of interest

Valentine’s Day + A Trio of Unexpected Love Stories

Valentine’s Day is just one week away, and while I’m usually not much of a romance gal, I do love a good love story. As it so happens, I’m not alone in that! In honor of the holiday, I’m collaborating with four other book bloggers to bring you plenty of romantic inspiration from some of our favorite books.

 

We each chose recommendations suited to our own reading styles and tastes. If you frequent my blog, you may not be surprised to see that I opted to share some of my favorite unconventional love stories. (If you’re stopping by The Hungry Bookworm for the first time, welcome!)

I’m a firm believer that love comes in all shapes and sizes. And though it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, love stories don’t always have to be between romantic partners. Any meaningful, long-lasting friendship is rooted in a real love and respect for one another, and the loving bonds between parents and their children are deep and unconditional.

My list does include a more “traditional” love story, but it is quite unexpected in its conception. I invite you to take a look below at my recommendations, and I would love to hear what some of your favorite unexpected love stories are in the comments!

The Time Traveler’s Wife

At first glance, this may seem like an entirely expected love story. Boy meets girl, boy and girl get married, etc. However, those of you who have read Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel will know why I’m including it on this list. Yes, it is about many things that exist in everyday love – determination, unpredictability, disappointment, and joy. But, above all, it is about love that you really have no choice in. A love that seems inevitable because it always was, and yet, it wasn’t always. From my first experience with this story, I have been completely in awe of the storytelling. Niffenegger captures both the simplicity and complexity of an unorthodox love story, and she does so beautifully.

The Sisters Chase

As a sister myself, I have always been drawn to stories about sisters. Sarah Nealy’s novel The Sisters Chase is a captivating and surprising story about the deep connection between two sisters, 18-year-old Mary and the much younger Hannah, as they travel the country trying to make their way and find a home. The love between the two sisters is clear even from the beginning, but is in the rest of the story that Nealy cleverly reveals the lengths family members will go to protect each other. (My original post here.)

 

Lily and the Octopus

I don’t think I ever truly appreciated the bond between pets and their owners until Scott and I got our own pup, Beta, a few years ago. Animals depend on their owners for everything, but I think in many ways owners depend on their pets too. They bring a liveliness to their homes and provide a much-needed unconditional love every single day. Steven Rowley’s novel about a man and his aging dog Lily captures that special connection between pets and their owners in a poignant way. (My original post here.)

 

Late Addition: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

I only intended to provide three recommendations but this novel has been fresh on my mind (especially since yesterday’s post). You wouldn’t expect to find a touching love story within a novel focused on the seven failed relationships of a glamorous actress, but that is exactly what you’ll find in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel.

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If you’re still looking for the perfect read for Valentine’s Day, please hop on over to my fellow bloggers’ sites and check out their recommendations!

Kerrie from Comfy Reading: For this mother of two little ones, sometimes a good love story is all the romance she has time for, that doesn’t bother her though, because reading is one of her favorite things to do. Typically Kerrie is a psychological thriller fanatic, but this time of year she likes to bust out the mushy stuff and read about all the romantic things that people do. You can find more great reviews on her blog, where you can also see how Kerrie overcame depression with her love of literature. Visit Comfy Reading for her selection of great romance novels for Valentine’s Day.

Charlotte from Wonderfully Bookish: As a part-time book blogger, a busy virtual assistant and a full-time nerd, Charlotte always seems to be dreaming about another new project. You’ll probably find her 1) with her nose in a book; 2) furiously writing new blog posts when she has a rare flash of inspiration (and the time to write them); 3) coming up new projects that will probably never see the light of day; 4) updating her spreadsheet of 2018 movie releases (which really does exist); or 5) writing numbered lists. Head over to her blog to see her list of YA LGBT recommendations.

Gayathri from Elgeewrites: Gayathri is a freelance writer and book blogger at Elgeewrites. She loves reading, recommending books and talking about bookish things in real life. Her blog is just an extension of that habit. She has been reviewing since 2010 and her short stories have been published as parts of anthologies. When she is not reading books or creating online content, she freelances as a beta reader. She lives currently at Dubai. Visit her blog for a selection of classic romance novels for Valentine’s Day.

Kayla from The Page Turner: Kayla fell in love with words at a young age and has been a lifelong reader. The word nerd behind The Page Turner works as a writer who helps entrepreneurs tell their stories. Even though she can get sucked into any story, she avoids anything too mushy. Her favorite love stories happen unexpectedly in the background of a much bigger story – stop by The Page Turner to check out her recommendations. 

 

book review, recipe

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo + Strawberry Milkshakes and Dirty Martinis

I chose Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo as my Book of the Month in June last year because people were raving about it, and at the time, it seemed like a perfect summer read, light and juicy. Summer came and went and I never picked it up. The book’s cover and its title struck me as a little more salacious than I must have initially thought, and the longer it sat on my shelf, the less I wanted to read it.

Still, I kept hearing about it and it was always in the back of my mind. Finally, when I joined the Book Challenge by Erin (8.0), I decided to add it as my “book with a character’s name in the title.” I am SO glad I did, and I am SO sorry I judged it by its cover for so long. I devoured this novel, which told a beautiful and unexpected story cleverly executed.

Evelyn Hugo was a glamorous actress whose success looked easy from the outside, though it often came at a price. She became entangled – and disentangled – with various men throughout her career, sometimes for love and sometimes with a different endgame in mind. This, of course, is the premise of the novel and the story Evelyn decides to share with an obscure reporter – one of the great loves of her life, both known and unknown.

Far from being the gossipy celebrity story I expected, Evelyn surprised me in every way. It’s a story of balancing a successful career with personal goals, of being a woman in a man’s world and using that to your advantage, of taking calculated risks and sometimes jumping in with reckless abandon. Above all, it is a story of being true to yourself and doing what it takes to find happiness.

You may think the combination of a strawberry milkshake and a dirty martini is a bit odd, and it may be unconventional, but so was Evelyn Hugo. I chose these drinks to represent two very different relationships in her life, a Machiavellian marriage and one with a sweeter, more wholesome start.

In honor of Evelyn’s fierceness, I chose a dirty martini recipe from Women’s Libation! Cocktails to Celebrate a Woman’s Right to Booze by Merrily Grashin. I went with the Dirty Bettie-ni Page, inspired by 1950s pinup model Bettie Page, who like Evelyn had a body-positive sense of feminism. I doubled the recipe to make two martinis. In a shaker – though it can also be stirred – I mixed 6 ounces vodka, 1 ounce dry vermouth, and 1 ounce green olive juice. I poured it equally into the martini glasses, garnishing with a few olives, and voila! my first martini experience.

For the strawberry milkshake, I first purchased some old-fashioned ice cream soda glasses. Presentation is everything, just ask Evelyn. Strawberry milkshakes are my favorite, and I was a little worried they wouldn’t turn out as flavorful as I expected, so I spent a lot of time searching for the perfect recipe. This one from The Kitchn promised to be delicious.

To start, I hulled my strawberries, sprinkled them with some sugar and vanilla extract, and placed them in the freezer for an hour. I put them in a blender – including all of the gooey syrup that formed at the bottom of the bowl – with ¾ cup of milk and pulverized them.

Then, taking the jar off the base, I added about 1 pint of strawberry ice cream to the blender and stirred it in by hand, before returning to the base and blending thoroughly. I ended up adding close to another ¼ cup of milk – you only need to add this if it’s getting stuck or having trouble blending well.

I poured the milkshake into two glasses and topped each with whipped cream and half a strawberry. They turned out to be as delicious as I had hoped! I will definitely be keeping this recipe around for future milkshakes.

I love when a book completely blows me away. I wish I hadn’t put off reading Evelyn Hugo for as long as I did, but if nothing else, it reinforced for me that I should never judge a book by its cover (or title). I could’ve enjoyed this book (and these shakes) so much sooner!

Have you read Evelyn Hugo? What did you think?  

Dirty Martini

  • Servings: 1
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Ingredients

  • 3 oz vodka
  • ½ oz dry vermouth
  • ½ oz olive juice
  • green olives, for garnish

Directions

  1. In a chilled martini glass, combine vodka, vermouth and olive juice.
  2. Stir and garnish with 3 olives. Serve.


Strawberry Milkshakes

  • Servings: 2-4
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Ingredients

  • ½ pound fresh strawberries, plus more to garnish
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ to 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon malted milk powder OR regular powdered milk (optional, see notes)
  • 1 pint strawberry ice cream

Directions

  1. Gather your ingredients. Hull the strawberries and slice them. Sprinkle the sugar over them and stir in the vanilla. Put the strawberries in the freezer for about an hour.
  2. Put two pint glasses (or four smaller glasses) in the freezer to chill.
  3. When the strawberries have frozen solid, pull them out and put them in the blender with ¾ cup milk. (Make sure you scrape in all the syrupy juice that has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl.) Blend until the strawberries are pulverized. There should be no big chunks left at all.
  4. Take the blender jar off the motor, and add the entire pint of ice cream. Stir it into the milk and strawberries by hand. Put the jar back on the motor and blend thoroughly. If it won’t blend very well or gets stuck, carefully add as much as ¼ cup more milk. Stir or shake if necessary.
  5. Pour the milkshake out into the chilled glasses and garnish with strawberries.

From: The Kitchn

Recipe Notes: If using malted milk powder or powdered milk, add it after pulverizing the strawberries. Blend thoroughly before adding the ice cream. The malted milk powder gives just a bit of extra depth and a hint of malty flavor without turning the shake into a true malt. If you opt to use regular powdered milk this also will just add a bit of richness and creaminess. But the powders are not necessary.


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book review, recipe

Britt-Marie Was Here + Swedish Tacos

Fredrick Backman has been a favorite of mine since I first read A Man Called Ove two years ago. Shortly after that, I picked up My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, which I adored even more than I could’ve hoped. I’ve been intrigued by this Grandmother spin-off for a while, and thanks to the Book Challenge by Erin 8.0, I finally got around to reading my copy! Where Britt-Marie was just one in a cast of characters before, here she’s starring in her own story.

In Britt-Marie Was Here, she is attempting to remake herself as an independent woman, which is a bit difficult since she also happens to be in denial about the current state of her relationship with her husband. If you’ve read Grandmother (though you certainly don’t have to to enjoy this book), you’ll remember Britt-Marie as a very particular, proper woman. She is very comfortable when things are predictable and in order. In other words, not the situation she finds herself this time around.

I didn’t warm to Britt-Marie as I did to Ove or Elsa and her grandmother, but the story still had a lot of the charm and heart I expect when I read Backman. One of the more heartwarming scenes was when Britt-Marie visits the home of two children on her inherited soccer team and is invited to join them for a taco dinner. I was surprised to see tacos in a Swedish novel but excited nonetheless – tacos are one of my favorite foods. It was a no-brainer that I’d make them to accompany this novel.

That being said, I wondered if perhaps tacos in Sweden were different than ours here in America, and with that, I dove into a short but intense period of research. This is how I learned about a Swedish tradition known as taco fredag, or taco Friday. Mexican food, including tacos, were introduced to Sweden by American TV and movies and became a “thing” because of a marketing campaign. Apparently, it’s quite common to find a variety of Mexican ingredients in Swedish (and other European) grocery stores, and one Swedish food blogger confidently stated that “every family in Sweden has tacos at least once a month, and maybe a third eats them every week.” (Link to that story here.)

It seems that because they are based on American tacos, those found in Sweden are quite similar to ours, with the exception of a few toppings we don’t usually use here – cucumbers, pineapples and/or sweet corn. I don’t really find any of those ingredients that “unusual.” I’ve had cucumbers on my tacos before; when eating at my vegetarian aunt’s house, they’re often included among the other toppings. Corn is common in other Tex-Mex food so it also seems like a natural fit. And, I would definitely eat a spicy shredded pork taco with some pineapple on it, though I’m a fan of Hawaiian pizza, so maybe that one’s a bit more controversial…

Anyway, I opted to include cucumbers as the featured Swedish topping of choice when I created my own taco night. I browned some ground turkey (though ground beef is a more typical meat selection), heated some refried beans, and chopped, shredded and diced various fresh vegetables to have as toppings. Of course, sour cream, salsa and guacamole were included as options as well.

I definitely recommend trying some of these toppings yourself – cucumbers add a different texture with a nice crunch. The new Britt-Marie would encourage you to step out of your comfort zone – you never know where it will lead you!

Swedish Tacos

  • Servings: 4-6 people
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 package taco seasoning (low sodium, if desired)
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 package (12 count) 6” soft taco shells
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 3-4 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 medium cucumber, diced (see notes)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • salsa, sour cream and guacamole

Directions

  1. Brown the ground meat in a skillet, making sure to break it up as it cooks.
  2. While the meat browns, heat the refried beans in the microwave or in a pan on the stove.
  3. Just before you’re about to serve, heat the taco shells between two damp paper towels in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds. (You may also heat them in a dry pan on the stove, but that will take a bit longer.)
  4. Allow guests to assemble their own tacos using the ingredients. Enjoy!

According to my research, Swedish tacos are very much based on the American (or Tex-Mex) style of taco. The primary difference is the addition of toppings such as cucumber, pineapple or sweet corn, which are not generally found on American tacos. Feel free to substitute cucumber for pineapple or corn, or use all three!

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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.

Zumas’ female characters are strong, and they really demonstrate what has been true for centuries – that determined women are more than capable of working together to overcome societal limits and expectations. Like any dystopia, it raises a lot of questions and provides few answers, but that is not to say it’s not a worthwhile journey. It is always worth looking at the world from the perspective of what might become – not to worry us, but to prepare us to recognize it when it arrives (and do something about it).

While the majority of the characters and storyline are contemporary, the sections about the female explorer’s life and struggles provides an interesting viewpoint (and is especially relevant after this recent piece of news). The biographer is determined to write and publish this Faroese woman’s story, so she spends a lot of time getting into the nitty-gritty of her lifestyle, including some of the cruder explanations of hunting and rustic food prep.

I decided to make a meal in honor of this admirable character, who forged her way in a man’s world in a time when that was even less common. At one point, the biographer makes a “Faroese meal,” which instead of the traditional version of boiled puffin eggs, wind-dried whale blubber and Shrovetide buns, contained regular chicken eggs, pork bacon and canned-dough biscuits.

Instead of plain scrambled eggs, I decided to make green-chile scrambled eggs, since those were one of the biographer’s favorite foods. To do this, it’s quite simple – whisk some eggs (2-3 for one person, or 4-6 for two), add a Tablespoon or two of chopped green chiles (drained), then cook in a skillet as you normally would. Once the eggs are almost cooked through, add a bit of shredded cheddar cheese, stirring and cooking until melted. Serve with a couple of slices of bacon and a homestyle biscuit.  

Together, it was an easy, satisfying meal, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning.

Have you read Red Clocks? What did you think?

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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.

It is there – in a pink house where three beekeeping sisters live and make their living on Black Madonna Honey – that they find solace and security. As Lily learns about beekeeping from the eldest sister August, she also begins to discover who she is.

Given the title, I anticipated I would be pairing this book with something honey-related. While I certainly could have, it didn’t feel right the more I got into the story. One of August’s younger sisters is named May; May has a fondness for bananas but she also has some quirks about them.

May had to have a banana every morning, and this banana absolutely could not have a bruise on it. One morning I watched her peel seven bananas in a row before she found one without a bad place. She kept tons of bananas around the kitchen, stoneware bowls chock-full; next to honey, they were the most plentiful thing in the house.

With an abundance of open bananas lying around, Rosaleen was forever making banana desserts – including banana cream pie. I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a banana cream pie, but I certainly hadn’t made one before this. I didn’t want to make one out of boxed pudding, so I looked for and came upon an Old-fashioned Banana Cream Pie recipe from Genius Kitchen.

Once my crust was baked and set to cooling, I began making the pie filling. In a large saucepan, I scalded the milk (which I learned to do here). Then, I mixed together the sugar, flour and salt in a different saucepan and gradually added the slightly-cooled scalded milk. I stirred constantly over medium heat until thickened and covered it for two more minutes.

In a bowl, I added a bit of the mixture (several spoonfuls) to three beaten egg yolks, until they were well-blended. Then, I poured that into the hot mixture in the saucepan and cooked for another minute. I removed it from the heat, added the vanilla and butter, and allowed the pudding to cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, I readied my crust by slicing and filling it with three bananas.

I poured the slightly warm pudding over the bananas, filling the crust, and let it come to room temperature before serving.

I had some issues getting pure “slices” to come out, similar to my potato peel pie incident of a couple of weeks ago. (This remained an issue, even after refrigerating overnight, so I’m not sure why.) While it wasn’t particularly photogenic, it still tasted delicious. I would absolutely recommend this recipe to someone with a few ripe bananas on-hand. May would approve!

Old-Fashioned Banana Cream Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 bananas

Directions

  1. Have baked 9-inch pie shell ready.
  2. In a large saucepan, scald the milk.
  3. In another saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and salt; gradually stir in the scalded milk.
  4. Over medium heat, stirring constantly, cook until thickened.
  5. Cover and, stirring occasionally, cook for two minutes longer.
  6. In a small bowl, have the 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten, ready; stir a small amount of the hot mixture into beaten yolks; when thoroughly combined, stir yolks into hot mixture.
  7. Cook for one minute longer, stirring constantly.
  8. Remove from heat and blend in the butter and vanilla.
  9. Let sit until lukewarm.
  10. When ready to pour, slice bananas and scatter in pie shell; pour warm mixture over bananas.
  11. If desired, make a meringue (you’ll have 3 leftover egg whites) to top the pie, or just let the pie cool until serving.


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