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of interest

Thanksgiving Readathon Wrap-up

What a whirlwind 5 days this Thanksgiving Readathon has been! I set a loose goal to read 5 books in 5 days (read my announcement/sign-up post here), since this “challenge” is supposed to be less of challenge and more of a conscious effort to set aside some time for yourself to read in a stress-free way while interacting with other book bloggers and bookworms on social media. 

I don’t think I actually expected to get through the entirety of the stack of books I lined up to read during the readathon, so maybe that’s why I stayed un-stressed. Somehow, though, I did it, and I’m super excited about it. I also finished my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal in the process (with book number 4), which means I’ll also be less stressed next month because I’m already set for the year. Woo hoo!

Here’s a brief overview of the books I read, some of which I’ll write longer reviews of in future posts (with book-inspired recipes, of course!):

 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

I expected this to be a bit like The Family Stone, as I mentioned in my kick-off post, but it wasn’t. Even though it took place over Christmas, the story was more about the family dynamic and the fact that they were stuck together in a seven-day quarantine, which just happened to take place over the Christmas holiday. I’m going to do a longer post on this one, so I won’t go too deep here, but I did enjoy it for the most part. It was a solid read, and it led to an interesting back-and-forth with the author, which was a wonderful bonus. (I didn’t include some of the conversation, which was a bit spoiler-y.)

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

I was sure this would sustain me through a readathon, since it’s one of my favorite faux-genres, books about books. Alas, it was my least favorite of the long weekend; it was also the longest. I’m not sure what to say about it, though I suppose I’ll have to formulate some thoughts, since my book club is discussing it next week… The characters were all a bit one-dimensional and sometimes felt a bit mixed up, as though the author got them confused.Above all, it took much too long to get to the charming-bookstore-turns-the-town part of the plot, and that didn’t really land for me. I’m not sure the bookstore changed the town at all! Mostly, it was just disappointing.

It also lacked descriptive food mentions, and though it prompted a brief discussion about mini dogs versus sloppy joes – sadly, the only foods relevant to the story – I’m left feeling too underwhelmed to be inspired to do a longer post on this one.

 

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

I have been listening to Molly’s podcast Spilled Milk for a few years now, and though it’s one of my favorites, I had yet to read any of her (or her co-host Matthew’s) books until this weekend. I am delighted I did! I loved this food memoir so much; it was definitely my favorite of the readathon. It is full of rich descriptions of every food that ever made an impression on Molly, and of course, the recipes for most of them. I’m going to have a lot of trouble deciding what to make for my review post on this one, guys. Has anyone else read it and made the recipes? Any suggestions?

 

 

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

At 160 pages, I expected this environmental dystopia to be a quick read. That was an understatement. I don’t think I spent more than an hour with this book, which read more like lyrical or poetic meeting notes. The only character that was named was Zeb, the main character’s son, but he was primarily called Z as all the other characters were only called by their first initials as well. I’m not sure I’ve completely processed it, but it didn’t haunt me like dystopias usually do. The characters as initials felt distant to me, and in the end, the immediate threat (which wasn’t well-outlined to begin with) seemed to disappear, or at the very least lessen.

 

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

My final read, which I started on the way to a football game Saturday (lest you thought I curled up in my reading chair all weekend!), was a quirky novel about a brilliant French family. It’s told through the eyes of eleven-year-old Isadore – who prefers Izzie though everyone calls him Dory – the youngest of 6 children. As he figures out how exactly to be a normal adolescent in a family of overachievers, he makes sharp and amusing observations about those around him. It struck me as a sort-of The Family Fang meets This Is Where I Leave You and ended up being a wonderful note on which to end the readathon.

 

Aside from the football game, I spent a lot more time not holed up reading than I had initially thought I would. I enjoyed most of Thanksgiving Day with family (not reading); scored some shopping deals and celebrated a birthday with family on Friday; wrote and cooked for Saturday’s blog post; and even got in a little yard work (ugh) and holiday decorating (yay)!

I loved participating in the Thanksgiving Readathon because not only did I surprise myself by reading so much, it was fun following along with everyone else on social media and being a part of those interactions too! Most importantly for me, though, it made me realize that I probably can squeeze in more reading each day if I just make the time for it. 🙂

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book review, recipe

Bread & Wine + Bacon-Wrapped Dates

It’s wonderful to have someone so enthusiastically recommend a book to you one day and then, because they know you’ll love it, present it the next day for you to borrow. I am forever recommending books to others, and often pushing my own copy on them unbidden at the next opportunity, but it’s rare that I have someone do the same to me. I am forever grateful to my new coworker, who upon learning about my loves of reading and cooking (and subsequently my blog), shared one of her favorite books with me during her first week on the job.

Aside from recipes – admittedly, the cover looked delicious – I had no real expectations when sitting down with Shauna Niequist’s popular food memoir, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes. As the title suggests, Niequist’s essays are overflowing with rich descriptions of food and the community it can help create. The memoir touches on not only her family and friends, with whom she loves to share meals, but also on her relationship with God and how that nourishes her in other ways.

In a memoir peppered with meaningful recipes, it can be challenging to choose the one that most represents it. While so many of them sounded appetizing, I went with the one Niequist had me wondering about from one of the very first chapters. She mentioned bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with goat cheese, at least twice (and maybe more) before she finally revealed the recipe on page 171. The book is only 288 pages, so I was starting to get nervous it would never appear…when suddenly, there it was!

Niequist herself says in her introduction to the recipe that this appetizer is not the most practical thing to choose, if you’re only going to make one recipe from her book. Thankfully, since my heart was already set on them, she goes on to say that “practicality has never been my strong suit, so I think you should make these.” With her blessing, I did.

She describes them as a “go-to, serve-at-every-gathering, take-to-every-party treat” that people adore, so I decided to share them at Thanksgiving dinner this week. With only 3 ingredients and a strong suggestion to serve at room temperature, they were the perfect no-fuss thing to bring to my in-laws’.

On Thanksgiving morning, I gathered my ingredients – pitted dates, goat cheese, and bacon.

I started by slicing the bacon in half and then slicing the dates open to make little “date books” (pun intended).

I stuffed each date with a proportionate spoonful (using the teaspoon from our flatware set). I recommend using the date itself to help scrape the cheese off the spoon as you close it up.

Finally, I wrapped each date with a half-slice of bacon and placed each one seam down on a foil-lined baking sheet (with sides).

I placed the pan in a 400-degree oven and let them bake for 25 minutes, until they were crispy and brown. I let them cool for a moment before transferring them to a paper-towel lined plate to drain off a bit.

Before we left for our Thanksgiving dinner, I put the still warm bacon-wrapped dates into a serving dish to bring along. Of course, they were served on a much prettier platter (thanks to my mother-in-law), but here they are just before we left the house – looking delicious and tantalizing.

Thankfully, they were as delicious as promised and everyone enjoyed their addition to the appetizer selection. I would absolutely recommend adding these to your repertoire.

I’d also recommend picking up a copy of Niequist’s memoir, so you can read about all of the other recipes that had me drooling as I read. I can’t wait to try more of them myself.

Last but not least, I hope all those celebrating had a Happy (and food-filled) Thanksgiving! If you’re following along with my Thanksgiving Readathon, I’ll be wrapping that up with a post on Monday.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

  • Servings: approximately 32 pieces
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. package of pitted dates
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 16 oz. bacon

Directions

  1. Slice alongside one side of each date, from the top to the bottom, so you can open it like a tiny book. Scoop a small amount of goat cheese into the center of each one, and then close it back up.
  2. Cut the whole package of bacon in half, so that each long strip is now half as long. Wrap a half-slice of bacon around the outside of each date.
  3. Arrange seam side down in a baking dish or on a baking sheet with sides to catch any grease. A foil pan is really nice for no cleanup.
  4. Bake at 400-degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until well browned and crispy. Drain on a paper towel, and serve warm or at room temperature, but definitely not hot, unless you want to burn the roof of your mouth so badly you don’t taste anything for days.


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of interest

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I’m Thankful For

Hi everyone! It’s Tuesday, which means 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.

If you’re in the U.S., it’s also almost Thanksgiving and this week’s topic gives me a chance to reflect on the books that have made a difference in my life. That is, the Books I’m the Most Thankful For.

Obviously, I’m extremely thankful for books in general and the authors that write them, those who so deftly create worlds and characters and scenarios different from my own (and even those that mirror my own experiences), allowing me to walk away with a new perspective, or in some cases, the comforting feeling that someone else gets me. I appreciate the entertainment or escape they can provide and the empathy and emotions they illicit. I think we can all agree, books are amazing things, right?

That being said, I’ve culled down the list of books I love and tried to take a look at books I really appreciate and why. Let’s check it out:

1. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – Though I’d already been reading for a while, this was my first chapter book as a child. It immersed me in a story that went beyond what I had ever read before, one that continued beyond one short story. Not surprisingly, it also sparked a love of (obsession with?) horses that would last through middle school. Black Beauty absolutely cemented my already-budding love of reading, and I will forever be grateful for that.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – This classic taught me that books can deserve a second chance, even if you didn’t like it the first time. In middle school, my best friend Katie and I decided to read this together, and while she adored it, I got frustrated with the complicated language and slow narrative (just before it got good, it turns out) and didn’t finish it. She explained the rest of the story to me, and I felt like I’d missed out. Years later, during college, I picked it up, stuck with it and fell in love with it too.

3. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – Somehow this novel ends up on every list I make lately, but that just shows the impact it’s had on me. I didn’t expect to like this book, let alone love it as much as I did. I’m thankful for this story because not only does it tackle tough issues in a relatable way, above all, it helped me look at the world – and myself – differently. I haven’t stopped recommending it ever since.

4. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks – This is the first book I remember both laughing out loud at and crying about while reading it. Aside from The Notebook, it’s the only Sparks book I’ve enjoyed (and I have since stopped reading them), but it is still one of my favorite books overall. This is one of the first books I ever recommended – to my dad, and I still remember both of us laughing to the point of tears over one of the passages – and being able to share in the appreciation of a story together has led me to join in several book clubs (virtually, and in real life) and, ultimately, start this blog. And, of course, I still recommend books constantly.

5. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – I’m including this novel because it taught me not to give up. I don’t remember exactly what led me to read this book a few years ago, and looking back, it’s not something I’d normally choose. The story is kind of bizarre (as magical realism can sometimes be) and it works with split narrators/points-of-view and, oh yeah, it’s a thousand pages long. Despite not always being sure what was going on, I stuck with it and ended up rooting for the characters and becoming completely absorbed in the writing style. While I have nothing against DNF-ing a book that just doesn’t work, I’m glad I stuck with this one. When the payoff is worth it, it’s usually really worth it.

6. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling – It probably comes as no surprise Harry Potter made the list. There are so many reasons to be grateful for Rowling’s bestselling series, but for me, it was a chance to be a part of something bigger than myself for the first time. I tore through the first four books, long after the rest of the world fell in love with the boy wizard, and I was shocked and awed to see the turnout at my first (and certainly not last) midnight release for the fifth installation. Each new release gave me something to look forward to, and even now, the series provides me with a comforting world to dive back into whenever I want.

7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I’m eternally thankful to Cline’s sci-fi novel for keeping me entertained on the bus ride from NYC to Philadelphia and back again, when I had to travel there for my best friend’s wedding a few years ago. This book was so immersive, time just flew by and the four hours I spent on the crowded buses didn’t seem so bad. Beyond that, this is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s forward-thinking and nostalgic all at the same time. It’s versatility has led me to recommend it countless times, and as a result, I’ve enjoyed many spirited conversations about its various plot points. For me, RPO is a book that keeps on giving.

8. The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon – This dystopian novel surprised me when we had to read it for book club recently. It combined the importance of language and our reliance on technology in a way that entertained me and freaked me out at the same time. It made me examine how dependent I am on my cell phone (and I know I’m not alone in this). I’ll go into more detail in my full post next week, but it’s on this list because I appreciate that it’s prompted me to take a break from my phone now and then and to be more conscious of having a reason to pick it up.

9. Voracious by Cara Nicoletti – I threw this food/book memoir on my wish list one Christmas without much thought aside from it seemed like something I would like. (Thank you to my wonderful then-fiance, now-husband Scott for actually gifting it to me!) Of course, I enjoyed it and it’s still a book I think of often. While everyone knows food often plays a role in great literature, it was the first time I’d seen such a blatant combination of food and books. It planted the seed in my mind that eventually became this blog, and I would not be here writing this post if I hadn’t read it two summers ago.

10. On Writing by Stephen King – As an aspiring writer and an insatiable reader, I’m so grateful for this memoir. Not only does Stephen King share stories of his own ups and downs as an author, he instills it with excellent advice about how to hone your craft and persevere. When I first borrowed it from the library, I was so excited to find his lengthy list of book recommendations at the end that I took pictures of it until I could procure my own copy. A dedicated reader himself (for one cannot write well if one does not read), his suggestions have prompted me to discover some books I may not have otherwise picked up.

Which books are you most thankful for? I’d love to hear some of your picks in the comments below 🙂

I hope all of you enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving with friends and family! Until next time…

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of interest

Announcement – Thanksgiving Readathon 2017

I recently found out about this year’s Thanksgiving Readathon, put together by fellow book bloggers Ottavia at Novels and Nonfiction and Jackie at Death by Tsundoku – just in the nick of time! And I am beyond excited to participate! Thankfully, I had already taken off of work on Wednesday, November 22, which is the first day of the readathon, and am fortunate enough to have the rest of the time off as well.

I was already hoping to use the extra time away from the “everyday” to catch up on some reading and meet my 2017 goal, or get much closer to it, so this readathon couldn’t come at a more perfect time.

Here’s what I have on my TBR shelf, ready to go! I’m planning to start with Seven Days of Us, which is a cozy Christmas novel that sounds reminiscent of The Family Stone (one of my favorite holiday movies). I’m hoping it will be the perfect way to kickoff the season.

From there I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go, but I’ve opted for a stack with both genre and topic variety to keep it interesting: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (a book about books!), The End We Start From (a short environmental dystopia), How to Behave in a Crowd (a supposedly hilarious but dark family drama), and finally, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table (a food memoir).

I’ll keep you updated on my progress across my social channels (check me out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, if you’re not already a follower). You may also want to follow the dedicated hashtag #ThanksgivingReadathon across all channels to connect with other bloggers and readers who are devouring books over the holiday.

On a Thanksgiving note, tomorrow I’ll be posting the 10 Books I’m Most Thankful For as part of my usual Top Ten Tuesday participation. I’d love it if you’d stop by again to check them out and share which books you’re most thankful for too!