Book Blog: Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer: The Artistry, Joy, and Career of Storytelling by J. Michael Straczynski

Posted by on Jun 18, 2021 in Blog, book blog | 0 comments

I review everything I read and post reviews on Goodreads and LibraryThing. That’s not enough. Good books are meant to be shared. Therefore, I’m spotlighting some of my favorite reads here on my site.

Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer: The Artistry, Joy, and Career of Storytelling by J. Michael Straczynski

out now in print and ebook; BookShop, B&N, and Amazon [affiliate link]

I received an early copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

I’ve read many writing books. Straczynski’s new release approaches the subject of writing from a fresh angle: his own life, with his diverse experience in Hollywood and in publishing, as he discusses the tenacity and work necessary to “make it” within the industries–and then how to hang after that. His tone is easy and conversational, and the book is a fast read.

I’ve adored the man since I was a Babylon 5 fan as a teenager, and this book increased my esteem for him even more. As a writer myself, one who is definitely at the “trying to hang on” stage, this book felt both timely and personal. Straczynski gets it. Even with all his success, he’s still working hard because he loves what he does, as challenging as it is at times.

He begins with a Stephen King quote that I hadn’t seen before: “In the end, you don’t even do it [writing] for love, although it would be nice to think so. You do it because to not do it is suicide.”

That sets the tone for the book. Everything here is for people who NEED to write, even though it’s hard, enough though life and rejection grind you down. Even more: even when writers grind down themselves. As he notes, “A writing career can survive rejection, ridicule, starvation, and loneliness, but fear or complacency will kill it every time.”

He doesn’t claim to possess any shortcuts or special methods. He actually, with exasperation, describes people he’s dealt with time and again who insist otherwise. When it comes down to it, the book is about tenacity and hard work. Other writing books address that, sure, but Straczynski’s words really resonated with me. This is the kind of volume I think I’ll reference again in the future when I need his honest outlook to motivate me.

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Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

Posted by on Jun 16, 2021 in Blog, blondies, Bready or Not, cake | 0 comments

Snickerdoodles are a regular theme on Bready or Not, and this new Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake version is something amazing.

Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

This is a true cake, not simply a bar. It has a light, airy crumb that isn’t too moist or too dry.

Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

Most importantly, it tastes like a Snickerdoodle. Despite what some store versions think these days, that doesn’t simply mean cinnamon and sugar, but the distinct taste of cream of tartar as well.

Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

That cinnamon-sugar thing is important too, though. That’s why this cake has a visible layer through the middle–which looks gorgeous when pieces are cut–as well as a crust on top. To which I added a pinch of pretzel salt for contrast, because why not?

Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

This recipe doesn’t produce a massive batch of cake, but if you are baking for a few people, know that you can safely slice up and individually wrap pieces and freeze them for later.

Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

Bready or Not Original: Snickerdoodle Crumb Cake

These light, cakey bars are infused with Snickerdoodle goodness. This cake takes more effort than the usual cookies, but it shows in the presentation and flavor!
Course: Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bars, cake, snickerdoodle
Author: Beth Cato

Equipment

  • 8x8 or 9x9 pan
  • uneven spatula

Ingredients

Streusel

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter half stick, cut into pieces

Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter 1 1/2 sticks, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 large eggs room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste

Filling

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons white sugar

Topping

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon white sugar
  • pinch pretzel salt optional

Instructions

Make the streusel

  • Stir together the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Use a pastry cutter or butter knife and fork to mash the butter into pea-sized pieces and crumbs. Set in fridge to chill.

Make the dough

  • Preheat oven at 350-degrees. Line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with foil and apply nonstick spray.
  • In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a big bowl, beat the butter and both sugars until creamy. Mix in eggs one by one followed by the vanilla extract. Gradually mix in dry ingredients until just combined.
  • Spread about half the dough in the pan, using an uneven spatula fully coat the bottom.

Make the layers

  • Stir together the two filling ingredients. Sprinkle to entirely cover the base layer of dough.
  • Dollop the rest of the batter on top, again using the uneven spatula to spread evenly to edges. Sprinkle the streusel across the top. Mix together the cinnamon-sugar topping, then sprinkle that over the crumbs.
  • Bake for 33 to 37 minutes, until the middle passes the toothpick test. Cool completely. Use foil to lift cake onto a cutting board to slice into bars.
  • Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Can also be sliced into bars, wrapped in plastic, and frozen for an easy treat later.

OM NOM NOM!

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    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    Posted by on Jun 9, 2021 in Blog, Bready or Not, yeast bread | 0 comments

    If you need a good, sturdy sandwich roll, these Pretzel Sandwich Buns are delicious bready conveyances.

    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    With my husband home a lot more in 2020, I revisited some bread recipes I hadn’t made in years. This is one of them, which I originally featured on Bready or Not in 2014.

    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    I rewrote the recipe to clarify some things. The recipe is a fine one to do in a KitchenAid (yay, bread hook!), but I really like making this dough in my bread machine. Add the ingredients in whatever order is specified by your machine; for me, that means liquid ingredients first.

    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    When it is time to do the water bath, be vigilant! That baking soda makes the water especially turbulent and foamy.

    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    These rolls are great for things like shredded pork with BBQ sauce. They don’t get soggy and dissolve in your hands. Also, these are just straight-up good split in half, buttered, and heated in the oven.

    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    2020 was a sucky year, but at least it enabled me to rediscover some recipes like this one!

    Modified from King Arthur Flour.

    Bready or Not: Pretzel Sandwich Buns

    These chewy buns are great for sandwiches that tend to be saucier or juicier, as the crumb has a fantastic, durable pretzel texture. Shape them into buns big or small, or elongated to fit sausages. Modified from a King Arthur Flour recipe.
    Course: Bread, Main Course, Snack
    Cuisine: American
    Keyword: yeast bread
    Author: Beth Cato

    Equipment

    • large pot
    • slotted spoon

    Ingredients

    Dough

    • 1 3/4 cups warm water
    • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
    • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
    • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

    Topping

    • pretzel salt or substitute kosher salt

    Water Bath

    • 2 quarts water
    • 1 Tablespoon salt
    • 1/4 cup baking soda

    Instructions

    • Mix and knead the dough ingredients by hand, mixer, or bread machine to make a smooth, slightly sticky dough. If making by hand or mixer, allow the dough to rise in a lightly greased bowl, covered, for about 1 hour, until doubled. In a bread machine, let the full dough cycle run through.
    • Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough as necessary. This can mean weighing the dough then dividing it into portions, or using a biscuit cutter or other shaper to slice. Note that if the dough is being cut, keep it thick, as it won't double on the second rise. Recipe can make about 5 to 6 big sandwich rolls. Roll dough with hands with smooth out the shape.
    • Place the balls on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.
    • While dough rests, preheat the oven to 400-degrees and prepare the water bath for the stovetop. In a large pot, bring the water, salt, and baking soda to a boil.
    • Use a slotted spoon to gently lower several dough balls at a time into the water bath. Cook for 30 seconds, flip over, and cook for 30 seconds longer. Using the slotted spoon, return the buns to the baking sheet.
    • Use scissor or a sharp knife to cut half-inch deep crosses into the center of each bun. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
    • Bake buns for 20 to 24 minutes (or a lower time, if they are shaped smaller). They should be nicely brown all over. Transfer to a rack to cool.
    • Buns will keep well in a sealed bag at room temperature for up to 2 days. The bread is great at room temperature or warmed in an oven or toaster oven. The rolls can be frozen, but note that the top can sog slightly when they are thawed, which isn't a problem if the rolls are heated/toasted to be eaten.

    OM NOM NOM!

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      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      Posted by on Jun 2, 2021 in Blog, Bready or Not, breakfast, british, quick bread | 0 comments

      Orange marmalade is delicious stuff atop an English muffin or toast, and it’s also amazing incorporated into this Marmalade Pecan Bread.

      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      If your jar is large enough, you can use some marmalade in the glaze, too–but worry not if your jar is smaller. Just use orange juice instead!

      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      This bread has a tender, delicious crumb. You get some orange in every bite, and the pecans pieces add a great crunch for contrast.

      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      This is ideal for a breakfast or brunch, but really, it would be a nice bedtime snack, too. Something cozy, delicious, and a touch sweet.

      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      I cut the bread into slices and found it froze and thawed well, too. A tiny bit of glaze stuck to the plastic wrap, but it wasn’t that bad at all.

      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      Modified from Taste of Home Church Potluck 2015.

      Bready or Not Original: Marmalade Pecan Bread

      The vibrant, citrusy bread is infused with a jar of orange marmalade! Pecans add a lovely crunch throughout. This is a great breakfast or brunch treat.
      Course: Breakfast, Snack
      Cuisine: American, British
      Keyword: citrus, pecans, quick bread
      Author: Beth Cato

      Equipment

      • 9x5 loaf pan
      • parchment paper

      Ingredients

      • 12 ounce orange marmalade jar or a 10oz jar with a modified glaze
      • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 stick, softened
      • 1/2 cup brown sugar packed
      • 2 eggs room temperature
      • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
      • 3 teaspoons baking powder
      • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1/3 cup orange juice plus more, if needed for glaze
      • 1/2 cup pecans chopped
      • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

      Instructions

      • Preheat oven at 350-degrees. Cut a piece of parchment to fit long-ways in the loaf pan, extending up either side. Grease the pan, place the paper inside, then grease again. Set aside.
      • If using a 12 ounce jar of marmalade, measure out two ounces to set aside.
      • In a large bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar until blended. Add eggs, one at a time. Gradually mix in the 10 ounces of marmalade.
      • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
      • Slowly beat the dry ingredients into the wet, until just combined. Fold in the pecans.
      • Pour batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes; check on bread, and cover with foil if it is becoming too browned on top. Continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes (that is 60 to 65 minutes total), until the very middle passes the toothpick test. Let rest in pan for about 10 minutes, then use the parchment sling to pull the bread out to set on a cooling rack.
      • After the bread cools completely, mix together the remaining marmalade and the confectioners' sugar to form a thick glaze; alternatively, if a smaller jar was used, add orange juice by teaspoons into the sugar until a thick glaze is formed.
      • Let set for 20 minutes before slicing in. Store at room temperature in a sealed beg or plastic wrap. Bread can also be sliced and frozen for later enjoyment.

      OM NOM NOM!

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