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January 17, 2018

Wordless Wednesday


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For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

January 15, 2018

Mailbox Monday

Wow. I don't think I've shared a Mailbox Monday post since the summer of 2016. I guess I'm making up for lost time! Check out this great stack of new books that arrived last week. I splurged and did a little online shopping with some birthday and Christmas money and found several books that I've been eager to read. I also downloaded a few e-books, but I'll save those for another post.



When I was working at Barnes and Noble, I got A LOT of ARCs and rarely ever bought any books for myself. I can't make a habit of this, but it sure was fun to get the packages and stack these gems on my nightstand. It's going to be tough to figure out which to read first!

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool - This came recommended to me by my sister-in-law. She compares it to Fried Green Tomatoes.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence - I listened to the audio and once I finished, I knew I had to own a copy. I can't wait to go back and read it again!

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan - I have bought and read everything by Corrigan. I know she'll make me cry, but she makes me laugh, too. I love her writing.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter - I never tire of this time period or subject matter and this book has been on a lot of Best Of lists. Sold.

The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood - I've recently read two books by Hood and I'm eager to read more. This is one of her earlier works, which was recommended to me many years ago.

The Cancer Chronicles: A Story of Transformation and Triumph by Alan Luber - I have actually read this already. Sort of. It's a compilation of emails to friends and family members by Alan Luber (a writer that my husband used to work with), which has now been published by his daughter, Mallory Luber Fannon. I'm looking forward to once again reading these wise and witty letters.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate - This was another recommendation from my sister-in-law. She knows how much I love historical fiction.

The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 1 by Robert Lacey - I loved watching this program and can hardly wait until Season 3 is released. Until then, this book is definitely going to satisfy my thirst for royal history.

So, which would you start with?




Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a meme started by Marcia and now hosted on its own blog.

January 13, 2018

Baked Ziti

I love Italian food, but with the exception of a simple Chicken Parmesan and Spaghetti & Meatballs, it's not usually on our weekly menu. I love Trisha Yearwood's Cowboy Lasagna, but rarely ever make it. (By the way, that post has received the most hits of all my posts with a whopping 19,715 - that is, if Blogger's stats are truly accurate.) I discovered The Pioneer Woman's recipe for Baked Ziti a few years ago, but have only made it a couple of times. Last week, I decided it was time for some gooey, cheesy, yummy pasta and Baked Ziti was at the top of my list. The first time I made this recipe, I used a regular 9x13 glass dish, which was fine, but it was very full.



This time around, I decided to use a disposable aluminum pan, which is a bit deeper. It is definitely better for this huge batch of pasta, but you really have to be careful and support it with a cookie sheet or baking pan. This recipe weighs a ton!



Baked Ziti
The Pioneer Woman

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 whole large onion, diced
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 lb. ground beef
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes with juice
2 cans (14.5 oz. each) tomato sauce or marinara sauce
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper, to taste
16 oz. Ziti or Mostaciolli 
1 container (15 oz.) whole milk ricotta cheese
1 and 1/1 lbs. mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
Fresh parsley, minced

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute for several minutes. Once the onions have softened a bit, add the Italian sausage and ground beef. Cook until browned. Drain the fat.

Add the tomatoes (with their juice) and tomato sauce, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes. After that time, remove 3-4 cups of the meat sauce to a separate bowl and allow it to cool.

While the meat sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Do not overcook. Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking process. Allow it to cool.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a separate (large) bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the grated mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper. Stir together until just slightly mixed. Add the cooled pasta and toss until slightly combined. Add the 3-4 cups of reserved meat sauce, which should now be cool.

Prepare a large casserole dish with olive oil spray or PAM. Add half the coated pasta to the dish. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the top, then top with half of the remaining mozzarella cheese. Repeat with another layer of the coated pasta, the sauce, and the mozzarella. 

Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes (or until bubbling and the cheese is just beginning to brown). Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Yield: 12

My Notes:

Ziti vs. Mostaccioli vs. Penne. I don't think it really matters which you use. I usually have Penne Pasta on hand, so that's what I used. 

I blended the whole tomatoes just enough so there weren't a lot of big chunks in the sauce.

I allowed the sauce to simmer for a couple of hours rather than just 30 minutes. 

This really makes a lot, so once the dish had completely cooled, I put a couple of servings in quart-size freezer bags for future meals. We ate some of the leftovers (that weren't frozen) over the next few days and while the sauce was a little bit drier, it was still delicious. You can probably just add some marinara to your leftovers, if you like.


Please visit Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking.
Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

January 12, 2018

Looking Back - The Book of Ruth


Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton
Fiction
1989 Anchor Books (first published in 1988)
Finished in June 1997
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Winner of the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel, this exquisite book confronts real-life issues of alienation and violence from which the author creates a stunning testament to the human capacity for mercy, compassion and love.

My Original Notes (1997):

Very, very good! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, so much so that I bought her second book, A Map of the World.


The novel wasn't very uplifting and kind of depressing at times. However, it was so well written, I could't put it down. 

Disturbing and beautiful.

My Current Thoughts:

I have no recollection of this book, which is a shame since it's one I apparently enjoyed.

January 11, 2018

Book Club Recommendations


Last month I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations for my book club, which is meeting next week to select the books we'll read this year. I was overwhelmed by the tremendous response, although I guess I shouldn't have been, as most of my friends and relatives share my enthusiasm for reading. But goodness, how to decide which to recommend! Here's the list of suggestions for your perusal. I wish I had the time to include the cover art images and links, but you all know how to use Google so I won't worry about it.


1. The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

2. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

3. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

4. The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons (I loved The House at Tyneford, so this one gets my vote.)

5. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (After hearing so many good things about this book, I decided to buy a copy - in hardcover - which I never do!)

6. Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

7. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

8. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (recommended twice)

9. The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

10. The Star Thief by Lindsey Becker

11. Origin by Dan Brown

12. The Son by Phillip Meyer

13. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (just snagged a copy of this at the library)

14. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (you can read my review here)

15. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromanaco

16. We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Grey Carlisle

17. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

18. Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders (two recommendations)

19. News of the World by Paulette Jiles (I read this last month and loved it)

20. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

21. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

22. The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

23. Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Connelly

24. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (this was my #1 read in 2017)

25. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan

26. The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn

27. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

28. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel

29. Sourdough by Robin Sloan

30. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

31. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

32. Swing Time by Zadie Smith

33. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (I just posted my thoughts here)

34. Salem's Lot by Stephen King

35. 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey

36. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

37. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Louise Cannon

38. The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

39. The Man He Would Become: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency by James Tobin

40. Roosevelt's Centurions by Joseph Persico

41. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

42. The Elephant Company by Vicki Croke

43. Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

44. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (I loved this one!)

January 10, 2018

Wordless Wednesday



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For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

January 9, 2018

A Place at the Table



A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White
Fiction
2013 Touchstone
Finished on February 7, 2017
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A rich, beautiful novel about three unlikely, complex characters who meet in a chic Manhattan café and realize they must sacrifice everything they ever knew or cared about to find authenticity, fulfillment, and love.

A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery to those who know her.

As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDs epidemic of the 1980s to today’s wealthy suburbs, A Place at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.

Eager to a read a foodie-type story, I pulled a dusty ARC of A Place at the Table from the shelf, glanced at the cover and dove in cold without bothering to read the publisher's blurb. I wasn't disappointed. Told in three narrative voices (yet not in alternating chapters), A Place at the Table moves from one character's story to the next, which had me wondering if (and when) they would ever cross paths. In spite of the lack of marked passages, I thought this was a very good read, although now that almost a year has passed, I have only a vague recollection of the book. The story was entertaining and the writing impressive enough for me to give it a 4/5 star rating last February, but sadly not memorable. 

January 8, 2018

Born a Crime



Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Memoir
2016 Audible Studios
Read by the author
Finished on January 25, 2017
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man's coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Trevor Noah's unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa's tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man's relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother: his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother's unconventional, unconditional love.

Reminiscent of Rick Bragg's All Over but the Shoutin', Born A Crime is another touching and humorous tribute to a mother. It was interesting to learn about apartheid from Trevor's point of view. Some of his stories are very funny and some a bit unsettling. The last chapter just about brought me to tears as he recalled the specific details of a shooting. The emotions he experienced were all too familiar and heartbreaking. All in all, a very good book, but not quite as good as Bragg's, which was not only tender and funny, but also very lyrical.

January 7, 2018

Lumpia!


The first time I tasted lumpia was at my wedding reception when I married my first husband. One of my stepdad's co-workers made dozens of this delicious Filipino version of the egg roll and I was instantly hooked. It was 1981 and I wasn't exactly an adventurous eater; I doubt if I had ever even tried an egg roll, but these crispy little pork-filled rolls, which looked a lot like taquitos, won me over with a single bite. 

It wasn't until a few years later that I got another chance to taste these savory little rolls of goodness. My sister-in-law made a batch for a small family gathering and I watched and listened, but wasn't much of a cook back in the early 80s, and thus, never attempted to make them myself. 

Now, after over 30 years (and many family gatherings that included Ana's lumpia), I asked her if she would teach me once again and this time I paid close attention. I don't know why I thought they were so complicated to make! Cook the meat and onions. Chop and cook the veggies. Roll the mixture in lumpia wrappers. Fry in oil. It's pretty easy, especially if you have time to prep the veggies a day in advance. You can even make the filling ahead of time and freeze it. For that matter, you can make and freeze the assembled lumpia (wrapped in wax paper and stored in freezer bags) and fry them whenever you're in the mood for a yummy appetizer.

This past Christmas, Ana and I made 30 lumpia (a dozen of which went straight to the freezer to be fried up at a later date). We served them with a delicious Asian slaw, a few pot stickers and some Panko shrimp from Costco. Who knows, maybe next year I'll learn how to make pot stickers!


Lumpia

Ingredients

1 lb. ground pork
1/2 medium onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, julienned
8 oz. French style green beans (I used frozen)
1/2 small cabbage, sliced into 1/4-inch slices, then in half
Salt & pepper to taste
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 30-count package of spring roll/lumpia wrappers (frozen)
Vegetable oil for frying (I used canola)
Egg white

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet (or dutch oven) over high heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic and celery, cooking until tender. Add the ground pork and cook until browned. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add carrots and green beans, cooking until just tender-crisp. Add the cabbage and mix well. Cover, lower heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before handling. 

Note: At this point, you can either make the lumpia or refrigerate (or freeze) the filling until you are ready to assemble them.

Celery & onions (chopped finely in the food processor);
carrots (julienned by hand); cabbage (thinly sliced by hand).




When you are ready to roll the lumpia, remove the wrappers from the freezer. Gently (they tear very easily) peel one wrapper from the stack and place it in front of you so that it looks like a diamond. Put one tablespoon or so of the filling in the middle of the wrapper. You don't want to get any of the liquid from the pot mixed in with the filling or the wrapper will get soggy and tear. Use your fingers to spread the filling so that it is in a tube shape. Take the corner nearest you and pull it up over the filling making it snug around the filling. Now the wrapper should almost be triangular in shape.

Take the right hand corner and pull over the filling and the left hand corner doing the same. These folds should be snug against the filling and begin to look like the final lumpia shape. 

Dip the first two fingers of either hand into the egg white and brush it on the edges of the wrapper before making the final roll toward the last corner. Roll the wrapper up toward the final corner. It should now resemble that familiar lumpia shape.

Place the lumpia on a large cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper.



Look how easy this is!


Once you have rolled all of the lumpia, they are ready to be fried. Heat 1/2-inch depth of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gently lower 4-6 lumpia, seam-side down, into the hot oil, turning with tongs to evenly brown the wrappers, cooking for about 1-2 minutes. Be very careful with the temperature of the oil. If it gets too hot, the outside cooks too quickly and the inner wrapper won't get crispy. 

Drain the cooked lumpia on paper towels and serve with sweet chili sauce (or sweet & sour sauce, if you prefer something a bit more mild).

Note: When freezing lumpia prior to frying, wrap about a half dozen in wax paper and place them in a freezer bag. When frying the frozen lumpia (you don't need to defrost them), be very careful as the oil will splatter from the ice crystals. You will also need to fry them a little bit longer in order to thoroughly heat the filling.

Yield: 30-40





Please visit Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking.
Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

January 6, 2018

Olympic Peninsula Trip - Day Seven

Saturday, September 23, 2017 (Part Two)
Day Trips: Rialto Beach

After our visit to La Push and Second Beach, we drove over to Rialto Beach, which is near the Mora Campground in the Olympic National Park. We peeked at the sites in the campground and while they have beautiful spots in the woods and along the river, they are very small and lack any hookups.

Rialto Beach is gorgeous and has great views of the sea stacks. Like Second Beach, the shoreline here was full of huge logs, fallen trees and random pieces of driftwood. And stones! Beautiful, beautiful stones, glistening from the waves washing up against the shore.

There are picnic tables, a large parking lot and public restrooms at this beach. I'd love to return someday and take a long walk up the beach (during low tide) to the Hole-in-the-Wall.
























Heading back to our camp from another direction, we noticed the beautiful rivers and had to stop for a few pictures.



Quillayute River



There was one fisherman out on the point. So peaceful!





This is either the Dickey or Sol Duc River, both of which feed into the Quillayute River. They are so pretty and look like great spots for fishing. Maybe next time!



The moon came up over the trees and the sky began to fill with stars. I couldn't stop from gazing upward, looking at all the different constellations, wishing I knew more about my DSLR camera so I could capture the beauty of the sky.




A perfect fire.

We had a great day exploring and a lovely final evening at this campsite. The coyotes yipped and cried a farewell to us as we headed off to bed. Tomorrow we're off to Port Townsend!

Click on image for a larger view.

January 5, 2018

Looking Back - A Cure for Dreams



Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

A Cure for Dreams by Kaye Gibbons
Fiction
1992 Vintage Books (first published in 1991)
Finished in May 1997
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In her novels Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman, Kaye Gibbons has compiled what one critic has called "a fictional oral history of female wishes [and] hopes." That tradition continues in A Cure for Dreams, a richly woven story that traces the bonds between four generations of Southern women through stories passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter. Gibbons shows us shrewd, resourceful women prevailing over hard times and heartless men and finding unexpected pleasures along the way: gossip, gambling, and the quiet satisfaction of knowing more than they're supposed to.

My Original Notes (1997):

Not nearly as good as her other books. Same sort of plot, too. (Strong women and men that leave them.) It didn't grab me like Charms for the Easy Life. A quick read, though. So-so.

My Current Thoughts:

After reading Charms for the Easy Life and Ellen Foster (both of which I loved), I was eager to read all of Gibbons' backlist and went on to read A Virtuous Woman and A Cure for Dreams. I read all four within one month and now I wonder if that's why I wasn't as impressed with this particular novel -- too much of the same sort of stories too close together. I guess I'll never know, since I only plan to reread my all-time favorites.

January 4, 2018

All the Books of 2017


This meme was floating around for several weeks last month and I intended on posting my responses before the end of the year, but time got away from me with all the holiday fun and house guests. In preparation for posting my Best of 2017, I decided to go ahead and answer these prompts. Better late than never seems to be my usual January mantra.

1. First Read of the Year -- A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff. This was lurking on my shelves for quite a few years and I decided to finally give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised.


2. Shortest Book You Read -- 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. I reread this in November and loved it just as much as all the previous times I've read it. It's a quick read and the movie is just as wonderful.


3. Best Sequel You Read -- No sequels this year.

4. Favorite Book Cover - 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff because who doesn't love a bookstore?


5. New-To-You Favorite Authors -- Anne Hood (The Book That Matters Most), Gail Honeyman (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), Paulette Jiles (News of the World), Amor Towles (A Gentleman in Moscow) and Martha Hall Kelly (Lilac Girls).






6. Beautifully Written Book -- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons.



7. New Favorite Characters -- Count Alexander Rostov and Sofia (A Gentleman in Moscow); Eleanor Oliphant (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine); Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (News of the World).




8. Books You Reread -- High Tide in Tuscon by Barbara Kingsolver; Night by Eli Wiesel; From Beginning to End by Robert Fulghum; 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. I originally read all four of these in 1996 (see my post here) and decided to read them again during the Nonfiction November Challenge. Sadly, I wasn't as impressed with High Tide in Tuscon and From Beginning to End as I was in 1996. The other two were just as impressive and remain on my shelves.





9. Book With A Magical Setting -- Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen.


10. Longest Book You Read -- In print: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (462 pages); On audio: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (17 hours and 30 minutes).



11. Book You Finally Read This Year -- The Meaning of Names by Karen Gettert Shoemaker. I met this local Nebraska author at our store on several occasions and after hearing such great things about the novel, I finally got a copy. Very good!


12. Best Conclusion to a Series -- See #3

13. Most Read Genre -- Contemporary Fiction (followed by Memoirs)

14. Last Read of the Year -- The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. What a great book with which to end the year! Excellent!


15. Favorite Reads of 2017 (I'm only sharing those with 5-star ratings) -- The House at Tyneford; The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying (by Nina Riggs); A Gentleman in Moscow; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine; 84, Charing Crossroad; and Night.







Now to start reviewing the books I read in 2017. I am so far behind, but I want to keep a written record of my thoughts for each book, so I'll keep plugging away!