On My Bookshelf: The Very Short Story Starter by John Gillard


If you're an aspiring author like me, then you're constantly grappling with what to write and how to write it. It's a daily struggle for me, a person who knows she wants to write, but doesn't know where to start. Enter: The Very Short Story Starter.

I stumbled across this workbook of sorts one day while perusing the university bookstore for as many pieces of varying writing styles and subjects as I could.  I had magazines, literary journals, and a memoir or two all in my possession at one point or another when I wandered over to the "Writing and Publishing" section. There I found this book, unlike any I'd seen before, just filled to the brim with creative writing prompts with unique starters, and limits. If the prompt says keep it to 500 words, you need to figure out a way to make that happen. If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that I often struggle with brevity, with getting to the point as quickly and effectively as possible. As I thumbed through to land on prompts such as "Imagine you are on a train or at a train station when a murder takes place" and "Go to a local coffee shop, order your favorite drink, and write a story inspired by an incident in a coffee shop before you finish your drink" I knew it was coming home with me.

NOW, let's talk about the book's effectiveness. This is not necessarily a quick activity book. While you are prompted to write short works of prose, the assignments you choose are meant to make you sit down and write. And that's a good thing. Many of the prompts provided are entertaining and thought provoking, and really help to get the creative juices flowing. And if you're worried about whether or not this book may lean heavily on the side of fiction or non-fiction, rest assured that there are plenty of prompts that can benefit anyone. My advice? Write in pencil. You never know how very small a number 500 is until you're writing in pen and getting dangerously close to 430 with no story ending in sight.

The good: This book offers an enriching opportunity to hone your writing skills and think creatively. If you're struggling to get started in the world of writing, or just want to jump-start a stagnant writing project or two, this book does wonders to get your brain back in the proper mindset.

The bad: While the book's introduction section does go into detail about why flash fiction has started to gain in popularity (we live in a busy world, and people like short reads they can easily digest on their daily commute, or on a park bench while sipping a latte), the book sort of throws you right into the deep end without easing you in with some simpler prompts to get you ready.

Bottom Line I've thoroughly enjoyed this book so far. It's forced me to put down my phone, turn off the television, and just write. Some prompts have been more compelling to follow-through on than others, but overall, it's done exactly what it has promised: get me problem-solving my writing projects in a way that makes me feel creative and productive. All my aspiring writers should TOTALLY take advantage of Gillard's fantastic resource.

You can buy The Very Short Story Starter: 101 Flash Fiction Prompts by John Gillard HERE.

BOOK REVIEW: Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking

I feel like I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I am a cookbook lover. You know this about me. But one thing that I am not is a cookbook hoarder. I don't have the space for it. But more than that, I've realized that my life has to be about more than just collecting. The books the adorn these shelves must be able to earn their keep. So last Spring, I took a long, hard look at my bookshelf and made some tough decisions. I went through each cookbook that I have accumulated in the past four years. If I loved it for the pictures, but hadn't marked any recipes, it had to go. If I bought it, read it once, then literally forgot that I had it, it had to go. If I hated it because the recipes were completely inconsistent, out it went. And so on. The process took a bit longer than I thought that it would, but in the end, it felt like a well-needed cleanse. I had donated books that were perfect, but not necessarily perfect for me, and freed up beloved real estate on my shelves. This left room for my absolute favorite time of the year: Fall Cookbook Season!  And number one on the list of new titles for Sydney's Library? Breaking Breads!

You may know Uri Scheft as the owner of Breads Bakery, or you may be more familiar with what he has made so popular both in New York, and with literally every online food publication: chocolate babka. People lose their minds over it, and you'll see tons of recipes all over the place trying to replicate it, but there's nothing better than the real deal, so now you can make it in your jammies in the comfort of your own home forever.

Uri was born in Israel, but moved all the way across the world to Denmark during his formative years. This blending of two cultures (mixed in with the handful of cultures from countries that he's lived in as an adult) gives his writing and recipes a sense of well-roundedness that is sometimes very hard to come by. For many, it will be an introduction to spice blends and flavor combinations that will both surprise and entice them.  For me, that's the sign of a real winner. And you know I love me some fresh bread, so it's like a win-win.

Let's get this out of the way first: this book is not for beginners. Nor is it, I'm afraid, for bakers with very little patience. For starters, bread is never quick and it makes you wait. For hours. And hours. And Uri, who is truly an artist, not only wants your bread creations to taste good, but he also pushes and encourages you to become your own resident bread artist at home. It is challenging, it is sometimes confusing, and it's also very delicious. And while the instructions can seem a little daunting (and at times you may feel like you have completely lost your will and ability to finish the project), Uri gives very detailed step-by-step instructional photos to help keep you on track. I needed those. Desperately.

I also enjoy that this book has tons of variety. Of course the core of this book is bread (flatbreads, challahs, babkas, etc), but you've also got cookies, hummus, and  great recipes for things like preserved lemons and babaghanouj. After completing a five-hour recipe for bread, you will want to take advantage of something quick and relatively easy to ease yourself back into the kitchen.

So, if you've made it this far, let me break it down for you:

The Good: This book is going to teach you how to make bread, or else. You will learn about yourself, and learn about your strengths and varying levels of patience. I also love how absolutely thorough and thoughtful Uri was when writing this book. It's got everything from proper bread storage tips, to words of encouragement, to alternative designs and creations for when you want to deviate a little from the recipe. Every question is covered.

The Bad: There's nothing bad about this book, really. One thing that I wish had been included was bolded estimates at the top indicating  how long each recipe would take altogether. Of course, I understand that each kitchen is different so therefore proofing times will be different, but a ballpark number  would've been so wonderful. I also wish that some instructions had been explained a little bit clearer, but I have always been able to soldier on and put something tasty on the table.

Overall: This was a book that I was so excited about, and my expectations were totally exceeded. Almost every recipe in this book has been bookmarked for further endeavors in the DD kitchen. This is my favorite book of Fall 2016, and I urge you to buy it for every patient baker you know. Once they've got it in their hands, encourage them to make the Sticky Pull-Apart Cinnamon Challah Braid (pg. 56), because it is my favorite and I need more people to talk about it with for hours and hours.


You can buy it here!

P.S. HAPPY THANKSGIVING, GUYS!!! I have 100000 pies to make.


What am I looking forward to this week? Brooklyn  will be on my doorstep in TWO DAYS. I told you last week that the book changed my life, and when I heard that they were making a movie....well, I could barely contain myself. Unfortunately, going to see it in theaters proved to be much more difficult than say, if I wanted to see Zoolander 2, so I resigned to wait until it came out on DVD. AND THAT DAY IS FAST APPROACHING. I've been re-reading the book in anticipation of comparisons, and literally crossing out the days in my calendar. So stoked.

Here's what else I've been reading this week:

Using food to fight the power? I’m all about it! How Suffragists Used Cookbooks as a Recipe for Subversion

Do you dye Easter eggs? I haven’t done it in agessss, but I might start this year now that I’ve seen these awesome minimalist designs! So rad.

Learning to arrange flowers is on my eternal to-do list. Here’s a fun article about supermarket flower hacks!

Donut + Macaroon= The Macaronut is upon us. Silly? Yes. Delicious? I’m thinking also yes, yes, and yes.

I'm  definitely teetering on the line between ‘too much’ and ‘just enough’ clutter every single day of my life; Strike the Right Balance: Having Just Enough 'Good Clutter' .

Have you pre-ordered Sweeter Off the Vine yet?? Yossy Arefi is one of my favorite food photographers/bloggers ever! You HAVE to buy this book. March 22nd, get here faster!!


How's your Sunday going? Mine's rainy, and I'm feeling very sleepy/content.


An Ode to Downton Abbey


Why is it that you have to go away?

Indefinitely, I'd love for you to stay

But at least I still get to press "play..."


Guys, I'm totally not ready for Downton Abbey to be over! It's been my staple January show for FOUR YEARS (I got in on the fun two years into the game), and I'm just not ready to part with it. Sure, I know shows can't last forever, but six seasons just doesn't feel like enough. And what I don't want is for the finale to end and everyone just goes about living their lives, leaving me to use my own imagination as to how each person gets on. I'd rather the finale last four hours tonight and just show me how every single person lives a super long, happy life, then passes away. Or at LEAST to show what happens to Downton during World War Two. Perhaps they take in some children from London? I feel like there's good material there. At any rate, I'm not ready to say goodbye. Are you?

Let's procrastinate the inevitable adieu of one of the greatest shows on television together.

Here are some of my favorite reads of the week:

-Brooklyn the movie may not have won last week at the Oscars, but it won every award in my book. Here's a nice comparison of Brooklyn then vs. Brooklyn now. P.S. Have you read the book? Get on it. Brooklyn: A Novel changed everything for me.

-Prepare yourselves: Marimekko is coming to Target NEXT MONTH. TOO AMPED.

-I’m in the market for some new specs, and was looking for companies that are different from the usual suspects. Thanks, Brit + Co!

-This beats 4 pretzels in a foil package any day: Air France + Daniel Boulud = Best In-Flight Meals Ever.

-I always love a good food photography app, and this new one by the LINE Corporation, "Foodie," looks promising! Have you guys tried it yet?


Happy Sunday/ Happy Last Time That We'll Ever See A New Episode of Downton Abbey...Day!

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cake

Image 1 skillet cake I've said this so many times before, but it bears repeating now: one should never underestimate the power of a chocolate chip cookie. There's a reason why it's such a classic, go-to dessert. It's soft in the middle, ooey gooey, and oh-so-cholatey. In times of stress, I find myself going back to my favorite chocolate chip recipes, seeking out that comfort that only a good cookie can bring. And when that cookie happens to be 9-inches, baked in a skillet, and slightly under-baked in the center, it's even better. Let's call it an easy reward for surviving Monday, shall we?

photo 2

Never have the words "You deserve a cookie," been more applicable.


What You'll Need:

2 cups AP flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips



-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour well one 9-inch ovenproof skillet.

-In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.

-In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a wooden spoon, or with a hand mixer) beat the butter and sugars (granulated and light brown) on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg. Add the egg yolk, then the vanilla, and mix well.

-Carefully add the flour mixture a little bit at a time while the mixer is on low speed,  and beat until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate chips. Transfer the batter to the prepared skillet, making sure that it is smooth and evenly distributed.

-Bake until the edges are baked and golden, but the center is still slightly under-baked, about 18-20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving.

(This cookie can last for up to three days tightly wrapped, and at room temperature.)


SOURCEJoy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Stick, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats by Joy Wilson

P.S. Check out my review of this excellent cookbook here!


Currently Reading: Homemade Decadence

photo 3 Homemade Decadence, written by Joy Wilson of "Joy the Baker" fame, is a book that I've been waiting for with bated breath since the release of her first book, The Joy the Baker Cookbook, all the way back in 2012. And the wait, by all accounts, was totally and completely worth it!

Initial Thoughts: 

The cover design is beautiful and inviting. Also, the idea of a pretzel crust is inspired and will definitely indulge anyone with salty-sweet cravings. And the pictures inside are just as beautiful with easy-to-follow recipes and funny stories to go along with each one.

From the book, Homemade Decadence


Joy Wilson is fun. And this cookbook, just like its predecessor, feels like a true extension of the food blogger we've all grown to love. It's colorful, it's vibrant, and it's entirely unpretentious in the most sophisticated of ways. Homemade Decadence encourages you to get creative in your kitchen, and really connect with the world around you. It shows you that fear of failure has no place in the kitchen, so embrace the weird combinations that come to mind. You never know when one day you'll meet a concoction that changes your life. You deserve fancy, out-of-the-box desserts every single day (without necessarily needing a special occasion), and the written words of JTB are there to help guide you. There's everything in this book from cocktails, to doughnuts, to uniquely flavored ice creams, and tons of treats in between. And if you're looking for new ways to re-invent your toast, never fear, because Joy's got a whole page dedicated to it. Breakfast is a serious business after all.

From the book, Homemade Decadence

If you're a fan of JoytheBaker.com, you'll be happy to see some true classics (Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes are now a go-to at my house) as well as loads of new recipes to go along with them (Hello, "Ultimate Pancake Syrup!"), and the exact same amusing conversational tone that makes Joy one of the best bloggers and authors out there. Homemade Decadence is a total win in my book.

Recipes on My "To Try" List: 

Blueberry Pancake Muffins w/ Maple Glaze, Blackberry Pie Cookies, Church Party Peach Cobbler, Brown Sugar-Raspberry Cheesecake, and Lavender-Lime Cucumber Spritzers.

BUY Homemade Decadence HERE

My Weekend in Pictures

  photo-3On Friday, my co-worker brought in his cousin's dog to visit because he knew how much it would make my day. His name is Monty, and he's just the sweetest. As soon as I got into work, I was greeted with a nice hug, and an invitation to play a never-ending game of fetch where Monty pretends that he'll give you the ball to throw, but when you reach for it, he slyly pulls away. Monty decides when you throw the ball, not you. At any rate, we had such a blast. He's what's called a Springville Labrodoodle who, despite his size, sat in my lap, cradled like a baby, and now I totally want one.


On Saturday, I decided that it was finally time to take my roommate, Sophie, to my absolute favorite bookstore in the city: Brookline Booksmith. It's an independently owned shop right in the heart of Coolidge Corner that's been around forever, and is the place where I've met both Jim Gaffigan and John Krasinski. I have never left this place without buying something.I think it's because of the sheer whimsy and quirk of the place that makes you feel right at home. There's also a very impressively stocked used book cellar with amazing bargains. I picked up a used copy of Julie and Julia, (the movie is one of my favorites, so it's about time that I picked up the book) and a brand new copy of Food in Jars, because I really want to start canning! I'm starting small with a batch of vanilla extract, then working my way up. I am TOO AMPED to dive into this book.

I should really visit Brookline Booksmith more often. Seriously guys, if you can shop small, do it. Support your local businesses!photo-5It's funny, I live all the way across the city now, and yet I still very regularly find myself back in Allston. Part of that is because my close friends have remained, and another part is The Avenue. And more specifically: The Avenue Burger. Just picture it: Buttery, toasted bun, perfectly seasoned beef patty, melted swiss cheese, and the tangy deliciousness of the famous "Secret Sauce." I have been trying for months to figure it out, but no such luck. It's really no matter, I'll just have to keep coming back until i do. Also worth noting: Sweet Potato Tots with Maple Bacon Ketchup.

The Avenue is the perfect neighborhood bar, and one that's quiet enough during the day to keep me coming back. They have a TON of amazing beers and ciders on tap, and the waitstaff has always been nothing but friendly. Plus, if you're a sports fan, there's almost a TV for every table, give or take. If you find yourself on Harvard Avenue, find yourself at The Avenue. Burgers are only $1 on Mondays!

photo-4I'm feeling really inspired lately, so I've channeled that into my baking. I'm currently working on a double chocolate cookie recipe of my own, and I found myself diligently working on this Saturday night. I'm almost there, guys!


What did you do this weekend?

singature gray



Book Review: Mrs. Lilien's Cocktail Swatchbook

photo I buy a lot of cookbooks. You know this about me already. You know that it's somewhat of an addiction, but I'm proud to say that I've got it somewhat under control. (The bookshelf that I bought to house them all is already looking a bit cramped...)

So, instead of buying more, I decided to take a little breather and dive into the ones I already own. My wallet, which up until now I didn't think could speak, just loudly whispered "Thank You" from my purse. Don't get too comfy, wallet, for there will come a time when I will need to fuel my CA (cookbook addiction. It's a thing) again.

This weekend, my best friend Anna held a cocktail party that was inspired by her recent trip to Peru, and it reminded me of this beyond AWESOME book I found once called Mrs. Lilien's Cocktail Swatchbook. I am obsessed with it, and after this post, you better be too so that we can talk about it together.

It's one part retro, one part boozy, and one part extra colorful, and it's the exact read you need when you want to become your own bartender. Ever wondered exactly what goes into that whiskey sour you always order? This little book's got you covered. (P.S. I'm just curious: when you hear that a cocktail has egg whites in it, what's your reaction? To me, it's fine, it adds a little foam and body. For others, it's all they can talk about.)

There's a drink for every occasion, every taste, and I'd say every budget. And if you really want to cut a corner or two, there's always the option of making your own simple syrup!

I know Christmas is over, but this makes the perfect stocking stuffer. Buy it now, save it, don't forget about it, and you're set for next Christmas. You're welcome.


Happy cocktail mixing!

singature gray

Currently Reading...

I read once that when it comes to the Kennedys, you either love them, or you hate them. I totally agree, and I love them. The glamour, the 60s, the politics, everything. Jack and Jackie forever.

I'm only halfway through, and I just love it. Unlike other books I've read on this subject, it actually incorporates direct quotes from Jackie herself, instead of speaking for her. It also takes quotes and facts from other books and blends them into this one.

I highly recommend it. It's been my commuting buddy on the way to and from work!


Happy reading!

singature gray

My Saturday Adventure

I really do love Boston.

photo (34)

Have you ever noticed that when you've lived in a place for a while, you start to forget about all the charms that it has to offer? Maybe you don't necessarily forget, but maybe you start to take for granted things that visitors travel thousands of miles everyday to see. I think that was happening to me. Four years I've been living in this wonderful city, and maybe for the first time in a while, I took the time to really get to know it. And while I know how to get anywhere from anywhere and back, knowing your way around doesn't always equate to knowing  the city that you belong to. (Or that kind of belongs to you. I guess it depends on who you're asking.)

Recently, a friend from many moves ago, one I never thought I would ever see again, moved to Boston. Because I've moved around so much, and left places that I can't really see myself visiting again unless it's for a very specific occasion, I always jump at the opportunity to meet up with people that I once knew, on new turf. Big cities are always common ground, aren't they? They see so many people come and go all the time, that they just remain neutral. It's not really like being in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and can detect visitors.  In Boston everyone belongs. But anyway, back to the story. While he's been here for a few months, he's been pretty busy getting settled into a new living space, and a new job. As you can imagine, that hasn't really left much time for exploration apart from immediate surroundings. And as soon as I heard that he hadn't had a proper introduction to the city, I immediately volunteered. (It should be noted that as soon as he agreed, I started making a list in my head of all my favorite parts of the city, all the quirky things I've never seen myself, and, of course, what snacks to make and bring along the way! Really, who would I be if I didn't mention food at least once?)

I settled on these:

photo (35)

Dark chocolate and oatmeal cookies with sea salt sprinkled on top. They were a hit Saturday, and they're a hit in my house still, today. (I've had three already. I must be stopped.)

ALSO, hi, we're going to take a short detour from the story to talk about my new best friend, Silpat. I have read enough food blogs, and cookbooks, to know all there is to know about these MAGICAL (only word that fits, guys. I'm not even being dramatic. Well, yeah, I am. But it's totally warranted.) baking mats. Gone are the days that I spray baking Pam on my cookie sheets, gone are the days of struggling to tear just enough parchment paper and completely failing, thus having to tear off some of it to make it fit, but then tearing off too much because I can't win, and gone are the days of awkward cookie sheet cleanup where in the process of rinsing the sheet off with the faucet hose, I end up drenching the entire counter behind it. Silpats are flexible, easy to use, and I have never seen more evenly cooked cookies in all my year(s) (I only got good a year ago, but HAVE been attempting to become a baker for years) of baking. Seriously, they were beautiful, and all I had to do was rinse off the mat when I was finished. They're expensive, but TRUST ME, Silpats are 100% well-worth the money.

photo (36)

P.S. Recipe coming soon for these bad boys. If you love extra oats, and LOTS of dark chocolate, you will love these cookies as much as I do.


If you are going to travel to Boston, there are at least two books that you need on hand to give yourself the proper, self-guided tour. Number one, of course, is a Michelin:

These books are traditional, and they're important. Michelin is a name you can trust for just about any tour book you purchase. You get recommendations for  anything from restaurant recommendations, to the best hotels, to shopping centers, etc. etc. You always get a very through and detailed explanation of major monuments and landmarks in the city. Very important to have on have.

But then, if you're like me, you want a book that isn't like all the other boring tour books. You want something different and unique. You want:

This book is seriously perfect. It's hilarious, it's informative, and most importantly, the authors aren't afraid to reveal some of the not-so-proper parts of Boston. I love it. When I saw it on the shelf, I knew I had to get it.

So I spent my Saturday with excellent company, going down side streets, visiting monuments I've been to dozens of times, but have only stopped to notice maybe once or twice, dodging the on again/off again rain, and reading from my guidebooks that have been throughly bookmarked and dog-eared. I also spent it eating one of the best sandwiches ever, and a cannoli from The North End. You never really realize what a great place you live in, until you see it with someone wearing a fresh pair of eyes.

I managed to snap a few pictures along the way:

photo (37)

photo (38)

photo (39)

photo (40)

So this weekend, I encourage you to pack your favorite snacks, pack your camera, pack your maps and guide books, grab a friend or significant other, wear comfortable shoes, and really take the time to see what makes your city so great. You won't regret it, I promise. Go ahead, be a tourist for the day.

Happy Monday,

singature gray