February Round-up

Apparently February was non-fiction month, I finished 5 books this month – all non-fiction (all also by women, while I am discovering themes). They were:

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home by Kim Sunee. This was a interesting memoir that touched on adoption, food, relationships, and expatriate life, among other topics. Kim Sunee was adopted from South Korea by an American couple and raised in New Orleans. This book focuses on her post-college life in France, however, and her search for a place where she “belongs”. It was a good read.

The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel. I found this book disappointing. I thought the premise was interesting – Koppel discovers the 1930s diary of a Manhattan teenager when her apartment building clears out it’s storage spaces and sets out to find out what happened to its author. It was interesting to get a glimpse of a particular place and time (and to be reminded that our grandparents were not so unlike us as children), but the writing just wasn’t that engaging. I never got caught up in the story, like I was expecting to. Just okay for me.

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone.

The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts by Judith S. Wallerstein. Continuing my reading about marriage in the period leading up to our wedding… I thought this was a great book – Wallerstein studied 50 happy marriages (so described by both members of the couple) and wrote about what she learned. While there are of course limits to her research – her subjects were all white, middle class, heterosexual couples in California – it is still interesting to see what things make a marriage happy .

February Round-up

TBR: The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

One thing that is interesting to me about this To Be Read challenge is that I have a ton of books on my To Be Read list – all of which I read about somewhere and for the most part, I have no idea where any more. This is true of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone as well – it’s been on my list for a couple of years and I have no idea where I first heard about it. It was good though – just what I needed to read during my snowiest week of the year – an interesting and engaging book, with loving descriptions of pasta. Mmm, pasta. Part food book, part family history, the Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken traces Schenone’s search for an authentic family recipe to call her own. The book reminded me of two very different books that I have read in the past few years: the learning about Italian food (in Italy) part reminded me of Heat by Bill Buford (subtitled An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, which should give you some idea of what the book is about), while the family history part reminded me of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (the subject matter is tougher in The Lost, where the author attempts to trace the lives and deaths of 6 of his relatives who died in the Holocaust, but the idea of (re)discovering your family was similar).

TBR: The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

Jam Bars

jam bars

Somehow, when Christmas was over, we found ourselves with 5 or 6 jars of jams and jellies. There is only so much jelly that one can eat on toast, so I’ve been looking for recipes that will make good use of the jams we have. Today I decided to make these jam bars – the recipe is an adaptation of the recipe for Raspberry Streusel Bars in the Joy of Cooking. I do love me the Joy of Cooking.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons cold butter
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1.5 cups jam
Streusel topping (recipe below)

Generously grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan.

Add flour, sugar and butter to food processor and pulse under the mixture has reached a course crumb. Mix together milk and vanilla extract. Slowly add the milk mixture and pulse until in begins to hold together. Add a little extra milk if it is still too dry (I had to.) Firmly press the mixture into the baking pan and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the chilled dough in the center of the oven for 12-15 minutes until barely firm in the center. Remove from the oven. Spread with jam and top with streusel topping. Return to oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool on a cooling rack and cut into bars.

Streusel Topping
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup nuts (original recipe called for sliced almonds, I used slivered, I think any nuts would do – just chop them if they are large)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

Whisk together flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Using your fingertips, cut the butter into flour mixture. Using a fork, stir in the nuts, then the oats. Beat together the egg and milk. Stir into flour mixture until streusel is moistened and forms small clumps. Add a small amount of additional milk if the mixture is too dry. Ready to top!

Jam Bars

Dinner for Two: Caramelized Tofu and Brussels Sprouts

tofu and brussels sprouts

Sometimes it’s hard to find recipes for just two people. Luckily I like leftovers a lot, but for those nights when I want to make a meal just for us, with nothing left over, I have a handful of recipes that I turn to. This is one of those – and a very popular meal in our house. It’s a recipe from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks with a few changes.

1 package extra firm tofu, cut into thin 1-inch segments, pressed to remove excess water
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 (10 oz) container of brussels sprout, very thinly sliced in the food processor
olive oil
salt

Heat a splash of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat; add tofu. Cook until slightly golden, 2-3 minutes per side. Add garlic and pecans, and saute for another minute. Stir in sugar and cook for a few more minutes.

Remove tofu/pecan mixture from the pan. Add a little more oil to pan. Stir in shredded brussels sprouts. Add pinch salt, stir. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until sprouts begin to turn golden (and smell sort of like popcorn.

Split brussels sprouts into two bowls. Top with tofu mixture. Enjoy!

Dinner for Two: Caramelized Tofu and Brussels Sprouts

The Snowiest Week of My Life

A week ago today, it started snowing:

The snow starts...

When it ended more than 24 hours later, we had 26 inches of snow on the ground in our back yard.

Back Yard.

It wasn’t so bad this first snow fall. It was a lot of snow. Jami was a shoveling champ – but I had had a long and busy two weeks previous, and wasn’t sad to have an excuse to stay inside and be a little lazy.

Shoveling

Monday morning the Federal government was closed, but my office was open and Jami and I trucked into work.

commuting in snow

Tuesday afternoon, the second snow storm hit. (Jami and I are still at work, the Federal government is still closed.)

Wednesday morning, my office was still saying it was open. I did not go. This is what it looked like:

blizzard

It was officially a blizzard. I’ve got a good work ethic, but I’m not crazy. We got at least another foot in that storm.

our snowy house

Thursday, metro was underground only, with trains every 30 minutes. I went to work. Our street has still not be plowed since Saturday night. The power in one of our two office buildings wasn’t working (luckily not mine). Need I mention, that the Federal government was closed?

This morning, we got our newspaper delivered for the first time in a week. The Federal Government reopened. We have high hopes for the mail having been delivered by the time we get home (the only day it got delivered this week was Tuesday). I am no longer the only research librarian in the office. Things are looking up. Now if this snow they are calling for on Monday could just go somewhere else, I’d be a very happy girl.

The Snowiest Week of My Life

TBR: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

I am just speeding through these To Be Read books! Good stuff.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen about her childhood in Michigan. She and her family (father, sister, grandmother and various uncles) escaped Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon, when she was just 8 months old. The book touches on growing up as an outsider in very White Michigan during the 1980s. This is manifested in many ways, particularly in the disconnect between the food she eats at home (her grandmother’s pho, her stepmother’s sopa) and the food her neighbors and classmates eat (Hamburger Helper, Shake and Bake). I enjoyed the book, but thought it felt a bit scattered (although I suppose that’s true of all of our memories of childhood. It reminded me of The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang (although if you only read one, I recommend the Latehomecomer before Stealing Buddha’s Dinner). That said, I certainly have enough room in my reading repertoire for a number of memoirs (one of my favorite genres) and Stealing Buddha’s Dinner did not disappoint.

TBR: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

January Round-up

I finished 7 books in January: 2 non-fiction, and 5 fiction. They were:

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
This is a children’s book, part of a series that I’m really enjoying. DC Public Library has the first two, but somehow hasn’t managed to get this latest one yet, so I bought this with a Christmas gift card. I rarely buy books, but it is so much fun to do so – so hooray for gift cards. This was a good addition to the series – not quite matching my love for the first book (The Mysterious Benedict Society), but better in my opinion than Book 2. Honestly, they are all worth a read though if you like smart, fun children’s books.

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
Jami and I started this as a book on tape on the drive back from Virginia Beach after Christmas, and then both finished it up in paper form. Erdrich is one of those writers that I discovered in college (Thanks, Dr. Bell) and that I have enjoyed reading in the years since. This book is set in New Hampshire of all places (not a typical locale for a book by Erdrich – usually her books are set in the Dakotas), which seemed like a good hook to introduce Jami to this author that I liked. I think I am even more pleased that she liked that book than I am glad that I liked (which I definitely did). Jeanette Winterson (see below) wrote a piece for the London Times once about how intimate and meaningful it is to share a book that you love with someone. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend the column: The books we choose to keep.

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
I cannot even explain how or why I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing so much. Every book she writes feels like a present to me. I first read her in college (not for any class, just because I wanted to) – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for which she won the Whitbread Award for First Novel – and I hated it. Then a few years later, grown up somewhat and living in DC, I read Gut Symmetries, mainly because the book was on mega-sale and I liked the cover. And it was amazing. I couldn’t believe the difference in my reactions. I loved Gut Symmetries, it’s still my favorite of Winterson’s work and I have enjoyed everything else that I have read by her (and I’ve read almost everything she’s written). I haven’t ever tried Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit again – part of me really wants to. I feel like I would probably like it now – but the rest of me is scared to. What if I still hate it? It’s definitely going to have to happen though. I have no excuse – there is a copy on our shelves downstairs.

The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century by Anne Kingston

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
This book is about Paul Farmer, a doctor who co-founded Partners in Health, a non-profit that provides medical care in poor communities around the world. The organization first started in Haiti, and Partners in Health is where I donated my meager post-earthquake funds. The book is inspiring and made me feel like my money was well spent. Definitely worth a read.

The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell
I ended the month with mysteries – this one the first in a new-to-me series (Inspector Wexford). My neighbor loaned me the book and it was a quick and entertaining read – and I’m excited to have discovered a “new” mystery series (written starting in the 1960s so I’m a little late to the party. I can’t believe I had never read (or even heard of) Rendell before, seeing as she is one of the preeminent mystery writers of the last century. Better late than never, I suppose.

January Round-up