On the trail of Buddha Bread

I’m not much of a baker. This time of year, however, I get the itch to get out the flour and  make a colossal mess of the kitchen. That, and it’s a great way to spend time with my daughter, who loves to bake. We crank the tunes, yip our heads off, and have a jolly old time.

The other day we tried our hand at making pulla, a Finnish cardamom bread. Our family calls it “boo-la”, but my daughter refers to it as “Buddha.” She associates my aunt’s house in Montana with “Buddha bread,” and she can’t get enough of it.

As we were kneading the dough, I thought of my grandmother, whose famous Finn bread was one of my childhood staples. Instead of using a measuring cup, she’d scoop handfuls of flour into the bowl with her hands. She’d pour salt into the crook of her elbow in lieu of a measuring spoon. And her bread, warm from the oven and slathered with butter — Sally, bar the doors. Over the years, the memory of that taste has become the stuff of legends. She’s been gone a long time now, but whenever I make Finn bread, I feel close to her.

As we kneaded the pulla, I told Sophie that making bread makes me think of my grandma. She gave me a funny look and said, “Making bread doesn’t make me think of anyone.”

A lump formed in my throat as I told her, “I think someday it will.”

Pulla or Buddha, depending on who you ask

Wishing you a glorious holiday season chock full of schmoopy moments!

What are some of your family traditions this time of year?

On the trail of the perfect gift

BOOKS!!!! This time of year, there is no shortage of lists that tout the top books of 2011. I’m still trying to climb my way out of my TBR pile from 2007, so if you think I’m attempting to join those list makers, guess again. However, I’ve read some jaw-dropping books this year and would like to offer my own list that might help spark the perfect gift.

Best books I’ve read in 2011, which were not necessarily published in 2011. Ahem.

Young Adult Contemporary:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. This book won all kinds of awards in 2008. It’s the story of orphaned Taylor Markham, who lives year round at a boarding school in Australia and is haunted by dreams of a past that eludes her. Marchetta weaves together the story of two groups of friends, separated by a generation and a horrible tragedy, and creates a love story like nothing I’ve read before. Kind of a challenge to sink your teeth into at first, but the payoff is HUGE.

Young Adult Fantasy:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. This book is hot off the presses, just published a few months ago. Set in historic Prague, Karou, a blue-haired artist raised by Chimaera (monsters), has the unfortunate calling of “tooth collector” for her father figure, Brimstone. She’s never told why he needs the teeth. No one tells Karou where her unusual tattoos originated from, where the forbidden door in Brimstone’s store leads, or why an angel wants to kill her. She’s about to find out. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one heck of a page turner and love story. It’s hard to find an original concept in paranormal YA, but Laini Taylor succeeds with this very unique novel.

Middle Grade:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The first novel to win both the Newbery and Carnegie awards, among numerous others. Nobody Owens, Bod to his friends, is a completely normal boy who happens to grow up in a graveyard. This is a delightful, imaginative, and sometimes scary novel for grades five and up. If you dig Harry Potter, you’ll love the world Gaiman builds.

Childrens:

The Ivy & Bean Books by Annie Barrows. Two spicy little girls who are opposites in temperament but partners in fun find themselves in all sorts of pickles — most of them self-imposed. There are eight books in this hilarious series. My daughter (seven) LOVES them and so do I.

Literary Fiction:

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. I became a fan of Sherman Alexie after reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian, his smash-hit YA novel from 2007. Winner of the American Book Award, Reservation Blues is the story of Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a Spokane Indian whose life is upended when legendary blues player Robert Johnson gives him a magical guitar. Alexie’s writing is quirky, hysterical, poetic and mystical. One of my all-time favorite writers.

Memoir:

Lit by Mary Karr. Karr’s memoir of her hardscrabble Texas childhood, The Liar’s Club, dominated bestseller lists in 1995. Cherry chronicled Karr’s adolescence, and Lit, published in 2009, is her “journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic.” It reads like your sassy best friend talks when she’s at her feisty, candid best. Chock full of humor, poetry, and blinding honesty.

I’m always on the hunt for the next great read. What are some of the best books you’ve read this year?