Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness IndustryThe Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't read a lot of non-fiction - just a preference, not a comment. This book caught my eye because my undergraduate education is in Psychology. The book is an incredibly interesting account of Jon Ronson's investigation of the madness industry and how we perceive and interpret mental illness. I really like Ronson's storytelling style because it reads like fiction. He also seems like the type of guy that I would be friends with if I met him one day at a party or on the street and struck up a conversation. Despite the comfortable tone of the book, it is very well researched. You can tell he did his homework and the questions he poses are very poignant. The label of psychopath is incredibly damaging to a person but you can see how certain character traits could spun into something more sinister than they are.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate-Covered Almond Toffee

Chocolate-Covered Almond Toffee
I love the Christmas season -  mostly for the food. Each year I try a new holiday treat and this year was toffee.  I found several recipes and combined and changed parts for the recipe listed below.  My wife and both children devoured several pieces while we wrapped up packages for the neighbors.  I think we have a new favorite holiday treat.

4 cups slivered almonds
2/3 cup milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1 lb (4 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water

Special Equipment: 2 large baking sheets (12 inch by 17 inch), a candy or deep-fat thermometer, heatproof spatula, offset metal spatula


Coarsely chop sliced almonds in a food processor or by hand and then separate into 1 cup and 3 cup increments. Mix 1/3 cup  each of the milk and dark chocolate chips into two bowls.  Set aside.

Butter a large baking sheet or use a non-stick Silpat to line the pan. Bring butter, sugar, and water to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is a golden caramel color and thermometer registers 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup chopped almonds. The mixture may still have separated portions of the butter, but don't worry.  Pour the mixture into the center fo the greased or lined baking sheet and spread with a heatproof spatula to the edges of the baking sheet.  Place the second baking sheet on top of the mixture and press down for an even thickness and flat finished surface.

Sprinkle one bowl of the mixed chocolate chips onto the hot toffee and let stand until the chocolate is melted (4-5 minutes).  Spread the chocolate using the offset metal spatula and then sprinkle with half of the remaining chopped almonds. Cover with a sheet of wax paper or another Silpat and then place the second baking sheet on top of the toffee and carefully invert the toffee and the sheet or Silpat. You may need to loosen the toffee with a spatula if not using a Silpat liner.

Once turned over, sprinkle the other side of the toffee with the remaining bowl of mixed chocolate chips and sprinkle with the remaining chopped almonds in the same manner described above. Put the completed pan of toffee in the freezer for approximately 30 minutes to cool it completely before breaking into pieces. Pieces can be broken with a butter knife and then transferred into an airtight container to be kept at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable read. I enjoyed the characters a lot and the narration by death was perfect. So much pain and suffering takes place during the book that death relating those deaths in a taking care of business way made them more tolerable.

The one thing I didn't like was setting the book in Nazi Germany. I thought the story could be told in any environment of poverty. I'm getting tired of Nazis as villains. The atrocities of Hitler should not be forgotten, but they are so overwritten that they are almost like canned evil. The obligatory references to the evils of Hitler and the Nazis and equally obligatory nobleness of those recognizing right from wrong was tiresome to me because I've read them so many times. This was a distraction I didn't enjoy in an otherwise very well written and engaging story.

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