tree for guests to choose their book wine charm on arrival. These can even be given as gifts to your favorite author or book lover.

The Blessings of the Animals – Gajar Halva


182425_1834252734331_4021939_nCarrot pudding? Really? It doesn’t sound appetizing but trust me when I say this is a decadent dessert which is perfectly sweet, balanced, and spicy. (And the photo from my phone’s camera isn’t the best. The dessert is a vibrant sunset orange which perfectly sets off the lime green from crushed pistachios.)

 

Gajar Halva

Adapted from a private recipe used in a now-closed Indian restaurant

Ingredients

6 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups half and half
1/2  cup brown sugar
1/2  cup golden raisins
1/4 cup melted butter (or ghee for a more authentic taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pistachios, crushed

Over medium-high heat, bring carrots and half and half to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently. Boil until all the half and half is absorbed within the carrots, about 45 minutes. Read excerpts from The Blessings of the Animals while you stir.

Fold in the brown sugar, raisins, butter, spices, and salt. Stir thoroughly.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is the consistency of pudding (about 15 minutes.)
Pour into serving bowl and garnish with pistachios. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or alone.

 

Challenge your book club to taste test this Indian treat. Gajar halwa is featured in a beautiful chapter within The Blessings of the Animals. By crafting this time-consuming but delicious dish, you will have firsthand knowledge of what it means to persevere.

May words nourish your soul.

The Blessings of the Animals – Discussion Questions


We are starting off the Readable Feast with a favorite author of mine. Katrina Kittle is a local Dayton, Ohio author and even though I don’t live there anymore, she has earned her place on my book shelf. I was lucky to take several writing classes with her, which did more for my writing journey than my college degree.

The Blessings of the Animals is her current women’s fiction book and is a perfect book club choice. Her other books, in particular The Kindness of Strangers, are also excellent group reads. If you haven’t yet discovered Katrina Kittle, please check her out.

Book Synopsis

9780061906077

From Katrina Kittle, critically acclaimed author of The Kindness of Strangers, comes a wry and moving story of forgiveness, flexibility, happiness, and the art of moving on.

Veterinarian Cami Anderson has hit a rough patch. Stymied by her recent divorce, she wonders if there are secret ingredients to a happy, long-lasting marriage or if the entire institution is outdated and obsolete. Couples all around her are approaching important milestones. Her parents are preparing to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Her brother and his partner find their marriage dreams legally blocked. Her former sister-in-law—still her best friend—is newly engaged. The youthfully exuberant romance of her teenage daughter is developing complications. And three separate men—including her ex-husband—are becoming entangled in Cami’s messy post-marital love life.

But as she struggles to come to terms with her own doubts amid this chaotic circus of relationships, Cami finds strange comfort in an unexpected confidant: an angry, unpredictable horse in her care. With the help of her equine soul mate, she begins to make sense of marriage’s great mysteries—and its disconnects.

 -From Harper Collins

Discussion Questions

Katrina’s publishing company, Harper Collins, offers a comprehensive Reading Guide.

To add to the discussion, consider the following discussion questions as well:

Animals

  • Animals love us in a completely different way than humans. We often adopt a pet before considering children or when we face divorce or widowhood. Why did the animals in the book offering healing that Cami’s loved ones could not?
  • Which animal did you love or relate to? How have animals played a role in your life?
  • Animal rescue is never ending, as is being a medical doctor. How might have Vijay’s and Cami’s relationship played out if they had pursued their relationship.
  • What are the blessings of the animals? What gift does each of the three main animals (Moonshot, Gerald, and Muriel) give to Cami? How do these rescue animals end up rescuing her? What final gift or lesson does Luna bring at the end?

People

  • How does the Bobby chapter affect your reading of the story? Without his point of view, what would be different for you? What does he think that you wish he’d tell Cami? What things do both Bobby and Cami misinterpret in each others’ actions?
  • Would you have felt differently about Bobby if he hadn’t found someone else?
  • How do we react as we watch people making bad decisions? ie. Bobby breaking up with Zayna and then getting married in Vegas.
  • Bobby doesn’t tell his family and leave a message for his daughter. How is Cami the parent in their relationship?  How is the balance of power in a relationship a tricky prospect?

Marriage

  • What does a successful marriage look like? Is marriage as an institution out of date?
  • Why do we risk so much on something that has no guarantee?  How are the rewards worth the risk?
  • Adoption plays a part in this book as well. How is adoption a parallel to marriage?
  • In what ways do the Davids epitomize the marriage vows they are not allowed to make?
  • Divorce almost always has collateral damage, in this case, Gabi. She said “No man is going to wreck me.” Why does a personal relationship (marriage) have such outreaching tentacles—causing people to take sides, etc.
  • Davy refers to a cheat sheet that he could pass along to his students, to save them from their mistakes. What advice would be on your cheat sheet?
  • Cami regrets, but still performs euthanasia on ailing animals when necessary. How does she face hard decisions in her career but struggle with hard personal decisions?
  • Cami’s church is the stable, in the presence of animals. Where do you feel closest to God?
  • Short cuts are frowned up on this book—in such things as properly cleaning the wounds and making the gajar halva (Gaa-jer Hull-wa). Why are short cuts so tempting?

On Wednesday, I’ll be sharing the recipe for gajar halva for your book club.

Happy reading and discussing.

Book Club Beginnings


I love book clubs because books are meant to be savored and shared, like a fine meal. The best meals are enjoyed in pleasant community, just as the best books are digested in wise company. The discussion of books is a fine appetizer and dessert.

I have created, adopted, and ran several book clubs in multiple states. I am getting ready to launch one now, in my new home of Indiana. So I thought I might share a few guidelines for starting a new book club:

Plan several months in advance and create a drop-in rule.

Requiring attendance and mandatory readings is a quick way to kill a starter group. Once readers begin attending, they will see the value of conversation and discussion and plan to stay. Some people might need a few months to plan their reading as well, especially if they aren’t a regular, avid reader.

Add liberal libations and hor d’oeuvres.

Books should be paired with food and drink, because they are in essence, a communion between readers.

Wine and bread are acceptable but cupcakes are never a bad idea. Books are meant to be devoured, as are decadent treats. And if you are stumped about what to add to the conversation, you can always hold up a finger, indicating that you are chewing and to move on to the next person.

Embrace name tags.

I am terrible with names and faces. Once you change clothes, I will forget your name once again. Having some simple sticky labels is mostly for me and my failing memory, but newcomers will appreciate the name tags as well. Adopt them for a few months at minimum.

Have discussion questions prepared in advance.

This will ease the conversation past any bumps and awkward silences. I will be adding discussion questions for many of my past, present, and future books on this site over time, including new questions from my newest book club, Reading Between the Wines.

Allow social time before and after your discussion time.

People need to get comfortable when they first arrive and a few people will invariably show up a few minutes late. Once you wrap up discussion, with a reminder about next month’s book and meeting time, you will want to encourage a few more minutes for socialization.

Encourage the wallflowers.

It can be intimidating to talk in a group, especially if you didn’t like the book or didn’t understand part of it. As a facilitator, keep an eye out for quieter participants. Make sure to include them on the conversation without putting them on the spot.

Expand your boundaries.

It’s important to read a variety of books. Some books lend themselves nicely to book club discussions. And some book clubs have favorite genres or styles (romance, spiritual themes, local authors, etc.) But consider adding one dark horse entry every so often for variety and enrichment.

What other suggestions do you have for beginning a book club? What are your best (or worse) experiences with book clubs?

Wii, Wii, Wii All the Way Home


It’s a New Year. Time to get fit. For motivation I bought a sassy new swimsuit, three sizes too small. Sadly, it was still a Plus size so I dug out the kid’s Wii Fit and balance board, determined to get in shape.

“It’s been 233 days since your last weigh in,” the Wii chastised my mini Mii—a digital representation of myself complete with helmet hair and white yoga pants, which I would never wear in real life (before or after Labor Day.)

“Step on,” the cheery voice said, followed by a sardonic grunt. “Uuuuuuu-fff!”

The passive aggressive machine recovered shortly, finally offering up a number more suited to a house address than a weight scale. With no warning, my Mii’s waist line sprang out—making contact with both sides of the big screen television. Both Mii and I hung our heads in shame.

“You are OBESE!” The Wii announced to the greater tri-state area.

For the agility and balance tests, I maintained my balance on one foot and  dutifully swirled my hips in concentric circles—only minorly injuring the cat. With all the flair of a game show, it announced my “Wii Age” (which rivaled my planned calorie count for the day.)

Feeling sporty, I chose soccer as my first event. Standing on the balance board, I was supposed to shift my weight in order to head butt the soccer balls being kicked at me.

I missed two balls then a shoe caught me in the face. My digital second and third chins wobbled in slow motion as my head snapped back up—just in time to get clocked by a panda head.

Seriously?! When did Nintendo decide decapitating an endangered species and dropkicking their heads at you was a family friendly game? I quit on ethical grounds.

Even though I had no real world experience, I chose tightrope walking. While maintaining perfect balance, I attempted to walk across the rope between two tall buildings. Minor threats such as a flock of birds attempted to distract me.

I carefully took my first step and the rope snapped. The building only shook slightly upon my landing.

Next, I tried the ski jump but caused an avalanche; I tested my balance on the iceberg tilt but instead got propositioned by a nearby whale; and I attempted the hula hoop but ended up with four hoops firmly wedged around my Mii’s waist.

Exhausted, I pulled out Wii Fit and switched to Wii Resort which features biking, jet skiing and skydiving. After searching high and low for the buffet with no luck, I finally found the purpose for my white pants: I signaled my surrender.

 


Copyright  2019 Nicole Amsler • Copywriter by day… Fiction writer by night