There’s talk of gift guides everywhere these days. Beyond the practical aspect of these, I’m drawn to reading them for the peek they offer into other lives. I could read them all year round—just as I like reading the New York Times’ Sunday Routine column or stories of people’s morning rituals or the Grub Street Diet every Friday.
Chefs and home cooks offer up their best kitchen tools—giving a glimpse into their lives and how they cook at home. Writers talk about their favorite books. Parents list the best games for little kids, and so on. It’s gotten me thinking about favorite things of mine; what are some items I cherish? What things (tangible things I could wrap up and tie with a ribbon) have given me really good feelings, or made my life brighter or happier in some way?
I’ll start today with books. Maybe if you’re like me, it’ll give you pleasure to read this list. By no means is this a comprehensive grouping of my favorite books (because that would fill an entire book all on its own). Rather, these are books that fall into the category of “memorable”—they’re the kind of stories that you can’t help but get tangled up in. The kind of book that you can’t put away when you get to your subway stop, so you walk up the stairs holding it open in front of you.
Some transport you to other—colorfully described—worlds. Some have characters that are so real, I almost reach for the phone to call them throughout the day. They’re books worth reading a few times. Solid books. Ones you trust will entertain you. And yes, some are intended for kids but I don’t subscribe to that agist NONSENSE when it comes to books.
I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
Standard Deviation (Katherine Heiny)
The Summer Before the War (Helen Simonson)
Laura & Emma (Kate Greathead)
Siracusa (Delia Ephron)
An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler)
The Children’s Crusade (Ann Packer)
The Piano Teacher (Janice K. Lee)
The Golden Compass trilogy
All the James Clavel novels
Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)
Comfort Me With Apples (Ruth Reichl)
Us (David Nicholls)
The Magicians (Lev Grossman)
The Circle (Dave Eggers)
The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach)
And I’ve talked about this before of course, but a good book is really best enjoyed as you savor something good to eat. I can think of few simple pleasures nicer than taking yourself out to lunch at a sunny cafe with a book, no phone, and a bit of time.
In the spirit of holiday baking, this pie recipe is a good one for anyone who likes peanut butter cups (if you don’t, please see yourself out. Kidding! Kind of.). Because the filling is QUITE rich (it’s not a light, airy, mousse-like filling but densely packed, almost like fudge), this is the kind of dessert you want to eat slowly, one decadent bite at a time—ideal for reading since you need time to turn the pages anyway.
And not that I need to tell you this, but vanilla ice cream is an excellent idea here.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
For the crust
6 tablespoons (85 grams) melted unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (75 grams) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling + topping
1 cup (227 grams) heavy cream, divided
1 cup (227 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (227 grams) confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces creamy peanut butter
1 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” pie plate.
Whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, flour, and salt. Stir in the melted butter and mix until everything is evenly moistened.
Press the crust mixture into your pie plate, using wet fingers (or the bottom of a glass) to press firmly up the sides. The crust should be well-compacted and evenly thick everywhere.
Bake the crust for about 12 minutes, until it no longer looks moist. Remove from the oven and cool completely will you make the filling.
To make the filling: Whip half of the cream to soft peaks. Set aside (in the refrigerator).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and salt until very smooth. Add the peanut butter and mix until smooth and well-combined.
Carefully fold in the chilled whipped cream and the semisweet chips then set aside (you can refrigerate it but I recommend leaving it out on the counter so it’s easier to spread into the crust—you’ll have it sitting out for a bit while the chocolate layer cools in the next step, but that doesn’t take too long, so you can leave it sitting out without worrying.)
Melt the dark chocolate with the rest of the cream, stirring until smooth. Pour 3/4 of the chocolate mixture into cooled crust and refrigerate until the chocolate layer firms slightly.
Once chilled, spoon the peanut butter filling mixture on top of the chocolate layer and smooth the top. Drizzle the remaining melted chocolate on top (you can heat it up slightly if it isn’t pourable—and can add a bit of cream if need be).