All Four Stars by Tara Dairman Blog Tour: Caramel Walnut Brownie Recipe & Giveaway!

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Welcome to the July 4th stop of The Midnight Garden’s All Four Stars Blog Tour!

It’s time to celebrate the upcoming release of the fantastic middle grade novel, All Four Stars…with a brownie recipe.

Calling all bakers and aspiring bakers!

When I saw All Four Stars on the list of upcoming releases for 2014, I was beyond excited. Three of my passions were combined in one book: cooking, baking, and writing! What a fantastic premise—a twelve year old chef and foodie accidentally lands a job writing a restaurant review for a prestigious newspaper. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to read the book.

The meals, recipes, and cooking adventures detailed in the story made my mouth water, and led me to brainstorm a baking-related tour stop for The Midnight Garden’s Blog Tour! After much thought and deliberation, I decided to pursue the perfect recipe for the caramel walnut brownies that Gladys’s neighbor, Mrs. Anderson bakes. Mrs. Anderson is known for her “experimental brownies” and gives one to Gladys, though Gladys “never had the heart to tell Mrs. Anderson that she didn’t really like walnuts.” Gladys gives her brownie to a classmate the next day at lunch:

“You want it?” Gladys said, holding out the brownie.

Charissa took it right away, of course, without protesting, proposing a trade, or even saying thank you…Charissa held the brownie at arm’s length. She was shaking…

“Oh my God,” Charissa said, her eyes wide with disbelief.

“This brownie..this brownie…” The cafeteria table was dead silent; all eyes were on them…

“This brownie is…AMAZING!!”

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DSC_0246I decided to bake my own caramel walnut brownies, but I also made a batch without the walnuts—and hoped that Gladys would approve. For the recipe, I went straight to the professionals because there was a brownie recipe I was dying to try from an amazing cookbook: Baked Elements by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito (Photography by Tina Rupp).  I think Lewis & Poliafito really have the best brownie recipe, and you can actually visit their bakery in Brooklyn. Their brownie recipe doesn’t have the caramel walnut glaze or the two tablespoons of boiling water I added, but the rest of the recipe is theirs. I would strongly recommend buying their cookbook–you won’t regret it. There is an amazing recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls that you should try next!

Gladys: “I’ve made 142 recipes from twelve different cookbooks,” she cried, “and they all turned out fine!”

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(I didn’t have to use my stand mixer for this, but thought it looks lovely next to the cookbook.)

Their Spicy Brownie recipe includes ancho chile powder to deliver a gorgeous spicy dimension to a perfect fudgy brownie. Think ancho chile powder is hard to find? Not really. You can find it at World Market as well as other grocery stores. In a pinch, you could probably use cayenne pepper, but I would recommend using about half of the ancho chile powder amount.

More research found me a simple recipe for a caramel walnut glaze that I thought would be the perfect finish. These spicy brownies could certainly go without them, if you wanted to omit the caramel and walnuts. The truth is—I made these brownies once in California, and then I made them while on holiday on Cape Cod. I actually liked the once with bigger chunks of walnuts, surprisingly. I’m in love with these brownies! Look at that amazing fudgy-ness.

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These actually aren’t THAT spicy and those who are expecting more of a kick could be disappointed. What they do deliver is a smoky and warm flavor that I think pairs perfectly with the caramel and walnuts. The Baked authors had originally used a chipotle powder in these spicy brownies, but felt this was a bit much, and so opted for something a little less spicy. My taste testers were not disappointed—I received raving reviews of these brownies for days.

A few important notes on this recipe:

-Make sure your eggs are room temperature! Don’t skip this step.

-The recipe asks you to grate your cinnamon, but in a pinch, it was fine for me to use the cinnamon I already had in my spice cupboard.

-Don’t overmix the brownies!! This is crucial to their wonderful fudgy texture. Fold everything together at the end just until combined.

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Mrs. Anderson’s Aztec Brownies with Caramel Walnut Glaze

(The Baked Spicy Brownie with Caramel Walnut Glaze)

Adapted slightly from the Spicy Brownies Recipe in Baked Elements: The Importance of Being Baked in 10 Favorite Ingredients by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafato, Tina Rupp (Photographer) [2012, by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang]

Makes: 12 large or 24 small brownies

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons freshly grated cinnamon (or from your spice rack)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger OR 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
2 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons of boiling water (from bottom double boiler pan)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature (very important to have the eggs at room temperature!)

Caramel Walnut Glaze

14 unwrapped caramels

¼ cup heavy cream

1/2 to 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (depending on how much walnut-ness you desire)

Making the Brownies

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take a 9 by 13 inch glass or light colored metal baking pan and butter the bottom and sides. Then, line the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment.

2. Next, get a medium bowl, and whisk the flour, cocoa powder, chile powder, cinnamon, salt, and ginger. Set that aside.

3. Now, you need to melt the butter and chocolate. You can construct your own double boiler on the stove by filling a pot about halfway with water, and then placing a glass bowl or another pot over that one. It’s really easy! Check out this link for more info. Once you get the water boiling, you can place your butter and chocolates in the top bowl. Stir occasionally until everything is melted and combined nicely! Now, turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water. **If you want to add my magic mishap [see description below] into the recipe, take two tablespoons of the boiling water and add it to the chocolate/butter mixture. Then, add both the white sugar and the brown sugar and whisk until they are combined. You need to wait a little now, while the bowl comes to room temperature, but remove it from above the water.

4. Add 3 of your room temperature eggs, and mix it until everything comes together nicely. Don’t overmix! Add the last 2 eggs and do the same–mix until just combined.

5. Now you can add the flour mixture to the batter and fold the flour mixture in with a spatula. It’s very important that you don’t overmix here—once you see the last of the flour disappear…stop!

6. Pour the brownie batter into your prepared pan with the parchment.

7. Bake for 30 minutes in your preheated oven, but set your timer for 15 minutes and rotate the pan halfway.

You’ll need to check to see that the brownies are finished by using a toothpick. You should only see a few crumbs on the toothpick to make sure the brownies are done. Let them cool now and transfer to a wire rack.

Once the brownies are cool, you can make the glaze.

8. Chop about ½ to 1 cup of walnuts—it’s up to you depending on how many walnuts you like on your brownie. You can preheat the oven to 350 degrees and toast the walnuts for about 8 minutes first, if you prefer. Or, skip this step, if you’re pressed for time.

9. Unwrap your 14 caramels and place in a bowl that you can microwave, or in a pot on the stove.

10. Add ¼ cup of the heavy cream and stir everything as it melts. I melted the caramel and cream on the stove, and this worked out just fine. You just want to make sure you keep an eye on the mixture and turn off the heat as soon as everything is combined.

11. You can drizzle some caramel on the brownies first, and then top with the walnuts. Or you can sprinkle the walnuts, and then pour the caramel over.

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Cut into squares and enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee. And be sure to read ALL FOUR STARS, out JULY 10TH from Putnam!

BONUS: *My Baking Mishap*

No, it wasn’t as destructive as Gladys’s experience making crème brulee, but since I didn’t have a double boiler to melt the butter and the chocolate, I constructed my own. My pots weren’t the right size, though, and as I was stirring my chocolate and butter for these brownies (and they were melting very nicely), my top pot slipped and tipped into the water below it! That gave me a start, but I quickly righted the pot, and surveyed the damage. Had any water gone into the chocolate and butter? How would that affect the final product? I had no choice but to press on—time was of the essence!

The fact is, that some of the water had gone into my chocolate and butter, a few tablespoons, by my estimation. But….the texture and taste of the brownies was so amazing, that I really couldn’t say if it damaged the recipe at all. In fact, I thought the finished brownie was so perfect, that I think I may have to suggest adding a tiny bit of boiling water to the chocolate and butter mixture, in case there was a bit of magic in my mishap.

Should I be berated for this? Maybe. But I think Gladys would show me grace. And I certainly hope she would appreciate the brownies, minus the walnuts, of course.

Win a copy of All Four Stars!

Thanks to Putnam, there are 8 finished copies of this lovely book to give away throughout the blog tour. Visit each stop to earn extra points, or you can also tweet, pin, etc.

Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 or older, or 13 or older with parental permission. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to visit the blog again on Monday for a special interview with author, TARA DAIRMAN!

All Four Stars Tour Schedule
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the All Four Stars Blog Tour! There are fantastic posts, excerpts, recipes, and giveaways at each stop.

Tuesday, July 1st              The Midnight Garden
Wednesday, July 2nd        The Reading Date
Thursday, July 3rd            For What It’s Worth
Friday, July 4th                 The Spirit of Children’s Literature
                                           A Baked Creation
Monday, July 7th              Xpresso Reads
Tuesday, July 8th             For the Love of Words
Wednesday, July 9th        Finding Bliss in Books
Thursday, July 10th          Candace’s Book Blog

Where to buy the book links:

BON APPETIT & HAPPY READING!

TMG blog tours

 

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Review: Words with Wings (2013) by Nikki Grimes

Words with Wings (2013) by Nikki Grimes

Suggested age range: 10 and up

(WordSong, 96 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Library

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“When class lets out, I hurry home, hungry for dinner and hoping to find more words with wings to dream and write about tomorrow.”

The Book: Gabby has been a daydreamer ever since she can remember. Her parents are divorcing, which means she and her mother are moving and Gabby will attend a new school. She doesn’t know anyone, and describes herself as a “Shy Girl Who Lives Inside her Head.” She misses her father, a daydreamer like Gabby. She appreciates her mother, but she often tells her to pay attention in school and stop daydreaming so much. This is a beautiful novel in verse about a young girl who sees “words with wings” and is navigating through the experience of a broken family and a new school. Grimes has created poetic verses that depict a bright and sensitive girl whose daydreams may just turn out to be more significant than she thinks.

Spirituality in Words with Wings: Difficult times can help a person to see how his/her inner spirituality is significant. Gabby’s daydreaming is definitely one aspect of her spirituality, for it fuels her wonder and awe at the world. Sometimes a moment of awe at the way the rain is falling is what nurtures our spirituality can draw us into a profound experience. Gabby has a creative mind, and she is drawn to another creative mind in her classroom—a boy who draws. Together they develop an important friendship that supports Gabby as she is adjusting to a new school. Because both Gabby and her friend are tapped into their creativity, they are able to connect meaningfully and express that creativity with one another. In other words, both feel “safe” with the other.

Exploring this Book with Readers: A slim novel, A slim novel, this would work well as a read aloud in an upper elementary or middle school classroom. At the same time, it would be perfect for individual or even pair reading. The chapters in a different font represent the daydreams that Gabby has throughout the book. Each “poem chapter” is titled and Grimes includes snapshots of Gabby’s earlier life when her parents were still together throughout the story. Young readers could relate to this book on multiple levels, including the experience of going through a divorce, moving to a new school, making friends, and most importantly, daydreaming! Many creative minds have trouble paying attention in class, and this book is lovely because it shows how a teacher reached out to Gabby, and valued her “daydreaming” gift. Grimes based the teacher in the book on one of her own teachers—I loved reading about this in the Acknowledgments section.

The Final Word: I started reading novels in verse more after I was chair of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award one month, and I am so happy I did! Novels in verse for children and young adults can be so profound, because they can tell a good story while at the same time illuminating the beauty of language and the way we can “play” with words. Words with Wings is a hopeful and heartwarming story that doesn’t sugarcoat divorce, but does illuminate how change is not always negative, and that difficult circumstances can strengthen character and reveal talents.

Top Ten Debuts Catherine is Excited for in 2014

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This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and Bookish—check out their wonderful blog if you haven’t yet. These are my anticipated reads for 2014, by debut authors. My list includes Middle Grade novels as well as Young Adult titles. Click on the title to find out more on GoodReads.

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Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

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All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

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Pointe by Brandy Colbert

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Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

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Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

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The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey

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What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren

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When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

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The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

I am excited about these 2014 releases–are there any on this list you are anticipating? Other debut authors you can’t wait to meet?

Review: The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Third Gift (2011) by Linda Sue Park, Illustrations by Bagram Ibatouilline

Suggested age range: 7 and up

(Clarion Books, 32 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

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The Book: A boy accompanies his father as he collects resin from tree bark, the “tears” that become the valuable essential oil of myrrh. This is the father’s craft, and the story highlights the bond between father and son as well as the transferring of a craft from one generation to another. You may recognize the style of Ibatouilline’s illustrations—he produced the pictures for Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The text includes information related to how the essential oil of myrrh was used in the past, and based on the allusion to the event of Jesus’ birth at the end of the story, the reader can guess the time period and place of the story. The realistic illustrations are acrylic-gouache, and include beautiful details of the Middle Eastern landscape and clothing.

The father’s product is pursued by a spice merchant in the marketplace one day, and the boy and father discover three richly dressed men who have traveled far and are seeking a valuable gift for a baby. The men decide to purchase the large tear the boy recently acquired, and the story concludes with the boy gazing after the men as they ride off into the desert towards the baby.

Spirituality in The Third Gift: The significant spiritual and religious event of the birth of Jesus Chris is alluded to in the conclusion of the story. However, the Father/Son relationship is another area of spirituality in the text; this father/son bond is unique in that the Father is imparting knowledge about a skill to his son. There is a significant connection forged between them. At the same time, he is also giving him more responsibility; the father allows his son to share his “tear” with the three visitors who are seeking a “third gift” for this baby they will visit.

A spirituality of wonder and awe is subtly hinted at in the closing illustration and text. The boy does not know all the details of these three visitors or the nature of their future visit to the baby, but he senses (communicated by the both the picture and text) that this is significant. Perhaps the boy will never know to whom his gift was given. What the text does communicate is that even the very young can play an important role in globally significant events.

Exploring this Book with Readers: This is perfect for a read aloud, and introducing this book during the Christmas season would be brilliant, but this is also a book that would work anytime of the year. Discussion with young reader could focus on several areas: Crafts and abilities we have that can bring joy to others, Middle Eastern culture, the gaps and mystery in the story that are left open for the reader to fill.

The content related to the essential oils and spices is another brilliant road into the story. Essential oils as natural healthcare is discussed in the story—historically, myrrh was used for “headaches…stomachaches…to soothe rashes.” In our own time, essential oils can still be used for these ailments, and I was especially interested in this picturebook due to my recent introduction to essential oils. I have found they have amazing properties and can answer many health concern questions, including sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, and allergies. How excited I was to discover this beautiful picturebook that highlights an essential oil, myrrh, and frames it within the background of an event over 2,000 years ago.

The Final Word: I would definitely recommended sharing this with both elementary classes and even middle school classes. The age of the students could determine the depth of analysis and discussion, but certainly, this book has something to offer every reader. Its allusion to the Biblical event of the birth of Christ would make it especially appropriate for religious classrooms. However, this book would appeal, I believe, to readers of all backgrounds.

Connecting with Cakes

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A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (2013)

Suggested age range: 8 and up

(Philomel, 233 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

“Life is the grandest adventures one can go on, isn’t it?”

I love to bake and I love to read. Lisa Graff’s new book connects these two hobbies in A Tangle of Knots and I thought this book a true delight! Many characters in this story possess a “Talent,” a special ability. For Will it is the talent of getting lost; for Zane, it is spitting with precision. For eleven year old Cady, it is cake baking. She is able to bake the perfect cake for each individual she meets, and these delectable cake recipes are featured between different chapters in the novel. Will’s S’more Cake. The Owner’s Peanut Butter Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting. Miss Mallory’s Peach Cake. These are just a few. Readers could be baking and reading simultaneously if they really wanted.

There is a mystery behind Cady’s birth; she is an orphan and doesn’t know much about where she came from or about her parents. At the beginning of the story, she moves into a room above the Lost Luggage Emporium with Toby, who also has some secrets from his past. Her new home just happens to be in the same building as a family who may be more connected with her destiny than she realizes.

The perspective in the story changes from chapter to chapter. So, even though the reader might assume the point of view will remain Cady’s throughout the book, that isn’t actually how the story unfolds. The presence of the recipes gives the story texture and detail, and even gives readers something concrete to take away (if they wish!).

In addition to the perspective changes, I also liked the way Graff features both child and adult characters as important players in the story. In some ways this book reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo as well as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Both books feature children in search of identity and belonging and also reflect adults who are changed through the course of the story. The connectivity that develops among the various characters and the ideas of destiny and purpose are two ways I think this novel reflects the spirituality of children’s literature. Characters are stirred to take certain action or move in particular directions; it is as if something is driving them to do so. To be honest, I think something is driving me to bake and test “Cady’s Chocolate-Almond Cherry Cake”!

I wonder if teachers could use this novel to connect language arts and baking in their classrooms—how fun would that be?

I whipped through this book, and was sad to see it conclude, yet happy I had discovered such a gem. I think you will be too.