Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tiny Sandwiches

When I think of tea parties, I think of tiny sandwiches that make you increasingly hungrier. Specifically, I think of sandwiches piled high with one of those vegetables that burn more calories than they put into your body and make you feel better about eating a pound of mini-gingerbread cupcakes… and butter.

I’m a guest at Liza’s house at the moment. To celebrate the most recent episode of Downton Abbey, we combined culinary forces and turned Liza’s Victorian parlor into a historically inaccurate Edwardian tea party that the Dowager Countess of Grantham surely would have frowned upon. The first thing on the menu, naturally, was the tiny cucumber sandwich.

The tiny cucumber sandwich is the quintessential teatime sandwich. It’s just enough sandwich to wash down your Earl Grey and hold you over until dinner time. There are many possibilities for variation – herbed butter, cheeses, mint, ciabatta rolls. There’s nothing British about ciabatta rolls, but sometimes one must accept the limitations of one’s pantry. Don’t fret, we will tell you how to make them properly.

Tiny Cucumber Sandwiches
(Adapted from the Coffee/Tea section of

¼ - ½ cup white wine vinegar
An English cucumber cut into thin slices
1 loaf of soft white bread sliced thinly
2 tablespoons softened butter
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Let the butter reach room temperature in warm place a few hours before making the sandwich.

2. Pour the white wine vinegar over a bowl of cucumber slices. Let the cucumbers soak for a half hour.

3. Chop your dried rosemary into little bits and prepare for it to pop into your face. Mix the little rosemary bits into your softened butter.

4. Remove the vinegar from the bowl of cucumbers and wipe up the excess liquid on the slices with a paper towel.

5. Spread the rosemary butter onto each slice of bread and layer the cucumbers on top of the butter on half of the slices. Add salt and pepper, if you like. Put the remaining slices on top.

6. Slice off the crusts and cut the sandwiches into smaller pieces. You might cut them into triangles, squares or long rectangles. Enjoy with a haughty air.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Perfect Drinking Game - Downton Abbey

"I'm a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose." Lady Grantham

And so we drank.

Herbal tea, that is. Sunday night was the third episode of the second season of Downton Abbey aired, and as Brittany and I were in the same room on this joyous occasion it only seemed right that we have a viewing party. But what would be the theme?

'Of course!' Thought Brittany, 'An Edwardian tea. With tiny cupcakes and sandwiches. Where's the butter? Do you have any margarine?'

'Of course!' Said I, 'The tea is the thing! A lovely Victorian tea party.'



While scouring the internet for the perfect recipes to use, we came across other articles about parties hosted by other Downton lovers. One thing caught our eye- a drinking game. The rules were simple. When Lady Grantham, played by the incredibly talented Maggie Smith, said a witty one-liner, everybody took a drink.

This amused us, but we had no wish to die of alcohol poisoning, as those who laughingly thought up the game before must have done. Let us now bow our heads in silence for their departure from this world...

It was decided that the cakes should be vegan and the frosting too. The sandwiches were decidedly not, as they were made with butter and a bit of brie. I refer you to Lady Grantham on this one.

We scuttled about, creating our sandwiches and making our cakes. Then we positioned ourselves in front of the television, and raised our mugs.

I shall now give you, dear reader, a play-by-play of the events that took place.

"He's going to die! No, sorry, I meant his mother. Definitely his mother."
"Dead. Dead...sooo dead."
"I knew that was going to happen. It was just like Gilmore Girls when Lorelai sings karaoke and Luke walks in."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Don't Know What to Read Next? Neither Do I.

With the New Year well on it's way, we all must decide when exactly to stop this charade that we will be completing our New Year's Resolutions. The gym is simply too far away, chocolate tastes too good, wishing doesn't make the job market better, and no matter how many times you try them, kale chips don't taste like potato chips. They just don't.

But one easy resolution you can follow is the pledge to read more. Reading reduces stress, is fun, and occasionally free. Personally, I don't know what I'd do without a library card.
If you don't have one, now is a perfect time to sign up.

Then the only problem will be what to read next.

I never can collect enough book recommendations. The worst thing is to be left in the middle of your public library with stacks of books surrounding you and having nothing to read. I've tried picking random books from the shelves, but that can lead to a lot of wasted time if you pick a subpar book. Of course, sometimes this is the only way to find a precious gem of a book.

Here's a list of what books, I'm planning to read in 2012 and 10 books or book series that I would recommend to others.

Books to Read (2012)

1. Catching Fire /Mockingjay (Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

In the second (and first) book, teenagers who live in a heavily controlled society, are forced to play the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death.

The first edition in the series, the Hunger Games, was a joy to read. I haven't read a book in a while that I was able to sit down and read in only two sittings. The characters really draw you into the story. I can only describe the first book as the potato chips of dystopian fiction. The Hunger Games was a basic rehashing of ideas that are popular in dystopian science fiction. But it's the reactions of the characters to the horrible situations that they are in that make it an engaging read.

Basically, it's a lot of fun. And violence. Don't forget the violence.

2. Seeds of Betrayal (Book Two of the Winds of the Forelands) by David B. Coe

Book Two of the Winds of the Forelands series. The first book started off strong, with a compelling story of a would be future King framed for murder, a plot to take over the kingdom, magic and prejudice. I can't wait to delve deeper into the complex world Coe has created.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A young woman who recently has returned home from college writes a tell-all book about the lives of black maids in white households in the 1960's.

4. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Why? Because I read the first three books.

While not my favorite fantasy series, I think Paolini manages to entertain while giving fantasy readers nothing new. I read the third book when it came out, thinking it was the last one, only to discover to horror about a hundred pages from the end, that the series had been expanded from a trilogy. But I like to finish stories. So I will read this one as well.

5. The Last of the Dragonslayers/ The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

I have a love-hate relationship with this author. You may notice that I have listed one of his books in my top ten books to read. That's because his books can be hysterical, witty and lighthearted. But they can also be downright cruel to his main characters, as was the case with the novel, Shades of Grey. However, I think Fforde is very talented and I am curious to see if this series is more lighthearted then his last book.

6. Bossy Pants by Tina Fey

It's about Tina Fey. And she's awesome. I need no other reason.


These are a few of my favorite books from my childhood to books I just finished six months ago. From the beginning of the tale "Why am I this way?" to "Oh, that's what happened."

Books I've Loved (2012)

1. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Arthur Dent is having a bad day. The earth has been blown up to make way for a hyperspace pathway, his best friend is an alien, and he's still in his bathrobe. Quirky, zany, hysterical. If the very idea of a manically depressed robot doesn't make you giggle...this may not be the book for you.

2. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

A smart young woman is exiled to an isolated castle, where she is kidnapped by the Fairy Folk and must find a way to save herself and another.

3. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

A teenager dies in an accident and wakes up to find herself in Elsewhere, a sort of heaven, where everyone ages backwards.

4. Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Thursday is a Literary Detective in a world where certain cheeses are outlawed and pet dodos are common. Plenty of wordplay to delight anyone who loves books. The series begins with The Eyre Affair. (Note: Read Jane Eyre first.)

5. The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton

Two children play a dangerous game in their dreams, as they try to find long lost children and set a prince free. An imaginative book I loved as a child.

6. The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella

A lighthearted series about a shopaholic who tries to break the habit. A nice bit of fluff to perk up your day.

7. The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Baroon

The early years of Merlin, before the Arthurian myths began. Baroon explores the mysterious origins of Merlin as you've never seen them before.

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Cinderella with a twist. Ella is a young woman, forced by fairy magic to obey any order. Her mother dead and her father on the road, Ella begins a journey to break the curse. A great coming of age story.

9. The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

A tale of magic following the Old Ones, magical guardians who live outside of time, and a group of young children. The Arthurian myths are weaved in throughout. Throughly imaginative.

10. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the undisputed queen of the mystery novel. Death on the Nile is one of her very best.

What books are next on your list?

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I recently moved to a new town and was elated to discover a library in walking distance of my apartment, ever available as a peaceful work space and an outlet for idle book browsing. One day I decided to abandon my work and check out the library. My apartment is in a primarily Spanish-speaking area, so I quickly realized that half of the fiction section was in Spanish. (I now regret dropping the ball with the Spanish language Rosetta Stone I started in the fall.)

I looked for authors that I know and enjoy to gauge the inventory of the fiction section. For every author I searched for, I found one with a similar name who wrote a book about moms. For instance, where I hoped to find Virginia Woolf, I found Virginia Walf, author of Mom’s Day Out or Mom’s the Word. I quickly determined that I would have to use interlibrary loan to find books that are not specifically for and about moms. Or in Spanish.

Then, to my dismay, the library closed for construction, leaving me with only the enormous bookcase in my own apartment. After a month of patiently writing in the crowded Starbucks, the library has finally reopened. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll test out the renovated premises and search for some of the books I’d like to read this year.

Do you have an enormous bookcase might as well be its own library? Do you pass so many good reads onto enthusiastic friends that you forgot what was on the shelves in the first place? Maybe it’s time you invested in a personal library kit. The need to put little cards in the back of your own books must have occurred to you at one time or another, as you wondered whether your copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fell behind your desk or remains forgotten under a pile of sneakers in your brother’s closet? Perhaps it’s time to subject friends and family to library bureaucracy in your own home, complete with fines and a Dewey Decimal System.

Another idea for an enormous bookcase: Hide your heirloom treasures and embarrassing secrets in a hollowed-out book. This post from the blog Build Castles in Air will tell you exactly how to do it. Buried in between dozens of other books, no one will ever guess that your copy of Square Foot Gardening actually contains evidence of your latest crime spree.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Books for a New Year

It’s a new year and as good of a time as ever to breathe some life into this Battered Women blog. Let’s get literary.

I compiled a list of ten books I want to read this year. They aren’t all recent, nor are they all about food. Many of them are waiting on my shelf right now, becoming fully exasperated with my endless blogging.

Books I Want to Read in 2012

1. Welcome to Higby by Mark Dunn – I started this one on the train today. The story centers on a small town of eccentrics and religious fanatics. Mark Dunn writes really fantastic dialogue – a man preaching the gospel to a cat and a woman taking budgeting advice from her sassy, black guardian angel.

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov – From what I gather, Satan ambles into Moscow like he owns the place, the relationship between Soviet society and artists is explored, and an enormous talking cat imbues a great deal of vodka. There’s also a story within a story about Jesus.

3. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender – A girl goes through life tasting the emotions of other’s through the food they cook. Liza enjoyed this book immensely and now it’s gracing the shelf of borrowed books in my enormous bookcase. (You might remember a previous post long, long ago about The Girl with the Flammable Skirt.)

4. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – I loved the observant and precocious child narrators in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Swamplandia! appears to expand on one of my favorite short stories from the collection, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator.”

5. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link –.One might mistake this for a Nancy Drew mystery based on the cover art. It’s a short story collection drawing from fairy tales, Greek mythology, and famous acts of cannibalism.

6. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – Marco Polo tells stories about cities he has seen while traveling to Kublai Khan as his empire crumbles. Sounds magical.

7. Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski – Two starry-eyed teenagers embark on a metaphoric road trip through history. I need to tackle this now because Danielewski’s 27 volume project about cats will probably take a great deal of time to read.

8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – This historical account of wizardry in England during the Napoleonic Wars told in witty British prose and footnotes was recommended to me by a friend. Totaling in at one thousand and twenty-four pages, it will likely take three months of the year on its own. It still pales in comparison to Danielewski’s cat saga.

9. Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting - From what I’ve read, it’s a collection of stories about women who hold unglamorous, unlikely jobs. The cover of this book features a woman holding a fish and reminds me a lot of Leonor Fini's painting "Le Bout Du Monde."

10. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – Not having read Lolita feels kind of like not having seen Planet of the Apes. Not that the two have anything to do with each other but for the fact that I also haven’t seen Planet of the Apes.

What are you excited to read this year?