0
Monthly Archives

December 2017

book review, recipe

Everything, Everything + Vanilla Bundt Cake

Though it’s not my typical choice, I’m no stranger to YA fiction. I like to pick them up for a quick read, and often – as with John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down – they bring difficult topics to the forefront and make them relatable, which I always appreciate. My latest YA read, Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, tells the story of Maddy, a girl who lives in a bubble, and was captivating from the beginning.

Like many YA novels, it centers around a love story. Maddy watches from her window as new neighbors move in – one of them, Olly, a distractingly handsome teenage boy. That part of the novel was pretty predictable, in my opinion, but well-done and entertaining. Aside from the consequences of Maddy’s precarious health problem, it is with Olly – and through the window – that this novel touches on some darker real-life situations.

What made the novel worth it for me was the twist that came about two-thirds of the way through. I definitely did not see it coming, but I’m glad that it did. I won’t spoil it for those of you that haven’t read it yet, but I thought it added some welcome heft to the story.

One of the funnier series of events comes early on in the book, when Olly’s mom sends him over to Maddy’s house with what he describes as an “indestructible” bundt cake, which comes to be known as The Bundt. Olly and Maddy bond over this seemingly rock-hard inedible cake, and I found the whole thing endearing.

Obviously, I had to make my own bundt cake. Because of her illness, Maddy can only eat limited pre-approved foods and since vanilla cake is her go-to birthday dessert, I knew mine had to be vanilla as well. As funny as the cake’s indestructibility is in the novel, no one wants to fail that badly at baking. To capture the rock-hard aspect of the cake, I bought a beautifully structured hard-edged bundt pan to bake it in. (And now I have a bundt pan! I had to borrow my mom’s for the Tipsy Chocolate Cake a few months ago…) If you’re interested, I found it on Amazon here.

Like most cakes, this one wasn’t too difficult to make, but the recipe I chose has a very specific order in which ingredients need to be added, so make sure you read it through before you get started.

I preheated my oven to 350 degrees F and began mixing the batter. To start, I creamed the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. To that, I added the baking powder and salt.

At this point, I measured out the flour by scooping it into a 1-cup measuring cup and leveling it off before adding it to a medium bowl (for a total of 3 cups).

I added the first 3 eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time. Then, I added 2 Tablespoons of the pre-measured flour to that and mixed until just combined. I added another egg, mixed, and then alternated 2 Tablespoons of flour with one egg until all 6 eggs were incorporated.

I happened to have almond extract on-hand, so I added both that and the vanilla extract to the milk. To the batter, I added one-third of the remaining flour, mixing on low until combined. Then, I added half of the milk, mixing again, and began alternating with the remaining flour and milk, until all ingredients were incorporated. Finally, with the beaters on medium-high, I mixed the batter for another 30 seconds, until it became smooth and fluffy.

I used shortening to grease the bundt pan, taking great care to make sure I got all the nooks and crannies. Then, I scooped the batter – which is thicker than many traditional cake batters – into the bundt pan and leveled it off with a spatula.

I checked my cake at 50 minutes, but it wasn’t fully baked until an hour had passed. I turned it out onto a cooling rack, leaving the pan on top as it cooled for 10 minutes.

While it cooled in the pan, I made the glaze – combining the water, granulated sugar and salt in a small bowl. I used the microwave, heating it at 30 second intervals and whisking until the sugar was fully dissolved. Then, I added the vanilla extract to complete the glaze.

I removed the pan from the bundt cake and used a pastry brush to cover the cake with the glaze. (Be sure to put a plate or something else underneath the cooling rack to catch any glaze that might drip.)

I am happy to report that the finished product was not rock-hard and was actually quite delightful.

Did anyone see the recent movie version of Everything, Everything? Did The Bundt make an appearance? 

Vanilla Bundt Cake

  • Servings: 20
  • Print

Cake Ingredients

  • 24 tablespoons (1½ cups or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • ¾ cup milk

Vanilla Glaze Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 5 teaspoons water
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat together at medium speed until the mixture lightens in color and looks fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  3. Add the baking powder and salt, mixing just to combine.
  4. Measure the flour by gently spooning it into a measuring cup, sweeping off any excess with a straight edge. Set it aside.
  5. With the mixer running at medium speed, add the first three eggs to the butter/sugar mixture one at a time. Wait until each egg is absorbed into the mixture before adding the next.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of the measured flour to the bowl after the third egg, and mix until combined. Add the fourth egg, mix until absorbed, then mix in another 2 tablespoons of flour. Continue in this fashion with the fifth and sixth eggs, alternating the addition of the egg with 2 tablespoons of the flour from the recipe.
  7. Add the vanilla (or vanilla bean paste) and almond extract (if using) to the milk.
  8. Add one-third of the remaining flour to the batter, beating gently to combine. Gently beat in half the milk. Mix in another third of the flour, then the remaining milk. Stir in the remaining flour. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then beat until the batter is smooth and fluffy, about 20 to 30 seconds at medium-high speed.
  9. Thoroughly grease a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan, using non-stick vegetable oil spray or shortening (not butter; butter tends to increase sticking). Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
  10. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, until it’s starting to brown, appears set on top, and a toothpick or long skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (If you’re baking in a dark-interior pan, start checking at 45 minutes.) If the cake appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with foil for the final 15 minutes of baking.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven, and gently loosen its edges using a heatproof spatula. Turn the pan over onto a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, lift the pan off the cake, and allow it to cool completely.
  12. While the cake is cooling in the pan, make the glaze. Combine the sugar, water, and salt. Heat briefly, just to dissolve the sugar; a microwave works fine. Stir in the vanilla. Once you’ve turned the cake out of the pan onto a rack to cool, gently brush it all over with the glaze.
  13. Just before serving, sift a shower of confectioners’ sugar over the top, if desired. A garnish of fresh berries is lovely and tasty. Store leftover cake, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I’m Looking Forward To in 2018

Hi everyone! We’ve made it to the end of year (almost)! What a wonderful year in reading it’s been… and now since it’s Tuesday, it’s time again for my monthly Top 10 Tuesday list. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish. I participate about once a month, but each week there is a new, fun bookish topic for bloggers to create literary lists about. If you’d like to know more about it, check it out here.

This week’s topic looks to the future and all of the books that await us on the other side of the new year: Books I’m (Most) Looking Forward to in 2018. This list skews a bit towards the early part of the year, and also includes a few books-becoming-movies that I’ve been meaning to read.

 

The Spring Girls by Anna Todd – releases January 2

In the remix tradition of the cult favorite movie Clueless and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible comes a modern retelling of the beloved story of the March sisters, delivered with Anna Todd’s signature style. With plenty of sass, romance, and drama, The Spring Girls is the perfect chance for you to revisit Little Women or discover this cherished story for the first time.

I’ve always loved the story of Little Women, thanks to the 90s movie starring Winona Ryder (among others). When I read the book for the first time years later, I felt like I struggled through it. I’m hoping this modern retelling ends up evoking the spirit of the story that I’ve always enjoyed.

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – releases January 9

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Like They Both Die at the End before it, I’m always interested in books that explore the topic of death (you can blame my college writing teacher), and this concept looks like a good one.

 

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas – releases January 16

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

If you’ve been a blog reader for a while, you know feminist dystopias are in my wheelhouse. I’m just hoping I like this one better than The Power.

 

The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure by Shoba Narayan – releases January 23

When Shoba Narayan, a writer and cookbook author who had lived for years in Manhattan, moves back to Bangalore with her family, she befriends the milk lady, from whom she buys fresh milk every day. These two women from very different backgrounds bond over not only cows, considered holy in India, but also family, food, and life.

In this charming true story about two women and the animal they share, readers are treated to an insider’s of view of India. The Milk Lady of Bangalore is also a window into our universal connection to food and its sources, the intricacies of female friendship, and our relationship to all animals.

This is the first of a few memoirs on this list, and it also appears (from the outside) to be the most light-hearted. Honestly, it had me at “writer and cookbook author.” It sounds wonderful and I’m looking forward to cooking some Indian food to go along with it!

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover – releases February 20

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University. Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

I’m always drawn to stories about those who live just outside mainstream society. I love learning about those ways of life, and this one is told not from an outsider’s perspective but from the perspective of someone who lived it. Doesn’t this one sound fascinating?

 

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum – releases March 6

In this genre-bending novel, there is no such thing as chance and every action is carefully executed by highly trained agents. You’ll never looks at coincidences the same way again.

What if the drink you just spilled, the train you just missed, or the lottery ticket you just found was not just a random occurrence? What if it’s all part of a bigger plan? What if there’s no such thing as a chance encounter? What if there are people we don’t know determining our destiny? And what if they are even planning the fate of the world?

Enter the Coincidence Makers—Guy, Emily, and Eric—three seemingly ordinary people who work for a secret organization devoted to creating and carrying out coincidences. What the rest of the world sees as random occurrences, are, in fact, carefully orchestrated events designed to spark significant changes in the lives of their targets.

I love that the author decided to explore this topic! I expect this to be one of those books that sticks with me even after I’ve put it down – hopefully not as haunting as The Word Exchange, but given that it’s not dystopia, I’m sure it will be lovely. 🙂

 

Too Afraid to Cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann – releases March 6 (in US)

In Too Afraid to Cry, Ali Cobby Eckermann—who was recently awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world—describes with searing detail the devastating effects of racist policies that tore apart Indigenous Australian communities and created the Stolen Generations of “adoptees,” Aboriginal children forcibly taken from their birth families. Too Afraid to Cry offers a mirror to America and Canada’s own dark history of coerced adoption of Native American children, and the violence inflicted on our continent’s Indigenous peoples.

It looks like this book has been out in Australia for quite some time, but it’s being released in the US this year. When I was looking at upcoming books this one caught my eye.

 

The Elizas by Sara Shepard – releases April 17

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

I’m not usually drawn to mysteries outright, but given that the protagonist is an author, I’m intrigued. I adore stories that explore the blurred line between what an author writes on the page and what could happen in the real world as a result.

 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan – movie release August 17

Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

I’ve heard wonderful things about this book and honestly have been meaning to pick it up since it’s debut – now that the movie’s coming out, I need to make sure to get it from the library before everyone else catches on!

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – movie release 2018 TBD

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. Alas, in the opening sequence, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

This book has been on TBR and on my shelf for at least two years now, and I’m excited the movie is finally coming out to get me motivated to pick it up and read it. With Julianne Moore involved, I’m hoping for the best.

What books are you looking forward to?

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

 

book review, recipe

My True Love Gave to Me + Chex Mix

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With Christmas and New Years just around the corner, if you’re looking for that special holiday-themed book, I recommend seeking out the YA short story collection My True Love Gave to Me. I don’t often read short stories (I’m not sure why), but this was exactly what I was looking for. It was quick with a wide range of stories, perfect to put me in a holiday mood.

I didn’t love every story in the collection but there were several that made picking this book up worth it. The first one I enjoyed was “Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Peña which follows Shy, who’s at NYU on scholarship and cat-sitting for a professor because he can’t afford to go home for Christmas. A blizzard strands him in the apartment building with a neighbor, Haley, and the story can’t help but turn romantic. Still, it remains realistic and ends up being heartwarming. I also liked Jenny Han’s “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” about Santa’s adopted daughter, a human living among the elves. It was like the beginnings of a less goofy version of Elf, had we hung out with Buddy the Elf as a teenager.

“It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins was probably my favorite. Marigold Moon lives across the street from a Christmas tree lot and it’s there that she heard the perfect voice for a video she’s producing; it happens to belong to a boy named North. In trying to get him to agree to narrate her video, Marigold walks away with a Christmas tree and ends the night a lot more hopeful than she started it.

Gayle Forman’s “What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” was also charming. Sophie is stuck alone at a school where no one else is celebrating the last day of Hanukkah. As she tries to fit in, she stumbles into fellow outcast Russell and they embark on a memorable evening together. The surprisingly titled “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire reminded me a bit of one of my favorite novels, A Walk to Remember. Bad boy Vaughn’s antics land him a job helping out with the church nativity play, whether he wants to or not. He brings a unique point of view to the task, something both the pastor and his daughter are thankful for. Though both of these were a bit cliche, the combination of a little romance alongside a little something deeper made them satisfying reads.

Lastly, “Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White about a Californian town that takes the meaning of its name to a whole other level. The story’s originality was an unexpected breath of fresh air in this collection. A diner in the middle-of-nowhere isn’t the most likely setting for a holiday story, but White managed to infuse it with plenty of holiday spirit and it definitely left me feeling Christmas-y!

I didn’t make a recipe today but wanted instead to share a recipe my mom’s been making for years. She makes it every year around Christmas, often giving it as an extra gift to friends and family. It always tastes delicious when you want a snack on New Years Eve, if it lasts that long. I thought it would work well with this short story collection because it’s mentioned on literally the first page in the first story:

Now, no offense, to Alicia’s mom – who I’m sure makes a fine Chex Mix (certainly better than the store bought bagged stuff) – but I like to think my mom makes the best Chex Mix. My mom claims her recipe is straight from Chex cereal itself, but when I tried looking it up, I couldn’t find one that matched exactly.

So, without further ado, here is my mom’s version of Chex Mix… the actual best Chex Mix.

Chex Party Mix

  • Servings: 20 (½ cup servings)
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 4½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2⅔ cups corn Chex
  • 2⅔ cups wheat Chex
  • 2⅔ cups rice Chex
  • 1 cup salted mixed nuts
  • 1 cup pretzel rods

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Heat butter in large shallow roasting pan in oven until melted (or melt in microwave and add to pan). Remove.
  2. Add seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce to butter and stir. Add cereal and nuts. Mix gently until all pieces are coated.
  3. Heat in oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
  4. Spread on absorbent paper towels to cool. Once cooled, store in airtight containers.


From: Mom’s recipe, based on Chex Mix Original Recipe

Notes: You can use whichever combination of Chex “flavors” (or Crispix or similar cereal) you prefer, as long as they add up to 8 cups. You can also reduce Chex by 1 cup and add in 1 cup of Cheerios instead if desired.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Little Fires Everywhere + Blackened Chicken

Celeste Ng’s latest novel Little Fires Everywhere has been one of the hottest reads of the year (pun intended). As a big fan of her previous novel, Everything I Never Told You, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about when my hold recently came through at the library. Ng immerses us in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a town she herself grew up in, and shines some light on the not-so-perfect lives of those that live there.

The story revolves primarily around the Richardsons, an exemplary Shaker Heights family, and Mia and Pearl Warren, a single mother and daughter who become their tenants. All four Richardson children – two girls and two boys, as varied as you could possibly imagine – are drawn to Pearl and her mother, who is an artist and a bit of a mystery. When the Richardsons’ family friend attempts to adopt a Chinese-American baby, who was found abandoned, it divides the town and pits Mia against Elena, the Richardson matriarch, threatening to topple the precarious status quo.

Little Fires Everywhere is full of the quiet drama of everyday life but also tackles something bigger. As Elena digs deep into Mia’s past and the Richardson children exist with little oversight, we’re along for the ride, discovering secrets and taking sides along with the rest of them.

Today’s recipe is inspired not only by the novel’s title but this quote, which stood out to me as I read: “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” I decided to make a blackened chicken, traditionally covered heavily in spices and cooked on high heat on the stove top until the seasoning becomes dark.

I debated between two recipes, one from Pop Culture, a more classically prepared blackened chicken, and one from Gal on a Mission, which is baked. Though a baked version doesn’t get quite as “black” as one cooked on the stovetop, I ultimately went with that option. It’s just as flavorful and the fact that it’s hands-off made it appealing when I was cooking it after work the other day. Additionally, I was easily able to roast some small potatoes and broccoli alongside it, completing the meal in 30 minutes, with minimal prep.

To start, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F, and combined all of my spices in a small bowl. This recipe uses a lot of spices – salt, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano and dried thyme – but thankfully, none of them are obscure; I already had them all in my cupboard.

I covered each chicken breast with generously with the spices, making sure each was thickly coated. If you’re using 3 large breasts or 6 small breasts, you shouldn’t have any of the spice mixture left. (I only used 2 breasts but still used most of it.)

Then, I put the chicken in an 8×8 glass baking dish and popped them in the oven for 23 minutes. For the last 5 minutes of the bake time, cover the dish with foil and allow to continue baking while covered. My chicken breasts were definitely larger than average and needed to bake for an additional 10 minutes before they reached 165 degrees F.  

While these pictures probably aren’t my best, the chicken was delicious, very flavorful and moist (thanks to the foil cover). To top it off, it’s easy and hands-off, almost impossible to mess up.

Baked Cajun Chicken Breasts

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red peppers
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 large chicken breasts or 6 small chicken breasts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease an 8×8 baking sheet or dish. Set aside.
  2. Mix together the salt, cayenne pepper, crushed red peppers, garlic powder, paprika, pepper, onion powder, dried oregano, and dried thyme in a small bowl.
  3. Rub the spice mix onto the chicken breasts.
  4. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts from the oven and cover with aluminum foil and bake for another 5 minutes.
  5. Once cooked through, allow the chicken to rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing to serve.

From: Gal on a Mission

Notes: Check the temperature of your chicken to ensure it’s cooked all the way through, particularly if you’re using large breasts. Mine had to bake for an additional 10 minutes to reach 165 degrees F.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Naughty or Nice List – Bookish Blogmas 2017

I thought it would be fun to participate in a quick Christmas-y book tag, this one the “naughty or nice list” of all things bookish. Thanks to Emily from Always Opinionated Girl for the tag! The original post Bookish Naughty List Tag | Blogmas was created by Jenniely.

The Rules:
1. Credit the person who tagged you and link their post
2. Tag the original creator and their post
3. Check the ones you’ve done
4. X the ones you haven’t
5. Tag more bloggers!

The List:
– Received an ARC and not reviewed it

In the past, I rarely received ARCs, something I’ve recently remedied by checking out NetGalley (thanks for the tip, fellow bloggers!).

– Have less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley

Not exactly sure how to answer this as I have no rating on NetGalley right now, but I’m counting no news as good news!

– Rated a book on GoodReads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)

I actually never rate anything on Goodreads until I’ve finished a review on my blog, since writing my blog is typically how I formulate my thoughts. I don’t post reviews/links to my longer reviews on Goodreads as much as I probably should, but it’s something I’m trying to work on.


– Folded down the page of a book ✔️

Yes, I’ve definitely done this in a pinch, but mostly just when I was younger. Now I have so many bookmarks there’s really no excuse!


– Accidentally spilled on a book ✔️

I don’t know 100% if I have or haven’t spilled on a book, but with all the reading I’ve done while eating and drinking, I think the odds are that I have.


– DNF a book this year ✔️

A few come to mind. Nothing wrong with setting aside of book in favor of something I’ll enjoy more! Reading shouldn’t be a struggle.


– Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it

I don’t usually buy books I haven’t already read (and love), so can’t say I’m guilty of this one.


– Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework) ✔️

Ha, absolutely. Though mostly I try to read at “appropriate” times.


– Skim read a book ✔️

Mm hmm. I don’t think I’ve ever skimmed an entire book, but I’ve been known to skim parts of books when I’m bored in an attempt to get through it more quickly. I also tend to skim through books at the end when I’m super into them but can’t wait to see how it all turns out. (Looking at you, Harry Potter, which is why I had to go back and re-read 7 almost immediately… once the excitement calmed down.)


– Completely missed your GoodReads goal

Ever since I’ve started setting goals in the reading challenge, I’ve met them. I try to be realistic in my goal setting – I don’t want reading to be stressful – so sometimes I do adjust them higher if I meet them too early.


– Borrowed a book and not returned it

Having had this done to me a few times, I would never do this. It’s infuriating. If you can’t return a book, don’t borrow it in the first place.


– Broke a book buying ban

As I said before, I don’t buy a lot of books to start with, but I would never have such a ban. To be cliche about it, books are food for the soul, and you shouldn’t stop yourself from buying the nourishment you need.


– Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about

Not really, though on occasion, I have had to refresh my memory on the finer points of characters/plots as I’m working through blog posts.


– Wrote in a book you were reading

I don’t like writing in books – I never even marked up school books! I would love some sort of note-taking system for physical books, but for now, I settle for taking pictures of passages that speak to me.


– Finished a book and not added it to your GoodReads ✔️

No! In fact, I update my Goodreads status pretty religiously. It also helps to make sure I meet my goals each year. 🙂

 

I’ll tag some of my fellow bloggers on Twitter, but if I don’t tag you and you’d still like to get in on the holiday cheer, here’s the list to copy/paste and make it your own.

Received an ARC and not reviewed it  
Have less than 60% feedback rating on Netgalley
Rated a book on goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)
Folded down the page of a book
Accidentally spilled on a book
DNF a book this year
Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it
Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)
Skim read a book
Completely missed your Goodreads goal
Borrowed a book and not returned it
Broke a book buying ban
Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about
Wrote in a book you were reading
Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads

Enjoy!

of interest

Show Us Your Books – December 2017

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for this year’s last edition of Show Us Your Books, where I briefly recap what I’ve read since last time, giving you a sneak peek of what I might be reviewing on the blog next. I read a lot more than I expected to in November, and honestly a lot of that is due to my participation in the Thanksgiving Readathon, where I managed to tackle a surprising 5 books in 5 days. Since I already recapped those 5 in my wrap-up post, I won’t do it as much here, but I’ll still share a few brief thoughts on each. 🙂

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, January 9, 2018.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

Last Month’s Edition

Engrossing Reads

A Homemade Life – Molly Wizenberg’s food memoir was truly the only book I read this month where I was into it 100% and walked away loving it. Racing through it for the readathon may have compounded this love, but I’m standing by it. In the meantime, I’m still deciding what to make to accompany its review… For those who’ve read it, I’m open to suggestions! The recipes all sound seriously delicious.

Young Jane Young – Any book that makes me laugh out loud is usually a good one, and this novel by the author of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry did just that. The story-telling was surprising (in a good way), and I always appreciate a story that revolves around strong female characters. I don’t think I went in with any expectations – having only heard of it in passing – and I’m glad I picked it up.  

 

Passed the Time Just Fine

Everything Everything – I’m probably the last person in the world to read this popular YA novel, especially since it came to theaters over the summer. The story was predictable, until it wasn’t. I was totally surprised by an unexpected turn of events about two-thirds of the way through, which I thought gave the novel a little more heft.

Seven Days of Us – I read over Thanksgiving too, as a sort of kickoff to the Christmas season. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I still thought it was an interesting read. I’m looking forward to making mince pies in my upcoming blog post about the novel, so look out for that closer to the 25th.

How to Behave in a Crowd – The cover of this novel initially caught my eye when I was perusing in a bookstore one evening, so I made a note of it and found it later at the library. On a bit of a stories-about-family-dynamics kick, this made its way into the Thanksgiving Readathon too. The tale narrated by an eleven-year-old boy in a family of brilliant older siblings was both heartbreaking and charming.

My True Love Gave to Me – I don’t often read short stories, but I saw this collection on a list of Christmas-y books from Carly Blogs Here and it piqued my interest. I enjoyed more than half of the stories, disliked a few and was meh about others. The stories I liked I really liked and it was a relatively quick read since it’s YA. If you’re looking for something to get you in the holiday spirit, I suggest giving it a try!  

Hunger – Having been a fan of Roxane Gay’s other work, I didn’t hesitate to pick this up when I saw it on a shelf of new releases at a recent trip to the library. Every woman struggles with feeling comfortable in her own skin, and Gay’s memoir about her weight, her relationship with food and how she got here is deeply personal and raw. It’s also relatable and particularly poignant in today’s social/political climate.

 

Not Worth It

I read both of these during the readathon, and while the speed with which I read them and their close approximation to books I liked much better may have exacerbated my dislike, I just wasn’t a fan of either of these.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend –  Since my wrap-up post, I’ve met with my book club, and honestly, no one really enjoyed this book. In fact, the more we talked it through, the less I liked it. Characters felt one-dimensional, the setting and plot felt a bit absurd, and books weren’t as transformative as I think we would’ve hoped. Perhaps if it wasn’t compared to AJ Fikry my expectations wouldn’t have been as high, but either way, it fell flat.

The End We Start From – I think something I’ve learned from the few books I’ve disliked this year is that it’s not my favorite thing to be stuck in an unknown world and be unable to empathize or relate to the characters. This one lacked characterization and as a result the whole thing felt very far away and unrelatable. On a positive note, it was literally the quickest read of the year.

 

Did Not Finish

The Power – As you may recall from my last SUYB post, I was pretty determined to finish this book after having already read 200-ish pages, despite not being very into it. My lack of enthusiasm kept me from picking it back up, and I’m okay with that. I read a lot this month, most of it worthwhile, so I’m glad I didn’t let this one hold me back. (I’m not the only one who felt that way, and I too am looking forward to the release of Red Clocks to fulfill my feminist dystopia quota.)

 

Currently Reading

The Boat People – I’m only about a fifth of the way through this book, which I’m reading courtesy of NetGalley before it releases on January 9, but so far, I’m a fan. It’s a debut novel inspired by real events and follows a group of refugees who flee their dangerous homeland to find safety in Canada. It already promises to be more like what I was hoping Exit West would be, and let’s hope it continues to be worth the read.

 

What did you read this month? Which books did you enjoy most? Least? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

They Both Die at the End + French Toast

Imagine a world where you knew exactly which day you would die but not how – on the morning of your death, you get a phone call with the warning and are instructed to make the most of it. That’s the premise behind Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End, a young adult dystopian novel. I devoured it in a single day.

On the morning of September 5, a representative from Death-Cast calls both Mateo and Rufus – two teenage boys – and informs them that their End Day is here. They each set off to live their best life on their last day on Earth, not knowing exactly how or when it will come to an end. Interestingly (and one of the things I loved most about Silvera’s concept), a whole economy has grown up around this knew End Day phenomenon, and it is through the app Last Friend, that Mateo and Rufus find each other.

Together, they set about tying up loose ends, experiencing new things and enjoying a last meal to fuel them through their adventures. Some may not appreciate knowing how it all ends before even picking up the novel, but don’t let that hold you back. The ending was not what I was expecting, and I found that the anticipation of the end-point kept the momentum going as I read. If you enjoyed the movie Stranger Than Fiction, which I very much did, that’s the closest approximation I can think of to knowing a plot point and not having it ruin the rest of the experience for you.

Of course, knowing a recipe would end up tagging along with my review, Rufus and Mateo’s most memorable meal on their End Day was important to me. At a hole-in-the-wall diner, they order what I can only hope was an amazing grilled chicken salad (which wouldn’t be my first choice, to be honest) and French toast with a side of French fries (now we’re getting somewhere…).

The French toast obviously stood out to me – yes, grilled chicken salad can be very delicious, but I would really rather not endure a last day without carbs. For those of you who followed my Thanksgiving Readathon, you’ll know I adored Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. Coincidentally, in it, she included a recipe for her father’s French toast, alongside a whole chapter describing its deliciousness. I knew this had to be the recipe I used here, because a last meal absolutely has to be the best. It did not disappoint, and I can only hope the boys’ French toast was just as amazing.

To start, I dug out my cast iron skillet and glugged in some canola oil, making sure to completely cover the bottom, per Molly’s instruction. Then, I cracked 3 eggs into a Pyrex pie dish, which I would ultimately use to coat the bread.

To the eggs, I added milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg, whisking it all together. While the oil heated up, I added two slices of bread to the egg mixture, letting it soak for about 45 seconds or so on each side. (I unfortunately was unable to find a loaf of bread that wasn’t pre-sliced, so they weren’t cut diagonally, but I still think it worked well.)

Then, carefully, using tongs, I placed each slice into the hot oil. It bubbled as it should’ve, which was a good sign. I let it cook for between 1 and 2 minutes on each side.

When each pair of slices was finished, I placed them on a plate lined with paper towels. We had these for a quick dinner one night after work, but they were so easy, that I wouldn’t hesitate to make them on a sleepy weekend morning. I haven’t made a lot of French toast myself, but I have eaten it quite often at restaurants, and this was probably the best I’ve ever had. I can definitely see us adding it to the rotation, especially when we’re looking for a little simple indulgence.

To finish, I dusted the slices with some powdered sugar, which is something I love from years of ordering French toast at restaurants. I’m actually always disappointed when it appears on my table without a white dusting. Of course, we also covered them with syrup and dug right in.

Last Meal French Toast

  • Servings: 6-8 slices
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • canola or other flavorless oil, for frying
  • 6 to 8 slices day-old bread, cut on the diagonal, about ¾ inch thick
  • pure maple syrup, for serving
  • powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

Directions

  1. Break the eggs into a wide, shallow bowl or an 8-inch square Pyrex dish. Whisk the eggs to break up the yolks. Add the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and whisk to blend.
  2. Place a heavy large skillet – preferably cast iron – over medium-high heat, and pour in enough oil to completely cover the bottom of the skillet. Let the oil heat until you can feel the warmth radiating from it when you hold your hand close over the pan. To test the heat, dip the tip of a finger into the egg mixture – not the oil! – and flick a drop into the oil. If it sizzles, it’s ready.
  3. Meanwhile, when the oil is almost hot enough, put 2 to 3 slices of bread into the egg mixture, allowing them to rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. They should feel heavy and thoroughly saturated, but they shouldn’t be falling apart.
  4. Carefully, using tongs, place the slices in the skillet. They should sizzle upon contact, and the oil should bubble busily around the edges. Watch carefully: with hot oil like this, the slices can burn more quickly than you would think. Cook until the underside of the each slice is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully flip and cook until the second side is golden, another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel, and allow to sit for a minute or two before serving.
  5. Repeat with remaining bread. If, at any point, the bread starts to burn before it has a chance to brown nicely, turn the heat back a little. You want to keep it nice and hot, but not smoking.
  6. If desired, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with maple syrup.

Slightly adapted from: Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, featured on pages 39 – 40 as Burg’s French Toast

Recipe Notes: Bread should always be a day or two old. Make sure it has a soft, light crumb and isn’t too dense. When pouring in the oil, make sure it completely coats the bottom of the pan.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Turtles All the Way Down + Spiral Mac ‘n’ Cheese

John Green has written many young adult novels, including one of my favorites, The Fault in Our Stars. He has a unique way of tackling both the everyday and the unexpected parts of the lives of teenagers. His latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is no exception. Like other teenagers, Aza tries her best in school, has an understanding best friend, and doesn’t know exactly what to do when she finds herself in a relationship. Aza also lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and an often crippling level of anxiety, much of which was drawn from Green’s own experiences.

Because of that, Turtles tells an excellent, unique story. Admittedly, some of the scenes where Aza is having obsessive thoughts were hard to read. It almost felt like I was in her head, and in those moments, I read as if hiding behind split fingers – not wanting to go on but wanting to know what happened all the same. I admire Green’s willingness to not only discuss his own mental health issues but to write about them too, in a way that’s real.

Stories like these help to make mental health something that’s okay to talk about. The existence of a likeable character that readers can connect to and empathize with can help teenagers (and adults) realize that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. In Green’s own words, “it’s important for people to hear from [those] who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.” And because of that, it is absolutely a book worth picking up – even if you aren’t familiar with John Green, even if you don’t usually read YA.

Honestly, the first thing I thought of when I looked at this book’s cover was spiral macaroni and cheese. I think they eat it once over the course of the story, but in the end, I couldn’t get it out of my head and no other foods really stood out to me. So, no surprise, that’s what I decided to make. I found an easy recipe from Famished Fish and set to work for a quick, easy dinner one night.

To start, I brought my water to a boil and cooked my noodles according to the package instructions. The original recipe called for rotini, but I also think cavatappi would work great here.

While the noodles cooked, I made the sauce. I melted butter in a pan and then added flour to create a roux. To that, I added the dried mustard and paprika, slowly stirring in 1 cup of milk, so that it could fully incorporate with the roux and remain thick.

Then, I added in the remaining 2 cups of milk slowly, along with the salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I continued cooking the sauce, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more or so, until it thickened. I stirred in three-quarters of the cheese so it melted and became incorporated.

I drained the finished noodles and poured the cheese sauce on top, stirring until the noodles were fully covered. To serve, I spooned the mac ‘n’ cheese into bowls and topped each with a sprinkling of shredded cheese.

It was delicious! And so easy that I’ll definitely be adding it to my repertoire.

Creamy Spiral Mac 'n' Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 16 oz uncooked spiral noodles (rotini or cavatappi)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups milk, divided
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Add uncooked pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook 9-11 minutes, according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter has melted, stir in flour to create a roux.
  3. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk along with the mustard and paprika. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk and the salt and Worcestershire sauce. Cook and stir 5 minutes until has thickened.
  4. Stir in 1½ cups of the sharp cheddar cheese. Stir the sauce until the cheese has melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and return to large pot. Carefully pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir gently to combine the cheese sauce and pasta.
  6. Ladle the macaroni and cheese spirals into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
  7. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Famished Fish

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

The Music Shop + French Onion Soup

If there are any music lovers out there, this book is for you. Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop was similar in feel to The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, which I adored, except in place of a bookshop and bookworms you have a music shop and musicians (or at the very least, those who appreciate music). Though this book doesn’t hit shelves until January, I was lucky enough to get an early copy.

 

In a rundown neighborhood that smells of cheese and onion, in 1988, Frank is struggling to keep his music shop open. It is the age of the CD and though records are losing their appeal, Frank’s shop is something special. As a true connoisseur of music, he is able to recommend exactly the tracks his customers need, even if they didn’t know it was what they were looking for.

One day, a mysterious woman enters his shop, arousing the interest of the surrounding shop owners, who often congregate at Frank’s. He begins teaching her about music and everything begins to change. This novel has a wonderful, quirky set of characters and tells a heartwarming story. I only wish I was more into music, because I would have appreciated it that much more.

Though the book made the neighborhood’s pervasive smell of cheese and onion sound like a bad thing, I’ll admit it really just had me craving French onion soup. Full of caramelized onions and covered with melty cheese, nothing could be more delicious! I pulled out my trusty recipe from The Pioneer Woman, which I’ve been using for a few years now, and got to work creating my own cheesy, onion-y smells in the kitchen.

To start, I always slice my onions, since it takes a bit of time and I usually can’t finish slicing them all in the time it takes the butter to melt. I used 6 medium yellow onions, because that’s what I had on-hand, but if you’re buying them specifically for this recipe, you can substitute a few less large onions.

I melted a half stick of butter in my Dutch oven. (Ree uses a whole stick of butter, but over time I’ve adapted the recipe and use just half of that. Since we usually have leftovers, I’ve found that that much butter creates a pretty thick – and unappetizing – layer of solidified fat on top of the soup when it gets cold. It tastes just as good with half a stick, and is probably healthier too!)

To the melted butter, I added my sliced onions, which take up quite a lot of room in the Dutch oven – don’t worry! They’ll cook down considerably. I stir/toss the onions with a spoon to make sure they’re all pretty well coated in the butter and then I let them cook for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat while covered.

After they’ve cooked down a bit, it’s time to put them into a 400 degree oven, where they’ll cook for an hour minimum. I like to cook mine for closer to an hour and a half to really allow them to caramelize. My favorite thing about this recipe is that it’s perfect for lazy weekend days – it takes a while to make, but most of that time is hands-off. What you get in the end is a delicious, comforting soup.

Back on the stovetop, over medium heat, I used a wooden spoon to scrape off some of the brown bits, which are full of flavor. Carefully add a generous cup of dry white wine to the pot, all while scraping the flavor off the bottom and sides. (If you’re concerned about potential fire hazard, since alcohol is flammable, you can briefly turn off the heat, add the wine, and turn the heat back on. With such a large/deep pot, I don’t find that to be necessary.) I let that mixture cook down until the alcohol is mostly cooked off, about 5 minutes.

To the onions, I added the chicken and beef broths, minced garlic and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I allowed the soup to simmer for between 30 and 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, with about 15 minutes left on the soup, I prepped the bread to use on top of the soup. I sliced about half of a baguette, making sure to keep them on the thicker side. (I like to freeze the other half of the baguette for the next time I make the soup, or for another recipe.) I put them under the broiler for a few minutes, until they began to brown and get crispy.

When the soup was finished, I ladled it into a bowl for each of us, set two pieces of bread on top and covered that generously with grated cheese. (I used a nutty Swiss from Trader Joe’s, since they were out of my usual shredded mix – see notes. If the mix is unavailable or you’re not near a TJs and budget is a factor, Swiss is a great substitute for Gruyere, which usually runs $10/lb or more.)

Since my bowls aren’t oven safe, I used my old trick of popping each bowl into the microwave for a minute or less – I suggest watching through the door – until the cheese is melted. You don’t get the nice browning that you get under the broiler, but the meltiness is really what I’m looking for in a French onion soup anyway. Hope you enjoy!

French Onion Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ stick butter
  • 4 large or 6 medium yellow onions, halved root to tip and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (generous) dry white wine
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Several thick slices of baguette
  • 5 ounces weight (to 7 Ounces) Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place pot into the oven with the lid slightly ajar to ensure the onions will brown. Allow onions to cook in the oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours, stirring at least once during the cooking process so onions won’t stick and burn.
  3. Remove pot from oven and place back on stovetop over medium heat. Stir, scraping off all the brown, flavorful bits. Turn off heat and pour in wine. Turn heat back to medium. (If you do this carefully, you don’t need to turn off the heat.) Cook wine for 5 minutes, allowing it to reduce. 4. Add broths, Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Butter one side of the bread slices and broil over low heat, allowing bread to brown and become crispy.
  5. When soup is ready, ladle into bowl or ramekin. Place crispy bread on top, and then sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly. (Alternatively, if you don’t have oven-safe bowls, you can place in microwave for 30 – 60 seconds, or until melted.)
  6. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman

Notes: I prefer the Swiss/Gruyere shredded cheese mix from Trader Joe’s, if there is one near you. It’s more cost effective and saves you the trouble of grating. Additionally, you can substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth if you prefer. If you only have stocks on-hand, I’ve also used them in place of the broth(s), and the result is much the same – just check the taste and adjust seasoning as needed.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.