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nonfiction

book review, recipe

What She Ate #1: Dorothy Wordsworth + Mini Pork Pies

As a lover of food memoirs, culinary news and food in general, Laura Shapiro’s nonfiction What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories has been on my TBR since it’s release two years ago. I have been meaning to do a review-recipe series on it for far too long, and that day has finally come! This post is the first in the series, so I’ll give a brief overview of the book before diving into the first woman’s story.

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

As the blurb says, “everyone eats, and food touches on every aspect of our lives—social and cultural, personal and political. Yet most biographers pay little attention to people’s attitudes toward food.” Those of you who enjoy food memoirs like me know that, while food plays an important part in the storytelling, those memoirs are rarely just about food. They are about the human experience. So much insight can be drawn from not only what people eat, but how and why.

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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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of interest

Top Ten Tuesday (Back-to-School Edition) – Non-Fiction I’ve Loved & Non-Fiction I Want to Read

Happy Tuesday! It’s time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a literary list with a new bookish topic every week. In honor of the new school year upon us, this week’s topic is a back-to-school freebie. Last year’s BTS edition was one of my favorite topics — and one of my more popular posts — so I struggled a little bit with what to choose this time around. I landed on one of the suggested freebie topics: Non-Fiction Books I’ve Loved & Those I Want to Read.

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I like to think it’s because I’m choosy about it. Obviously, non-fiction is great if you’re looking to learn something, but I also like it when that learning inspires me or sticks with me well after I’ve put the book down. I’ve decided to highlight five of the non-fiction books I’ve loved over the years, and give non-fiction books I hope will teach me something when I get to them!

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book review, recipe

Artful Eating + Sauteed Scallops with Peas

For anyone who knows about my recent journey to transform my eating and lifestyle to one that’s healthier yet still fulfilling from a food perspective (which I chronicled briefly here), you’ll understand why I was excited to get my hands on this next book: Karina Melvin’s Artful Eating.

In it, she talks about why “lasting weight loss is not about what you eat; it’s about how and why you eat.”

Artful Eating by Karina Melvin

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, or trying to be overall healthier – like myself – it’s important to focus on making a more permanent lifestyle change rather than seeking a “quick fix.” Karina’s book is full of resources to help you do just that. Each of the twelve chapters is part of a bigger picture to help you accomplish a new mindset to accomplish your goals. They also includes recipes that are smart and sensible but also satisfying.

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book review, recipe

The Power of Habit + Turkey Taco Zucchini Boats

In May, the task for The Literary Feast Reading Challenge was to read a book you’ve seen someone reading in public. Now, this may be an easy task for people living in large cities, where public transportation is rampant, or even people who frequent coffee shops. I neither live in a large city nor do I visit many coffee shops, so I counted myself lucky when, in March, I finally stumbled upon my first person reading “in the wild.” Or, more accurately, she was walking in the hallway between my office and the parking garage. She is still the only person I’ve seen reading this year, and she was reading The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit Cover

Charles Duhigg’s nonfiction book explores the science behind why we do what we do, or how we create and form habits. I’ll admit, I thought the title sounded interesting, but I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. It probably helped that at the same time, I was attempting to undergo a personal transformation – and still am – to become healthier. So, much of what Duhigg covered about how we can change bad habits and create new, good habits really resonated with what I was focused on anyway.

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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

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.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, of interest, recipe

Talking As Fast As I Can + Luke’s Cheeseburgers

Two months ago, I pre-ordered Lauren Graham’s collection of personal essays. Last week, it arrived! I couldn’t wait to dive in and, once I started reading, I tackled it within a few hours. She covered everything from her time on Parenthood (another enjoyable TV favorite) to her experience writing her novel Someday, Someday, Maybe and, of course, what it was like to be a part of Gilmore Girls the first time around and how lucky she felt to get to do it all again in the recent revival.

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Reading Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between is what I imagine talking with Lauren Graham to be like – funny, genuine and a little all over the place. As such, she didn’t spend too much time on any one thing and, in a few cases, I was left wanting more.

I thought it was interesting to learn that, as an actor who doesn’t particularly like watching her work, she hadn’t actually seen much of the original Gilmore Girls series. One of my favorite parts of the book was her chapter on the show as she watched it on Netflix. Another natural favorite was her chapter on the revival – don’t worry, she gives fair warning about the spoilers. After devouring the new episodes and being left with mixed feelings about it (more on that in my next post), it was above all nice to see the heart that went into making it, on Lauren’s part as well as everyone else involved.

Deanna and I chose to pair Lauren’s book with a Gilmore Girls classic, a dish that Lorelai herself ate many many times on the show – the Luke’s Cheeseburger. If you’re visiting Stars Hollow (I wish!), a stop at Luke’s for breakfast or lunch is an absolute must and, based on the quantity these ladies ate, I’d say they’re highly recommended.

If you have a man friend who can help you out by throwing on a flannel shirt, a backwards hat, and a bit of a sarcastic no-nonsense attitude, you can try to get there. Even without the Luke imitation, these burgers were quite delicious.

To start, Deanna seasoned the beef and formed the patties, while I prepped our chosen toppings of lettuce, tomato and red onion.

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If you like your buns toasty, as I do, start by heating a griddle or large skillet and lightly buttering both sides of the sesame buns. Once the griddle is hot, place them butter side down and rotate them as needed to get a nice even golden brown on them.

While the buns are toasting (they can sometimes take longer than the burgers), get another skillet going over medium-high heat. Place the burgers in the preheated pan and, making sure to leave space between them, let cook through for about 3 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for an additional 2-4 minutes. (Be sure to cook it to your desired doneness, which can be done with a meat thermometer.) If you’re adding cheese, do so now and cover loosely to help it melt.

Place the sesame buns on the plate and arrange the garnish as desired, before adding the burger to the bottom of the bun. Top with condiments if you like. Lorelai would request that you serve with french fries.

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If you’re feeling fancy, you can eat them with pinkies up, like I made Deanna do.

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We hope you enjoy! And, remember, no cell phones.

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Luke’s Cheeseburgers

  • Servings: Makes 2 half-pound burgers, or 4 quarter-pound burgers
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Ingredients

  • Sesame seed buns
  • Butter
  • 1 lb lean beef, ground
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Cheddar cheese slices
  • Red onion, sliced thinly
  • Tomato, sliced
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Pickle chips

Directions

  1. Prepare garnishes as desired. Recommend 1 lettuce leaf in halves, 2 thin tomato slices, 3-4 rings of red onion, and 3 pickle chips per burger.
  2. To make the hamburger patties, divide the ground beef as desired into 2 or 4 portions. Roll each into a ball then flatten between palms. Season each flattened patty with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly butter each half of each bun and place butter-side down on the griddle. Cook until each bun is lightly browned. Place on plates and arrange with garnish.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Place the hamburger patties onto the skillet, leaving space between them. After 3 minutes, flip the patties. Cook for an additional 2 minutes (or longer, depending on your desired doneness.) If desired, add cheese to each patty. Cover if able to help the cheese melt for approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Place each patty on a bun and serve.


Additional optional garnishes, as recommended in the original recipe, are grilled onions or sauteed mushrooms.

book review, recipe

Blood, Bones and Butter + Lamb Chops

I don’t just enjoy cooking and eating (and writing) about food, I also enjoy reading about it – whether it be literature, a piece of nonfiction or another blog. Most often in my case it comes in the form of a memoir, like my latest read, Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. This was buried pretty deep on my to-read list (it’s been hanging out there since 2013) when Goodreads Deals brought it back to my attention. I finally added it to my collection and dug in.  

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For me, nothing compares to extremely detailed descriptions of food that actually existed in real life, food that was often so life-changing that it has made its way to a book, tempting readers from the page. Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir begins with one such powerful food memory.

She walks us through the preparation for her family’s annual lamb roast, which happened every spring when she was a child. Gabrielle describes her bohemian father, who brought her along to the butcher and later basted several whole lambs with a flavorful, dripping marinade over a crackling open fire. She talks lovingly of her now-estranged French mother who “instilled in [Gabrielle and her siblings] nothing but a total and unconditional pleasure in food and eating.”

Gabrielle didn’t set out to be a chef, but that’s exactly what she becomes. Out of desperation as a teenager, she begins working in a local kitchen, mostly learning on the job. A series of kitchens, a trip around the world and a Masters degree in writing later, she finds herself with an unexpected opportunity to open her own restaurant, and so she does.

Though full of descriptions that made my stomach rumble, Blood, Bones and Butter is about more than just cooking and kitchens. It’s about the family that Gabrielle came from, the family she works with, and the family she is beginning to make.

I kept coming back to the lamb roasts of her childhood. Lacking the backyard to roast an entire lamb, I found a recipe for French-inspired lamb chops and accompanied those with new potatoes and Brussels sprouts, both fresh from the farmers’ market this weekend.

The potato recipe calls for them to be peeled, and so I began there, knowing it could be a little time-consuming. It was, and it was also a little dangerous.

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Tiny potatoes leave little room to hold onto them while wielding a peeler. On top of which, once the skin is removed, they’re quite slippery. Potatoes were flying all over the counter! I eventually made it through (unscathed), cut them in half and put them in a small pot of water, covered by 1-inch.

Then I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F and began prepping the Brussels sprouts. Cut off the bottoms and remove the outer, dark green leaves, chopping the larger ones in half. (I prefer to keep small sprouts whole, but feel free to cut them in half as well.) Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss on a foil-covered baking sheet until well-coated. They should roast for about 30-40 minutes, according to your preference. I recommend tossing/stirring about halfway through, so they brown more evenly. (Here they are pre-roasting.)

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With the sprouts in the oven, I began boiling the potatoes and focused on making the butter mixture for the lamb chops. Using a fork, I mixed together the softened butter, mustard, fresh thyme, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Once finished, I put the compound butter in the fridge to stay chilled. (Check the potatoes here and if they’re boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Set timer for 10-12 minutes.)

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I readied my broiler pan, as directed, and placed the lamb chops on top. I seasoned generously with salt and pepper on both sides.

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With the broiler on high, I put them in for 8 minutes and set my attention to the shallot mixture for the potatoes. I minced a large shallot and mixed it with lemon juice and salt. I let this sit until the lamb chops were finished (about 15 minutes), before tossing with the chopped parsley and cooked potatoes.

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Having never made lamb chops, I found them easier to pull off than I initially expected. I also couldn’t get enough of the rich, buttery potatoes – those will definitely be going in the regular rotation!

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Happily, everything came together to make a fancier-than-usual weekend meal and the perfect addition to Scott’s birthday weekend. In a meal based on Blood, Bones and Butter, it became clear “you can never have too much butter.”*

Lamb Chops with Lemon, Thyme & Mustard Butter

  • Servings: 4
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From: Fine Cooking

Ingredients

  • 4 TBS unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
  • ¾ tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • ⅛ tsp kosher salt; more as needed
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper; more as needed
  • 8 lamb loin chops (1-1/2- to 2-inch-thick chops; about 3 lb.), trimmed

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, mustard, thyme, zest, salt, and pepper until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Position an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler to high. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil and replace the perforated top part of the pan. Arrange the chops on the pan. Season both sides of the lamb generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Broil until the first side is well browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the chops over with tongs and continue to broil until they’re well browned and the center is cooked to your liking, 3 to 5 minutes longer for medium rare (cut into a chop near the bone to check).
  4. Transfer the lamb to serving plates and top each chop with a dab of the flavored butter. Serve hot.

New Potatoes with Butter, Shallots & Chervil

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ lb. small (2-inch) new potatoes, such as Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn, peeled and halved lengthwise (about 14 potatoes)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 6 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, softened to room temperature
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh chervil or flat-leaf parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Put the potatoes in a medium pot, add water to cover by 1 inch, and season generously with about 2 TBS salt (the water should taste almost as salty as sea water).
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and gently cook the potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork, 10 to 12 minutes. (You want them to maintain their shape, so be careful not to overcook them.)
  3. Meanwhile, combine the shallot, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl, and let sit for at least 10 minutes (up to 2 hours).
  4. Drain the potatoes and return them to the warm pot. Immediately add the shallot mixture, butter, and chervil or parsley and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.


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*From the wonderful movie, Julie & Julia – thank you, Nora Ephron