Long Weekend Relax

It’s just been a few weeks since the big holiday publishing break, but having a long weekend was particularly relaxing this weekend. My friends and I didn’t do too much, since we usually reserve our weekends for pure relaxation and this was no different.

We spent Friday night at Charles Hanson’s 169 Bar, which we say we do every Friday but get to at least once or twice a month–to be totally honest. There’s just something about a platter of oysters that can’t be beat, you know? Of course, I always want to get my dim cell phone pictures before the tray is empty, but I only remembered about three-quarters of the way through the plate this time. I think that deserves a little pat on the back, at least.

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And, you know, a taxidermied t-rex above our favorite table.

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Otherwise, I had dinner at Bodega in Bushwick with a friend from home in town for the weekend, and we pretty much just bummed around the neighborhood to eat delicious meals and watch great movies together. I saw both In A World… and Frozen this weekend, so I’ll call that a success!

As far as books go, I’ve already read five books this year, somehow, and this week I finished Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?. This book is delightfully individual in its document-heavy concept, and transcends the limited format to convey not only a complicated narrative but implied emotion and character development. I know these are basic parts of a novel, but in less capable hands this would seem gimmicky, especially since the story deals with adult paralyzing anxiety, adjustment to life change at all levels, and complex parent-child relationships–mostly conveyed within documents like emails and work documents, along with commentary from Bee, the fifteen-year-old narrator.

I’m currently still in the middle of both Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF and Libba Bray’s THE DIVINERS, both of which I’m loving (obviously for different reasons). I’m planning to have them both done in time to do another mini-review roundup at the end of the month. So far it seems like my plan to read 75 books by the end of the year is going swimmingly, which I’m thrilled about.

It would have been nice to get a little more done this weekend, but at the same time, it’s really nice to spend the weekend relaxing, cleaning, and catching up on movies we missed.

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Brooklyn Living: A Shelf Set

Ever since I first saw this beautiful novelty piece at Harry’s parents house, I fell in love, and when his mom decided it wouldn’t work, we knew it was perfect for our lit-loving new home. After letting it sit on the floor in front of the cookbook shelf for a week, we put it up last weekend and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Along with the small jars and potpourri bird, I put my first edition of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn propped up–it only seemed appropriate.

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On the cookbook shelf below is my growing collection of cookbooks, including books like the Roberta’s Cookbook, Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, and The Meatball Shop Cookbook, all from well-known NYC establishments, but also including a Barefoot Contessa set and new staples like The Mac and Cheese Cookbook. I try to cook something new every weekend, and these books all help me find new and interesting recipes to try and adapt for my own use.

Having a cookbook shelf has long been a dream of mine, and this makes me so happy to look at every day. Mostly, though, I’m thrilled that our apartment is finally starting to come together and look like a place where real people live–and it doesn’t hurt if it looks like a decorator passed through, too.

PS The candle burning is made by Sydney Hale – cedarwood and vanilla – and I highly recommend their work.

Books I Loved in 2013

In 2012, I read 26 out of my Goodreads goal of 60 books, which I found to be a huge disappointment. In 2013, I adjusted my expectations to 35 books, thinking I didn’t know if I’d be able to really kick it into gear. However, I had to up my goal multiple times, and it ended up at 65 by the end of the year.

In 2013, though, I read 68 of my 65 books, a fact I am over the moon about, and here they are for your perusal, in reverse chronological order of when I read them. Apparently Goodreads doesn’t have a good way to visually present the titles in a way that’s easy to put here, so this is what we’ve got. However, I think I read much better books in the second half of the year than in the first, so I’m not too heartbroken over it.

Of all these books, though, these are the ones that I loved this year, my 2013 life changers.

Wild // Cheryl Strayed
If you’d told me, as my friend Anna did earlier this year, that this book would change my thinking and become my favorite book of all time, I would have, as I did, secretly rolled my eyes and put it on a future to-read list, maybe. The recollection of the implosion of Strayed’s life and her subsequent hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, however, is incredible and absolutely changed the way I think about some things, notably my relationship with my own mother. I think everyone should read this book, without hesitation.

Panic // Lauren Oliver
Okay, this may be a little cheating, since this is doesn’t come out until April, but I read it in December and loved it. As you can see, I read Oliver’s Delirium trilogy earlier in the year, but I think this is her best work yet. It’s set in the present world, and Oliver really nails the emotions, the highs and lows of high school, and sucks you into the apparent immediacy of the game. Anyway, if you like YA, pre-order it now.

Blood, Bones and Butter // Gabrielle Hamilton
This food memoir blew me away–I guess this year I was really into lady memoirs, since I put several of them on my best-of list, but I loved this. Hamilton chronicles not only her journey to opening her restaurant Prune in New York, but her family life, the two being intertwined in a way that’s both wonderful and tragic.

League of Denial // Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru

When this title was announced at work, I immediately knew I would fall in love with it. I’m someone who grew up living college football, and this book made me cry, laugh, and most importantly, learn. This isn’t a book about banning football. The authors write for ESPN and love football. This is a book exposing the way the NFL has ignored brain damage in football for thirty years, and looking for a way we can change the system without getting rid of it.

Five Days at Memorial // Sheri Fink
This title tells the story of the first five days after Hurricane Katrina at a major hospital in New Orleans, in which some doctors were accused of euthanizing patients. This book interviews dozens and dozens of employees, patients, and relatives about their experience without making accusations, but I would categorize this as another life-changer. It gives us previously unknown insight into a dark and unclear moral situation, one that seems unfathomable but that did, in fact, happen, as told by those who witnessed it.

Tiny Beautiful Things // Cheryl Strayed
Yes, another Cheryl Strayed. However, this one is a compilation of her columns from when she wrote the Dear Sugar advice column for The Rumpus (which everyone should be reading, though Dear Sugar is discontinued), and the way Strayed includes her personal life in her advice and stories is heartrendingly beautiful. In fact, now that I’ve read Wild, I’d really like to reread TBT since I have a better idea of what was happening. I’m not usually an advice column person, but this is really something else.

Cinder // Marissa Meyer
Futuristic dystopian YA with a partially cyborg protagonist? Okay. Add in that it’s the first in a series of fairytale retellings, all of which work together in a plot that would stand alone even if it weren’t retellings, and I’m totally sold. Seriously, great fun, great writing, and the third book in the series comes out early this year. Do it to it.

Parasol Protectorate series // Gail Carriger
I started reading this series last year, and read the three final books in the five-book series when I bought the whole series for Kindle early in the year. This whole series is best described as Victorian supernatural steampunk comedy, which I know sounds ridiculous, but trust me when I say that this is one of the very few books I’ve read that had me laughing out loud every few pages. The characters are distinct, both lovable and hateable, and this is the most fun I’ve had with genre literature in a while–perhaps because it straddles multiple genres, creating a story that almost anyone can enjoy. Plus, Carriger has a YA series Finishing School, the first title being Etiquette & Espionage, which is set in the same world with some overlapping characters, if that’s more your thing.

Other honorable mentions are the upcoming Red Rising (Pierce Brown, out 1/28), Coming Clean (Kimberly Rae Miller), Orange is the New Black (Piper Kerman), Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell), The Divorce Papers (Susan Rieger, out 3/18), Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter), Born Standing Up (Steve Martin), The Madness Underneath (Maureen Johnson), Finnikin of the Rock (Melina Marchetta), and This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz).

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Why did I read so much this year? I know of a few certain reasons, one of them being that I read exclusively on the subway (and I have a 40-minute one-way daily commute), and the other being that I got a Kindle from my parents for Christmas last year. Those daily Kindle deals can be really good, people. I’m sure there are other erasons, but those are the two that I can point to with certainty. Physical books are great, and our shelves at home are overflowing with beautiful hardcovers (especially since I started my new job), but for me there’s not much that beats the simplicity of an ereader. It’s much easier to read a tablet on a crowded subway than it is a bulky hardcover (and I don’t bend my books), so I’m able to read more than one book in a week, if it goes quickly (which it obviously did this year).

If we aren’t friends on Goodreads, please add me so we can keep each other accountable this year, and let me know what you read last year that was good and what you’re most looking forward to this year. I’m always looking for recommendations!

Easy Beer and Chocolate Almost-Perfect Chili Recipe

Even though Storm Herc didn’t deliver like expected in New York this weekend, it’s still pretty cold here–it’s supposed to be 13 degrees as a high tomorrow. But I have a heavy coat and I don’t get to wear it very often, so I’ve enjoyed wearing it around Brooklyn. Another thing I enjoy is cooking on the weekends, spending hours cooking recipes out of my cookbook collection and looking for new things I can parcel up for weekday lunches.

Luckily for me, the intersection of cold weather and cooking is working on my  chili recipes. Growing up in Oklahoma, chili was a staple in winter, and while New York thinks it knows about Midwestern food, I’m slowly making sure it really does. Or, at least, that my little corner of Brooklyn knows about good Midwestern food (fine, Oklahoma is more south-central-midwestern, but let’s just move on).

Last night, I made a chili so tasty, so delicious, that I couldn’t resist sharing it here. First, I started by pouring myself a glass of wine, and obviously I chose this wine because not only do I enjoy shiraz but it has an interesting lion on the label. That said, cooking on Sunday nights is one of the highlights of my week and having a glass of wine while I do it makes it extra enjoyable.

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Beer and Chocolate Almost-Perfect Chili
Serves 4-6 and great for refrigerating for lunches

  • 2 lb ground chuck
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans
  •  12 oz beer of your choice
  • 2 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp each spices to taste – I use garlic, paprika, cumin and oregano
  • 1/2 C water

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Now, the reason I call this almost-perfect is that I didn’t have any chilis on hand to slice and put in. I would have roasted and added a small assortment, but unfortunately it’s too cold to make going to the store worth it. A can of diced chilis would work, too, if your produce section isn’t great. Also, I used the Sam Adams Boston Lager because that’s what we had on hand, but I think anything you like to drink is probably going to be the taste you want in the chili, although you can’t really taste the beer flavor at all in the finished meal.

Of course, the chuck can be substituted with any other beef cut or turkey, if you prefer, and vegetarians can use their preferred substitute.

First, chop the shallot and garlic, and cook them in the olive oil. Do this first, because I always forget and then am scrambling to fix my timing once the meat is browned. Once you have these going in the oil, feel free to put your meat on the other burner.

Brown the meat in a deep skillet with the water so keep the moisture, and once cooked, add in the onions and garlic mixture. Add spices to taste now so they can really get into the meat while it cooks, and stir the mixture together for a minute. Pour in the beer once the water cooks down (usually about ten minutes on medium high), and keep the temperature at medium high. Once the mixture settles together, add in chili powder and tomatoes, let cook approximately two minutes, then add chocolate chips.

Add in the sea salt and pepper to taste, and then place the lid on and turn the heat down to low to cook for about twenty minutes. Take off the lid to let the moisture cook down, about five to ten minutes, depending on how you like your chili to taste.

Let it cool a little, then scoop yourself a bowl. In fact, if you’d like, you can put it on top of some Fritos like I did, and drizzle some ketchup and mustard (French’s is the only acceptable mustard here, snobs) over for a good summer taste. If that’s not your jam, feel free to eat it plain – it’ll still be great, if I do say so myself.

 

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Chili is one of the easiest foods to make, since you literally just put it in the pan and let it cook until it tastes how you want. I’ve been looking for a good recipe for a while, and I think I may stick with this one for a while. I hadn’t put in chocolate and beer yet, and I have to say that I really think it put it on the next level. Shallots, too, are one of my favorite discoveries of the last few months, and I put them in anything I can.

This was one of my favorite things I made this weekend, though I made some other really incredible dishes (to be recreated, photographed and shared at a later date) with a friend, and if you make this, I hope you love it as much as I did.

What I read in November: Mini Review

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Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger (5/5)

Confession: I started reading this in February in Barnes and Noble when I had an hour to kill in Union Square, and I’ve been meaning to pick it up again since. As it turns out, I did and finished it in a few days. I’m a huge Gail Carriger fan (can’t say enough about her Parasol Protectorate series) and naturally fell in love with this book immediately. It’s a fun, witty start to a series in the same vein and universe as the Protectorate, and the two smartly go hand-in-hand at several turns. You don’t have to have read the adult series to get the YA, which I think is the point, but they overlap in a few great ways and I’d recommend reading both if you’re a fan. Neither is really too far a stretch from the other—one is about society steampunk finishing school and the other is about society steampunk life, so there isn’t too sharp a difference. Either way, if you think you might like this even a little bit, read it—you will.

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell (3/5)

This is a good book. It’s an interesting book. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. I just didn’t like it as much as most people seem to, and it took me nearly the whole month to read. I read Unfamiliar Fishes, her new book about the US annexation of Hawai’I, a few months ago and loved it, and to be honest, I was really disappointed that I didn’t like this one half as much. I don’t have much love for US history, so that might be part of it, but on the whole, this one just wasn’t for me. It’s fun and a good book, so I’d recommend it—I’m not sure why it didn’t work for me, but I seem to be the exception rather than the norm. Anyway, I can’t say I didn’t come out of this book knowing a lot more about presidential assassinations, so that’s a great thing to say about it.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman (4/5)

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, especially after devouring the Netflix series along with everyone else this summer, and it really didn’t disappoint. Obviously, it’s non-fiction and much less drama-filled than a TV series (though it’s easy to see where they found their inspiration), but as someone who really doesn’t know much about women’s prisons in the US, I found it fascinating. To be honest, I have never given much thought to the prison system in the US because it doesn’t directly affect me, but I have been thinking about it a lot in the weeks since I finished this. I’d probably give it a 5/5 if the last quarter of the book were longer, since it talks about Piper’s transfer to Chicago to testify in a major court case as part of her plea bargain. Here, she witnesses the horrific prison transport system and many other worse prisons, and this was what held my attention the most. Kerman acknowledges her experience and how it’s different from so many women of color who go through the system, but I found it fascinating all the same. If you liked the Netflix series or think this sounds interesting, you’ll probably like this quick non-fiction read.

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater (2/5)

Not much to say about this first book in a series except that I probably won’t read the others. It falls into the supernatural romance YA genre, which is something I generally steer clear of, but I’d heard great things about Stiefvater so I gave it a shot. It’s pretty standard and there weren’t any real surprises, so if this is your jam, go to town. It just wasn’t mine. I’ve heard good things about her other series, though, so I would like to give that a shot since it was the premise rather than the writing that turned me off of this one.

The Circle, Dave Eggers (3.5/5)

I’ll admit that I bought into the hype of this one, especially at work—and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Yes, it suffers terribly from assumed male author lionization and one of the big twists at the end I thought was obvious from the second it was introduced early on, but overall I really did enjoy this book. There are a lot of things Eggers didn’t quite get right, as I’m sure you’ve read online, but the one thing I think he did nail was the sense of being lost that Mae feels throughout the book. It’s true that he missed some of the finer points of social media, but he put Mae perfectly in the right situation and with the right reactions and relationships. The overarching theme that putting our lives online will destroy us was too heavy-handed, shockingly (or not), but what Eggers needed to get right, he did, and I read this book happily and over the course of one weekend. I haven’t read any other Eggers, nor do I feel inclined to, but I liked the Internet-themed premise of this one, and if that draws you in, you might like this one.

Allegiant, Veronica Roth (2/5)

The ending to this trilogy left me disappointed, if I’m completely honest (which I guess I am here, with a two-star rating). Divergent was fantastic, but it has always felt like the rush with which the other two came out really hurt the series. It’s a very typical YA action trilogy, in that the first book is the individual, the second book is the individual discovering the breakdown of the system, and the third book is the individual destroying and triumphing over the system. It can be done well, but I don’t think this was it, and it’s too bad. This last book was full of lukewarm sweeping generalizations that undermined an otherwise powerful message, and while with the religious undertones it was always going to end the way it did, I really felt like Roth hadn’t quite found the right plot. There is a way to make this ending work, and this wasn’t it. I want to recommend reading Divergent, since it is the strongest of the three, but leave it up to you whether you want to read the other two.

What did you read in November? Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with my books and updates.

In Landscape Love with Massachusetts

A few weekends ago, Harry and I visited his college town in Massachusetts for an extended weekend vacation. He had an alumni event on Saturday, so I tagged along and we spent the weekend touring the surrounding town and enjoying the rural area.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without driving past Grand Central first. No, really, you have to drive past it to get where we were going, but I can’t say I minded the view, and I may have requested a slow down (that I did not get) to take this picture. Instead I took a series as we got closer, which when looked at in sequence seems like a terrifying stop-motion video.

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Beyond that, though, we were free of the city and off into the wilds of non-city New York, which is one of my favorite general places to be. And once we’d dropped off Harry’s parents at their house upstate, we moved on to Mass., and it was one of the more beautiful and relaxing weekends of my life, I’m pretty sure.

You don’t see many skies that rival Oklahoma, and to be honest these weren’t quite there, but as you can see in the pictures below, they were pretty nice.

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See? I wasn’t kidding around. So beautiful. That last picture is a snap of Harry’s favorite tree in his college town, and you can see why. It’s really stunning out in the field on its own. Great for pictures, at any rate.

There’s not really a lot to say that the pictures themselves can’t express. They are worth a thousand words, really, I suppose.

We’re off to his parents’ house upstate for the Thanksgiving holiday, so please enjoy your Thanksgiving muchly and be sure to follow me on Instagram if you’re interested in seeing more similar pictures. I guarantee you the balcony shot from their house over the river is worth it and it’s probably the first thing I’ll post tomorrow morning. Wish you were here!