of interest

Show Us Your Books – August 2018

It’s the second Tuesday of the month, and you know what that means; it’s time for another edition of Show Us Your Books! I’ll warn you: it hasn’t been a great reading month. I had two 2-star reads and two books that I had to pull the plug on. On the plus side, my current read is looking promising, so I hope I kick off next month’s edition on a better note!

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The Cast + Summer Picnic Food

Amy Blumenfeld’s The Cast centers around a group of friends — Becca, Jordana, Seth, Holly and Lex — who are bonded and forever touched by Becca’s battle with cancer as a teenager. Though as adults they’re not the tight-knit group they once were, this intense bond brings them back together when life happens. Jordana organizes a 4th of July weekend getaway to celebrate Becca’s 25th year cancer-free, and that’s where we begin.

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

Life never goes as planned, and their get-together embodies that perfectly. Everyone is hiding something but trying to keep a brave face for the others. When that all breaks down, their friendship shines the brightest and it’s obvious why it has endured so long. It was an easy book to get through, but it wasn’t “light.”

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Goodbye, Paris + Treacle Tart

Anstey Harris’ novel Goodbye, Paris is being marketed as “Jojo Moyes meets Eleanor Oliphant,” which is definitely what drew me to the book. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, but first, let me tell you about the story.

Grace was once a promising cellist, but after a #MeToo encounter in college, she has been unable to play for anyone but an empty room. Now, she runs a successful shop in England repairing and building stringed instruments, living more or less in her bubble and dreaming of a future with her long-time boyfriend. David is a married family man who lives in France. Their long-distance affair would almost be an idyllic relationship, were it not for the fact that it was an affair. When David becomes a hero one day by saving the life of a woman at a Paris Metro station, the delicate balance of his and Grace’s relationship is tipped.

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Mother, Mother + Lemon Blueberry Scones

I read Koren Zailckas’ memoir Smashed about her “drunken girlhood” over a decade ago, and I absolutely loved it. It was a sober (and sobering) look at her past that also touched on the societal and social pressures that cause many young women to drink so heavily in the first place. Not only was her story powerful, her writing was as well. So, when I came across her novel Mother, Mother at a used book sale a little while back, I didn’t hesitate to scoop it up.

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

In the Hurst family, no one is perfect. The oldest daughter, Rose, has seemingly had enough and run off with her mysterious boyfriend, leaving her sister Violet struggling to cope with an ever-changing home life. Will, the youngest, clings most closely to his mom who has been homeschooling him since his recent diagnoses with Asperger’s and epilepsy. Meanwhile, their father, Douglas, is mostly absent and, when he is home, distracted and taking phone calls in whispers. In the center of it all is Josephine, the Hurst matriarch, a narcissist and master manipulator. Hiding behind her facade of caring homemaker, she may just be the worst mother ever.

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We Were the Mulvaneys + Shrimp and Sausage Casserole

Joyce Carol Oates’ novel We Were the Mulvaneys has been on my shelf forever. I picked it up at a used book sale years ago because I had heard Oates speak at a bookstore once in NYC and had yet to read her books, and it sounded interesting. Still, whenever I was looking for a book to read next, I didn’t gravitate towards this one. That is, until the recent Book Challenge by Erin, where one of the categories requires you to read the book that you’ve owned the longest. Welp, this was it. And, I have to say, I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

This a family saga that builds. That is to say, the first quarter is so involves a lot of scene-setting and character-building, and it wasn’t exactly easy to get into. I’m not sure if this is Oates’ typical storytelling, since I haven’t read anything else by her yet, but it definitely worked for this novel. As she settled into the story, the background that she created was almost second nature, as if you were a part of this family, this town.

It centers around the Mulvaneys, a large family that is both beautiful and charismatic, wealthy and generous. They live in upstate New York on their property, High Point Farm, and are well-respected in the town. That is, until Valentine’s Day in 1976, when an unfortunate event takes place that changes the family and their position in the community.

I won’t give anything away, but what happens divides the Mulvaneys. Each member is affected differently, but each of their life paths are drastically altered. Oates weaves a complex, messy, truthful family saga. I appreciated that their lives weren’t perfect, nor were they a disaster — they felt like real people. I look forward to reading some more of her novels when I get a chance.

I decided to make a casserole, only loosely based on one mentioned in the novel, described as “a Mexican chicken-shrimp-sausage casserole.” The “super-casserole” was served with a robust menu of “grilled Parmesan-dill bread, baked butternut squash sprinkled with brown sugar, a giant tossed salad with Mom’s special oil-and-vinegar dressing, homemade apple-cinnamon cobbler with vanilla ice cream.” The reason this meal stood out to me most is that it took place just before the Mulvaneys’ lives changed forever; it was a meal that took place while they were still the Mulvaneys, so to speak.

Casseroles are also indicative of homestyle, comforting family dinners. It seemed like the perfect choice for a family saga such as this. I found a recipe for something a busy parent might make on a weeknight, an easy but flavorful-sounding Shrimp and Sausage Skillet Pasta Bake and made some slight alterations to make it a casserole.

First, I brought a large pot of water to boil and added the pasta, cooking it according to package directions.

Meanwhile, I browned the sausage in a large skillet, breaking it with a spoon as it cooked. When the sausage was done, I used a slotted spoon to remove it and placed it in a bowl lined with paper towel. In the same skillet, I added the shrimp, cooking each side for about 2 minutes, until the shrimp were pink and cooked through.

When the pasta was done, I drained it, adding the vodka sauce and sausage and tossing until evenly coated. I poured it into a 9×13 casserole dish, covering the bottom.

Sausage Vodka Pasta

On top of the pasta, I placed the cooked shrimp.

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta

I covered the entire dish with a combination of parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses before placing it in the oven to finish.

Cheesy Pasta Bake

Once the cheese was melted, I removed the casserole from the oven to serve. It smelled amazing and was delicious.

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta Casserole

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta Bake

What food(s) remind you most of home?

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta Casserole

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small pasta
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 jar your favorite store-bought vodka sauce
  • 1 pound loose sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound large shrimp cleaned and deveined
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup sharp white cheddar cheese
  • fresh parsley for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat your broiler to high.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. To a small saucepan, add the vodka sauce. Heat over low heat. Keep warm on the stove until you are ready to use.
  4. To a large oven-safe skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat until brown and cooked through. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Keep the stove on.
  5. To the skillet, add the shrimp. There should be enough fat left in the skillet from the sausage. If you find that there isn't enough to cook the shrimp, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Season the shrimp generously with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until pink and cooked through. Remove the shrimp from the pan and transfer to another plate. Turn off the heat.
  6. To a large bowl, combine the vodka sauce, pasta and sausage. Toss until evenly coated.
  7. Pour the mixture back into the skillet (or into a 9x13 baking dish). Top with shrimp and then top with parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and cheddar cheese.
  8. Place the skillet/baking dish into the preheated oven and broil until cheese is melty, about 2 minutes. Keep a close eye as the cheese can quickly go from melted to burnt.
  9. Remove from heat and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

From: Cooking and Beer

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of interest

TBR Mix ‘n’ Mingle – What I’m Reading in August

Today, I’m excited to be participating a new monthly TBR linkup, hosted by Rachel at Never Enough Novels, Allison at My Novel Life and the wonderful bloggers at Literary Quicksand. For those of you who don’t know, in the bookish community, TBR stands for “To Be Read.” It can mean different things to different people; in fact, Book Riot has a wonderful post exploring all the possible definitions. To me, it just means a book I haven’t read but want to read eventually.

I have a TBR list on Goodreads that I add to regularly, and it currently stands at just over 400 books. I probably need to cull it down a bit, but I never want to miss a potentially good book! I don’t know if you know this, guys, but I’m a planner. When I go to sleep at night, I like knowing what my tomorrow is going to look like. I like knowing what my next meal (and the meal after that…and the one after that…) is going to be. When I finish a good book, I also don’t like to be left hanging without something lined up to read next. I think this list will help me stay on top of that, and so when Rachel sent me a note about their new linkup, it was all too easy to say yes!

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of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Books That Lived Up to the Hype

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a literary list with a new bookish topic every week. Nothing is more disappointing than a book that you’re really looking forward to, you’ve heard amazing things about it, everyone loves it, and then you finally get your hands on it, and blah. This week’s topic celebrates when all of that praise is well-deserved and your anticipation is rewarded with an amazing reading experience: Books That Lived Up to the Hype. Let’s dive in!

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Fierce Kingdom + Cheese Crackers

I was unexpectedly captivated by Gin Phillips’ novel Fierce Kingdom, which I read as part of the Book Challenge by Erin earlier this month. Joan and her four-year-old son are ending an otherwise ordinary day at the zoo, when suddenly, just before they reach the exit, something goes very wrong. Joan hurries to hide with her son Lincoln, and for the rest of the novel – a period of just four hours – she must keep them out of danger.   

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

For the most part, the novel follows Joan, but on occasion it dips into other points-of-view, including that of the mass shooter who is terrorizing the zoo’s guests and animals without remorse. As you can guess, Phillips weaves a harrowing tale. Unfortunately, it’s one that is all too realistic today. I was deeply invested in the well-being of Joan and her son, and though there were times I felt as though I could’ve used a mental break, I didn’t want to stop reading until it was over.

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Then We Came to the End + Bagels

When I’m not reading, cooking or writing about it, I’m often at work. And, for those of you who don’t know, I work at an advertising agency. I’m an account person, which in a nutshell, means that most of my job is in service to our clients, doing whatever it is I need to do to make them happy. Like any job, there are a lot of things to like about advertising and there are a lot of things to dislike about it. Luckily, for me, the good far outweighs the bad.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

I recently picked up Joshua Ferris’ novel Then We Came to the End as part of the Book Challenge by Erin, for the category requiring you to read a book featuring a character who shares your profession. I don’t know why, but I expected to have a hard time finding a piece of fiction about advertising. I couldn’t have been more wrong; I found this one with a simple search. Obviously, the characters in Then We Came to the End work in an ad agency – in fact, almost all of them do.

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Castle of Water + Banana Fritters

I have never before had to request that my library purchase I book I wanted to read, but for Dane Huckelbridge’s Castle of Water, I’m SO glad I took the extra step to do so. I had selected this novel as part of the Book Challenge by Erin not only because it fit perfectly into the category “book with a water-related word in the title” but because I had heard amazing things about it. Its impressive 4.24 rating on Goodreads also promised an amazing read.

Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge

The majority of the story takes place on an island in the middle of the South Pacific, near where a small plane was was downed in the ocean, leaving two passengers stranded. Sophie is a newlywed French architect, and Barry is a former investment banker from New York who has decided to turn his attention to painting. They must learn to survive together with the limited resources they have on the island — for food, they have some fish, coconuts and an abundance of bananas. It’s a castaway story, yes. But it’s also much more than that. It’s about what it means to truly need someone else. Ultimately, they find that a home is what you make it.

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