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Monthly Archives

January 2018

book review, recipe

Red Clocks + Green-Chile Scrambled Eggs

If you visit The Hungry Bookworm often, Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks should be somewhat familiar to you. Despite my disappointment in a similar book late last year, I was super excited to read this upcoming feminist dystopia – I included it on my list of most anticipated books this year and added it as a selection in one of my reading challenges.

In Red Clocks, the United States has granted every unborn child full rights to life, liberty and property, resulting in countrywide bans on abortion, in-vitro fertilization and single parent adoption (because every child deserves to be raised by a traditional mother-father combo).  Zumas explores how such laws could affect everyday women as she follows the journeys of the biographer, the mender, the wife and the daughter, with bits about a 19th century female polar explorer peppered throughout.

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book review, recipe

The Secret Life of Bees + Banana Cream Pie

I always appreciate a book where you can immediately fall into it and remain completely immersed to the end – part of the joy of reading, for me, is leaving your own world/viewpoint/experiences and hanging out in someone else’s for a while. The powerful storytelling in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees did that for me.

During a hot South Carolina summer in 1964, Lily Owens is about to turn 14. Propelled by a fuzzy recollection of the day her mother died and desperate to know more, she sets off on a haphazard journey from home with Rosaleen, a black woman who has become her stand-in mother. Their immediate safety may be Rosaleen’s driving force, but Lily’s search for clues about her mother’s existence brings them to Tiburon.

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of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Really Liked But Don’t Remember Much/Anything About

Hi everyone, and happy Tuesday! Welcome to my first Top Ten Tuesday of 2018. This is an original weekly blog meme that was created at The Broke and the Bookish but is now hosted over at The Artsy Reader Girl. 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.

Today’s list is kind of funny, in that I’m not sure how much I can say about each book on it – I guess we’ll just have to see! To arrive at the 10 Books I Really Liked But Can’t Remember Anything/Much About, I culled through my Goodreads, starting at the highest rating and going down. (Reminder: here’s how I rate.)

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book review, recipe

Friendship Bread + Cherry Chocolate Chip Amish Friendship Bread

Today’s blog post actually started three weeks ago when I read an NPR article called “The Friendship Bread Project: Can Baking Promote Unity In A Divided World?” The idea they discuss – that food can bring people together – is one I typically subscribe to and is one that prompted Darien Gee to write her 2009 novel Friendship Bread.

I was surprised and delighted to find that there was a whole book about friendship bread; naturally I had to check it out for myself. Before even starting the book, I was researching how to make starters and went down a bit of a rabbit hole, but I was already intrigued enough to make my own. It felt like a natural fit for this blog – it would just take a few ingredients and a little patience.

When I picked up Gee’s book from the library, in fact, the cover alone was enough to prompt the librarians to start up a conversation about previous friendship bread crazes and wonder aloud if “any of those starters from the 70s were still hanging around.” I made a mental note to bring them a loaf when I returned the book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel – the cover evokes “chick lit” (and looks delicious), and I wasn’t sure that a story revolving around a baked good could have much substance. Happily, I was wrong about it lacking substance. For the most part, Friendship Bread follows Julia, who discovers friendship bread when a mysterious gloopy bag appears on her front porch; Madeleine, the owner of a tea salon; and Hannah, a former concert cellist who’s new in town. The three of them form an unlikely bond as the town is overtaken by its own friendship bread craze. On the whole, it was uplifting and optimistic and ends pretty neatly tied up, but it also explores the trials of loss and maintaining relationships quite realistically.

I began my starter the day I brought the book home, January 9. It was simple enough – dissolve a packet of yeast in warm water for 10 minutes before adding 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk. (These three ingredients are key in starter care.) Then, let it sit for 10 days, mixing each day. It’s important not to use a metal bowl or a metal spoon, but otherwise caring for a starter is pretty forgiving. (I forgot to stir it for two days and it turned out fine!) You add the foundation ingredients on Day 6 and again on Day 10, when you divide up the mixture to give to friends – keeping some for yourself, of course.

I tried my best to divide the starter wisely – opting to spread it out rather than releasing it in a concentrated area. I connected with fellow Michigan-based book blogger Kerrie at Comfy Reading, who lives about an hour away from me, and bestowed a cup of starter on her. (Here is her post on the experience.) When she saw I had read the book, my mom (who also lives about an hour away, in a different direction) requested starter, so I saved some for her as well. I gave a cup to a supportive coworker, Cheryl, who’s excited to care for it and bake together with her daughter. Finally, after a lot of research, I mailed a quarter cup to one of my best friends, Katie, who lives in Pennsylvania. Apparently, if you don’t want to dry it and send flakes (I didn’t), it’s best to send in small quantities so there is still room for it to expand as it ships. I’m hoping the cooler weather and 2-day shipping will keep the starter from expanding too much within it’s box.  

Admittedly, this was my first experience with a starter, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the novel Sourdough, which I read last fall. I kept my starter in the oven, where it could keep cozy and grow with abandon. Thankfully, the friendship bread starter wasn’t as rambunctious as Lois’ sourdough starter, but mine still ended up yielding just under 7 cups, instead of the typical 4 cups. (I kept the extra for myself, not only to bake, but to keep feeding for another batch.)

Like most quick breads, the recipe for Amish friendship bread isn’t too difficult. It’s also quite flexible, as you can incorporate a variety of add-ins to suit your tastes. I had an abundant supply of dried cherries on-hand, so instead of making the traditional cinnamon-sugar bread, I wanted to make something with cherries and chocolate. I found a recipe on the Friendship Bread Kitchen site close to what I was looking for, so I adapted that recipe a bit to be more like what I had in mind.  

I began with 1 cup of my starter in a nonmetal bowl. To it, I added the ingredients as listed in the recipe. I only used 1 box of instant vanilla pudding, deciding to save the second box I bought for my second batch, but you can leave it out altogether if you don’t want to use it. I mixed everything together using a wooden spoon and then divided the batter between the two loaf pans.

After baking, I allowed them to cool for a bit in the pan before moving them to a cooling rack and dusting with a bit of sugar (because I forgot to do it before I put it in the oven).

Being from Michigan, I already love cherries, and I thought the cherry-chocolate combination in this bread was delicious.

Well, that’s it for today – I’m off to return my book to the library, along with a loaf of the bread for the librarians. I hope they like it as much as we did!

Have you ever made friendship bread or received a starter? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Cherry Chocolate Chip Amish Friendship Bread

  • Servings: 16 (2 loaves)
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter (recipe here, if you don’t already have one)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-2 boxes instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • up to ½ cup sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add ingredients as listed (excluding sugar for dusting).
  3. Grease two large loaf pans.
  4. Dust the greased pans with ½ cup sugar.
  5. Pour the batter evenly into loaf or cake pans and sprinkle the remaining sugar on top.
  6. Bake for one hour or until the bread loosens evenly from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.


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book review, recipe

Standard Devation + Spaghetti Marinara and Garlic Bread

One day, Katherine Heiny’s novel Standard Deviation appeared in my library queue, ready to pick up. As I mentioned in January’s SUYB post, I can’t even remember how I heard about, but I must’ve added it to my library list right away so I wouldn’t forget about it. However it stumbled into my life, I’m glad it did; it wasn’t a life-changing novel by any means, but it was entertaining and enjoyable all the same – a bit like an indie rom-com.

Standard Deviation is about Graham, who lives in an apartment in New York City with his second wife Audra and their young son. While Graham seems to prefer to observe, his wife Audra talks constantly and makes friends wherever she goes, leading to a barrage of house guests who always seem to be underfoot.

A lesser storyteller could’ve easily painted Graham as an exasperated husband sick of his wife’s antics and Audra as a selfish busybody, and though they occasionally exhibit those qualities, on the whole they’re much more than that, and quite likeable. One of the more endearing (and amusing) storylines within the novel revolves around their son Matthew and his love of origami. Though it’s never explicitly said (that I can recall), it appears he has Asperger’s, and their dedication to his passion is an excellent example of selfless parenting.

Like me, Graham loves good food and cooking at home, both for his family and their frequent guests. Also like me, he finds cooking less enjoyable when he’s forced to plan a meal around picky eaters. Unfortunately for Graham, he often found himself in such a situation, and it was in one of those moments that I drew my inspiration for today’s recipe:

Spaghetti marinara with garlic bread was his all-purpose crowd-pleasing picky-eater dinner. Spaghetti marinara was like taking a girl on a first date, actually: nothing fancy, no surprises, best foot forward.

I personally prefer meat sauce on my spaghetti, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I took the recipe my family usually uses for spaghetti sauce and omitted the meat to make a marinara sauce. This recipe is really easy, but it’s flavorful and thick so it sticks to spaghetti really well.

To start, I added about a half cup of chopped onion to olive oil already heated in a sauce pot and cooked them until they were translucent. To the onions, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes and small cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste. Then I added salt and pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, some sugar and Parmesan cheese and gave it all a good stir.

Once the ingredients are combined, bring it up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Like most tomato sauce, it can get messy real quick if it starts to bubble up and pop, so I like to keep a lid offset on top to let some of the air and steam escape but keep the sauce from getting all over the stovetop. You can let it simmer for as little as long as you like, stirring occasionally, but it’s best after at least 20 minutes. Of course, it’s even better the second day.

While the sauce simmered, I boiled the water for my spaghetti and started on the garlic bread. Because I was just making dinner for Scott and myself, I adjusted the recipe down and only used about a third of the Italian bread loaf. I partially melted some butter in a small bowl, added the garlic powder and dried parsley, and then melted the mixture the rest of the way. With a basting brush, I applied the butter-garlic mixture generously to each slice.

I baked the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes, covered each slice with shredded mozzarella and put the pan back in the oven for about 7 more minutes until it was melted. At this point, the spaghetti pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was ready to go.

I need to perfect my spaghetti swirl for future fancy plating, but the taste more than makes up for the lack of finesse in that area. These crowd-pleasing recipes are as perfect for the discerning foodies in your life as they are the picky-eaters. It’s wonderful bonus that they’re easy too. Hope you enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a large sauce pot, preheat a bit of olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon) and add onion. Cook until translucent.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer. (Use a lid; it will splatter.)
  4. Serve over spaghetti or your favorite pasta.

Adapted from a family recipe

Recipe Notes: To make a meat sauce, simply add 1-lb ground beef or turkey, browning with the onion in step one.


Cheesy Garlic Bread

  • Servings: 6-8
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread, cut into ½ -inch slices
  • 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat (or the microwave), melt butter and mix with garlic powder and dried parsley.
  3. Place Italian bread on a medium baking sheet. Using a basting brush, brush generously with the butter mixture.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven approximately 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and any remaining butter mixture. Return to oven approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is lightly browned.

From: Noelle C on Allrecipes.com

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society + Potato Peel Pie

Recently, my book club elected to read Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a charming piece of historical fiction about life on the British Channel Islands during and after WWII. It is a bit of a book about books, but more than that it’s about how literature can bring people together, unexpectedly, even in the worst of times.

In 1946 London, a mysterious man writes to Juliet Ashton because he somehow came to be in possession of one of her books and is looking for more by the same author, who he’s come to adore. Of course, as a reader, Juliet steps in to help him get the books he needs, and with that, she launches a friendly correspondence with him – and his fellow islanders. All of them belonged to an impromptu book club during the German wartime occupation of their home on Guernsey, and Juliet is beside herself to learn more about them.

While I was expecting a potentially difficult read, as many WWII novels tend to be (including The Nightingale and Lilac Girls), I was pleasantly surprised. There are some brief descriptions of time in the concentration camps, but it mostly serves as a way to provide the characters – who’ve survived the war at that point – with some closure. Book narratives that take place solely through letters can sometimes fall flat, but in this case, my whole book club enjoyed the choice. I thought it added to the charm.

Though the Guernsey Literary Society also boasts the name of a disgusting-sounding dish, the potato peel pie is mentioned only briefly in the novel. It is described as a pie made out of potato peels and something to do with beets. As I read, I was slightly horrified to think about making such a pie for this post. Luckily, I remembered my Book Club Cookbook and thought I recalled seeing this book listed in the index.

Sure enough! It listed a recipe for an “occupied” version, using just beets, potatoes (including the peels) and a bit of milk, but it also included a “non-occupied” version, which sounded delicious. I decided to make it for our book club meeting. 

Since we were meeting during the week and I don’t have a lot of time after work before everyone arrives, I got started the night before. Since the non-occupied version still includes potato peels, I made sure to scrub them thoroughly before peeling. Here is the after photo:

I peeled them as carefully as I could and layered them into the pie dish, making sure to completely cover the bottom.

While they baked in the oven, I cut the potatoes into large chunks and got them going in a pot of salted, boiling water on the stove.

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the potato peels were looking slightly crispy, so I pulled them out before they burned. I was surprised, however, to see that they’d all curled up and no longer completely covered the bottom of the pan – a bit of a disappointing crust in look only, as it still tasted delicious later.

Once the potatoes were fully cooked, I drained them and transferred them to a large bowl with some butter to mash them up with a hand mixer (my typical method, since I don’t actually own a manual masher). Then, I stirred in the milk, and once that was absorbed, added the cheddar cheese and sour cream as well.

Finally, I spread the whole mixture in the pie dish on top of the potato skins.

Because I wasn’t serving it until the next day, I covered it with plastic wrap and stored it in the fridge overnight. Then, prior to book club, I baked it for the first time. It was still cold from the fridge (not room temperature, or slightly warm as if I’d baked it immediately), so I cooked it for longer – closer to an hour.

Once it was melty, slightly bubbly on the edges with just a touch of brown on top, I removed it from the oven. My entire book club could smell it, and we were starving, so we didn’t wait the recommended 15 minutes before serving. It ended up being more like cheesy mashed potatoes – probably the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had, honestly – than potato “pie” but everyone enjoyed it just the same. The crispy skins throughout added a pleasing texture.

From our book club to yours, we recommend checking out this charming novel before the movie comes to theaters in April. I, for one, always look forward to the opportunity to have a lively discussion about whether the book or movie is better (even though we all know the answer going in) – and who better to do that with than your favorite book-loving friends?

Annie Barrow’s Non-Occupied Potato Peel Pie

Make the potato peel pie from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

Course Main Course
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1½ - 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes about 4 medium or 6 small potatoes
  • No beets
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 stick butter, cut into pieces
  • cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • and maybe some sour cream too, (about ¼ cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Go ahead and use the peelings as the crust, but cook them first: Scrub potatoes and pat dry. Peel potato and lay peelings evenly in the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Place in oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes, because it would be nice if they were a little crispy. When they’re done, reduce oven heat to 350 degrees F.
  3. In the meantime, place potatoes in a large pot, cover with salted water, and boil until they’re soft, however long that takes (about 30-40 minutes). Then, drain the potatoes and mash them up with the butter until they’re nice and fluffy. Add milk slowly and stir until milk is absorbed. Stir in that delicious cheese and the sour cream, too, if you want it (and who wouldn’t?).
  4. Pour the potato mixture on top of the crispy skins. Then, put the pie in the oven for about 30 minutes until it’s all melty and glorious (and lightly browned). Allow to cool for about 15 minutes, until it sets. Serve warm. To reheat: Cover with foil and heat for 15-20 minutes in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F.

Recipe Notes

From: The Book Club Cookbook, pages 162-163

If, for whatever reason (say, book club), you need to make this the night before. I recommend stopping before you put the potato peel pie in the oven. Fill pan with the mashed potato mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour (checking as you go) to ensure it’s heated through and then allow to cool before serving, per the above directions.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

In the Midst of Winter + Chilean Cazuela Stew

Isabel Allende’s most recent novel In the Midst of Winter really just begs to be read at this time of year. Though it was published in October last year, I wasn’t able to get a copy from the library until December, which seemed like perfect timing to me. I started it just as an early snowstorm hit Michigan…and I was catching a plane to south Florida. As I sat in the warmth of a rare perfect weather weekend, reading Allende’s vivid descriptions of bitter cold, blustery wind and mounds of snow, I was grateful to have escaped – if just for a little bit.

Like the only other Allende book I’ve read, The House of the Spirits, this novel features strong Latin American women and shines a spotlight on the unique issues they face. Lucia is a university lecturer from Chili, currently living in the bottom floor apartment of Richard, a standoffish professor at the same university. As a snowstorm overtakes Brooklyn, Richard gets in a fender bender, setting off a chain of events no one saw coming. When the other driver, Evelyn, later shows up on his doorstep and refuses to leave, he enlists Lucia’s help.

Evelyn, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, is working as a nanny and is terrified to return to her employers with a damaged car. After hearing her out, Lucia is determined to help the girl and a reluctant Richard is brought along for the ride. Winter couldn’t be more timely with its portrayal of immigrants – both legal and illegal – as it highlights their heartbreaking stories with compassion and humanity.

When Richard goes to Lucia to request her help, she is desperately trying to stay warm in her underheated apartment. She describes a delicious, comforting Chilean stew called cazuela – full of beef, corn, potatoes and pumpkin – that she often makes to warm up. She brings it upstairs to Richard’s.

As I looked for a cazuela recipe like Lucia’s, I kept coming across ones that included chicken. While cazuela may be made with any kind of meat really, beef is used in the traditional Chilean recipe. To get exactly what I was looking for, I combined two different recipes, one from Que Rica Vida and one from Taste of Home. In the end, I included beef, corn and potatoes, like Lucia, and substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin since I already had that on-hand.

I was unable to find a small 1-pound beef brisket at my grocery store because apparently they only offer them in slabs greater than 10 pounds (at least when I was shopping). I opted for corned beef brisket instead, because they were available much closer to the weight that I needed, but I would still recommend trying to find a small cut of brisket or other non-corned beef to use. While still alright, the corned beef ended up being a bit tough and may have affected the flavor a bit.

Anyway, I cut my roughly 1-pound brisket into 6 chunks, as the recipe directed, and set it aside. Then, I cut up my onion, butternut squash, potatoes and carrots into similarly large chunks, as evenly as I could manage.

To the oil already heated in my Dutch oven, I added the meat and cooked it for about 2-3 minutes on each side, about 10 minutes total. Then, I added the onions, oregano, cumin and salt and pepper, mixing and allowing to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

To the pot, I added the rest of my prepared veggies – carrots, potatoes and squash – and covered everything with a combination of vegetable broth and boiling water, about 6 cups total. I let it come to a boil and then simmered it, uncovered, for about 15 minutes before adding the frozen ears of corn.

When the stew was almost finished, I added a handful of frozen green beans and let it continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

To serve, I put a bit of already cooked rice (about ⅓ – ½ cup) in the bottom of a bowl. I plucked out a piece of beef, corn, potato and squash, along with some carrots, onions and green beans and placed them on top of the rice, covering everything with a few generous ladlefuls of broth.

This warm, vegetable-filled soup certainly made for a comforting winter dinner and I’d be interested in trying it again sometime.  

Chilean Cazuela with Beef

  • Servings: 6
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4-6 pieces of fresh or frozen corn on the cob (2 inches each)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled (or medium potatoes cut in half)
  • 6 small pieces of butternut squash
  • 1 handful of frozen green beans
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot cooked rice (about 3 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, to taste

Directions

  1. Cut the meat into six portions. Preheat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Cook the meat for approximately 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the onion, cumin and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. When ready, place the potatoes, carrots and butternut squash in the pot. Completely cover the contents with the vegetable broth and boiling water, approximately 6 cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cook and vegetables are tender.
  4. Add corn after approximately 15 minutes. Add frozen green beans within last 5 minutes.
  5. Sample and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve stew over rice in a shallow soup bowl, ensuring that each person receives one piece of meat, one potato, one piece of butternut squash and a portion of corn. Serve with hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro or parsley as desired.

Adapted from: Que Rica Vida and Taste of Home

Recipe Notes: Chilean cazuela is a very flexible homemade stew – you can use lamb, chicken or pork in the recipe, but the classic version is made with beef. Butternut squash can be swapped for pumpkin, if desired.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

Show Us Your Books – January 2018

Happy second Tuesday of 2018, everyone, and welcome to the first Show Us Your Books of the year! I’m excited to share with you what I read over the holidays and what I’ve gotten into so far this year, especially thanks to some fun reading challenges that I’m hoping will help me read my shelves and get through my TBR.

Before I kick off today’s SUYB, I want to explain how I’ll be rating the books today and moving forward. I’m going to start using my Goodreads rating method here to keep my ratings consistent across every platform. This is how I typically rate books:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars = LOVE LOVE LOVE. I will recommend a 5-star to anyone and everyone and won’t shut up about it. I absolutely need to own a 5-star read, so I can lend it out and have it available for re-reads. I usually have half a dozen or less books in this category each year because they need to be really outstanding to warrant 5-stars.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars = REALLY liked it. I will recommend a 4-star book to someone I think would like it – depending on interests/genre – and like to have them as part of my collection (for the same reasons as above). I’ll probably rave about this one a fair amount as well.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars = liked it. A 3-star book was good. I didn’t feel like it wasted my time and walked away with an overall positive feeling about it. I give the majority of the books I read each year 3 stars, and I don’t consider this rating to be a bad one.

⭐⭐ 2 stars = not a fan. This book just didn’t do it for me. It may have been a bit of a waste of time, or it may have been an experimental genre/topic that didn’t work out. I’m not upset about the time I spent reading it; I was likely just hoping for more. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really like it either.

⭐ 1 star = hated it. Pretty self-explanatory, and I don’t hand a 1-star rating out lightly. Like the 5-star books, these are pretty rare.

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, February 13, 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

 

4-Star Reads ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

The Boat People – Inspired by true events, this fictional account of refugees seeking asylum in Canada tackles a timely topic. It did an excellent job straddling the complexities surrounding asylum-seekers and the emotional decisions refugees must face not only at the beginning of their journeys but throughout the process. In short, it was everything I wanted Exit West to be.

The Secret Life of Bees – I adored this coming-of-age story about fourteen-year-old Lily Owens and her black caretaker Rosaleen, as they navigate the troublesome South in 1964 and take refuge in a pink house owned by beekeeping sisters. It was a strong show of female power, heartwarming and uplifting.  

 

3-Star Reads ⭐⭐⭐

In the Midst of Winter (3.5) – This seemed like the perfect book to read in the cold of December – and it was. It takes place over the course of a week or so, in the middle of a snowstorm in New York; the cold was palpable. Allende weaves together the beautiful and harrowing stories of three very different characters, taking us to 1970s Central and South America and back to present day America. It brings to light the struggles of undocumented immigrants and issues of human rights, and it all starts with a seemingly innocuous fender bender.

The Nest (3.5) – Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney’s novel is the story of four siblings who must learn to deal with disappointment and potential financial ruin when their trust fund, or “the nest” as they call it, is not quite as big as they anticipated. Filled with unlikable characters in unlikely situations (compared to most of us), it wasn’t a story I expected to like. But, low expectations may have saved this book for me and I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying it throughout – even the epilogue, which left me walking away satisfied.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (3.5) – A book about books and so much more than that, I’m looking forward to discussing this one in my book club tomorrow night (for which I’m making actual potato peel pie…stay tuned for that). Through a series of letters, this novel tells the story of a group known as the Guernsey Literary Society, which comes together while Germans occupy their island during WWII. It was like a less tragic The Nightingale combined with everything I wished The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was.

 

Standard Deviation – This was one of those completely random, stumbled-upon books; I can’t even remember how I heard about it. Still, it was funny and entertaining. Katherine Heiny’s novel was a quick read about Graham, his second wife Audra, his son who may have Asperger’s, and all of the random house guests that flit in and out of their NYC apartment.

No Time to Spare – Ursula K LeGuin is an inspiring woman, and though I’ve only read one of her novels, I have every intention of exploring her work further (thanks, in part, to Karen Joy Fowler who is an admirer of hers). As I am not as familiar with LeGuin as I’d like to be, I probably didn’t appreciate this memoir as bigger fans may but it was still enjoyable. As in her fiction writing, she discusses gender equality and meditates on life.

I will not be doing a longer post on this book, but if I were to do so, I would definitely have to make soft-boiled eggs, to which LeGuin devoted an entire chapter. It became very clear that I do not have the very specific tools required, nor the patience to handle a food that requires such delicate precision.  

  

MAUS I & II – I read MAUS I as part of the Literary Feast 2018 Reading challenge, since it was published in the year of my birth; it was the first book I picked up and finished this year. I also read the second MAUS because it just felt right to complete the story.

Though graphic novels aren’t my genre of choice, I tend to end up reading one almost every year. I’m always surprised when I don’t really like them, especially these since the ones I choose are so critically acclaimed. I just found it hard to get into, I suppose; the style didn’t evoke as much emotion as I would expect from a story about concentration camp prisoners. That being said, both were quick reads (as graphic novels are) and the content was clearly heartfelt and personal. It’s an important story to be told.

Britt-Marie Was Here – I wanted to like this more than I did, probably because I love Fredrik Backman’s writing (especially A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry). Like all of his novels, there was quite a cast of characters, some likable and some not. Britt-Marie fell in both categories intermittently, though of course she grows more endearing as you get to know her. I certainly enjoyed the story, but I wish there’d been a different ending.

When the English Fall – I’ve always been fascinated by the Amish lifestyle, so when I saw this dystopia about what happens when the power grid goes down and no one but the Amish are situated to survive, I knew I had to pick it up. I read it in a few hours – it was quite riveting for the most part. I think I was hoping for more about how the rest of the world was surviving, aside from the bits of information brought in to the Order from the outside, and in that, it fell short.

 

2-Star Reads ⭐⭐

Manhattan Beach (2.5) – Jennifer Egan may not be my author. I didn’t like her much-acclaimed A Visit from the Goon Squad, and while this one was a bit better, it wasn’t really my thing either. A historical novel set first during the Great Depression and then in WWII, it primarily follows the young, fearless Anna Kerrigan. There are several chapters that focus on other main characters, but her story was the most interesting to me; I especially enjoyed her journey to become a female scuba diver and wish it was a bigger focus of the narrative.

 

Books I Didn’t Finish

None!

 

Books I’m Reading Right Now

I haven’t actually picked anything up yet, since I just finished When the English Fall last night, but my plan is to dive into another Book Challenge by Erin selection – I’m leaning towards The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo because it’s been on my shelf long enough!

What did you read last month?

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

of interest

New Year + Reading Challenges

The first week of 2018 is almost over, and I hope everyone’s year is off to a great start! I’m coming at this year with a positive outlook, and while I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, I do have some personal, professional and blogging goals in mind. To have a successful book-related blog, of course, it requires lots of reading.

As such, I’ve committed to two reading challenges this year – because what better way to read more than to be (somewhat) competitive about it? Now, both of these challenges are intended to be low-key, low stress and not really all that competitive. But, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to do my best to succeed at the challenges I set for myself. So, I wanted to share a bit about them with you (accountability and all that). And, if you’re interested, there’s still time to join both of them, so you too can enjoy the benefits of reading more in 2018. 🙂

 

Book Challenge by Erin (8.0)

Duration: January through April 2018

Challenge: Choose 10 books across specific categories and read as many of them as you can during the first 4 months of the year

All books must be 200 pages or more and you each book can only be used for 1 category. If you’d like to include a book you’ve already read, you can only do so once but you must actually re-read it for it to count.

You’re supposed to pick your 10 books up front, but it’s no big deal if you change your mind and want to read something else for that category instead! Most of all, this challenge is supposed to be fun – I personally am using it as a motivator to read a bunch of books on my TBR list, and I pulled the titles using as many books as I could from those I already own.

5 points (Freebie): Read a book that is at least 200 pagesThe Secret Life of Bees

This was the third book I read this year (after MAUS I & II, more on that below), and I loved it. Great way to start the challenge!

10 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “L”Love & Gelato

This has been on my TBR for a bit now, and while I don’t own it, the library has it readily available. I picked it before I joined the challenge from A Literary Feast, but it fits for the February pick, so it’s conveniently going to do double-duty for me.

10 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) red coverRed Clocks

This is one of the books I’m most looking forward to this year, and I was so excited to see that BOTM had it as one of their January selections! You can bet I scooped it up, so there will be no library waitlists for me this time. I can’t wait to get started on it.

15 points: Read a book with a character’s name in the titleThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

This was a BOTM sometime in the middle last year, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I’ve heard amazing things about it, though, which is why I’ve kept it, and now I have a great excuse to pick it up and experience it for myself.

20 points: Read a book from Book Riot’s list of 100 Must-Read Books with Plot TwistsThe Book of Unknown Americans

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this book through my office’s Diversity Book Club, but was unfortunately not able to attend when the time came (due to meetings and all that). I was surprised to see it on this list – not exactly a book I was expecting to have a big plot twist. Now I’m all the more excited to finally be able to check it out.

20 points: Read a book with the words “house” or “home” in the titleThe Two-Family House

Another book from my TBR, but not one I owned until this past week – thanks to a very fortunate book swap! I had a few books I could’ve chosen for this category, but this one has intrigued me from a distance for long enough.

25 points: Read a book by an author whose first and last name begins with the same letterThe Mothers by Brit Bennett

When I was perusing my shelves for alliterative authors this is the first one that caught my eye. I got it in a book swap last year (seriously, where would I be without book swaps?) and don’t know a ton about it, but I’m sure it’ll be worth the read.  

30 points: Read a book that was originally published in a different language than your ownBritt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie was originally published in Swedish by the wonderful Fredrik Backman, who has written a couple of my favorites (such as My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry), so naturally I was excited to dive into his charming writing again. It’s the second book I decided to tackle from the challenge and I’m about a third of the way through. So far, so good!

30 points: Read a book where most of the action takes place on a form of transportation (i.e. bus, boat, car, plane) – Life of Pi

Such an interesting category! My first thought was of the movie Speed, but that wasn’t a book and so obviously I couldn’t pick that. I remember loving Life of Pi when I read it before, but it’s been so long now, that I don’t recall much of the specifics – except that it takes place mostly on a raft. Perfect for this challenge! And another book already on the shelf 🙂

35 points: Read a book with a character that suffers from a debilitating physical illness – Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Full disclosure: I don’t know much about this book, except that when I was googling around trying to find a book for this category that I hadn’t already read (since I used my re-read for the previous category), it popped up. It was on my TBR and the library had some copies, so here we are. I’m looking forward to it, and also a grateful that I don’t have any high expectations to hamper my reaction.

Have you read any of the books above? What would you recommend picking up next?

If you’re interested in joining Erin’s challenge, stop by her Facebook page here. There are typically three challenges per year, each lasting four months.

 

2018 Reading Challenge from A Literary Feast

Duration: Entire year

Challenge: Read a book in each appointed category, which changes each month

My kindred spirit in the book blogging community, the lovely Grace of A Literary Feast, started this challenge and I’m excited to be able to support her and participate. I only chose the first few months, since even summer seems so far away in these frigid temperatures! I’ve outlined all the categories below though, so you can get a feel for what the rest of the year will bring.

January: A book that was published in your birth yearMAUS I (and MAUS II)

MAUS I has been on my TBR list for several years now, and conveniently it was also published in 1986! The second one was published a few years later, but together they’re still pretty short – and as graphic novels, quick to get through. These were the first books I picked up in 2018 because the library was super quick on their interlibrary loans, and I finished both on January 1.  

February: A book that has a food in the titleLove & Gelato

I already mentioned the double-duty this book is doing, which is awesome in and of itself. I’m also excited about the prospect of making gelato. (Ice cream has no season, so I don’t care that it will still be unbearably cold outside when I do it.)

March: A book that was made into a movie you’ve already seen

I haven’t chosen a book for March yet, and I’m all over the map for this category. Initially, after a quick search, I was leaning towards The Green Mile because I enjoyed the movie… but I’m super terrified the book will be scary where the movie wasn’t really. Then, while watching Funny Farm over the holidays, I discovered it was actually based on a book and thought maybe I’d pick that because it’s more light-hearted. I don’t know, guys… I’ve seen a lot of movies but I’ve also read a lot of books-turned-movies, so I’m trying to find one I’ve seen but not read yet. Looking for suggestions!

April: A book set in a country that intimidates you

May: A book that you saw a stranger reading in a public place

This would’ve been amazing when I lived in NYC and rode the subway all the time. I think I’m going to have to start hanging out in some coffee shops or airports between now and then.

June: A book about a mid-life crisis or finding your true self

July: A childhood classic that you’ve never readThe Little Prince

This is the lone book I chose past February, mostly because as soon as I saw this category, I knew what it had to be. The Little Prince is one of my coworker’s favorite books, and after hearing all of her praise about it, I’m looking forward to finally reading it too. That being said, I’ll probably have to get it out of the library since her copy is in French.

August: A book that you’ve loved and read before

I don’t usually re-read so this will be a welcome change of pace.

September: A book that was published in 2018

October: A blind date book (someone else chooses for you)

I’m going to let Deanna pick this one for me, since I am constantly forcing her to read books I recommend, and I know I can trust her to pick a good one.

November: A book with an ugly cover

Because you should never judge a book by its cover.

December: A book set in a cold climate

Obviously looking for recommendations for the book/movie category, but if you have suggestions for the others I haven’t chosen yet, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you. 🙂 If you’re interested in joining the 2018 challenge from A Literary Feast, there may still be time – check out the original post here.

book review, recipe

A Homemade Life + Turkey Meatballs

Though I read this last book about a month ago, I thought it would make the perfect post to kickoff the new year. If you love food as much as you love books, like I do, Molly Wizenberg’s food memoir – which I gushed about during the Thanksgiving Readathon – is an absolute treasure. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table is full of so many mouth-watering recipes that I had an extremely hard time deciding what to make for this post.

I became familiar with Molly through a funny food podcast called Spilled Milk, which she co-hosts with fellow foodie Matthew Amster-Burton. Little did I know, she also writes a well-loved blog, Orangette, which she started in a moment of self-discovery because “whatever [she] did, it had to involve food and writing.” We’re somewhat kindred spirits in that way. Not to give away any spoilers, but one of my favorite parts of the book was discovering that Molly actually met her husband through her blog. (I met mine well before creating my blog, but I’m lucky that he has always been extremely supportive of my efforts.) Since the book is mostly food, coupled with lovely personal stories of course, let’s get right to meat of it.

I snuck Molly’s father’s French toast recipe into a blog post late last year, partially because I didn’t think one recipe did this collection justice and partially because I’m indecisive. But, as I combed back through the pages, the perfect recipe for this post jumped out at me. I decided to choose the Mediterranean-style turkey meatballs from her friend Doron because they were one of the first recipes Molly wrote about on her new blog in 2005.

The ingredient list is a bit intimidating – I didn’t have pine nuts or golden raisins on-hand – but because it’s meatballs, the grocery shopping is really the hardest part.

To start, I made the yogurt dipping sauce because in the book she recommends leaving it at room temperature while you do the rest so the flavors can develop (here, the blog version of the recipe varies). I combined all of the ingredients – plain yogurt (I used Greek, full fat), lemon juice, minced garlic, ground cumin and salt – in a small bowl with a whisk. I set it aside while I made the meatballs.

To make the meatballs, I combined the majority of the ingredients in a large bowl – minced yellow onion, fresh cilantro leaves, pine nuts, golden raisins, bread crumbs, an egg and salt, cumin and freshly ground black pepper.

To that, I added the pound of ground turkey and used my hands to gently incorporate all of the ingredients, taking care not to overwork the meat.

Then, I rolled the meatballs, doing my best to keep them somewhat uniform in size – about 1½ inches round.

I heated a couple Tablespoons of oil in my skillet and added about half of the meatballs to begin cooking. Now, obviously it’s important to make sure poultry is cooked through and I’ll admit that the cooking part of the process gave me a touch of anxiety because it felt like it was taking forever. (Molly offered no rough time estimate in her recipe or notes.) That being said, I cooked each batch for approximately 20 minutes, checking for doneness as I went.

They turned out to be really delicious – no surprise there – and the yogurt sauce was the perfect complement.

The only thing left to do is to try more of Molly’s recipes, and see if I can work them into other future blog posts 😉 Have you read A Homemade Life? Do you have a favorite recipe I should try? Let me know in the comments!

Doron’s Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro and Golden Raisins

  • Servings: about 4
  • Print

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 small) yellow onion, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup chopped pine nuts
  • ½ cup golden raisins (halved or coarsely chopped if large)
  • ½ cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. ground turkey, chicken or lamb (see notes)
  • about 4 TBS olive oil
  • yogurt sauce, for serving (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients combine onion through black pepper in a large bowl.
  2. Add the ground meat, and using your hands, break it up into small chunks. Then massage and gently knead the meat to incorporate the ingredients. Mix until combined, but do not overmix; meat gets tough easily.
  3. With damp hands, gently pinch of hunks of the mixture and roll into 1½-inch balls. Set aside on a large plate.
  4. Warm 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add about half the meatballs, taking care not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch.
  5. Transfer the finished meatballs to a plate lined with a paper towel. If the skillet looks dry, add the remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Cook the remaining meatballs.
  6. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169; an earlier version can also be found on Molly’s blog Orangette

Notes: Particularly if using chicken or turkey, make sure the meatballs are fully cooked before serving. You can cut one or two of them in half, if you like, to make sure they’re cooked through. Each batch of mine (using ground turkey) cooked for approximately 20 minutes.


Lemon and Cumin Yogurt Sauce

  • Servings: about 4
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
  • 3 TBS lemon juice (or the juice from 1 lemon)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside at room temperature to let the flavors develop while you make the meatballs.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169

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