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fiction

book review, recipe

Good Morning, Midnight + Kale Sausage Soup with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Good Morning, Midnight is a low-key post-apocalyptic novel. Augie is an aging but brilliant astronomer who ends up stranded in the Arctic, choosing to stay when everyone else flees because of “war rumors.” He never hears from them again. In space, Sully is the communications specialist aboard the Aether, which is heading back from a mission to Jupiter. As they get closer to home, it becomes worrisome that they’re unable to re-establish communication with Earth.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

I didn’t love this book as much as I expected to, but it certainly had gorgeous elements. Lily Brooks-Dalton’s writing was vivid and imaginative. I could picture Sully’s living quarters and appreciated the description of life in space. I could feel the cold as Augie explored the frozen world around him.

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book review, recipe

A Place for Us + Mango Lassi

Fatima Farheen Mirza’s novel A Place for Us put me at a loss for words (a tough position when I need to write a review…). It was beautifully written, the story woven together so expertly. It’s hard to believe this is a debut.

A Place for Us Novel

The story of an Indian-American Muslim family opens at the California wedding of Hadia, the eldest daughter. She and the rest of the family anxiously await the arrival of her younger brother Amar, who they haven’t spoken to in years. From there, we are pulled into the family ourselves, where the dynamics are complicated. The siblings struggle with their loyalty to their parents’ way of life and carving out their own place in society, while still seeking to please them. The parents try to raise their children wisely, but sometimes doing what they think is best leads to unexpected outcomes.

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book review, recipe

Virgil Wander + Lasagna

Leif Enger is an award-winning author who I’d never heard of before coming across his latest novel, Virgil Wander. He truly has a gift for language, painting a colorful and complete picture of a Midwestern small town and its inhabitants without overdoing it. I look forward to checking out his previous work, but first, Virgil…

Despite Virgil Wander’s somewhat-aspirational last name, he describes himself as “cruising through life at medium altitude.” That is, until his car unexpectedly flies off the road and into an ice cold Lake Superior. When he wakes up in the hospital, Virgil has lost some of his memories and most of his adjectives.

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book review, recipe

The Clockmaker’s Daughter + Fish and Chips

I have never read a Kate Morton novel, but I have heard amazing things — and a lot of buzz about her latest novel, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. So, I was naturally quite excited when I was granted my NetGalley request to read it early. It’s the story of an English love affair and a mysterious murder that begins in the 1860s and ripples into the present.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

It all starts when Elodie, a modern archivist, stumbles upon a satchel with a notebook and old photograph inside. Elodie diligently researches their past, whisking us across time as the story develops. Chapters are told from multiple points-of-view, and it’s not always immediately clear at the outset whose we’re seeing or where we are in time and place. It’s a method that works well, getting us to the end without giving all the twists and turns away beforehand.

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book review, recipe

The Bookshop of Yesterdays + Fig and Goat Cheese Muffins

Though I enjoy books about books, it’s rare that I read one right on top of the other. It felt as though I’d just finished Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore when The Bookshop of Yesterdays and The Diary of a Bookseller came in from the library. I ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to get to Diary before it was due back, but I made sure to tackle Amy Meyerson’s novel so it didn’t slip away too.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson

Miranda Brooks has fond memories of trips to her Uncle Billy’s bookstore, Prospero Books, when she was growing up. But when she finds out she’s inherited the beloved bookstore, she hasn’t set foot inside in over 15 years. Uncle Billy was always a lover of riddles, and he is no different in death. Along with the bookstore, he leaves Miranda an obscure message that sends her on a scavenger hunt to discover the truth behind old family feuds.

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book review, of interest

The Dream Daughter + Copycat Mexican Pizza

The description for Diane Chamberlain’s “genre-spanning” novel The Dream Daughter promises it will be “irresistible.” In that, it was 100% correct.

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

Twenty-six-year-old Caroline Sears is pregnant when she finds out her baby has a fatal heart defect. In 1970, there’s nothing that can be done, and the news is devastating. Carly’s brother-in-law Hunter is a physicist, who came into their lives quite mysteriously a few years before. When he tells her he has a way to help her baby, she’s skeptical.

The book description doesn’t give too much away, beyond the fact that, what Hunter is proposing is inconceivable. To save her baby, Carly needs to be courageous in the face of the unknown. I’ll expand just a little bit more to say that how Hunter saves Carly is by helping her time travel into the future, a time when medicine has caught up to her baby’s needs.

I won’t give anything else away, but if I had known this was book involved “realistic time travel” — one of my absolute favorite sub-genres (think The Time Traveler’s Wife and the movie About Time) — I would have rushed to pick it up even sooner. After a few chapters in, when I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. I couldn’t put it down, and I stayed up until 1am one night to finish it (if you know me, that’s a huge deal; I typically go to bed around 10).

Oh my gosh, I can’t say enough good things about this novel. It was unexpected and clever. It definitely played with my emotions a little bit, but I didn’t even care. I was all in, and I loved every minute of it!

When Carly goes forward from 1970, a lot of things are unfamiliar. The technology, yes, but also the food. In one of the most amusing scenes, Carly’s host brings home some Taco Bell for dinner. Not only has Carly never heard of Taco Bell, she doesn’t even know what Mexican food is. She specifically calls out the taco, burrito and enchirito, but also mentions that there were a few other items on the table that were “alien” to her.

I like to think one of those was the Mexican Pizza, my absolute favorite thing at Taco Bell. I’ve been eating them since I was a young kid, and I like to think of myself as a Mexican Pizza aficionado. Regardless of what they ate for dinner they night, they ate Taco Bell, and this is my excuse to make a copycat version of the best food on their menu.    

For those of you who don’t know, a Mexican Pizza is definitely a loose interpretation of the word pizza, but it’s delicious, and that’s what matters. It has meat and beans sandwiched between two crispy tortillas; the top tortilla is covered in red sauce, cheese and tomatoes. (There also used to be green onions, back when I was little, so I brought those back into this homemade version.)

I found a recipe from Genius Kitchen to use as a guide, though having eaten an embarrassing number of these throughout my life, I probably could’ve figured it out myself. I did tweak it a bit to be closer to the Taco Bell version. Good news: Like the book, it turned out even better than I imagined!

To start, I prepared my taco meat (ground beef with taco seasoning) and warmed my canned refried beans. I also combined a can of red enchilada sauce (I used medium, you can use whichever spice-level you like best) with a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (drained) to make the pizza’s sauce.

Then, I prepared the tortillas. If you can find flat, roughly 8” corn tortillas, that would definitely make this experiences easier and quicker, but I couldn’t. I used the flour tortillas from the recipe. To get them crispy enough, you need to fry them in oil on the stove top — just until they’re golden brown and stiff.

They don’t need much time, about a minute or so will do it. You might need to flip and repeat on the other side (I did). Once all of your tortillas are ready to go, it’s time to assemble the pizzas.

Fried Tortilla

First, I spread a thin layer of the refried beans onto a tortilla and covered them with some of the ground meat.

Bottom Layer of Mexican Pizza

Then, I added another tortilla on top of that and carefully spread on some of the sauce and covered it with cheese.

Mexican Pizza

Then, I added my toppings — in this case, diced tomatoes and chopped green onions, but you could also add black olives (or anything else taco-y, I suppose). I wanted to keep it as close to what I’ve come to know-and-love at Taco Bell; plus, Scott doesn’t like olives.

Mexican Pizza with Toppings

Finally, I put the prepared pizzas under the broiler in the oven just to melt the cheese.

Mexican Pizza Taco Bell Copycat

They came out perfectly! If I’m being honest, even better than half the time I get them at Taco Bell (where the employees clearly don’t care if it looks as perfect as I’d like). It looked like something right off the menu.

I cut them in fours and served them up.

Mexican Pizza Cut

The best part? They tasted DELICIOUS. (And maybe even better than the Taco Bell version…)

Piece of Mexican Pizza

Taco Bell Copycat Mexican Pizzas

Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 8 1/2 ounce package 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 10 ounce can enchilada sauce
  • 1 10 ounce can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies drained
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1 15 ounce can refried beans
  • 1 8 ounce bag Mexican blend cheese
  • 2 stalks green onions chopped

Directions

  1. Prepare taco meat per package directions.
  2. Warm refried beans.
  3. In a small bowl, combine enchilada sauce with diced tomatoes and green chiles.
  4. Prepare a small amount of oil in pan to 375°F (do not put so much that it will cover the flour tortillas). Cook flour tortillas in oil for 30-45 seconds or until just golden brown, flipping once. Drain on paper towels.
  5. To assemble: top 4 tortillas with a thin layer of refried beans, followed by a layer of taco meat. Put another tortilla on top of the taco meat. Add red sauce on top of the tortilla, followed by the Mexican cheese blend and then top with diced tomatoes and green onions if desired.
  6. Put finished Mexican pizzas on cookie sheet and broil in oven until cheese is melted.
  7. Cut into fourths and serve.

Recipe Notes

Slightly adapted from: Genius Kitchen

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This post contains affiliate links. This does not increase the price you pay, but I may receive a small commission for any products you choose to buy. Purchases made through affiliate links help to cover my blogging costs. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

There There + Indian Tacos

Tommy Orange’s novel There There tells a multigenerational story of Native Americans as they are today, living not on reservations but in cities throughout America. It’s a perspective many of us have never seen or read about, that of the Urban Native.

There There by Tommy Orange

It’s a complex and epic story, told through vignettes involving twelve different characters. There are characters who embrace their Indianness, those who are just fully discovering it, and those who use it as a means to an end. Though in the beginning they are seemingly disconnected, their convergence at the Big Oakland Powwow gives each of them purpose.

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book review, recipe

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore + Cider Donuts

I suppose I expected a book about books when I chose Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore for the Book Challenge by Erin bonus round, but beyond that I didn’t have much background. Everyone else who’d previously read it for the challenge had nothing but good things to say, so if nothing else, I had high hopes. Matthew J. Sullivan’s novel is a low-key thriller — and yes, a book about books — but it’s also about choosing your family and finding out where you belong.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J Sullivan

Lydia, who has my dream job as a bookstore clerk, works at Bright Ideas, where she does her best to blend into the background. For the most part, she’s successful, but to the lonely regulars known as the BookFrogs, she’s special. When Joey, one of the BookFrogs, commits suicide in the store just before Lydia’s closing shift ends, her life takes a series of unexpected turns. He’s left her all of his possessions — mostly books full of coded messages — and she begins to unravel the mystery around his death. Lydia is alarmed to discover that it’s mystery that entwines with her own childhood trauma.

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book review, recipe

An American Marriage + Blackberry Jam Cake

An American Marriage, the poignant novel by Tayari Jones, received a boost of popularity when Oprah selected it as her book club pick earlier this year. I bought it before reading it — something I don’t typically do — but all of the buzz about it made it feel like a sure bet. I finally picked it up as part of my two reading challenges, and while it wasn’t “unputdownable,” it was captivating all the same. Jones is brutally honest in a narrative about a broken America.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Celestial and Roy are a young married couple with their whole lives ahead of them. She is a promising artist, and he’s an ambitious executive. They are also black in America, which ultimately has a greater effect on their lives than anything else about them. As their lives together are just beginning, Roy is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and their lives and marriage are never the same.

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of interest

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

September is here and it’s exciting! Fall is coming… those cooler, breezy days that are perfect for reading. The end to the hot and sticky summer means it’s soon going to be comfortable enough (and acceptable) to bake all the pumpkin things. And, finally, I’m starting my September with four days off work, which means LOTS of extra time for reading. Yay!

Below is a look at what I plan to read in September — and make sure to check out the rest of book blogs for lots of other TBR fun. (Link at the bottom of the my post.)

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