Monthly reading roundup July 2016

I was really busy this month. I was doing Camp NaNoWriMo (which I won!) and remodeling a bathroom and having car trouble and adjusting to a new work schedule. Reading ended up taking a back seat to real life. And this post is late cuz the fun don’t stop. Car is fixed, sleep schedule is still all fucked up, bathroom is in pieces, and manuscript needs editing. #adulting

WHAT I READ IN JULY:

15800518Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 11 by Julietta Suzuki.

158206Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This is precisely the kind of non-fiction I love: scientific and hilarious. Not unlike You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney, this book illustrates how our brains are both incredibly complicated and seemingly at cross-purposes with survival in the modern world.

27170153How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad. I’m white. I laughed. I’m pretty certain people of color would laugh if they read this, too. Just the right amount of self-depreciation, harsh truths (phrased hilariously), anecdotes, and facts (and wildly erroneous, hyperbolic completely made-up facts).

139253The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. As promised, this was a lovely little book. Sad at times, magic at times. A collection of semi-connected vignettes of a Latina girl growing up in Chicago, featuring her whole family and most everyone on the block.

15803910Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 12 by Julietta Suzuki. Stop rolling your eyes. I love these books. You might, too. I do wish that whoever named the English translation had picked something closer to the actual meaning of the Japanese title, Kamisama Hajimemashita, which means “I became a god” or “A god began,” and has nothing to do with kissing (no matter how much the main character may want to snog her servant guy).

15803925Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 13 by Julietta Suzuki. The cover art on these books, I will have you know, is totally out of touch with the plot inside the books. I find it very weird, as the covers are drawn by the same woman as the rest of the manga, but that’s just how the Japanese roll. The books contain little, if any, provocative fruit-feeding, floating through anti-gravity, wild fashion shoots, or group snuggles.

187020Empire Falls by Richard Russo. This was my second attempt at this book. At least one follower I know in real life is going to hate me for this review. Sorry, Phil. I love me some small town fiction, but I felt like I had a level of background information on every person in this town that would have given the Stasi a brain boner. Also, there’s a few interesting bits of information/plot in the first chapter or so, one more about 3/4 of the way through, and then several pretty compelling chapters at the end of the almost 500 pages, and the rest is all just people going about their day-to-day, thinking about how much they hate their day-to-day.

INCOMPLETE

23272302du balai! by Hans Wilhelm (in French). My language studies were one of the hard-hit areas of my to do list in July.

13643895¡Ves al revés! by Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross, & Gabriel Martínez Jiménez (in Spanish). See above.

COOKBOOKS

None! *gasp*

— Amanda

Just a little update . . .

achievement unlockedI finished the first draft of my second book, Ghost Stories, today. I am on schedule to publish in the spring of 2017.

Ghost Stories is a paranormal buddy comedy featuring a lesbian main character (whose motivation is not to find a girlfriend but to flip a foreclosed house she bought at auction), an agender ghost, a really dumb dog, a bad guy who is “the manifestation of a comments section,” an Afro-Latina medium who hates ghosts, and a whole lot of swearing and pop-culture references.

I am really enjoying writing this book and I hope you will really enjoy reading it.

— Amanda

 

Mickey

matt & mickey graduation

I agonized over what picture to use for this post and then opted for the one on the top of the stack: my husband, Matt, and his mom, Mickey, on Matt’s graduation day in 1996.

It’s been a year now since the untimely death of the my mother-in-law. My dad and I have always both said how we lucked out in the mother-in-law department. People traditionally hate or resent their mothers-in-law, but we married people whose mothers were welcoming and not adversarial, judgmental, or possessive.

I know how cliche it sounds to say that it seems like just yesterday that we drove through the Darrington 4th of July parade the day after her death, simultaneously smiling with joy at being alive and surrounded by friends and family, and as raw as if our hearts had just been belt-sanded. But I don’t know how else to phrase it.

I also don’t know how to adequately explain the feeling that she has been deleted. There’s no Mickey-shaped hole – there’s just no Mickey. She doesn’t call us, we don’t call her. She doesn’t holler “come in!” when we show up unannounced at her door. Her chair is still at the kitchen bar. Her name is still in our phones. One of her plants is thriving on top of one of my bookcases. Her husband still gets mail in her name. Her handwriting is still on the chore chart for the grandkids. Her jewelry is still in the bathroom. Her voice is still on the answering machine.

But she’s not there.

A year on, I have found a coping mechanism: when I start to feel that tightness in my chest after thinking about her for too long (like right now) I remind myself that over decades of official and unofficial counseling Mickey talked sense into a whole lot of people. I console myself with the thought that, in a world that has people like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and kids who kill their parents to hawk their electronics for smack, there are also people who are in desperate times and might resort to desperate measures except that they stop and ask themselves “If Mickey were here, what would she tell me to do? What would she think of this bullshit plan?” She isn’t physically there to open her doors and let them crash in her back room, but she’s there in their minds, nonjudgmental, offering sage advice, keeping them calm: mothering.

I get it now, the line about how someone lives on in our hearts and minds. I thought that meant simply that we remember them, but now I see it means something more. We’ve all downloaded the Mickey algorithm and it’s still humming away and doing its work in our brains. She’s still mothering Matt and her grandkids and a host of kinfolk and near-strangers. And maybe they’ll unwittingly spread that benign virus, that natural vaccine against cruelty and malice and stupidity.

It’s a thought that doesn’t exactly ease the tightness in my chest (in fact, sometimes it brings on a lump in my throat and a prickly behind my eyes) but it does change the tone of my feeling from bewildered to hopeful.

— Amanda

Monthly reading roundup June 2016

WHAT I READ IN JUNE

17884042Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen. This is the kind of book you drag around with you everywhere because you don’t want to put it down but your life insists on continuing without you. I cannot say what made these characters and this story so compelling: they just were. No frills, just damn good writing.

29340182Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I think what I tweeted about this halfway through is still the best summary (pardon the typo):

12325117Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 7 by Julietta Suzuki.

12566298Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 8 by Julietta Suzuki.

13183545Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 9 by Julietta Suzuki.

30166675American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I got burned out on classical “high” fantasy (dragons and elves and whatnot in a sort of alternate earth where it’s perpetually the middle ages) when I was a teenager and it still makes my stomach turn. But this here is my kind of fantasy: the old gods (Norse, Native American, Indian, African, Slavic, you name it) versus the new gods (TV, cars, airplanes, media) on the vast back roads of Americana. Like Supernatural, but both deeper and funnier. I’m antsy for the TV version now.

13183547Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 10 by Julietta Suzuki.

211478Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyama. Less silly than I expected, and more scientific. Still follows the largely anecdotal format of lifestyle diet books set forth by French Women Don’t Get Fat, but that’s OK, because it still contains solid advice.

25897960Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith. I love me some local fiction. This compelling, atmospheric story time-hops around a story that takes place in both the Oregon wilderness and two small San Juan Islands.

INCOMPLETE

6000153Start Your Own Restaurant Business and More: Pizzeria, Coffeehouse, Deli, Bakery, Catering Business by Jacquelyn Lynn. I skimmed this, while taking copious notes, because I have a complicated fantasy in which I run a very small bakery and breakfast-only restaurant. So the pizzeria chapter and the bar chapter didn’t apply to me, nor did anything having to do with employees because I don’t want any employees.

23398646The French Beauty Solution: Time-Tested Secrets to Look and Feel Beautiful Inside and Out by Mathilde Thomas. This sounded like a great idea when I was looking at it on the library’s website, but when it showed up on the hold shelf and I saw that it included a “detox diet” my spirits sagged. I didn’t want quackery, I wanted time-tested advice on simple beauty habits. There were some of those, and I have to hand it to the author for not simply recommending her own desperately expensive products as the answer to everything (I also didn’t know about that bias before I put a hold on the book) so it wasn’t a complete loss.

22890270Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin (Audiobook). I plan on re-reading this in the future. I was really enjoying it, as I had the other books I have read by Gretchen Rubin, but I was away from the computer most of the first weekend of June and my loan expired before I could finish listening to it.

10515837The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley. I was reading this a few pages at a time before bed but I couldn’t finish it at that rate before the library wanted it back.

4620248The Beauty Diet: Looking Great Has Never Been So Delicious by Lisa Drayer. This book really could have been an article. Rarely have I read anything so repetitive. However, the science is sound (these foods are really good for you and getting your vitamins and minerals and antioxidants from food sources rather than supplements has been proven to be more effective) and by “diet” the author does not mean “weight loss diet” but rather the now almost-archaic original meaning of “a selection of foods habitually eaten.”

996251Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. This is one of those books that crops up in the bibliographies of other books all the time, so I felt compelled to read it. But I just couldn’t hack it. The analogies and “lessons” the author draws out of the stories she relates seem pulled out of thin air to me. I could see no correlation at all between the folklore and the morals the author perceived in them.

COOKBOOKS

24693655Protein Ninja: 100 Plant-Based Recipes for Hardcore Soups, One-Pot Meals, and Saucy Bowls That
Pack a Protein Punch
by Terry Hope Romero. There was nothing in here I wanted to eat. It was all very strange stuff, full of pea protein and unobtainable flours and whatnot. I was expecting clever uses for tofu and beans, not this science-project stuff.

27415846Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2016 ed. by Dana Cowin. Food & Wine is always good stuff. I will be trying about four recipes from this mouthwatering collection.

— Amanda

Recipe roundup

syrnikiSyrniki from Wikihow. OMFG. I don’t remember why I had a carton of ricotta in the fridge with just a tablespoon missing but I couldn’t bring myself to toss 95% of a perfectly good and extremely versatile ingredient like that so I Googled “ricotta pancakes” and made the first recipe I came across. Success! Midly sweet, incredibly creamy, with an almost-but-not-quite chewy texture. And so rich it’s no wonder the recipe only makes six silver-dollar-pancake sized cakes. As with all things Russian you are directed to dress them with sour cream and applesauce but we went crazy with butter, honey, and three flavors of jam.

IMAG0512[1]Red Lentil Dal with Coconut Milk and Kale from Food & Wine. We are kale-haters so I omitted that ingredient. I also subbed fenugreek for the fennel. This smells so good while it is cooking that I am amazed that none of my neighbors tried to invite themselves to dinner. There’s tons of spices and flavors (cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, cilantro, lemon, onions). The coconut milk makes it all sinfully creamy. It’s also incredibly filling! Serve with my favorite chapatis.

Lemon Cream Icebox Cake from the Kitchn. Thin layers of whipped cream, lemon curd, and graham crackers. This tasted exactly as I hoped it would: like the limoncello tiramisu at my favorite date-night restaurant, Lombardi’s. Many icebox cake recipes call for a tub (or three!) of Cool Whip, but this one has you whip your own cream with powdered sugar and lemon zest. Worth it. I’m glad I made a half-batch in an 8 x 8″ pan because there was just a tiny piece left after we dug in, and there’s just the two of us here.

— Amanda

Recipe: Smoked salmon hash

Over the past few years we have created the tradition of going to  Lake Crescent Lodge for our anniversary. I love everything about the place, but one of the highlights is the food. On one of our first trips I had an omelette for breakfast that was stuffed with smoked salmon, sweet peppers, and cream cheese and served with a side of O’Brien potatoes. It was magnificent, and when we came home and found ourselves inundated with home-smoked salmon from friends and coworkers (was it an unusually good year for salmon?) I decided to re-create it to make use of this bounty. And let me tell you, having made this with both home-smoked and store-bought, they are both good, but the home-smoked stuff makes it great. It tends to be flakier, saltier, and smokier, which gives it real punch.

This is an any-meal dish. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner. All of the above. I make it in the oven but you could totally convert this to a stovetop dish if you steamed or boiled the potatoes first.

IMAG0413

Here’s how I eat it for dinner: with a little heated cream chese and some fresh chives and a simple salad of spring greens with a dijon vinaigrette.

IMAG0412

Here’s how Matt eats it for dinner: with a liberal sprinkling of shredded cheddar and a bowl of cottage cheese. (Hot sauce not shown.)

IMAG0419

And here’s how I eat the leftovers for breakfast, reheated in the microwave, with a fried egg and half an avocado and a little too much cream cheese.

Smoked salmon hash

  • Servings: 2-4 depending on gluttony
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Print
INGREDIENTS:
2 large waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Golds
2 sweet bell peppers
1/2 one yellow onion
6 cloves garlic
1/2 lb hot-smoked salmong (not lox)
olive oil
salt & pepper
optional: cheese
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Chop potatoes, peppers, onion, and salmon into 1/2″ pieces. Roughly dice garlic into 1/8-1/4″ bits. Combine all vegetables on a parchment-covered jelly roll pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix well.
  3. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring once. 10 minutes before vegetables are done, add salmon.
  4. When plating, you may sprinkle the cheese of your preference over the top, which should melt a little by the time you stick a fork in it.
— Amanda

Monthly reading roundup May 2016

WHAT I READ IN MAY:

23848562Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine. I don’t even remember where I first heard of Adrian Tomine but I have his Scrapbook and I never tire of it. His stories are drawn with simplicity and precision sometimes bordering on minimalism. He knows how to tell a story – but his themes are almost always melancholy.

11343537Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 6 by by Julietta Suzuki.

1281393Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I see now why this is such a beloved book. Wonderfully atmospheric, with fully-formed characters. Definitely something that would bear repeated readings.

10098617The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky (audiobook). I may have to read this again, in book form. The author is a researcher who has actually tested and studied the tests of other researchers on what really and truly creates lasting happiness. Much of what her research shows works are things I already practice, but there were other insights I would like to revisit. Also, there are lots of tests and evaluations for you to run on yourself.

15077298Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier, Jonathan Bates. I am not a permaculture person but I still found this memoir very interesting.

56478Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto by Anneli Rufus. YES. Rufus hits the nail on the head about being a loner: we don’t hate people – we just want to be alone. We have friends. We are not “hiding” in our homes. We are not stuck up, we are not perverts, we are not socially inept. A point she brilliantly hammered home was the the headline “loners” who kill are never loners in the real sense – they are alone, not loners. They don’t want to be alone, but rather have alienated anyone who might have wanted to be around them.

9849425French Toast by Harriet Welty Rochefort (Audiobook). Interesting at times, but mostly very complainy. And I’ve got a complaint about that cover: does that cover say middle-aged mother to you? It sure didn’t to me.

INCOMPLETE:

22752444Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels ed. by Tom Devlin. I admit it, I just read the comics and didn’t read the articles.

16059656The Property by Rutu Modan. I placed a hold on this and picked it up when it came in but once I had it on my own shelf I no longer wanted to read it. This happens sometimes, but it makes me feel like a bad person.

522726

A+ cover image, amirite?

Walden and other writings by Henry David Thoreau. I was already aware that Thoreau didn’t really live the monkish life of seclusion and self-sufficiency that he claimed, but I was willing to read this semi-memoir anyway for the slice-of-life stuff: descriptions of his idyllic days in the forest and garden alone except for animals. But I only made it through 30 pages of off-topic rants before I gave up. If I wanted to listen to some old white guy bitch about modern technology and “young people these days” I’d just go to Facebook. If you want a book by a guy who really did build a cabin in the middle of nowhere, by hand, and lived there alone year-round (except for occasional deliveries of beer and TP) and who can really make you pine for the pines with his prose, get you a copy of Dick Proenneke’s Alone in the Wilderness (DVD or book).

COOKBOOKS:

25747157My Kitchen in Rome: Recipes and Notes on Italian Cooking by Rachel Roddy. Nothing appealed to me. The food was simple, which I like, with the emphasis on the ingredients, which I like, but the combinations of ingredients were all off-putting to me.

13167803Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen by Kathy Brennan, Caroline Campion. Lots of photocopying going on here. Nothing complicated, but everything sounded very delicious.

12798803Jamie Oliver’s Food Escapes: Over 100 Recipes from the Great Food Regions of the World by Jamie Oliver. Jamie Oliver has never let me down. Photocopies made.

15791048One Pan, Two Plates: More Than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals for Two by Carla Snyder. Does what it says on the tin. And sounds delicious. This came to the photocopier with me.

16071724The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from My Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde Dusoulier. I have been watching Rachel Khoo (♥) and I’m trying to go vegetarian again, so this seemed like a winner. But sadly, nothing cried “eat me!”

— Amanda