The Small Joys of Summer

Here in the US, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to the summer season.  This past winter wore me down for more reasons than just the weather, so I’ve been looking forward to summer even more than usual this year. In anticipation of the pleasures that lie before us, I’ve made a little list of the small things I relish during these warm and verdant months of the year. I must thank the Daily Post and Anna Fonté at girl in the hat for the inspiration for this post.  It was great fun and now I’m dying to get this summer thing started!

Small Joys of Summer

strawberries

the baking sun on my skin

the cool, dark shade of a tree

peonies

hydrangeas

plump, industrious bumble bees covered with pollen

hummingbirds

steak and onion kebabs on the grill

anything on the grill, really

eating al fresco every chance I get

watermelon

sweet corn with lots of butter and salt

peaches

homemade vanilla ice cream (preferably with strawberries)

brain-freezing Coke Slushies

bare feet or

flip flops

painted toenails

the smell of freshly cut grass

dips in the pool on a blistering day

biking, swimming, paddling

talking around the campfire

fireworks on the Fourth of July

picnics of all kinds – must include potato chips

free outdoor concerts

baseball games

lightening bugs at dusk

thunderstorms

Relaxing on the porch late at night (with or without thunderstorms, but hopefully with strawberries)

 

DSC_4274-2Should anything be added to the list?  Please let me know.

 

Summer Reading: Whittling Away at the BBC Top 100 List

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Summer is slipping through my fingers like a soft ice cream cone on a sweltering afternoon.  Can it really be the middle of July?  Where the heck did June go?

In my bewilderment at this unnaturally speedy passage of summertime, I completely missed writing about my little summer reading challenge when I actually started it.  So, while I’ve been purposefully reading specific books for a good month, I’m only now getting around to writing about it here.

And what is this reading challenge, you ask?  First, I believe a brief back story is on order.

I occasionally read the blog The Bookshelf of Emily J.  Among other things, Emily is working her way through The BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List*(her list is here). The BBC Top 100 is a Facebook meme** which has the audacity to claim most people have read no more than 6 of its 100 selections.  Reading Emily’s list prompted me to revisit my results of the same compilation which I completed about two years ago.  At that time, I’d read 33 of the 100 suggestions but I have since completed several more books.  I also realized that many of the books I still hadn’t read were languishing around my home just waiting for some curious soul to crack them open.

And that, dear readers, was when The BBC Top 100 Summer Reading Challenge was born.  The goal: to read as many unread books on The BBC Top 100 as I can this summer and still live a somewhat productive life.  No buying, borrowing, bartering or stealing allowed; books must to be located somewhere in my house.  I’m posting my list below with the books I’ve read so far in bold type.  Books with an asterisk beside them are ones I’ve read since the the Summer Solstice (only three so far).  Italicized books are selections I’ve started but not finished.

Stephany’s BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List 

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë*
  4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  6. The Bible
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
  8. Nineteen Eighty-four – George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
  15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
  18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Baugh
  24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  26. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll*
  30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
  34. Emma -Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
  37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
  41. Animal Farm – George Orwell
  42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  52. Dune – Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville 
  71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula – Bram Stoker*
  73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses – James Joyce
  76. The Inferno – Dante
  77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal – Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession – A.S. Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom*
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

When I began this challenge, I’d read 38  selections (40 books total).  To date, the tally is up to 43.5.  After reading Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane (not part of the challenge but I couldn’t help myself), I felt my reading was taking a definite turn down a very dark road.  To lighten things up, I chose The Ultimate Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  And, I’m struggling with it a bit.  When I’m in the mood for light and fluffy, the book is fine.  However, sometimes I find myself craving more substance and then reading it feels like a chore.  This is not a criticism of the book, by any means. It’s more an observation of my capriciousness.

Once I finish The Guide, I have several other choices:

  1. The Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling
  2. The Complete Works of Shakespeare
  3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis
  5. A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
  6. Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  7. The Count of Monte Christo by Alexander Dumas
  8. Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens
  9. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
  11. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The BBC Top 100 List Summer Reading Challenge ends on September 21,2013.  Looks like it’s going to be a classics kind of reading adventure and that’s just fine with me.  Wish me luck!

What are you reading this summer?

*The BBC Top 100 Must Read Books List was probably designed by a Facebook user and doesn’t have any official ties to the BBC.  The list slightly resembles The BBC’s Big Read compilation from 2003 but that is probably is as far as the connection goes.  Even though the origins of the list are sketchy, it contains many worthy books and that’s why I decided to use it for my little challenge.  

**meme:  an Internet chain letter that is sent from person to person.

Garden Magic on a Summer Evening

Last night was such a sublime evening that I had to grab my camera and wander around the yard for a bit.  The combined magic of soft light and luxurious colors was simply too tempting to resist.  Below are some of the things I discovered as I drifted about.  This is my own little outdoor world through my eyes.

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This post was inspired by The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes.

Fresh Peach Drop Cookies

August is the mellow back stretch of summer.  The shadows are lengthening, the sunlight seems softer, and the colors of the season are beginning to fade.  It’s a bittersweet time, a mixture of the sadness of knowing summer is soon ending and the anticipation for the fresh start of a new school year.

One of the things I love most about August is the bounty of fruits and vegetables that come into season: sweet corn, blackberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, plums, peppers.  My favorite?  Peaches.  With velvety skin, a delicate fragrance, and richly variegated color, they satisfy more than just my taste buds.

Right now, the trees at the local orchard are so laden with peaches that their branches are grazing the ground.  The orchard’s store is overflowing with bushels, pecks, and piles of the fuzzy fruit.  Small signs admonish tempted patrons (like myself) to “please squeeze your sweetie, not the peaches.  We bruise easily!”  It’s very hard, but somehow I manage to keep my hands to myself.

I spend a lot of time at the orchard store because my family loves peaches.  We eat them almost everyday when they are in season, pitted and peeled, with juice dripping off our fingers and down our chins.  I also make jars of peach jam. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh, ripe peaches spread on a biscuit or a slice of toast in the middle of winter.

The other day I had a hankering to do some baking.  There were just a few lonely peaches sitting on the counter.  Not enough for a cobbler or a crisp but just the right amount for some cookies.  Ace and I spent an afternoon baking up these little cakey morsels of peach goodness.  I mixed the dough and dropped the cookies.  He mixed and sprinkled the cinnamon-sugar and taste-tested the results.

Martha Stewart (whose recipe we used) advises that the cookies are best if eaten the same day.  Because eating four dozen cookies in one day is very bad, no matter how good the cookies or how appreciative or hungry the eaters, this recipe encourages sharing with the people near and dear to you.  And sharing the quintessential flavor of late summer wrapped in a cinnamon-sugar-crusted cookie is almost as good a indulging in it yourself.

Fresh Peach Drop Cookies (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies)

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large ripe peaches (about 8 ounces each), peeled, pitted, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (1 3/4 cups)

1/3 cup peach jam or preserves

2 tablespoons fine sanding sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 375º F.  Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low.  Add egg and vanilla; mix until well blended, about 1 minute.  Add flour mixture and mix until combined.  Add diced peaches and peach jam; mix until just combined.
  3. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart.  (Chill remaining dough between batches.)*
  4. Combine sanding sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Sprinkle each cookie with 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Bake cookies until golden brown and just set, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Let cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.  Cookies are best eaten the day they are made, but they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to two days.**

Makes 4 dozen cookies.***

* I recommend chilling the dough a bit (maybe fifteen minutes) before baking any cookies.  They will spread less and will seem fluffier.

** These cookies really are delicate.  I have kept them for two days and they still taste fine.  However, they flatten out if stacked and become stickier with each passing day.

*** The recipe makes 4 dozen cookies if you use the 1 1/2 inch scoop or tablespoon.  My scoop is 1 3/4 inch (yes, I measured it) and I was able to get 40 cookies from the recipe.