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memoir

book review, recipe

Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously + Julia Child’s Beouf Bourguignon

Ever since Julie & Julia hit theaters 10 years ago, it has been one of my favorite movies. Until recently, I had never read the book it was based on. Julie Powell’s memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously is based on the year she spent cooking all of the recipes in Julia Child’s legendary cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it. Perhaps you can see why I love the story so.

Julie & Julie by Julie Powell

Not much over the course of Julie’s memoir was surprising to me, though certainly elements of it had been left out of the more streamlined movie (also paired with Julia’s life story, where Meryl Streep plays the iconic chef). I have to say, though, the book lacked the charm with which the movie nestled into my heart.

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book review, recipe

Jell-O Girls + Layered Strawberry Jello Cups

When I went to the library recently, the brightly colored cover of Allie Rowbottom’s Jell-O Girls caught my eye. I took it down to flip through it, and the blurbs proclaiming it as “an artfully crafted feminist excavation of an American legacy” and “an important and honest feminist history for right now” sealed the deal.

Jell-O Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom

The book is part family memoir and part nonfiction. In turns, it focuses on Allie’s family history and the so-called “curse” that plagued their men — the family’s fortune earned when her great-great-great-uncle bought the patent for Jell-O for just $450 in 1899 — as well as Jell-O’s history through a feminist lense.

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book review, recipe

Becoming + Sweet Potatoes in a Hurry (An Obama Family Favorite)

Like much of America, I’ve been looking forward to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming since the moment it was announced. As much as I’ve admired her from afar, I honestly never knew much about Michelle and was excited for the opportunity to learn more — from her, in her own voice.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle’s writing is as engaging as expected. From the beginning of the memoir — a section entitled “Becoming Me,” in which she describes her life growing up on the South Side of Chicago — to the end of “Becoming More” — the final section in which she discusses her and her family’s life in the spotlight while Barack held office — it was a joy to get to know her better.

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book review, recipe

Delancey + Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I read Molly Wizenberg’s first memoir, A Homemade Life, during my Thanksgiving readathon last year and fell in love with it. Her storytelling was warm and relatable, and her recipes sounded (and were, when I tried a couple of them) delicious. So, I was excited when I stumbled upon her next memoir, Delancey, one day while browsing near the cookbooks in the library.

Delancey Book Cover

While A Homemade Life was more a jumble of life stories (sometimes connected, sometimes not) and charming nonetheless, Delancey tells a linear story of her experiences while opening a restaurant with her husband Brandon. While it was more his dream than hers – like me, Molly detested working in restaurants and preferred the comforts of home cooking – she supported him as he pursued it.

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book review, recipe

The Milk Lady of Bangalore + Paneer Cheese

I remember being excited about Shoba Narayan’s memoir when I first heard about it because I added it to my list of most anticipated books for the year. I got re-excited when Liberty Hardy recommended The Milk Lady of Bangalore on the All the Books podcast, and at that point, I was already on the library waiting list. Funnily enough, I hate milk, so I’m not sure where all the excitement came from.

In her memoir, Shoba shares her experience moving back to India with her husband and two daughters after twenty years in the United States. Upon moving into their new apartment building, they encounter a cow in the elevator. It’s destined for a neighbor’s housewarming ceremony, and thus begins Shoba’s cow-centric journey in modern-day India. She befriends the local milk lady, visiting her every morning for fresh milk and learning more and more about cows as the days go on.

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book review

Guest Post: 12 Memoirs for Nonfiction Newcomers

Today I’m sharing a post from fellow book blogger Ottavia over at Novels and Nonfiction, who was generous enough to let me share a review + recipe post on her blog last week. She’s bringing you an amazing list of book recommendations – seriously, I’ve already added half of them to my TBR. Check it out below and make sure to visit her blog regularly for even more thoughtful bookish content! Without further ado…

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Hi everyone! It’s Ottavia from Novels And Nonfiction. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to share a guest post today on the wonderful Megan’s blog. Since Megan primarily features fiction, and I tend to review a lot of nonfiction, I thought I would give some recommendations of nonfiction titles for readers who might not typically read nonfiction.

I decided to focus on memoirs because I find that they make great ‘gateway drugs’ for nonfiction newcomers. With their more personal and narrative style, they provide a much easier bridge into nonfiction for lovers of fictional stories. In fact, some of the stories within the memoirs I picked for this post are so incredible, they read like novels. I picked two memoirs per fiction genre – from historical fiction, to thrillers and even science fiction. Look for the genre of fiction you typically love and see if you want to dip your toe into similar nonfiction waters.

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book review, recipe

Educated + Peach Cobbler

As I mentioned in this month’s edition of Show Us Your Books, I read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated in a whirlwind over the weekend. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so even though I was excited to get a free copy from NetGalley (and read it before it even came out!), a little bit of me was also nervous to read it and be disappointed. Luckily, it lived up to expectations; I couldn’t put it down.

Tara grew up in Idaho, where her parents were determined to be self-sufficient, teaching their children to be prepared for the end of days that were always just around the corner. They canned peaches and stocked up on other necessities, saved for solar panels and built a bomb shelter. The Westovers didn’t believe in government-sponsored education and insisted on homeschooling all of their children, though the education they received was more of the hard knocks variety than something akin to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Tara’s parents was their refusal to submit to the “Medical Establishment.” Every wound or injury – no matter the severity – was treated at home.

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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
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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
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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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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
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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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book review, recipe

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake + Funfetti Cake

I added Anna Quindlen’s memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake to my to-read list almost four years ago. I don’t remember my reasoning for wanting to read it back then, but I know that I decided to finally rescue it from my too-long list – which currently sits at 436 books – because I wanted to make a cake.

Quindlen_Lots-of-Candles-Plenty-of-Cake.jpg

I knew nothing of Quindlen when I began reading, and over the course of her “memoir,” I can’t say I know that much more about her. Really it seemed more like a carryover from her columns in the New York Times as she described them – a collection of her thoughts on life and aging, coupled with bits of advice.

Perhaps I wasn’t exactly the target market for this book – I am roughly half her age, really just at the beginning of my career, not yet married and currently without children. I’m still figuring a lot of things out, and while in some ways she is too, we are figuring out very different things about life. I was able to glean a few interesting insights from her writing, but ultimately, I think this book is one I’d like to try again a couple of decades down the road.

The cake I envisioned when I chose this book was a towering cake ablaze with an unsafe amount of candles. So, I began my recipe search by buying four dozen tall, skinny, colorful candles to cover my imaginary cake. (Thank you, Amazon!) After all, candles do come first in the title – lots of them – and the plenty of cake comes second.

With the candles secured, I sought out a recipe for funfetti cake and found a great one from Sugar Spun Run. The homemade, triple-layer cake suited my needs perfectly. Now, I just had to execute…

I started the night before by setting out my frozen sticks of butter to soften overnight. Between the frosting and the cake, there was so much butter (over a pound and a half!). In the morning, I preheated my oven, separated my eggs and floured the pans to get started.

Then, I added the butter for the cake (1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon) to the stand mixer and beat until creamy. In went the sugar and oil, beaten until well-combined and creamy. I used a scraper on the sides of the bowl and added in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, I whisked together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then, as instructed, I alternated between adding the flour and the milk to the butter-sugar mixture in the mixer, beating on medium speed until combined.

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I whipped the egg whites into stiff peaks and measured out a half cup of sprinkles to add to the cake batter.

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I gently folded them into the batter until both the egg whites and sprinkles were well-incorporated and the funfetti batter was complete.

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I only had 2 cake pans, so I put my best estimate of one-third of the batter into each of my cake pans, saving the last third to bake after the first two layers were finished. I baked them together for about 35 minutes, using a toothpick to test each one before allowing them to cool. After 15 minutes, I removed each cake layer from the pan so they could finish cooling on a rack. Then, I baked my last layer.

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After all of the cake layers were out of the oven and cooling, I set to work on my frosting. First, allll of the butter – 6 softened sticks – went into the stand mixer. (I increased the recipe by 50%, according to the recommendation, so I wouldn’t run out. I ended up having more than enough – please read my notes in the recipe.)

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Once the butter was creamy, I added salt and beat for about 20 more seconds. I did my best to add the powdered sugar gradually without making a mess, but I wasn’t quite successful. My lovely red mixer looked like it had been in a snowball fight by the time I was done! I let it incorporate approximately 1 cup at a time and then added in the vanilla extract.

My cake layers weren’t 100% even because I had had to estimate, so I started with the thickest layer at the bottom. I frosted the top of that, placed the next layer and frosted that, before placing the last layer and frosting the top and sides of the entire cake. As suggested, I put the cake with the crumb coat into the freezer for about 15 minutes before finishing the frosting with a final thicker layer.

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The last step to decorating the cake – but certainly not the least! – was adding the sprinkles. I watched quite a few tutorials on the best way to add the sprinkles without making a mess. My frosted cake was on a cardboard cake round, so I set that on a cooling rack nested into a baking sheet with sides. I cupped my dominant hand (in my case, my left) and filled it with sprinkles, carefully tipping them onto the side of the cake. Most of the extras fell into the baking sheet as expected!

I continued to rotate and sprinkle until the entire bottom third of the cake was covered in sprinkles. Lastly, I carefully covered the outside of the top of the cake with a thick line of sprinkles to match the bottom. It was easier than I expected it to be! And, as someone who is usually terrified of cake-decorating, I found that sprinkles not only do sprinkles look super festive, they cover a lot of errors. 🙂

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Last but not least, it was time for the candles. I didn’t end up using all of the four dozen candles I bought, but I covered the cake pretty well. The candles looked impressive. I have honestly never been more proud of a cake I’ve made – especially from scratch. Hope you enjoy it as much as Scott, my sister and brother-in-law, and my co-workers did! (I know I didn’t have to twist any arms, but thanks to all for taste-testing.)

Triple-Layer Funfetti Cake

  • Servings: 14
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Cake Ingredients

  • 9 TBS butter, softened
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil (vegetable oil would also work)
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups + 2 TBS all-purpose flour
  • 4½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cup milk
  • 9 egg whites (room temperature preferred)
  • ½ cup sprinkles

Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 lb unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 TBS heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Cake Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and prepare 3 8-inch round cake pans by generously greasing and flouring. Be sure to shake out excess flour.
  2. In stand mixer, beat butter on medium-low speed until creamy.
  3. Add sugar and oil and beat until all ingredients are well-combined and creamy.
  4. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and then stir in your vanilla.
  5. In separate bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt.
  6. Measure out your milk. Then, with mixer on medium speed, gradually alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until each one is almost completely combined before adding the next. Pause occasionally to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.
  7. In separate bowl, combine your egg whites and, with a hand-mixer on high-speed, beat until stiff peaks form.
  8. Using a spatula, gently fold your egg whites and sprinkles into your batter. Take care to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that ingredients are well-combined, and take care not to over-mix.
  9. Evenly divide cake batter into prepared pans.
  10. Bake on 350F for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer comes out clean or with few crumbs (should not be wet). For best results, rotate your cake pans halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Cakes will be a light golden brown when done.
  11. Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool in pans for 15 minutes. Run a butter knife around the inside rim of each pan and invert each onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting Directions

  1. In stand mixer, beat butter on medium-speed until creamy.
  2. Add salt and beat again for about 20 seconds.
  3. Gradually, about 1 cup at a time, add powdered sugar, waiting until each cup is completely mixed before adding the next cup.
  4. Then, 2 tablespoons at a time, add the heavy cream on medium-high speed, waiting until each addition is well-combined before adding the next 2 tablespoons.
  5. Add vanilla extract and stir on medium-high for 30 seconds.
  6. Transfer one layer of your cooled cake to serving platter. Use frosting to ice the top. Add the next layer, ice the top of that. Add your third layer on top and ice the top, and then do a thin “crumb coating” around the entire cake.
  7. Transfer to freezer for 10-15 minutes, then remove and apply a clean, thick coat of frosting around the entire cake.

From: Sugar Spun Run

Original recipe based on this technique from I Am Baker to frost cakes. She recommended increasing the above frosting recipe by 50% to ensure full coverage, but I had a TON leftover. I don’t like overly frosted cakes, but mine was still well-frosted according to taste testers (a good amount), so it’s up to you and your preferences.

This cake may also be made in 3 9″ pans, just decrease the baking time. Start checking the cakes for doneness at 25 minutes.


P.S. It will apparently take me only 8 years (a shockingly short amount of time!) to finish my TBR list…assuming I don’t add any more books. If you’d like to calculate your own TBR time, check out Read It Forward’s calculator. Let me know in the comments how many years of reading you have ahead of you!

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