French Exit, Patrick deWitt: Absurdist and dark, except not quite. Meh.
The Snow Gypsy, Lindsay Jayne Ashford: Would have been better with some cuts, I think.
Two Girls Down, Louisa Luna: Too much gratuitous male gaze. He knew he was doing it, but still. I’m here for the kickass female detective, not her supposed partner’s inability to get a grip.
Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires: A little surreal, lots going on – but lots to unpack. This was great and we had one of our best-ever book club discussions that night.
The Feather Thief, Kirk Wallace Johnson: Such a weird story! Maybe a little too heavy on the firehouse of facts approach at times, but a great little piece on the history of a niche of natural history.
Once Upon A River, Diane Setterfield: Eerie and meandering, but without tangents. It stuck with me a bit.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith: If your education in American lit skipped this, you should pick it up. Absolutely wonderful.
The Lost Man, Jane Harper: These books are so great. An incredibly isolated setting, but without the claustrophobic feeling you sometimes get from those. You don’t need to have read Harper’s others to read this, it’s a standalone novel.
If you only read one, make it The Lost Man.
Florida, Lauren Groff: Short stories where the land is a character.
Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, Craig Brown: Wasn’t my cup of tea. Also I somehow did not put it together that some of the glimpses were fictitious.
Severance, Lin Ma: Yup, a re-read already, for book club. Holds up and we had a great discussion.
Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss: Weird/glowering look at what happens when an abuser takes his family on a camping vacation with strangers.
Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, Amy Stewart: I didn’t like this one quite as much as the others, but it was still delightful.
A Closed & Common Orbit, Becky Chambers: Very fun story that picks up wiht one of the characters from A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but isn’t really a sequel.
The Overstory, Richard Powers: I loved the writing, and the combination of a nature story with something very character driven.
If you only read one, make it The Overstory. There’s a reason why it won the Pulitzer.
An Unkindness of Ghosts, River Solomon: A story set in space that’s mostly about the societal structure of the ship where the story takes place, which is very much like the antebellum South. Intense.
84K, Claire North: The Company controls everything, including the government. Interesting writing & structure.
Transcription, Kate Atkinson: A WWII story with spillover effects later in the main character’s life. Not enough time spent on the ending.
The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal: Disaster strikes, the space race heats up, and some women try to become astronauts in the 1950s. I really want to see this made into a miniseries.
Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller: Slow-burning story of two women who are both trying to escape their past.
Unfinished: Melmoth, Sarah Perry.
If you only read one, make it either 84K or Transcription.
- Commonwealth, Ann Patchett: Big focus on the people in this one, less on the plot.
- Planetfall, Emma Newman: Slow and then a little too fast towards the end. First in a series I’m not sure I’ll continue.
- Saladish, Ilene Rosen & Donna Gelb: Cookbook full of gorgeous salads I could tell I’d never make.
- Race, Class, and Politics in the Capuccino City, Derek Hyra: Focused on gentrification of the Shaw/U Street corridor. Definitely pick this up if you are into city politics, there’s a big section on that.
- From Here to Eternity, Caitlin Doughty: A look at traditions and rituals of death around the world.
- Tell the Machine Goodnight, Katie Williams: A book about Big Happy.
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman: Happy and sad, with wonderful characters.
- Severance, Ling Ma: A post-apocalyptic story that’s about loneliness instead of survival.
- Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen: An easy-to-read guide on designing learning experiences.
- Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi: Young adult fantasy. I liked the overall story but the YA bits were a little too melodramatic for me. (But, I do think they were fairly true to actual teenage life.)
- The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente & Annie Wu (illustrator): Linked short stories with an illustration for each. I really, really wish this had been a graphic novel!
- Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Intense & intensely horrifying short stories.
If you only pick up one, I’d make it Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
- Snap, Belinda Bauer: This is a backwards mystery – you pretty quickly learn who the culprit is, most of the story is about collecting the evidence.
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers: Reminded me of Firefly, get on it! This was a really fun read.
- Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator): Quick and quirky. If you’re not sure about it, Longreads has a big excerpt.
- City of Thieves, David Benioff: Character-driven and really well-written.
- How to Get Dressed, Alison Freer: There were a lot of tips in this that were not new to me, but it was easy to skim and I think would be a great resource for anyone who wants to dress better, but isn’t quite sure how to make their wardrobe do that for them.
- The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri: Beautifully, beautifully written. “Lyrical” does not feel overblown here.
- Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, Blair Braverman: For some reason, I thought this book was about something else. Still enjoyed it though!
- The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker: You have to read this. I can’t wait to discuss with book club in a couple of days.
- The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh: Fascinating. Lots of things aren’t explained, but some things are just inexplicable.
If you only read one from this list, it’s a toss-up between The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and The Silence of the Girls.
I made this Baked Feta with Chickpeas & Kale tonight for dinner, and it was delicious! If you like tomatoes, cheese, and chickpeas this is definitely worth a make. I found it very easy to scale (I made a half batch) and it came together quickly. I have a bunch of tips and thoughts on this recipe.
First of all, here’s what I read in December:
- Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
- Educated, Tara Westover
- Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions, Amy Stewart
- A Judgment in Stone, Ruth Rendell
- Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese
- Man Eaters #1, Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, & Lia Miternique (Illustrators)
- Spoonbenders, Gregory Daryl
- The Radius of Us, Marie Marquardt
- Monstress, Vol. 1, Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda (Artist), Rus Wooton (Letterer, Designer), Yoshi Yoshitani (Illustrator),
- Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
This year I read 101 books, slightly up from the 97 I read last year. That count includes the 6 I didn’t finish, which I’ll omit from here. Of the 95 that I finished, all but 3 were ebooks, and 57 of them came from DCPL’s ebook holdings.
As ever, I remain much more of a fiction reader, but I read 16 works of nonfiction this year. My favorite was Educated, by Tara Westover. Brutal at times, but it showed me a very different perspective, and I found it to be quite thought-provoking. In retrospect, it would have made a great book club pick.
One of my goals for 2018 was to read more new releases, which I defined as within 3 months of release. I read 8 that counted for that goal, and another 10 that were published in 2018. This was a really fun goal that I plan to stick with – of the 18, I managed to get 11 of them from the library. The best trick I figured out is that if you recommend the book, you’re automatically put on the hold list if the book is acquired. The most fun part of this goal was starting Tana French’s latest, The Witch Elm, within a few days of release.
I read 7 books for bookclub this year; the best of them was Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing.
I gave 30 books 5 stars this year. Aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned here, I’d absolutely recommend Seveneves (Neal Stephenson), The Library Book (Susan Orlean), and Pachinko (Min Jin Lee).
After suffering through Islands in the Stream (go figure, a Hemingway novel about men drinking & fishing) I gave up on the Read Harder Challenge. I was spending a lot of time trying to identify books to read for each category, and I got tired of it. I read 13 of the 24 categories, so not bad.
I have kept up with reading new releases (I count that as within three months of publication) and more recently-released stuff in general, which has been really great. I also signed up for Book Riot’s Tailored Book Recommendations service, and will get three recommendations each quarter. I got the first set recently and was pleased to see that none of them were already on my radar, and they all sounded interesting.
We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time, and everything turned out beautifully.
While menu planning, I spent quite a bit of time trying to identify things that could be completed or gotten pretty far along ahead of Thanksgiving day. My guests were coming from out of town and thus weren’t bringing anything, so we had to handle everything. I actually think that was ideal for a first Thanksgiving, as it helped me think about how to time the meal and plan for sides that could reheat easily. I also didn’t have to worry about sorting in other people’s things on the fly at the very end, which is when I did briefly get into my “I’m so focused I can’t tell you how to help me” mode.
The thing that really helped the most, though, was the spreadsheet I made where I planned out several elements of the meal:
- The cookware, servingware, and serving utensil for each dish
- Make ahead/prep ahead lists, including estimated prep time (which helped when my original plan for make ahead was derailed by getting sick)
- A quick oven schedule with temperatures
- A very detailed schedule for the big day that included things like the time for each dish to go on and off the heat, estimated prep and finishing times, a main cook and a sous chef for each, and some miscellaneous notes. This included everything down to setting the table and getting dinner drinks for everyone. I also added a column to make sure I had enough oven space and burners to finish the sides and gravy once the turkey came out.
I found this very helpful because it enabled me to work backwards from mealtime and figure out how to make it all work. My Mom thought this was hilariously on-brand, but I really do think some kind of written plan is in order for this meal, especially if you’re serving more than a couple of people and/or making more than just a couple of sides.
When I was making the menu I spent quite a bit of time looking at recipes from Cook’s Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen. These are all available online, but are likely paywalled unless you have an online subscription, which I recommend.
- I got the turkey from Open Book Farm, and then followed Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for Roasted Brined Turkey. I did the short brine and added a handful of fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary), some black pepper, and a couple of cracked cloves of garlic. I did the upside down roasting step (to rotate our 12 pound bird, I had D insert the ends of two wooden spoons into the cavity, one from each side. He lifted it slightly off the rack and I rotated it around the handles using a clean kitchen towel) which I think might be tricky with a larger bird. I could not have been happier with how juicy and deliciously seasoned that bird was. And the leftovers are not dried out!
- I wanted to make sure the the mashed potatoes were creamy and smooth vs stiff and gluey. I did some research and wound up following another Cook’s Illustrated recipe, Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes. The main trick seems to be that you add the butter first, as that coats the potatoes and they don’t absorb as much of the cream/milk. I did also boil them whole, since I wanted to use my food mill. That didn’t work as well as I thought – my food mill totally shredded the peels on the yukon golds I used. I was not serving people who would be into having lots of peel in their mashed, so after my Mom and I picked out most of the bits from the first few potatoes to go through the food mill, I started quartering them, letting them cool just enough to handle, and then slipping the peel off before tossing them into the food mill. That worked fairly well. They were delicious and are softening back up nicely in the microwave.
- Turns out I didn’t have my Mom’s stuffing recipe, but I found something similar from Cook’s Illustrated. This Rustic Bread Stuffing with Cranberries and Walnuts was made a little extra rustic by using whole wheat baguettes, which brought in some additional nuttiness that I quite liked. It also made a TON of stuffing. This could be because we didn’t remove as much crust froth bread as the recipe calls for, not sure. I think if you have baguettes that are soft enough that you don’t have to remove much of it, you could get away with less bread – I’d tear it directly into the baking dish to get the right volume. Very tasty but (obviously) a very dry stuffing so may not be to your taste. Also next time I might throw in more cranberries and walnuts, they all but disappeared.
- Gravy didn’t work out quite as planned. I made a half batch of Cook’s Illustrated’s Our Favorite Gravy, which should have served 6-8 but left me with exactly 1 cup of finished gravy. I may have reduced it a little too much, but that was definitely not enough. We supplemented with some last minute jarred stuff from the grocery store. In the end the 1 cup was enough for dinner, but there wouldn’t have been any for leftovers. It was good but beware the yield.
- I had two kinds of cranberry sauce. The kind from the can (which I don’t think got touched at dinner, much to my delight) and Simple Orange-Cranberry Sauce from Just Add Sauce, which was bright and light.
- For veggie sides, I made Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon from the NY Times, a small batch of a variation on roasted carrots from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and balsamic glazed acorn squash wedges that were a mashup of two recipes, one from Cook’s Country and the other from Just Add Sauce. We also had steam-in-bag corn. The Brussels sprouts are a snap, especially since I have a food processor for the shredding, and they bring a nice lightness to the plate. The carrots were good but in the end it turned out I only made them for two of us, so that wasn’t great planning. The squash was pretty good, but I reduced the balsamic glaze too much and had trouble coating them. Texture wise they’re not holding up great as leftovers, they’re getting a bit stringy. I think I’ll approach veggies differently next time, especially if I’m cooking for my family and doing all the sides myself.
- Last but not least, my husband made two Smitten Kitchen pies. The Even More Perfect Apple Pie, which I wanted the moment I saw the recipe earlier in the fall, and her Pecan Pie, which he made for I think the third year running. That one went first and I think we might have to make another one soon as two slices was not enough.